Cambodia Human Rights - History

Cambodia Human Rights - History

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

A. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join trade unions of their own choice, the right to strike, and the right to bargain collectively. Onerous, new union registration rules amount to a requirement for prior authorization for union formation. The National Assembly adopted a new Law on Trade Unions (TUL) in April 2016. Four sets of implementing regulations were issued as of August, but at least five more remained to be issued.

The TUL imposes new limits on the right to strike, facilitates government intervention in internal union affairs, excludes certain categories of workers from joining unions, and permits third parties to seek the dissolution of trade unions, while imposing only minor penalties on employers for unfair labor practices. New registration requirements include filing charters, listing officials and their immediate families, and providing banking details to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. The TUL forbids unregistered unions from operating. The TUL also prohibits unions that represent less than one-third of workers from entering collective bargaining agreements or collective dispute resolution mechanisms. Under the TUL civil servants, teachers, workers employed by state-owned enterprises, and workers in the banking, health care, and informal sectors may only form associations, not trade unions.

The low rate of unionization was demonstrated by a survey conducted in April by the Building and Wood Workers’ Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC), which showed that 91 percent of 1,010 construction workers across Phnom Penh worksites did not belong to any union or association. Unionization rates varied dramatically across industries. In hospitality industries unionization approached 20 percent. Even in the formal apparel and footwear sector, union penetration rates were estimated at only 20-30 percent, and many of these unions represented factory and CPP interests above those of workers.

The law stipulates workers can strike only after several requirements have been met, including: the successful registration of a union; the failure of other methods of dispute resolution (such as negotiation, mediation, or arbitration); completion of a 60-day waiting period following the emergence of the dispute; a secret-ballot vote of the union membership; and seven days’ advance notice to the employer and the labor ministry. Strikers are liable to criminal penalties if they block entrances, roads, or engage in any other behavior interpreted by local authorities as harmful to public order. The TUL states that a strike decision requires approval by an absolute majority of union members attending a strike meeting, which itself must include an absolute majority of the total union members. Once a union has successfully carried out a strike vote, the court may issue an injunction against the strike and require the restart of negotiations with employers.

State enforcement of the right to association, including freedom from antiunion discrimination, and of collective bargaining rights, was highly inconsistent. Close relationships among government officials, employers, and union leaders, particularly those operating progovernment unions, limited the government’s willingness to address violations of workers’ rights. These relationships hampered the independent operation of unions, since the majority of the country’s union federations were affiliated with the ruling party, and only a minority were affiliated with the opposition party or worked independently.

Workers reported various obstacles while trying to exercise their right to associate freely. Some employers reportedly refused to sign notification letters to officially recognize unions (a situation for which the government offered no official redress) or to renew the short-term contract employees who had joined unions (approximately 80 percent of workers in the formal manufacturing sector are on short-term contracts). For a union to register, it must also collect documentation from employers and local government officials, who often simply refuse to provide necessary paperwork. Provincial-level labor authorities have reportedly kept registration applications in abeyance indefinitely by requesting more materials or resubmissions due to minor errors late in the 30-day application cycle. Workers also reported that, in accordance with TUL provisions, unions are unable to register until they provide banking details; yet, many banks will not open accounts for unregistered unions.

Public-sector worker associations continued to face significant obstacles. For example, twice during the year the government denied requests from the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association for permission to march. Another public-sector association, the Cambodian Independent Civil Servants Association, reported fears of harassment, discrimination, and demotion, all of which deterred individuals from joining.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) noted reports of antiunion discrimination by employers through interference with and dismissals of members of independent unions, as well as through creation of employer-backed unions. The 2017 ILO Committee on Application of Standards called on the government to ensure that freedom of association can be exercised in a climate free of intimidation and violence against workers; acts of antiunion discrimination are swiftly investigated and remedied with dissuasive sanctions applied; and workers can register trade unions through simple, objective, and transparent processes.

The resolution of collective disputes was inconsistent, with a recent proliferation of dispute resolution bodies. International brands have commented publicly on how the neutering of a previously effective dispute resolution mechanism led to difficulties, as workers have begun to bring their collective disputes directly to brands for resolution.

Individual labor disputes may be brought before the courts, although the judicial system is neither impartial nor transparent. There is no specialized labor court.

There were credible reports of antiunion harassment by employers, including the dismissal of union leaders in garment factories and other enterprises. Better Factories Cambodia’s (BFC) January Transparency Database Report obtained information from 480 factories working in the export sector and recorded a slight increase in noncompliance with freedom of association rights, including the right of unions to join federations and confederations of their choice; rights of workers to join unions of their choice; coercion of employees to join employer-sponsored unions; and in the number of factories whose management had taken steps to control union activities. BFC recorded a 1 percent increase in the number of factories where workers’ freedom to join and form unions had been violated.

BFC, an ILO program that inspects all factories holding export licenses, found in its May 2016 to April report that 6.8 percent of factories deducted union dues without the free consent of workers, or prevented workers from forming or joining a union by threatening employment termination. BFC’s coverage is limited to the export sector; so the actual level of union harassment was likely significantly higher, particularly in unregistered factories. A survey of garment workers conducted by the Micro-Finance Organization found workers in unregistered unions were also more likely to receive less than minimum wages.

There were credible reports of workers dismissed on spurious grounds after organizing or participating in strikes. While the majority of strikes were illegal, participating in an illegal strike was not by itself a legally acceptable reason for dismissal. In some cases employers pressured either union personnel or strikers to accept compensation and quit, arguing that their short-term contracts had ended. The union movement did not generally find government-sponsored remedies for these dismissals effective.

B. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases. Officials reported particular difficulties in verifying working conditions and salaries in the informal fishing, agricultural, construction, and domestic sectors. Penalties prescribed under law for forced labor were stringent, including imprisonment and fines. Although the government made efforts to highlight the problem of forced labor domestically, the extent to which these efforts were effective remained unclear. Moreover, there was some evidence employers worked with local law enforcement authorities to subject workers to bonded labor, including in the brick industry.

In December 2016, when Licadho released its report on conditions of child and bonded labor in brick kilns, the minister of labor and vocational training told local media he would consider defamation charges if the report was proven untrue. In July, after undertaking its own investigation of the brick industry, a ministry spokesperson denied child or bonded labor existed in the factories. Provincial labor officers contradicted these reports, however, when they told visiting foreign government officials in February that debt bondage in the brick kilns was pervasive to the point of ubiquity. In August the prime minister spoke out against CNN when it reported on labor conditions in the country’s brick industry.

Third-party debt remained an important issue driving forced labor. According to the findings of a BWTUC survey conducted during the year, 48 percent of 1,010 construction workers in Phnom Penh had debts; 75 percent of the debtors owed money to microfinance or banks, and 25 percent owed money to family members.

Children from impoverished families were at risk because affluent households used humanitarian pretenses to hire children as domestic workers, only to abuse and exploit them (see section 7.c.). Children were also subjected to forced begging. In September the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training’s director of child labor acknowledged the ministry lacked resources to inspect for child labor in domestic service.

BFC reported forced labor in six export-sector textile and apparel factories in 2016-17. Most of these cases related to forced overtime work, in which workers were required to obtain written approval from foreign supervisors before they could leave the factory. Workers complained they feared termination if they refused to work overtime.

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at

C. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law establishes 15 years as the minimum age for employment and 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work. The law permits children between 12 and 15 years to engage in “light work” that is not hazardous to their health and does not affect school attendance. The law limits work by children between 12 and 15 years to a maximum of four hours on school days and seven hours on nonschool days, and it prohibits work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Minimum age protections do not apply to domestic workers.

The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training is responsible for child-labor inspections in both the formal and informal sectors of the economy. Labor inspectors did not enforce labor standards in the informal sector or in unlicensed workplaces. In the formal sector, sources reported labor inspectors conducted routine inspections only in registered garment and footwear factories, where the incidence of child labor remained extremely low. In industries with the highest risk of child labor, including agriculture, construction, and hospitality, labor inspections were generally complaint driven.

The labor law stipulates a fine of 31 to 60 times the prevailing monthly wage for defendants convicted of violating the country’s child labor provisions. The government suspended all child labor inspections during the first half of the year as the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training reported it was not ready to take over the work of World Vision’s Eliminating Exploitative Child Labor through Education and Livelihoods project. In May the director of child labor reported the inspectorate would begin fulfilling its child labor function again, although with a more limited mandate. The department worked with migrant workers in Banteay Meanchey Province at the border of Thailand to remove approximately 500 child laborers. Officials also made two visits to sugar plantations in Koh Kong, where they reported no child labor but said they had raised health and education concerns.

Child labor was most widespread in agriculture, including sugarcane and rubber production, logging, shrimp processing, and fishing, as well as in brick manufacture, salt production, domestic service, car repair, textiles, slaughterhouses, and the production of alcoholic beverages. Children also worked as beggars, street vendors, shoe polishers, and scavengers.

BFC confirmed four cases of child labor in export-sector garment and footwear factories from May 2016 to April, compared with 16 in 2015-16; 30 in 2014-15; and 74 in 2013-14. In one of the four cases identified, the factories refused to participate in the mandatory remediation program.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at

D. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, political opinion, birth, social origin, or union membership. Two separate laws explicitly prohibit discrimination based on HIV-positive status. The law does not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or communicable disease. The constitution stipulates that citizens of either sex shall receive equal pay for equal work.

The government generally did not enforce these laws. Penalties under law for employment discrimination include fines, civil, and administrative remedies. Fines for workplace discrimination ranged from 2.5 to 3.6 million riels ($625 to $900).

According to a BWTUC survey, daily pay for male construction workers was 20.2 percent higher than for women performing similar work. BFC reported that in the garment and footwear sector, factory management discriminated heavily against men with respect to hiring and benefits, generally without legal consequence. BFC reported 9 percent of export-licensed factories discriminated based on gender, down from 10 percent in 2016. Causes included factory reluctance to hire men due to perceived behavioral problems, as well as discrimination against women due to concerns about pregnancy or maternity leave.

A large-scale research project conducted by Care International found that one-third of women in the garment industry suffered some form of sexual harassment in the previous 12 months. The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia disputed the results, claiming the actual numbers were far lower. Independent unions generally supported the report’s claims, noting they were consistent with their own experience.

E. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law gives the Labor Union Authority responsibility to establish a minimum wage based on recommendations from the Labor Advisory Committee, a tripartite group composed of representatives from the government, unions, and employer organizations. The minimum wage has been the subject of political interference since 2013, when some sections of the union movement agitated for higher wages amid the general civic instability surrounding contested elections.

The 1997 Labor Law provides for a standard legal workweek of 48 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day. The law establishes a rate of 130 percent of daytime wages for nightshift work and 150 percent for overtime, which increases to 200 percent if overtime occurs at night, on Sunday, or on a holiday. Employees are permitted to work up to a maximum of two hours of overtime each day. The law prohibits excessive overtime, states that all overtime must be voluntary, and provides for paid annual holidays.

