Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rebuilding a divided nation

Lawmaker-elect and senior opposition member Mu Sochua shouts slogans after being released on bail from Prey Sar prison on July 22. AFP 

The Phnom Penh Post - July 28, 2014
Mu Sochua is a lawmaker-elect with the Cambodia National Rescue Party.

THESE thoughts were put together while in Prey Sar prison, under a dim light and to the sound of rain drops coming down from the ceiling. It is my opinion as I develop my plan of action for the future. 

Tables violently turn: that was the front-page headline of The Phnom Penh Post on July 16, with a half-page picture of a security guard with a bloodied face. He is down on the ground. He is in pain. I feel his pain. His blood is Khmer blood, the same as mine. I will continue to call for peaceful protests and will continue to condemn violence.

Cambodia must stop being a divided nation. We must find peaceful solutions to achieve real democracy and to respect the human rights, freedoms and liberties of our citizens. Our grand mission is to foster national reconciliation and prosperity that is sustainable and that does not further separate the haves from the have-nots.

In the notorious Prey Sar prison in the outskirts of Phnom Penh, I shared life behind bars with 500 other women who opened my eyes to a justice system that is rotten to the core. I heard women cr y out for justice, even those who recognised that they had committed a crime. Each and ever y one of them had to pay those in the justice system who set a price at each step of the court process.

It all begins at the police station at the time of arrest – with or without a court order – paying for the small priv ilege of staying in Prey Sar. Many remain in pretrial detention far longer than the legal time limit. From arrest to charging to sentencing, it’s ver y rare for a female inmate to have contact with a female authority. There are only two female deputy chiefs among all 25 prisons in Cambodia.

There is no peace without justice. There are no human rights without freedom of speech and assembly.

My campaign since April to “Free Freedom Park” led to violence, to the arrest of seven opposition lawmakers-elect and a youth leader, and to a high-level summit to end the 12-month political deadlock. Following the summit, an agreement based on the national interest was reached, signed and reported to His Majesty the King. The deal will allow us – 55 Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers-elect – to take our oaths at the Throne Hall inside the Royal Palace and to claim our seats at the National Assembly. The ruling party wants the process to be complete within three to four days. The opposition is taking a close look at the technical details.

A new chance to build true democracy for the Cambodian people is opening up once again. The signed agreement is morally biding. The work has just begun. The road to peace still stretches far ahead.

The road to democratic governance

Let us begin with mechanisms for checks and balances that will recognise the CNRP as an opposition party loyal to Cambodia, with a commitment to true reform. Our obligation to the people is them having a fair share of power, therefore building a strong and dynamic civil society is a crucial part of our mission.

Open the gate of the National Assembly for the people to enter the house as its legitimate owners and not as unwanted guests. Let there be public hearings, let the public galleries be occupied and let there be passionate debates based on democratic principles – not to protect party interests alone. We must learn to live side by side and accept our differences. We must end the culture of impunity, corruption and nepotism, and solidif y the rule of law.

I am willing to accept the outpouring sense of “betrayal” by our supporters when they heard the result of the negotiations. They mistakenly believe that the CNRP is now “sleeping with the devil”. With each and ever y action taken, however, we fulfil our duty to the people: to ensure transparency and accountabilit y with the full protection of human rights and freedoms.

One thing is for sure: opposition lawmakers will not be stripped of their immunity while serving the interests of the nation, as that would require two-thirds of the votes of the National Assembly.

We must not forget that we have chosen a very long and winding road. We must agree to disagree and we must learn the rules of nonviolence and to guarantee nonviolence in order to walk towards peace.

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