Sopagna Seang believes in justice and his country — and his dedication has taken him all the way from Cambodia to Australia. In order to further his work in bringing notorious Khmer Rouge leaders to trial, the Phnom Penh native is busy earning a master's degree in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon's Heinz College Australia.
The repressive Khmer Rouge regime controlled Cambodia from 1975-1979, killing approximately 1.7 million citizens through execution, torture and forced labor. This genocide claimed an estimated one-fifth of the country's population. After years of negotiation, the United Nations and Cambodian government established a tribunal in 2006 to bring these leaders to justice.
Sopagna was already working for the public welfare as a civil servant. Angry about the atrocities and 'ruined' condition in which his country was left, he quickly joined the team, in charge of language service coordination.
"This tribunal will not only do good for Cambodia, but also for humanity," Sopagna explained. "Such heinous crimes should never, ever happen again, anywhere in the world. The leaders of the notorious Khmer Rouge regime must be brought to justice. Victims must see justice is done for them."
Sopagna was drawn to the Carnegie Mellon education not only for its reputation and the technical skills he could acquire, but the ability to receive valuable training in public policy — something impossible at home.
"National universities in Cambodia do not offer public policy degrees. Public policy is generally perceived as something that can be easily manipulated by the powerful and not applicable in real-life." Sopagna noted. "I hope not only to apply the skills I learn in my work, but to share them with colleagues in public office at home."
Sopagna particularly appreciates the accelerated degree option, as he's anxious to return home to both his valued work and family.
"I would recommend this course to busy mid-career professionals," he said. "It is worth noting that I have left my dearest wife and son as well as my exciting job at the tribunal for CMUA. But I have made the right decision."
He knows the training will serve him well.
"Carnegie Mellon is equipping me with skills in analyzing and decision-making. In addition, I've become more conversant with technology, which can help me work more efficiently. I am convinced that these skills will help me achieve my career goals," Sopagna said.