The government did not effectively enforce hours and overtime regulations. Workers reported overtime was often excessive and sometimes mandatory. Outside the garment industry, the government rarely enforced working-hour regulations. Workers often faced fines, dismissal, or loss of premium pay if they refused to work overtime.

Workplaces are required to have health and safety standards adequate to provide for workers’ well-being. Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training inspectors assess fines according to a complex formula based on the severity and duration of the infraction, as well as the number of workers affected. Labor ministry inspectors are empowered to assess these fines on the spot, without the necessary cooperation of police, but there are no specific provisions to protect workers who complain about unsafe or unhealthy conditions.

Workers in marine and air transportation are not entitled to social security and pension benefits and are exempt from the limitations on work hours prescribed by law. An April survey conducted by BWTUC estimated there were 200,000 citizens working in the construction industry; 89 percent of 1,010 respondents did not have contracts, most never received bonuses or severance pay, and only 9 percent were enrolled with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). Human Rights Watch reported in 2016 that garment workers employed in unregistered factories--most often subcontractors for larger, export-oriented factories--were far more vulnerable to abusive labor practices that violate local and international law.

The government enforced existing standards selectively due to poorly trained staff, lack of necessary equipment, and corruption. Labor ministry officials readily admitted their inability to carry out thorough inspections on working hours. The ministry’s Department of Labor Inspection issued 330 warnings about violations in the first six month of the year, up from 183 warnings in the same period in 2016. It also levied fines on 27 entities, up from 19 in 2016, and sued two enterprises in court. The ministry reported it employed 499 labor inspectors plus 87 NSSF inspectors across the country, a number far from sufficient to conduct thorough inspections. Penalties were insufficient to address problems. Although the ministry often decided in favor of employees, it rarely used its legal authority to penalize employers who defied its orders.

There is also a concern that the use of short-term contracts (locally known as fixed duration contracts or FDCs) allows firms, especially in the garment sector where productivity growth is relatively flat, to avoid certain wage and legal requirements. FDCs are limited to 24 months in duration, and the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training has interpreted this to mean 24 consecutive months, which allows employers to keep workers on FDCs--most often of three-month duration--indefinitely, provided there is some break in employment every 24 months. The Arbitration Council and the ILO have disputed this interpretation of the law, insisting that after 24 months, an employee must be offered a permanent “unlimited duration contract.” The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training interpretation has had the effect of significantly depressing unionization efforts, as workers on temporary contracts report intimidation and threats of dismissal as reprisal for union activity.

Work-related injuries and health problems were common. Most large garment factories producing for markets in developed countries met relatively high health and safety standards as conditions of their contracts with buyers. Working conditions in small-scale factories and cottage industries were poor and often failed to meet international standards. The NSSF reported that during the first six months of 2016, 23,094 workers suffered work-related injuries, up from 16,080 injuries in 2015, and that 108 workers died on the job during the year to October, compared with 84 deaths in the same period in 2016. Of the 108 deaths, the NSSF reported 25 died in traffic accidents. Local media reported at least four industrial boiler explosions at garment factories, which killed three workers and injured 34 others. Experts at the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft blamed the blasts on individual employees’ negligence. The same experts, however, also noted the government’s lack of tools and instruments to conduct effective inspections.

In its annual report covering the period May 2016-April, BFC reported that many occupation safety and health (OSH) problems were a growing challenge for garment factories in the export sector due to improper company policies, procedures, and poorly defined supervisory roles and responsibilities. BFC reported increased noncompliance in every OSH variable measured, including exposure to chemicals and hazardous substances, emergency preparedness, OSH management systems, welfare facilities, worker environment, worker protection, and worker accommodations.

Mass fainting remained a problem. The NSSF reported 415 workers fainted in eight factories from January to June, down from 538 in the same period in 2016. There were no reports of serious injuries due to fainting. Observers reported excessive overtime work, poor health, insufficient sleep, poor ventilation, lack of proper nutrition for workers, pesticide sprayed in nearby rice paddies, and toxic fumes from the production process all contributed to mass fainting.

1953 - Cambodia wins its independence from France. Under King Sihanouk, it becomes the Kingdom of Cambodia.

1955 - Sihanouk abdicates to pursue a political career. His father becomes king and Sihanouk becomes prime minister.

1960 - Sihanouk's father dies. Sihanouk becomes head of state.

1965 - Sihanouk breaks off relations with the US and allows North Vietnamese guerrillas to set up bases in Cambodia in pursuance of their campaign against the US-backed government in South Vietnam.

1969 - The US begins a secret bombing campaign against North Vietnamese forces on Cambodian soil.

1970 - Prime Minister Lon Nol overthrows Sihanouk in coup. He proclaims the Khmer Republic and sends the army to fight the North Vietnamese in Cambodia. Sihanouk - in exile in China - forms a guerrilla movement. Over next few years the Cambodian army loses territory against the North Vietnamese and communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas

Fighting for Women’s Rights in Cambodia

While Cambodia is classified as a democratic nation, the country still struggles to combat human rights violations and gender inequality. The UN has pressured the Cambodian government to eliminate corruption, especially regarding women’s rights and sex trafficking. Government officials have taken steps to move forward in this process, but human rights violations have been far from eradicated. The fight for women’s rights in Cambodia is particularly difficult and securing gender equality faces substantial barriers.

While women may have the same rights as men under the law, the implementation of those rights is entirely inadequate. Culturally, many Cambodians view women as secondary human beings, as shown by the famous saying, “men are gold women are cloth.” This cultural norm discourages women from being public participants in economic and political processes.

Cambodian women face significant challenges in pursuing jobs outside the home. Most of the opportunities readily available to them are in dangerous or inconsistent conditions, and women are also paid significantly less than men. In high-profit markets, men comprise almost all leadership positions.

Education for women in Cambodia can also be tricky, as families are not legally required to send their children to school, and if they do not have much money the boys will typically receive an education first. Child marriage also creates problems for young girls getting an education, as they are incredibly unlikely to return to school after becoming a bride.

The imbalance of social power between men and women can quickly turn into something not only unfair, but dangerous. Violence against women is common in Cambodia, and 20 percent of women over 15 have encountered some form of physical abuse from a man. Acts of sexual violence, including rape, also plagues Cambodia. The government does a terrible job of holding perpetrators of these crimes accountable, making equal rights for women in Cambodia less tangible.

Sex trafficking, often a result of living in deep poverty, is a huge problem in Cambodia. Women and children are particularly vulnerable, and many are sold by members of their own family. Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is the home base of many sex trafficking rings.

While women’s rights in Cambodia are not ideal, many organizations are working towards gender equality. The government has adopted several policies that they hope will lead to a crackdown on sex trafficking. Action Aid – an organization that works to promote the lives of the oppressed – has a plan to increase female participation in politics and elevate the quality of women’s rights in Cambodia by 2018.

Women in Cambodia are living in harsh conditions and have yet to achieve gender equality in public or private spheres. While the struggle for equal rights is far from over, the spirit of change is working in the country. Through the efforts of the government and other organizations such as Action Aid, support for women’s rights in Cambodia should increase, and with it, gender equality should start to improve.


The "Kingdom of Cambodia" is the official English name of the country. The English "Cambodia" is an anglicisation of the French "Cambodge", which in turn is the French transliteration of the Khmer "Kampuchea" ( កម្ពុជា , Kămpŭchéa). "Kampuchea" is the shortened alternative to the country's official name in Khmer ព្រះរាជាណាចក្រកម្ពុជា Preăh Réachéanachăk Kămpŭchéa. The Khmer endonym Kămpŭchéa derives from the Sanskrit name कम्बोजदेश Kambujadeśa, composed of देश Deśa ("land of" or "country of") and कम्बोज Kambuja, which alludes to the foundation myths of the first ancient Khmer kingdom. [26] The term Cambodia was already in use in Europe as early as 1524, since Antonio Pigafetta (an Italian explorer who followed Ferdinand Magellan in his circumnavigation of the globe) cites it in his work Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al mondo (1524–1525) as Camogia. [27]

Colloquially, Cambodians refer to their country as either Srok Khmer ( ស្រុកខ្មែរ , Srŏk Khmê pronounced [srokˈkʰmae] ), meaning "Land of the Khmers", or the slightly more formal ប្រទេសកម្ពុជា Prâtéh Kămpŭchéa (pronounced [prɑˈteh kampuciə] ), literally "Country of Kampuchea". The name "Cambodia" is used most often in the Western world while "Kampuchea" is more widely used in the East. [28] [29] [30]


There exists sparse evidence for a Pleistocene human occupation of present-day Cambodia, which includes quartz and quartzite pebble tools found in terraces along the Mekong River, in Stung Treng and Kratié provinces, and in Kampot Province, although their dating is unreliable. [31] Some slight archaeological evidence shows communities of hunter-gatherers inhabited the region during Holocene: the most ancient archaeological discovery site in Cambodia is considered to be the cave of L'aang Spean, in Battambang Province, which belongs to the Hoabinhian period. Excavations in its lower layers produced a series of radiocarbon dates around 6000 BC. [31] [32] Upper layers in the same site gave evidence of transition to Neolithic, containing the earliest dated earthenware ceramics in Cambodia. [33]

Archaeological records for the period between Holocene and Iron Age remain equally limited. A pivotal event in Cambodian prehistory was the slow penetration of the first rice farmers from the north, which began in the late 3rd millennium BC. [34] The most curious prehistoric evidence in Cambodia are the various "circular earthworks" discovered in the red soils near Memot and in the adjacent region of Vietnam in the latter 1950s. Their function and age are still debated, but some of them possibly date from 2nd millennium BC. [35] [36]

Other prehistoric sites of somewhat uncertain date are Samrong Sen (not far from the ancient capital of Oudong), where the first investigations began in 1875, [37] and Phum Snay, in the northern province of Banteay Meanchey. [38] An excavation at Phum Snay revealed 21 graves with iron weapons and cranial trauma which could point to conflicts in the past, possible with larger cities in Angkor. [34] [39] [40] Prehistoric artefacts are often found during mining activities in Ratanakiri. [31]

Iron was worked by about 500 BC, with supporting evidence coming from the Khorat Plateau, in modern-day Thailand. In Cambodia, some Iron Age settlements were found beneath Baksei Chamkrong and other Angkorian temples while circular earthworks were found beneath Lovea a few kilometres north-west of Angkor. Burials, much richer than other types of finds, testify to improvement of food availability and trade (even on long distances: in the 4th century BC trade relations with India were already opened) and the existence of a social structure and labour organisation. [41]

Among the artifacts from the Iron Age, glass beads are important evidence. Different kinds of glass beads recovered from several sites across Cambodia, such as the Phum Snay site in the northwest and the Prohear site in the southeast, show that there were two main trading networks at the time. The two networks were separated by time and space, which indicate that there was a shift from one network to the other at about 2nd–4th century AD, probably with changes in socio-political powers. [41]

Pre-Angkorian and Angkorian era

During the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries, the Indianised states of Funan and its successor, Chenla, coalesced in present-day Cambodia and southwestern Vietnam. For more than 2,000 years, what was to become Cambodia absorbed influences from India, passing them on to other Southeast Asian civilisations that are now Thailand and Laos. [42] Little else is known for certain of these polities, however Chinese chronicles and tribute records do make mention of them. It is believed that the territory of Funan may have held the port known to Alexandrian geographer Claudius Ptolemy as "Kattigara". The Chinese chronicles suggest that after Jayavarman I of Chenla died around 681, turmoil ensued which resulted in the division of the kingdom into Land Chenla and Water Chenla which was loosely ruled by weak princes under the dominion of Java.

