In 1979, when Khmer Rouge rule ended and Cambodia came under Vietnamese occupation, Kem Sokha became the District Deputy Chief in Phnom Penh.
Not really satisfied with the way his country was being governed, he secretly started supporting the Freedom Fighters—a Cambodian group resisting the Vietnamese occupation.
He resigned from his job and joined a non-political humanitarian organization, when the government got suspicious of his activities.
He was later advised by his well wisher to leave the country, on the pretext of studying abroad on a scholarship, in order to evade possible arrest.
In 1981, he went to the Institute of Chemical Technology, Prague, Czech Republic, from where he graduated with a Master of Science degree in biochemistry in 1986.
Upon his return in 1986, he joined the Ministry of Industry; however, he wasn’t given any significant position due to his previous connections with the Freedom Fighters.
He was transferred to a non-operational brewery factory on the border of Thailand, where he started a pepper plantation with some local workers. He spent the next three years developing his 10-hecta plantation.
In 1991, he founded the Human Rights Vigilance of Cambodia, a first-of-its-kind in Cambodia, and became its chairman. Through this, he catered to problems and issues of victims of human rights violation and offered them the right help.
He left the organization in 1992 and joined Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP)—led by Son Sann —as its general secretary. He was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) from Kandal in the national elections.
Continue Reading Below
When BLDP split into two parts in 1995, he formed a new party, Son Sann Party, along with Son Sann’s supporters, and became its general secretary.
In 1997, he fled to Thailand, along with other people who were against the military coup initiated Cambodian People Party (CPP) to oust the First Prime Minister, Norodom Rannaridh.
In Thailand, he established a Union of Cambodian Democrats, supported by fellow migrants from Cambodia and served as its first Deputy General Secretary.
In 1998, the Second Prime Minister, Hun Sen, permitted the emigrants to return and contest in the general elections, where he was nominated by Son Sann due to his high popularity.
When the party lost, he, along with other leaders from opposition parties, organized a mass demonstration against the fraudulent results; however, the government deployed armed forces to clamp down the protests.
He was backed by the UN officials to prevent his arrest and was given refuge in their office and US embassy for 50 days. Following a negotiation between the-now FUNCINPEC Party Chief Rannaridh and Hun Sen, he was released in 1999.
In 1999, Son Sann Party merged with the new FUNCINPEC Party and Kem Sokha became the Deputy General Secretary of the new FUNCINPEC Party.
He was appointed as a Senator and became the Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights and Reception of Complaints.
He resigned from the party and Senate in 2001 when his initiatives were rejected by the leadership of the FUNCINPEC Party as the party had become corrupted. .
In 2002, he launched Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), backed by USAID, and became its first President. The aim of CCHR was to educate people on human rights and conduct public forums for open discussions throughout Cambodia.
He established a new political party, Human Rights Party, in 2007, and served as its President until 2012, when it was merged with Sam Rainsy Party to form Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
In 2013, he contested in the National Assembly elections, where his common phrase ‘Do Min Do’ (Change or No Change) was used as the party’s anthem for election campaigns.
In 2014, he became MP from Kampong Cham and was elected as the First Vice President of the National Assembly of Cambodia.