The Khmer Empire grew out of these remnants of Chenla, becoming firmly established in 802 when Jayavarman II (reigned c. 790 - c. 835 ) declared independence from Java and proclaimed himself a Devaraja. He and his followers instituted the cult of the God-king and began a series of conquests that formed an empire which flourished in the area from the 9th to the 15th centuries. [43] During the rule of Jayavarman VIII the Angkor empire was attacked by the Mongol army of Kublai Khan, however, the king was able to buy peace. [44] Around the 13th century, Theravavada missionaries from Sri Lanka reintroduced Theravada Buddhism to Southeast Asia having sent missionaries previously in 1190s. [45] [46] The religion spread and eventually displaced Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism as the popular religion of Angkor however it was not the official state religion until 1295 when Indravarman III took power. [47]

The Khmer Empire was Southeast Asia's largest empire during the 12th century. The empire's centre of power was Angkor, where a series of capitals were constructed during the empire's zenith. In 2007 an international team of researchers using satellite photographs and other modern techniques concluded that Angkor had been the largest pre-industrial city in the world with an urban sprawl of 2,980 square kilometres (1,151 square miles). [48] The city, which could have supported a population of up to one million people [49] and Angkor Wat, the best known and best-preserved religious temple at the site, still serves as a reminder of Cambodia's past as a major regional power. The empire, though in decline, remained a significant force in the region until its fall in the 15th century.

Post-Angkor Period

After a long series of wars with neighbouring kingdoms, Angkor was sacked by the Ayutthaya Kingdom and abandoned in 1432 because of ecological failure and infrastructure breakdown. [50] [51] This led to a period of economic, social, and cultural stagnation when the kingdom's internal affairs came increasingly under the control of its neighbours. By this time, the Khmer penchant for monument building had ceased. Older faiths such as Mahayana Buddhism and the Hindu cult of the god-king had been supplanted by Theravada Buddhism.

The court moved the capital to Longvek where the kingdom sought to regain its glory through maritime trade. The first mention of Cambodia in European documents was in 1511 by the Portuguese. Portuguese travellers described the city as a place of flourishing wealth and foreign trade. Continued wars with Ayutthaya and the Vietnamese resulted in the loss of more territory and Longvek being conquered and destroyed by King Naresuan the Great of Ayutthaya in 1594. A new Khmer capital was established at Oudong south of Longvek in 1618, but its monarchs could survive only by entering into what amounted to alternating vassal relationships with the Siamese and Vietnamese for the next three centuries with only a few short-lived periods of relative independence.

The hill tribe people in Cambodia were "hunted incessantly and carried off as slaves by the Siamese (Thai), the Annamites (Vietnamese), and the Cambodians". [52] [53]

In the nineteenth century, a renewed struggle between Siam and Vietnam for control of Cambodia resulted in a period when Vietnamese officials attempted to force the Khmers to adopt Vietnamese customs. This led to several rebellions against the Vietnamese and appeals to Thailand for assistance. The Siamese–Vietnamese War (1841–1845) ended with an agreement to place the country under joint suzerainty. This later led to the signing of a treaty for French Protection of Cambodia by King Norodom Prohmborirak.

French colonisation

In 1863, King Norodom, who had been installed by Siam, [11] sought the protection of Cambodia from Siam by French rule. In 1867, Rama IV signed a treaty with France, renouncing suzerainty over Cambodia in exchange for the control of Battambang and Siem Reap provinces which officially became part of Siam. The provinces were ceded back to Cambodia by a border treaty between France and Siam in 1907.

Cambodia continued as a protectorate of France from 1867 to 1953, administered as part of the colony of French Indochina, though occupied by the Japanese empire from 1941 to 1945. [54] and briefly existing as the puppet state of Kingdom of Kampuchea in mid-1945. Between 1874 and 1962, the total population increased from about 946,000 to 5.7 million. [55] After King Norodom's death in 1904, France manipulated the choice of king, and Sisowath, Norodom's brother, was placed on the throne. The throne became vacant in 1941 with the death of Monivong, Sisowath's son, and France passed over Monivong's son, Monireth, feeling he was too independently minded. Instead, Norodom Sihanouk, a maternal grandson of King Sisowath was enthroned. The French thought young Sihanouk would be easy to control. [54] They were wrong, however, and under the reign of King Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia gained independence from France on 9 November 1953. [54]

Independence and Vietnam War

Cambodia became a constitutional monarchy under King Norodom Sihanouk. When French Indochina was given independence, Cambodia lost hope of regaining control over the Mekong Delta as it was awarded to Vietnam. Formerly part of the Khmer Empire, the area had been controlled by the Vietnamese since 1698 [ citation needed ] , with King Chey Chettha II granting the Vietnamese permission to settle in the area decades before. [56] This remains a diplomatic sticking point with over one million ethnic Khmers (the Khmer Krom) still living in this region. The Khmer Rouge attempted invasions to recover the territory which, in part, led to Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia and deposition of the Khmer Rouge.

In 1955, Sihanouk abdicated in favour of his father to participate in politics and was elected prime minister. Upon his father's death in 1960, Sihanouk again became head of state, taking the title of prince. As the Vietnam War progressed, Sihanouk adopted an official policy of neutrality in the Cold War. Sihanouk allowed the Vietnamese communists to use Cambodia as a sanctuary and a supply route for their arms and other aid to their armed forces fighting in South Vietnam. This policy was perceived as humiliating by many Cambodians. In December 1967 Washington Post journalist Stanley Karnow was told by Sihanouk that if the US wanted to bomb the Vietnamese communist sanctuaries, he would not object unless Cambodians were killed. [57]

The same message was conveyed to US President Johnson's emissary Chester Bowles in January 1968. [58] However, in public Sihanouk refuted the right of the U.S. to use air strikes in Cambodia, and on 26 March he said "these criminal attacks must immediately and definitively stop". On 28 March a press conference was held and Sihanouk appealed to the international media: "I appeal to you to publicise abroad this very clear stand of Cambodia—that is, I will, in any case, oppose all bombings on Cambodian territory under whatever pretext." Nevertheless, the public pleas of Sihanouk were ignored and the bombing continued. [59] Members of the government and army became resentful of Sihanouk's ruling style as well as his tilt away from the United States.

Khmer Republic (1970–75)

While visiting Beijing in 1970 Sihanouk was ousted by a military coup led by Prime Minister General Lon Nol and Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak. US support for the coup remains unproven. [60] However, once the coup was completed, the new regime, which immediately demanded that the Vietnamese communists leave Cambodia, gained the political support of the United States. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces, desperate to retain their sanctuaries and supply lines from North Vietnam, immediately launched armed attacks on the new government. The king urged his followers to help in overthrowing this government, hastening the onset of civil war. [61]

Soon Khmer Rouge rebels began using him to gain support. However, from 1970 until early 1972, the Cambodian conflict was largely one between the government and army of Cambodia, and the armed forces of North Vietnam. As they gained control of Cambodian territory, the Vietnamese communists imposed a new political infrastructure, which was eventually dominated by the Cambodian communists now referred to as the Khmer Rouge. [63] Between 1969 and 1973, Republic of Vietnam and US forces bombed Cambodia in an effort to disrupt the Viet Cong and Khmer Rouge.

Documents uncovered from the Soviet archives after 1991 reveal that the North Vietnamese attempt to overrun Cambodia in 1970 was launched at the explicit request of the Khmer Rouge and negotiated by Pol Pot's then second in command, Nuon Chea. [64] NVA units overran many Cambodian army positions while the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) expanded their small-scale attacks on lines of communication. In response to the North Vietnamese invasion, US President Richard Nixon announced that US and South Vietnamese ground forces had entered Cambodia in a campaign aimed at destroying NVA base areas in Cambodia (see Cambodian Incursion). [65] Although a considerable quantity of equipment was seized or destroyed by US and South Vietnamese forces, containment of North Vietnamese forces proved elusive.

The Khmer Republic's leadership was plagued by disunity among its three principal figures: Lon Nol, Sihanouk's cousin Sirik Matak, and National Assembly leader In Tam. Lon Nol remained in power in part because neither of the others was prepared to take his place. In 1972, a constitution was adopted, a parliament elected, and Lon Nol became president. But disunity, the problems of transforming a 30,000-man army into a national combat force of more than 200,000 men, and spreading corruption weakened the civilian administration and army.

The Communist insurgency inside Cambodia continued to grow, aided by supplies and military support from North Vietnam. Pol Pot and Ieng Sary asserted their dominance over the Vietnamese-trained communists, many of whom were purged. At the same time, the CPK forces became stronger and more independent of their Vietnamese patrons. By 1973, the CPK were fighting battles against government forces with little or no North Vietnamese troop support, and they controlled nearly 60% of Cambodia's territory and 25% of its population. The government made three unsuccessful attempts to enter into negotiations with the insurgents, but by 1974, the CPK were operating openly as divisions, and some of the NVA combat forces had moved into South Vietnam. Lon Nol's control was reduced to small enclaves around the cities and main transportation routes. More than 2 million refugees from the war lived in Phnom Penh and other cities.

On New Year's Day 1975, Communist troops launched an offensive which, in 117 days of the hardest fighting of the war, led to the collapse of the Khmer Republic. Simultaneous attacks around the perimeter of Phnom Penh pinned down Republican forces, while other CPK units overran fire bases controlling the vital lower Mekong resupply route. A US-funded airlift of ammunition and rice ended when Congress refused additional aid for Cambodia. The Lon Nol government in Phnom Penh surrendered on 17 April 1975, just five days after the US mission evacuated Cambodia. [66]

Khmer Rouge regime, 1975–1978

The Khmer Rouge reached Phnom Penh and took power in 1975. Led by Pol Pot, they changed the official name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea. The new regime modelled itself on Maoist China during the Great Leap Forward, immediately evacuated the cities, and sent the entire population on forced marches to rural work projects. They attempted to rebuild the country's agriculture on the model of the 11th century, discarded Western medicine, and destroyed temples, libraries, and anything considered Western.

Estimates as to how many people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime range from approximately one to three million the most commonly cited figure is two million (about a quarter of the population). [67] [68] [69] This era gave rise to the term Killing Fields, and the prison Tuol Sleng became notorious for its history of mass killing. Hundreds of thousands fled across the border into neighbouring Thailand. The regime disproportionately targeted ethnic minority groups. The Cham Muslims suffered serious purges with as much as half of their population exterminated. [70] Pol Pot was determined to keep his power and disenfranchise any enemies or potential threats, and thus increased his violent and aggressive actions against his people. [71]

Forced repatriation in 1970 and deaths during the Khmer Rouge era reduced the Vietnamese population in Cambodia from between 250,000 and 300,000 in 1969 to a reported 56,000 in 1984. [55] However, most of the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime were not ethnic minorities but ethnic Khmer. Professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers, were also targeted. According to Robert D. Kaplan, "eyeglasses were as deadly as the yellow star" as they were seen as a sign of intellectualism. [72]

Religious institutions were targeted by the Khmer Rouge particularly fiercely. Religion was so viciously persecuted to such a terrifying extent that the vast majority of Cambodia's historic architecture, 95% of Cambodia's Buddhist temples, was completely destroyed. [73]

Vietnamese occupation and transition, 1978–1992

In November 1978, Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia in response to border raids by the Khmer Rouge. [74] The People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), a pro-Soviet state led by the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party, a party created by the Vietnamese in 1951, and led by a group of Khmer Rouge who had fled Cambodia to avoid being purged by Pol Pot and Ta Mok, was established. [ clarification needed ] [75] It was fully beholden to the occupying Vietnamese army and under the direction of the Vietnamese ambassador to Phnom Penh. Its arms came from Vietnam and the Soviet Union. [76]

In opposition to the newly created state, a government-in-exile referred to as the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) was formed in 1981 from three factions. [76] This consisted of the Khmer Rouge, a royalist faction led by Sihanouk, and the Khmer People's National Liberation Front. Its credentials were recognised by the United Nations. The Khmer Rouge representative to the UN, Thiounn Prasith, was retained, but he had to work in consultation with representatives of the noncommunist Cambodian parties. [77] [78] The refusal of Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia led to economic sanctions [79] by the US and its allies. [ specify ]

Peace efforts began in Paris in 1989 under the State of Cambodia, culminating two years later in October 1991 in a Paris Comprehensive Peace Settlement. The UN was given a mandate to enforce a ceasefire and deal with refugees and disarmament known as the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). [80]

Restoration of the monarchy

In 1993, Norodom Sihanouk was restored as King of Cambodia, but all power was in the hands of the government established after the UNTAC sponsored elections. The stability established following the conflict was shaken in 1997 by a coup d'état led by the co-Prime Minister Hun Sen against the other parties represented in the government. [81] After its government was able to stabilize under Sen, Cambodia was accepted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on 30 April 1999. [82] [83] In recent years, reconstruction efforts have progressed and led to some political stability through a multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy. [9] Although Sen's rule has been marred by human rights abuses and corruption, [84] most Cambodian citizens through the 2000s maintained approval of the government interviews with rural Cambodians in 2008 displayed a preference for a stable status quo over potentially violent change. [85]

In July 2010, Kang Kek Iew was the first Khmer Rouge member found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in his role as the former commandant of the S21 extermination camp and he was sentenced to life in prison. [86] [87] However, Hun Sen has opposed extensive trials of former Khmer Rouge mass murderers. [88]

In August 2014, a UN-backed war crimes tribunal, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal), sentenced Khieu Samphan, the regime's 83-year-old former head of state, and Nuon Chea, its 88-year-old chief ideologue, to life in prison on war crimes charges for their role in the country's terror period in the 1970s. The trial began in November 2011. Former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary died in 2013, while his wife, Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, was deemed unfit to stand trial due to dementia in 2012.

Conditions after 2018 General Election

Scholars say that Cambodia has shifted from "an explicitly populist authoritarianism towards a deeper authoritarianism". [89] This is through tightening its control on the media and silencing opposition and dissent against the regime. [90]

According to John D. Ciorciari:

In 2019, Cambodia saw long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen tighten his grip on power. Economic growth continued, but with rising risks related to a real estate bubble, mounting debt, and yawning social inequality. Externally, Cambodia deepened its dependency on China, insulating the Hun Sen regime in some respects but contributing to new vulnerabilities. [91]

Cambodia has an area of 181,035 square kilometres (69,898 square miles) and lies entirely within the tropics, between latitudes 10° and 15°N, and longitudes 102° and 108°E. It borders Thailand to the north and west, Laos to the northeast, and Vietnam to the east and southeast. It has a 443-kilometre (275-mile) coastline along the Gulf of Thailand. [8] [92]

Cambodia's landscape is characterised by a low-lying central plain that is surrounded by uplands and low mountains and includes the Tonle Sap (Great Lake) and the upper reaches of the Mekong River delta. Extending outward from this central region are transitional plains, thinly forested and rising to elevations of about 650 feet (200 metres) above sea level.

To the north the Cambodian plain abuts a sandstone escarpment, which forms a southward-facing cliff stretching more than 200 miles (320 kilometres) from west to east and rising abruptly above the plain to heights of 600 to 1,800 feet (180–550 metres). This cliff marks the southern limit of the Dângrêk Mountains.

Flowing south through Cambodia's eastern regions is the Mekong River. East of the Mekong the transitional plains gradually merge with the eastern highlands, a region of forested mountains and high plateaus that extend into Laos and Vietnam. In southwestern Cambodia two distinct upland blocks, the Krâvanh Mountains and the Dâmrei Mountains, form another highland region that covers much of the land area between the Tonle Sap and the Gulf of Thailand.

In this remote and largely uninhabited area, Phnom Aural, Cambodia's highest peak rises to an elevation of 5,949 feet (1,813 metres). [93] The southern coastal region adjoining the Gulf of Thailand is a narrow lowland strip, heavily wooded and sparsely populated, which is isolated from the central plain by the southwestern highlands.

The most distinctive geographical feature is the inundations of the Tonle Sap, measuring about 2,590 square kilometres (1,000 square miles) during the dry season and expanding to about 24,605 square kilometres (9,500 square miles) during the rainy season. This densely populated plain, which is devoted to wet rice cultivation, is the heartland of Cambodia. [94] Much of this area has been designated as a biosphere reserve. [94]


Cambodia's climate, like that of the rest of Southeast Asia, is dominated by monsoons, which are known as tropical wet and dry because of the distinctly marked seasonal differences.

Cambodia has a temperature range from 21 to 35 °C (70 to 95 °F) and experiences tropical monsoons. Southwest monsoons blow inland bringing moisture-laden winds from the Gulf of Thailand and Indian Ocean from May to October. The northeast monsoon ushers in the dry season, which lasts from November to April. The country experiences the heaviest precipitation from September to October with the driest period occurring from January to February.

According to the International Development Research Center and The United Nations, Cambodia is considered Southeast Asia's most vulnerable country to the effects of climate change, alongside the Philippines. [95] [96] Nearly all provinces in Cambodia are affected by climate change. [97] Rural coastal populations are particularly at risk. Shortages of clean water, extreme flooding, mudslides, higher sea levels and potentially destructive storms are of particular concern, according to the Cambodia Climate Change Alliance. Climate change has also had a major impact on water levels, ecology and productivity of the Tonlé Sap in recent years, affecting the food security and agriculture of a large proportion of Cambodia's population. [98] [99]

Cambodia has two distinct seasons. The rainy season, which runs from May to October, can see temperatures drop to 22 °C (72 °F) and is generally accompanied with high humidity. The dry season lasts from November to April when temperatures can rise up to 40 °C (104 °F) around April. Disastrous flooding occurred in 2001 and again in 2002, with some degree of flooding almost every year. [100] Severe flooding also affected 17 provinces in Cambodia during the 2020 Pacific typhoon season. [101]


Cambodia's biodiversity is largely founded on its seasonal tropical forests, containing some 180 recorded tree species, and riparian ecosystems. There are 212 mammal species, 536 bird species, 240 reptile species, 850 freshwater fish species (Tonle Sap Lake area), and 435 marine fish species recorded by science. Much of this biodiversity is contained around the Tonle Sap Lake and the surrounding biosphere. [102]

The Worldwide Fund for Nature recognises six distinct terrestrial ecoregions in Cambodia – the Cardamom Mountains rain forests, Central Indochina dry forest, Southeast Indochina dry evergreen forest, Southern Annamite Range tropical forest, Tonle Sap freshwater swamp forest, and Tonle Sap-Mekong peat swamp forest. [104]


Cambodia has a bad but improving performance in the global Environmental Performance Index (EPI) with an overall ranking of 146 out of 180 countries in 2016. This is among the worst in the Southeast Asian region, only ahead of Laos and Myanmar. The EPI was established in 2001 by the World Economic Forum as a global gauge to measure how well individual countries perform in implementing the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

The environmental areas where Cambodia performs worst on the EPI (i.e. highest ranking) are air quality (148), water resource management (140) and health impacts of environmental issues (137), with the areas of sanitation, environmental impacts of fisheries and forest management following closely. Cambodia has an unusually large expanse of protected areas, both on land and at sea, with the land-based protections covering about 20% of the country. This secures Cambodia a better than average ranking of 61 in relation to biodiversity and habitat, despite the fact deforestation, illegal logging, construction and poaching are heavily deteriorating these protections and habitats in reality, partly fueled by the government's placement of economic land concessions and plantations within protected areas. [105] [106] [107]

The rate of deforestation in Cambodia is one of the highest in the world and it is often perceived as the most destructive, singular environmental issue in the country. [107] Cambodia's primary forest cover fell from over 70% in 1969 to just 3.1% in 2007. In total, Cambodia lost 25,000 km 2 (9,700 sq mi) of forest between 1990 and 2005 – 3,340 km 2 (1,290 sq mi) of which was primary forest. Since 2007, less than 3,220 km 2 (1,243 sq mi) of primary forest remain with the result that the future sustainability of the forest reserves of Cambodia is under severe threat. [108] [109]

In 2010–2015, the annual rate of deforestation was 1.3%. The environmental degradation also includes national parks and wildlife sanctuaries on a large scale and many endangered and endemic species are now threatened with extinction due to loss of habitats. There are many reasons for the deforestation in Cambodia, which range from opportunistic illegal loggings to large scale clearings from big construction projects and agricultural activities. The global issue of land grabbing is particularly rampant in Cambodia. The deforestation involves the local population, Cambodian businesses and authorities as well as transnational corporations from all over the world. [110] [111]

Plans for hydroelectric development in the Greater Mekong Subregion, by Laos in particular, pose a "real danger to the food supply of Vietnam and Cambodia. Upstream dams will imperil the fish stocks that provide the vast majority of Cambodia's protein and could also denude the Mekong River of the silt Vietnam needs for its rice basket." The rich fisheries of Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, largely supply the impoverished country's protein. The lake is unusual: It all but disappears in the dry season and then expands massively as water flow from the Mekong backs up when the rains come. "Those fish are so important for their livelihoods, both economically and nutritionally", said Gordon Holtgrieve, a professor at the University of Washington who researches Cambodia's freshwater fish and he points out that none of the dams that are either built or being built on the Mekong river "are pointing at good outcomes for the fisheries". [112]

In the 2010s, the Cambodian government and educational system has increased its involvement and co-operation with both national and international environmental groups. [113] [114] [115] A new National Environmental Strategy and Action Plan (NESAP) for Cambodia is to be implemented from late 2016 to 2023 and contains new ideas for how to incite a green and environmentally sustainable growth for the country. [116]

In November 2017, the U.S. cut funds to help clear unexploded ordnance including land mines and chemical weapons in Cambodia which it had dropped during the Vietnam War. [117]


National politics in Cambodia take place within the framework of the nation's constitution of 1993. The government is a constitutional monarchy operated as a parliamentary representative democracy. The Prime Minister of Cambodia, an office held by Hun Sen since 1985, is the head of government, while the King of Cambodia (currently Norodom Sihamoni) is the head of state. The prime minister is appointed by the king, on the advice and with the approval of the National Assembly. The prime minister and the ministerial appointees exercise executive power.

Legislative powers are shared by the executive and the bicameral Parliament of Cambodia ( សភាតំណាងរាស្ត្រ , saphea damnang reastr), which consists of a lower house, the National Assembly ( រដ្ឋសភា , rotsaphea) and an upper house, the Senate ( ព្រឹទ្ធសភា , protsaphea). Members of the 123-seat Assembly are elected through a system of proportional representation and serve for a maximum term of five years. The Senate has 61 seats, two of which are appointed by the king and two others by the National Assembly, and the rest elected by the commune councillors from 24 provinces of Cambodia. Senators serve six-year terms. [118]

On 14 October 2004, King Norodom Sihamoni was selected by a special nine-member Royal Throne Council, part of a selection process that was quickly put in place after the abdication of King Norodom Sihanouk a week prior. Sihamoni's selection was endorsed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly Speaker Prince Norodom Ranariddh (the king's half-brother and current chief advisor), both members of the throne council. He was enthroned in Phnom Penh on 29 October 2004.

Officially a multiparty democracy, in reality, "the country remains a one-party state dominated by the Cambodian People's Party and Prime Minister Hun Sen, a recast Khmer Rouge official in power since 1985. The open doors to new investment during his reign have yielded the most access to a coterie of cronies of his and his wife, Bun Rany." [ attribution needed ] [119] Cambodia's government has been described by the Human Rights Watch's Southeast Asian director, David Roberts, as a "relatively authoritarian coalition via a superficial democracy". [19]

Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed to rule until he is 74. [120] [121] He is a former Khmer Rouge member who defected. His government is regularly accused of ignoring human rights and suppressing political dissent. The 2013 election results were disputed by Hun Sen's opposition, leading to demonstrations in the capital. Demonstrators were injured and killed in Phnom Penh where a reported 20,000 protesters gathered, with some clashing with riot police. [122] From a humble farming background, Hun Sen was just 33 when he took power in 1985, and is by some considered a long-ruling dictator. [123]

Since the 2017 crackdowns on political dissent and free press, Cambodia has been described as a de facto one-party state. [124] [125] [126]

Foreign relations

The foreign relations of Cambodia are handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Prak Sokhon. Cambodia is a member of the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. It is a member of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), ASEAN, and joined the WTO in 2004. In 2005 Cambodia attended the inaugural East Asia Summit in Malaysia.

Cambodia has established diplomatic relations with numerous countries the government reports twenty embassies in the country [127] including many of its Asian neighbours and those of important players during the Paris peace negotiations, including the US, Australia, Canada, China, the European Union (EU), Japan, and Russia. [128] As a result of its international relations, various charitable organisations have assisted with social, economic, and civil infrastructure needs.

While the violent ruptures of the 1970s and 1980s have passed, several border disputes between Cambodia and its neighbours persist. There are disagreements over some offshore islands and sections of the boundary with Vietnam and undefined maritime boundaries. Cambodia and Thailand also have border disputes, with troops clashing over land immediately adjacent to the Preah Vihear temple in particular, leading to a deterioration in relations. Most of the territory belongs to Cambodia, but a combination of Thailand disrespecting international law, Thai troops upbuild in the area and lack of resources for the Cambodian military have left the situation unsettled since 1962. [129] [130]

Cambodia and China have cultivated ties in the 2010s. A Chinese company with the support of the People's Liberation Army built a deep-water seaport along 90 km (56 mi) stretch of Cambodian coastline of the Gulf of Thailand in Koh Kong province the port is sufficiently deep to be used by cruise ships, bulk carriers or warships. Cambodia's diplomatic support has been invaluable to Beijing's effort to claim disputed areas in the South China Sea. Because Cambodia is a member of ASEAN, and because under ASEAN rules "the objections of one member can thwart any group initiative", Cambodia is diplomatically useful to China as a counterweight to southeast Asian nations that have closer ties to the United States. [131]


The Royal Cambodian Army, Royal Cambodian Navy, Royal Cambodian Air Force and Royal Gendarmerie collectively form the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, under the command of the Ministry of National Defence, presided over by the Prime Minister of Cambodia. His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni is the Supreme Commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), and the country's Prime Minister Hun Sen effectively holds the position of commander-in-chief.

The introduction of a revised command structure early in 2000 was a key prelude to the reorganisation of the Cambodian military. This saw the defence ministry form three subordinate general departments responsible for logistics and finance, materials and technical services, and defence services under the High Command Headquarters (HCHQ).

The minister of National Defense is General Tea Banh. Banh has served as defence minister since 1979. The Secretaries of State for Defense are Chay Saing Yun and Por Bun Sreu.

In 2010, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces comprised about 102,000 active personnel (200,000 reserve). Total Cambodian military spending stands at 3% of national GDP. The Royal Gendarmerie of Cambodia total more than 7,000 personnel. Its civil duties include providing security and public peace, to investigate and prevent organised crime, terrorism, and other violent groups to protect state and private property to help and assist civilians and other emergency forces in a case of emergency, natural disaster, civil unrest, and armed conflicts.

Hun Sen has accumulated highly centralised power in Cambodia, including a praetorian guard that 'appears to rival the capabilities of the country's regular military units', and is allegedly used by Hun Sen to quell political opposition.' [132] Cambodia signed the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. [133]

Political culture

The Cambodian People's Party (CPP) is the sole dominant-party in Cambodia. Since 2018, the CPP commands all but four seats in Parliament, including all 125 seats in the National Assembly and 58 of 62 seats in the Senate.

Hun Sen and his government have seen much controversy. Hun Sen was a former Khmer Rouge commander who was originally installed by the Vietnamese and, after the Vietnamese left the country, maintains his strong man position by violence and oppression when deemed necessary. [134] In 1997, fearing the growing power of his co-prime minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Hun launched a coup, using the army to purge Ranariddh and his supporters. Ranariddh was ousted and fled to Paris while other opponents of Hun Sen were arrested, tortured, and some summarily executed. [134] [135]

In addition to political oppression, the Cambodian government has been accused of corruption in the sale of vast areas of land to foreign investors resulting in the eviction of thousands of villagers [136] as well as taking bribes in exchange for grants to exploit Cambodia's oil wealth and mineral resources. [137] Cambodia is consistently listed as one of the most corrupt governments in the world. [138] [139] [140] Amnesty International currently recognises one prisoner of conscience in the country: 33-year-old land rights activist Yorm Bopha. [141]

Journalists covering a protest over disputed election results in Phnom Penh on 22 September 2013 say they were deliberately attacked by police and men in plain clothes, with slingshots and stun guns. The attack against the president of the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia, Rick Valenzuela, was captured on video. The violence came amid political tensions as the opposition boycotted the opening of Parliament due to concerns about electoral fraud. Seven reporters sustained minor injuries while at least two Cambodian protesters were hit by slingshot projectiles and hospitalized. [142]

In 2017, Cambodia's Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition party, Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), paving the way for a return to a yet more authoritarian political system. [143]


The level of corruption in Cambodia exceeds most countries in the world. Despite adopting an 'Anti-Corruption Law' in 2010, corruption prevails throughout the country. Corruption affects the judiciary, the police, and other state institutions. Favouritism by government officials and impunity is commonplace. Lack of a clear distinction between the courts and the executive branch of government also makes for a deep politicisation of the judicial system. [144]

Examples of areas where Cambodians encounter corrupt practices in their everyday lives include obtaining medical services, dealing with alleged traffic violations, and pursuing fair court verdicts. Companies deal with extensive red tape when obtaining licenses and permits, especially construction-related permits, and the demand for and supply of bribes are commonplace in this process. The 2010 Anti-Corruption Law provided no protection to whistle-blowers, and whistle-blowers can be jailed for up to 6 months if they report corruption that cannot be proven. [144]

Legal profession

The Cambodian legal profession was established in 1932. By 1978, due to the Khmer Rouge regime, the entire legal system was eradicated. Judges and lawyers were executed after being deemed "class enemies" and only 6–12 legal professionals actually survived and remained in the country. [145] Lawyers did not reappear until 1995 when the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia was created. [146] [147]

Human rights

A US State Department report says "forces under Hun Sen and the Cambodian People's Party have committed frequent and large-scale abuses, including extrajudicial killings and torture, with impunity". [148] According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, an estimated 256,800 people are enslaved in modern-day Cambodia, or 1.65% of the population. [149]

Forced land evictions by senior officials, security forces, and government-connected business leaders are commonplace in Cambodia. [150] Land has been confiscated from hundreds of thousands of Cambodians over more than a decade for the purpose of self-enrichment and maintaining power of various groups of special interests. [151] Credible non-governmental organisations estimate that "770,000 people have been adversely affected by land grabbing covering at least four million hectares (nearly 10 million acres) of land that have been confiscated", says Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). [152]

On 14 March 2018, the UN expert on the human rights situation in Cambodia "expressed serious concerns about restrictions on the media, freedom of expression and political participation ahead of a national election in July". [153] Some critics of the government have been arrested for allegedly spreading fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic in Cambodia. [154] [155]

Administrative divisions

The autonomous municipality (reach thani) and provinces (khaet) of Cambodia are first-level administrative divisions. Cambodia is divided into 25 provinces including the autonomous municipality.

Municipalities and districts are the second-level administrative divisions of Cambodia. The provinces are subdivided into 159 districts and 26 municipalities. The districts and municipalities in turn are further divided into communes (khum) and quarters (sangkat).

In 2017 Cambodia's per capita income is $4,022 in PPP and $1,309 in nominal per capita. The United Nations designates Cambodia as a least developed country. Most rural households depend on agriculture and its related sub-sectors. Rice, fish, timber, garments, and rubber are Cambodia's major exports. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) reintroduced more than 750 traditional rice varieties to Cambodia from its rice seed bank in the Philippines. [156] These varieties had been collected in the 1960s.

Based on the Economist, IMF: Annual average GDP growth for the period 2001–2010 was 7.7% making it one of the world's top ten countries with the highest annual average GDP growth. Tourism was Cambodia's fastest-growing industry, with arrivals increasing from 219,000 in 1997 to over 2 million in 2007. In 2004, inflation was at 1.7% and exports at US$1.6 billion.

In the Cambodia country assessment "Where Have All The Poor Gone? Cambodia Poverty Assessment 2013", the World Bank concludes: "Over the seven years from 2004 through 2011, Cambodian economic growth was tremendous, ranking amid the best in the world. Moreover, household consumption increased by nearly 40 percent. And this growth was pro-poor—not only reducing inequality but also proportionally boosting poor people's consumption further and faster than that of the non-poor. As a result, the poverty rate dropped from 52.2 to 20.5 percent, surpassing all expectations and far exceeding the country's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) poverty target. However, the majority of these people escaped poverty only slightly: they remain highly vulnerable—even to small shocks—which could quickly bring them back into poverty." [157]

"Two decades of economic growth have helped make Cambodia a global leader in reducing poverty. The success story means the Southeast Asian nation that overcame a vicious civil war now is classified as a lower-middle income economy by the World Bank Group (WBG). Among 69 countries that have comparable data, Cambodia ranked fourth in terms of the fastest poverty reduction in the world from 2004–2008. (See more details of Cambodia's achievements on poverty reduction. The poverty rate fell to 10 percent in 2013, and further reduction of poverty is expected for both urban and rural households throughout 2015–2016. However, human development, particularly in the areas of health and education, remains an important challenge and development priority for Cambodia" [158]

Oil and natural gas deposits found beneath Cambodia's territorial waters in 2005 yield great potential but remain mostly untapped, due in part to territorial disputes with Thailand. [159] [160]

The National Bank of Cambodia is the central bank of the kingdom and provides regulatory oversight to the country's banking sector and is responsible in part for increasing the foreign direct investment in the country. Between 2010 and 2012 the number of regulated banks and micro-finance institutions increased from 31 covered entities to over 70 individual institutions underlining the growth within the Cambodian banking and finance sector.

In 2012, Credit Bureau Cambodia was established with direct regulatory oversight by the National Bank of Cambodia. [161] The Credit Bureau further increases the transparency and stability within the Cambodian Banking Sector as all banks and microfinance companies are now required by law to report accurate facts and figures relating to loan performance in the country.

One of the largest challenges facing Cambodia is still the fact that the older population often lacks education, particularly in the countryside, which suffers from a lack of basic infrastructure. Fear of renewed political instability and corruption within the government discourage foreign investment and delay foreign aid, although there has been significant aid from bilateral and multilateral donors. Donors pledged $504 million to the country in 2004, [9] while the Asian Development Bank alone has provided $850 million in loans, grants, and technical assistance. [162] Bribes are often demanded from companies operating in Cambodia when obtaining licences and permits, such as construction-related permits. [163]

Cambodia ranked among the worst places in the world for organised labour in the 2015 International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index, landing in the category of countries with "no guarantee of rights".' [164]

In April 2016 Cambodia's National Assembly has adopted a Law on Trade Unions. "The law was proposed at a time when workers have been staging sustained protests in factories and in the streets demanding wage increases and improvements in their working conditions". [165] The concerns about Cambodia's new law are shared not only by labour and rights groups but international organisations more generally. The International Labour Organization Country Office for Thailand, Cambodia and Lao PDR, has noted that the law has "several key concerns and gaps". [166]

Independent unions and employers remain divided. "How can a factory with 25 unions survive?" asked Van Sou Ieng, chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), adding that it was "incomprehensible to expect an employer to negotiate a dispute with 25 different union leaders. A law was necessary to rein in the country's unions, Van Sou Ieng said. According to GMAC, last year there were 3,166 unions for the more than 500,000 workers employed in the country's 557 garment and textile exporting factories, and 58 footwear factories. Though garment production is already Cambodia's largest industry, which accounts for 26.2 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product, Van Sou Ieng said without the trade union law, foreign investors will not come to do business". [167] "Only with the trade union law will we, employers, be able to survive. not only Cambodia, every country has trade union law. Those who criticise [the law] should do businesses, and [then] they will understand."


The garment industry represents the largest portion of Cambodia's manufacturing sector, accounting for 80% of the country's exports. In 2012, the exports grew to $4.61 billion up 8% over 2011. In the first half of 2013, the garment industry reported exports worth $1.56 billion. [168] The sector employs 335,400 workers, of which 91% are female.

Better Factories Cambodia was created in 2001 as a unique partnership between the UN's International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group. The programme engages with workers, employers, and governments to improve working conditions and boost the competitiveness of the garment industry. [169] On 18 May 2018, the Project Advisory Committee (PAC) of the ILO Better Factories Cambodia Programme met in Phnom Penh to provide input into the draft conclusions and recommendations of the BFC's independent mid-term evaluation, as well as to discuss options on how to further strengthen the programme's transparent reporting initiative.

The members of the PAC concurred with the findings of the evaluation related to the impact the programme has had on the Cambodian garment sector and workers, including: a. contributing to sustained overall growth of the garment industry b. improving the lives of at least half a million Cambodian workers of factories in the BFC programme and many more of their family members c. ensuring that workers receive correct wages and social protection benefits d. virtually eliminating child labour in the sector e. making Cambodia's garment factories safer overall f. creating a "level playing field" for labour across garment sector g. influencing business practices through (1) using factory data to highlight areas for improvement and (2) being a core part of risk management strategies of international brands/buyers. [170]


The tourism industry is the country's second-greatest source of hard currency after the textile industry. [80] International visitor arrivals in 2018 topped six million, a ten-fold increase since the beginning of the 21st century. [172] Tourism employs 26% of the country's workforce, which translates into roughly 2.5 million jobs for Cambodians. [173]

Besides Phom Penh and Angkor Wat, other tourist destinations include Sihanoukville in the southwest which has several popular beaches and Battambang in the northwest, both of which are popular stops for backpackers who make up a significant portion of visitors to Cambodia. [174] The area around Kampot and Kep including the Bokor Hill Station are also of interest to visitors. Tourism has increased steadily each year in the relatively stable period since the 1993 UNTAC elections. [175]

Most international arrivals in 2018 were Chinese. Tourism receipts exceeded US$4.4 billion in 2018, accounting for almost ten percent of the kingdom's gross national product. The Angkor Wat historical park in Siem Reap Province, the beaches in Sihanoukville, the capital city Phnom Penh, and Cambodia's 150 casinos (up from just 57 in 2014) [176] are the main attractions for foreign tourists.

Cambodia's reputation as a safe destination for tourism however has been hindered by civil and political unrest [177] [178] [179] and several high-profile examples of serious crime committed against tourists visiting the kingdom. [180] [181] [182]

Cambodia's tourist souvenir industry employs a lot of people around the main places of interest. The quantity of souvenirs that are produced is not sufficient to face the increasing number of tourists and a majority of products sold to the tourists on the markets are imported from China, Thailand, and Vietnam. [183] Some of the locally produced souvenirs include:

  • Krama (traditional scarf)
  • Ceramics
  • Soap, candles, spices [184]
  • Wood carvings, lacquerware, silver plate [185]
  • Painted bottles containing infused rice wine


Agriculture is the mainstay of the Cambodian economy. Agriculture accounted for 90 percent of GDP in 1985 and employed approximately 80 percent of the workforce. Rice is the principal commodity. Major secondary crops include maize, cassava, sweet potatoes, groundnuts, soybeans, sesame seeds, dry beans, and rubber. The principal commercial crop is rubber. In the 1980s it was an important primary commodity, second only to rice, and one of the country's few sources of foreign exchange.


The civil war and neglect severely damaged Cambodia's transport system. With assistance from other countries, Cambodia has been upgrading the main highways to international standards and most are vastly improved from 2006. Most main roads are now paved.

Cambodia has two rail lines, totalling about 612 kilometres (380 miles) of single, one-metre (3-foot-3-inch) gauge track. [186] The lines run from the capital to Sihanoukville on the southern coast. Trains are again running to and from the Cambodian capital and popular destinations in the south. After 14 years, regular rail services between the two cities restarted recently – offering a safer option than road for travellers. [187] Trains also run from Phnom Penh to Sisophon (although trains often run only as far as Battambang). As of 1987, only one passenger train per week operated between Phnom Penh and Battambang but a US$141 million project, funded mostly by the Asian Development Bank, has been started to revitalise the languishing rail system that will "(interlink) Cambodia with major industrial and logistics centers in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City". [186]

Besides the main inter-provincial traffic artery connecting Phnom Penh with Sihanoukville, resurfacing a former dirt road with concrete/asphalt and bridging five major river crossings have now permanently connected Phnom Penh with Koh Kong, and hence there is now uninterrupted road access to neighbouring Thailand and its road network.

Cambodia's road traffic accident rate is high by world standards. In 2004, the number of road fatalities per 10,000 vehicles was ten times higher in Cambodia than in the developed world, and the number of road deaths had doubled in the preceding three years. [188]

Cambodia's extensive inland waterways were important historically in international trade. The Mekong and the Tonle Sap River, their numerous tributaries, and the Tonle Sap provided avenues of considerable length, including 3,700 kilometres (2,300 miles) navigable all year by craft drawing 0.6 metres (2.0 feet) and another 282 kilometres (175 miles) navigable to craft drawing 1.8 metres (5.9 feet). [189]

Cambodia has two major ports, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, and five minor ones. Phnom Penh, at the junction of the Bassac, the Mekong, and the Tonle Sap Rivers, is the only river port capable of receiving 8,000-ton ships during the wet season and 5,000-ton ships during the dry season.

With increasing economic activity has come an increase in automobile use, though motorcycles still predominate. [190] "Cyclo" (as hand-me-down French) or Cycle rickshaws were popular in 1990s but are increasingly replaced by remorques (carriages attached to motorcycles) and rickshaws imported from India. Cyclos are unique to Cambodia in that the cyclist sits behind the passenger seat. [191]

Cambodia has three commercial airports. In 2018, they handled a record of 10 million passengers. [192] Phnom Penh International Airport is the busiest airport in Cambodia. Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport is the second busiest, and serves the most international flights in and out of Cambodia. Sihanouk International Airport, is in the coastal city of Sihanoukville.


Cambodia has high potential for developing renewable energy resources. Even though the country has not attracted much international investment in renewable energy by 2020, the country serves as a model to learn from for other ASEAN countries in terms of conducting solar power auctions. [193] To attract more investment in renewable energy, the government could improve renewable energy governance, adopt clear targets, develop an effective regulatory framework, improve project bankability and facilitate market entry for international investors. [193] Cambodia is highly vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change and it is advised that the country focuses more on developing renewable energy as part of climate change mitigation measures. [194]


The first official census conducted by the French protectorate of Cambodia was in 1921 however, only men aged 20 to 60 were counted as its purpose was for the collection of taxes. [195] After the 1962 population census was conducted, Cambodia's civil conflicts and instability lead to a 36-year-long gap before the country could have another official census in 1998. [196]

At present, fifty percent of the Cambodian population is younger than 22 years old. At a 1.04 female to male ratio, Cambodia has the most female-biased sex ratio in the Greater Mekong Subregion. [197] Among the Cambodian population aged over 65, the female to male ratio is 1.6:1. [9]

The total fertility rate in Cambodia was 2.5 children per woman in 2018. [198] The fertility rate was 4.0 children in 2000. [199] Women in urban areas have 2.2 children on average, compared with 3.3 children per woman in rural areas. [199] Fertility is highest in Mondol Kiri and Rattanak Kiri Provinces, where women have an average of 4.5 children, and lowest in Phnom Penh where women have an average of 2.0 children. [199]

Ethnic groups

The vast majority of Cambodia's population is of ethnic Khmer origin (over 95%) who are speakers of the Khmer language, the country's sole official language. Cambodia's population is largely homogeneous. Its minority groups include Chams (1.2%), Vietnamese (0.1%) and Chinese (0.1%). [9]

The largest ethnic group in Cambodia are the Khmers, who comprise around 90% of the total population in Cambodia, and are indigenous to the lowland Mekong subregion in which they inhabit. The Khmers historically have lived near the lower Mekong River in a contiguous diagonal arc, from where modern-day Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia meet in the northwest, all the way to the mouth of the Mekong River in southeastern Vietnam.

The Vietnamese are the second-largest ethnic minority in Cambodia, with an estimated 16,000 living in provinces concentrated in the southeast of the country adjacent to the Mekong Delta. Although the Vietnamese language has been determined to be a Mon–Khmer language, there are very few cultural connections between the two peoples because the early Khmers were influenced by the Indian cultural sphere while the Vietnamese are part of the Chinese cultural sphere. [200] Ethnic tensions between the Khmer and the Vietnamese can be traced to the Post-Angkor Period (from the 16th to 19th centuries), during which time a nascent Vietnam and Thailand each attempted to vassalise a weakened post-Angkor Cambodia, and effectively dominate all of Indochina. [200]

Chinese Cambodians are approximately 0.1% of the population. [201] [202] Most Chinese are descended from 19th–20th-century settlers who came in search of trade and commerce opportunities during the time of the French protectorate. Most are urban dwellers, engaged primarily in commerce.

The indigenous ethnic groups of the mountains are known collectively as Montagnards or Khmer Loeu, a term meaning "Highland Khmer". They are descended from neolithic migrations of Mon–Khmer speakers via southern China and Austronesian speakers from insular Southeast Asia. Being isolated in the highlands, the various Khmer Loeu groups were not Indianized like their Khmer cousins and consequently are culturally distant from modern Khmers and often from each other, observing many pre-Indian-contact customs and beliefs.

The Cham are descended from the Austronesian people of Champa, a former kingdom on the coast of central and southern present-day Vietnam and former rival to the Khmer Empire. The Cham in Cambodia number under a million and often maintain separate villages in the southeast of the country. Almost all Cham in Cambodia are Muslims.

Population centres


The Khmer language is a member of the Mon–Khmer subfamily of the Austroasiatic language group. French, once the language of government in Indochina, is still spoken by many older Cambodians, and is also the language of instruction in some schools and universities that are funded by the government of France. There is also a French-language newspaper and some TV channels are available in French. Cambodia is a member of La Francophonie. Cambodian French, a remnant of the country's colonial past, is a dialect found in Cambodia and is sometimes used in government, particularly in court. Since 1993, there has been a growing use of English, which has been replacing French as the main foreign language. English is widely taught in several universities and there is also a significant press in that language, while street signs are now bilingual in Khmer and English. [204] Due to this shift, mostly English is now used in Cambodia's international relationships, and it has replaced French both on Cambodia's stamps and, since 2002, on Cambodian currency. [205]


Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia, practised by more than 95 percent of the population with an estimated 4,392 monastery temples throughout the country. [206] Cambodian Buddhism is deeply influenced by Hinduism and native animism.

The close interrelationship between spirits and the community, the efficacy of apotropaic and luck-attracting actions and charms, and the possibility of manipulating one's life through contact with spiritual entities such as the "baromey" spirits originates from the native folk religion. Hinduism has left little trace beyond the magical practices of Tantricism and a host of Hindu gods now assimilated into the spirit world (for example, the important neak ta spirit called Yeay Mao is the modern avatar of the Hindu goddess Kali).

Mahayana Buddhism is the religion of the majority of Chinese and Vietnamese in Cambodia. Elements of other religious practices, such as the veneration of folk heroes and ancestors, Confucianism, and Taoism mix with Chinese Buddhism are also practised.

Islam is followed by about 2% of the population and comes in three varieties, two practised by the Cham people and a third by the descendants of Malays, resident in the country for generations. Cambodia's Muslim population is reported to be 80% ethnic Cham. [207]


Cambodian life expectancy was 75 years in 2021, [208] a major improvement since 1995 when the average life expectancy was 55. [209] Health care is offered by both public and private practitioners and research has found that trust in health providers is a key factor in improving the uptake of health care services in rural Cambodia. [210] The government plans to increase the quality of healthcare in the country by raising awareness of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.

Cambodia's infant mortality rate has decreased from 86 per 1,000 live births in 1998 to 24 in 2018. [211]

In the province with worst health indicators, Ratanakiri, 22.9% of children die before age five. [212]

Cambodia was once one of the most landmined countries in the world. According to some estimates, unexploded land mines have been responsible for over 60,000 civilian deaths and thousands more maimed or injured since 1970. [213] The number of reported landmine casualties has sharply decreased, from 800 in 2005 to 111 in 2013 (22 dead and 89 injured). [214] Adults that survive landmines often require amputation of one or more limbs and have to resort to begging for survival. [213] Cambodia is expected to be free of land mines by 2020 [215] but the social and economic legacy, including orphans and one in 290 people being an amputee, [216] is expected to affect Cambodia for years to come.

In Cambodia, landmines and exploded ordnance alone have caused 44,630 injuries between 1979 and 2013, according to the Cambodia Mine/UXO Victim Information System. [217]


The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports is responsible for establishing national policies and guidelines for education in Cambodia. The Cambodian education system is heavily decentralised, with three levels of government, central, provincial, and district – responsible for its management. The constitution of Cambodia promulgates free compulsory education for nine years, guaranteeing the universal right to basic quality education.

The 2019 Cambodian census estimated that 88.5% of the population was literate (91.1% of men and 86.2% of women). [4] Male youth age (15–24 years) have a literacy rate of 89% compared to 86% for females. [218]

The education system in Cambodia continues to face many challenges, but during the past years, there have been significant improvements, especially in terms of primary net enrolment gains, the introduction of program based-budgeting, and the development of a policy framework which helps disadvantaged children to gain access to education. The country has also significantly invested in vocational education, especially in rural areas, to tackle poverty and unemployment. [219] [220] Two of Cambodia's most acclaimed universities are based in Phnom Penh.

Traditionally, education in Cambodia was offered by the wats (Buddhist temples), thus providing education exclusively for the male population. [221] During the Khmer Rouge regime, education suffered significant setbacks. Education has also suffered setbacks from child labour, A study by Kim (2011) reports that most employed children in Cambodia are enrolled in school but their employment is associated with late school entry, negative impacts on their learning outcomes, and increased drop out rates. [222]

With respect to academic performance among Cambodian primary school children, research showed that parental attitudes and beliefs played a significant role. [223] Specifically, the study found that poorer academic achievement among children were associated with parents holding stronger fatalistic beliefs (i.e., human strength cannot change destiny). The study further found that "length of residence" of parents in the community in which they stay predicted better academic achievement among their children. Overall, the study pointed out to the role of social capital in educational performance and access in the Cambodian society in which family attitudes and beliefs are central to the findings.


In 2017, Cambodia had a homicide rate of 2.4 per 100,000 population. [224]

Prostitution is illegal in Cambodia but yet appears to be prevalent. In a series of 1993 interviews of women about prostitution, three quarters of the interviewees found being a prostitute to be a norm and a profession they felt was not shameful having. [225] That same year, it was estimated that there were about 100,000 sex workers in Cambodia. [225]

On 18 August 2019, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a directive banning the Finance Ministry from issuing new online gambling licenses, while operators currently holding online licenses would only be allowed to continue operating until those licenses expire. The directive cited the fact that "some foreigners have used this form of gambling to cheat victims inside and outside the country" as justifying the new policy. [226] Cambodia had issued over 150 such licenses before the new policy was announced. [227]

Various factors contribute to the Cambodian culture including Theravada Buddhism, Hinduism, French colonialism, Angkorian culture, and modern globalization. The Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts is responsible for promoting and developing Cambodian culture. Cambodian culture not only includes the culture of the lowland ethnic majority, but also some 20 culturally distinct hill tribes colloquially known as the Khmer Loeu, a term coined by Norodom Sihanouk to encourage unity between the highlanders and lowlanders.

Rural Cambodians wear a krama scarf which is a unique aspect of Cambodian clothing. The sampeah is a traditional Cambodian greeting or a way of showing respect to others. Khmer culture, as developed and spread by the Khmer empire, has distinctive styles of dance, architecture, and sculpture, which have been exchanged with neighbouring Laos and Thailand throughout history. Angkor Wat (Angkor means "city" and Wat means "temple") is the best-preserved example of Khmer architecture from the Angkorian era along with hundreds of other temples that have been discovered in and around the region.

Traditionally, the Khmer people have a recorded information on Tra leaves. Tra leaf books record legends of the Khmer people, the Ramayana, the origin of Buddhism and other prayer books. They are taken care of by wrapping in cloth to protect from moisture and the climate. [228]

Bon Om Touk (Cambodian Water & Moon Festival), the annual boat rowing contest, is the most attended Cambodian national festival. Held at the end of the rainy season when the Mekong River begins to sink back to its normal levels allowing the Tonle Sap River to reverse flow, approximately 10% of Cambodia's population attends this event each year to play games, give thanks to the moon, watch fireworks, dine, and attend the boat race in a carnival-type atmosphere. [229]

Popular games include soccer, kicking a sey, which is similar to a footbag, and chess. Based on the classical Indian solar calendar and Theravada Buddhism, the Cambodian New Year is a major holiday that takes place in April. Recent artistic figures include singers Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Serey Sothea (and later Preap Sovath and Sokun Nisa), who introduced new musical styles to the country.

Every year, Cambodians visit pagodas across the country to mark the Pchum Ben (Ancestors' Day). During the 15-day festival, people offer prayers and food to the spirits of their dead relatives. For most Cambodians, it is a time to remember their relatives, who died during 1975–1979 Khmer Rouge regime. [230]


Rice is the staple grain, as in other Southeast Asian countries. Fish from the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers is also an important part of the diet. The supply of fish and fish products for food and trade as of 2000 [update] was 20 kilograms (44 pounds) per person or 2 ounces per day per person. [231] Some of the fish can be made into prahok for longer storage.

The cuisine of Cambodia contains tropical fruits, soups and noodles. Key ingredients are kaffir lime, lemon grass, garlic, fish sauce, soy sauce, tamarind, ginger, oyster sauce, coconut milk and black pepper. Some delicacies are num banh chok (នំបញ្ចុក), fish amok (អាម៉ុកត្រី) and aping (អាពីង). The country also boasts various distinct local street foods.

French influence on Cambodian cuisine includes the Cambodian red curry with toasted baguette bread. The toasted baguette pieces are dipped in the curry and eaten. Cambodian red curry is also eaten with rice and rice vermicelli noodles. Probably the most popular dine out dish, kuy teav, is a pork broth rice noodle soup with fried garlic, scallions, green onions that may also contain various toppings such as beef balls, shrimp, pork liver or lettuce. Kampot pepper is reputed to be the best in the world and accompanies crab at the Kep crab shacks and squid in the restaurants on the Ou Trojak Jet river. [232] The cuisine is relatively unknown to the world compared to that of its neighbours Thailand and Vietnam.


Cambodians drink plenty of tea, grown in Mondulkiri Province and around Kirirom. [233] te krolap is a strong tea, made by putting water and a mass of tea leaves into a small glass, placing a saucer on top, and turning the whole thing upside down to brew. When it's dark enough, the tea is decanted into another cup and plenty of sugar added, but no milk. Lemon tea te kdau kroch chhma, made with Chinese red-dust tea and lemon juice, is refreshing both hot and iced and is generally served with a hefty dose of sugar. [234]

Regarding coffee, the beans are generally imported from Laos and Vietnam – although domestically produced coffee from Ratanakiri Province and Mondulkiri Province can be found in some places. Beans are traditionally roasted with butter and sugar, plus various other ingredients that might include anything from rum to pork fat, giving the beverage a strange, sometimes faintly chocolatey aroma. [234]

Cambodia has several industrial breweries, located mainly in Sihanoukville Province and Phnom Penh. There are also a growing number of microbreweries in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. [235] [236] Between 2014 and 2018, the number of craft beer breweries rose from two to nine. As of 2019 [update] , there are 12 brewpubs or microbreweries in Cambodia. [237]

Rice wine is a popular alcoholic drink. Its quality varies widely and it is often infused with fruits or medicinal herbs. [238] When prepared with macerated fruits or spices, like the Sombai liqueur, it is called sra tram (soaked wine) and has gained more and more popularity with the development of tourism as it is smoother to drink than plain rice wine. [239] [240] [241]


Khmer women are traditionally expected to be modest, soft-spoken, well-mannered, [242] industrious, [243] act as the family's caregivers and caretakers [242] and financial controllers, [243] maintain their virginity until marriage, become faithful wives, [242] and act as advisors to their husbands. [243] The "light" walking and refinement of Cambodian women is further described as being "quiet in [. ] movements that one cannot hear the sound of their silk skirt rustling". [243] As financial controllers, the women of Cambodia can be identified as having household authority at the familial level.


Football (soccer) is one of the most popular sports, although professional organised sports are not as prevalent in Cambodia as in western countries because of the economic conditions. Soccer was brought to Cambodia by the French and became popular with the locals. [244] The Cambodia national football team managed fourth in the 1972 Asian Cup, but development has slowed since the civil war.

Western sports such as basketball, volleyball, bodybuilding, field hockey, rugby union, golf, and baseball are gaining popularity. Volleyball is by far the most popular sport in the country. Native sports include traditional boat racing, buffalo racing, Pradal Serey, Khmer traditional wrestling and Bokator. Cambodia first participated in the Olympics during the 1956 Summer Olympic Games sending equestrian riders. Cambodia also hosted the GANEFO Games, the alternative to the Olympics, in the 1960s.


Cambodian dance can be divided into three main categories: Khmer classical dance, folk dance, and social dances. The exact origins of Khmer classical dance are disputed. Most native Khmer scholars trace modern dance forms back to the time of Angkor, seeing similarities in the temple engravings of the period, while others hold that modern Khmer dance styles were learned (or re-learned) from Siamese court dancers in the 1800s.

Khmer classical dance is the form of stylised performance art established in the royal courts of Cambodia exhibited for both entertainment and ceremonial purposes. [245] The dances are performed by intricately costumed, highly trained men and women on public occasions for tribute, invocation or to enact traditional stories and epic poems such as Reamker, the Khmer version of the Ramayana. [246] Known formally as Robam Preah Reach Troap ( របាំព្រះរាជទ្រព្យ "theater of royal wealth") it is set to the music of a pinpeat ensemble accompanied by a vocal chorus.

Cambodian folk dance, often performed to mahori music, celebrates the various cultural and ethnic groups of Cambodia. Folk dances originated in the villages and are performed, for the most part, by the villagers for the villagers. [247] The movements are less stylised and the clothing worn is that of the people the dancers are portraying, such as hill tribes, Chams or farmers. Typically faster-paced than classical dance, folk dances display themes of the "common person" such as love, comedy or warding off evil spirits. [247]

Social dances are those performed by guests at banquets, parties or other informal social gatherings. Khmer traditional social dances are analogous to those of other Southeast Asian nations. Examples include the circle dances Romvong and Romkbach as well as Saravan and Lam Leav. Modern western popular dances including Cha-cha, Bolero, and the Madison, have also influenced Cambodian social dance.


The National Library of Cambodia opened in 1924. [248] It suffered much destruction during the Khmer Rouge era. [249]


Traditional Cambodian music dates back as far as the Khmer Empire. [250] Royal dances like the Apsara Dance are icons of the Cambodian culture as are the Mahori ensembles that accompany them. More rural forms of music include Chapei and Ayai. The former is popular among the older generation and is most often a solo performance of a man plucking a Cambodian guitar (chapei) in between a cappella verses. The lyrics usually have moral or religious theme.

A Yai can be performed solo or by a man and woman and is often comedic in nature. It is a form of lyrical poetry, often full of double entendres, that can be either scripted or completely impromptu and ad-libbed. When sung by a duo, the man and women take turns, "answering" the other's verse or posing riddles for the other to solve, with short instrumental breaks in between verses. Pleng kaah (lit. "wedding music") is a set of traditional music and songs played both for entertainment and as accompaniment for the various ceremonial parts of a traditional, days-long Khmer wedding.

Cambodian popular music is performed with western style instruments or a mixture of traditional and western instruments. Dance music is composed in particular styles for social dances. The music of crooner Sinn Sisamouth, Ros Sereysothea, and Pen Ran from the 1960s to the 1970s is considered to be the classic pop music of Cambodia. During the Khmer Rouge Revolution, many classic and popular singers of the 1960s and 1970s were murdered, starved to death, or overwork to death by the Khmer Rouge. [251] and many original master tapes from the period were lost or destroyed.

In the 1980s, Keo Surath, (a refugee resettled in the United States) and others carried on the legacy of the classic singers, often remaking their popular songs. The 1980s and 1990s also saw the rise in popularity of kantrum, a music style of the Khmer Surin set to modern instrumentation. [252]

The Australian hip hop group Astronomy Class has recorded with Kak Channthy, a native born Cambodian female singer. [253] [254]

The Dengue Fever rock and roll band features a Cambodian female singer and back-up band from California. It is classified as "world music" and combines Cambodian music with Western-style rock.

A National Committee for Science and Technology representing 11 ministries has been in place since 1999. Although seven ministries are responsible for the country's 33 public universities, the majority of these institutions come under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Support. [255]

In 2010, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Support approved a Policy on Research Development in the Education Sector. This move represented the first step towards a national approach to research and development across the university sector and the application of research for the purposes of national development. [255]

This policy was followed by the country's first National Science and Technology Master Plan 2014–2020. It was officially launched by the Ministry of Planning in December 2014, as the culmination of a two-year process supported by the Korea International Cooperation Agency. The plan makes provision for establishing a science and technology foundation to promote industrial innovation, with a particular focus on agriculture, primary industry and ICTs. [255] [256]

Cambodia Between the End of History and the End Times of Human Rights

On July 28, 2013, Cambodians went to the polls for the fifth time in 20 years and loudly voiced their desire for change. The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which has ruled the country in various guises since 1979, reeled as its share of the 123-seat National Assembly was slashed from 90 seats to just 68 — its worst electoral performance since 1998. The remaining 55 seats were won by the newly formed Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), [2] which had deftly capitalized on the simmering discontent with the 29-year rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The surprise outcome was the result of profound social, economic, and demographic changes that have transformed Cambodia in recent years. The 2013 electorate was the youngest in Cambodia’s history: about 3.5 million of the 9.5 million registered voters were between the ages of 18 and 30 years, and 1.5 million of them — more than 15 percent — were voting for the first time. [3] These first-time voters have grown up in a very different country than the one their parents and grandparents knew. Between 1998 and 2007, Cambodia’s gross domestic product grew by nearly 10 percent per year — the sixth fastest growth rate in the world. [4] In two decades Cambodia’s per capita income has almost quadrupled, rocketing from $240 in 1993 to a projected $1,000 by the close of 2013, and spawning a small middle class with the disposable income to spend on cars, motorbikes, and consumer electronics such as smartphones. Cambodia is now on the verge of admission into the World Bank’s club of “lower middle-income” countries. [5]

But while the Cambodian economy has exploded, transforming the capital Phnom Penh into a boomtown scored with high-rise towers and apartment blocks, economic development has been highly inequitable. The country’s political, business, and military elites continue to rule through a system of patron-client relations in which political loyalty and preferential access to the country’s resources exist in a tight symbiosis. In the capital, a grab for valuable inner-city land has resulted in the mass eviction of poor urban residents. An estimated 150,000 people have been displaced from Phnom Penh since 1999 — around 11 percent of the city’s current population. [6] A similar form of hurricane capitalism has descended on the rural hinterlands, where land-grabs, deforestation, and the widespread granting of long-term agricultural leases — known as economic land concessions, or ELCs — have consumed huge swathes of arable land and uprooted tens of thousands. [7]

For the past 35 years, the CPP has based its legitimacy on its success in ending the Khmer Rouge threat and bringing peace, stability, and basic economic development to a war-torn land. However, the very social and economic transformations that have resulted directly from CPP rule have also served to weaken the party’s time-proven systems of control. A large majority of Cambodians now have no memory of the Khmer Rouge and, unlike the older generation, are no longer willing to accept Pol Pot’s nightmare as a benchmark. Cambodians also have greater access to information. Urban migration and the proliferation of internet access and social media networks such as Facebook have fostered awareness that local concerns (land grabs, deforestation, radiating levels of corruption) are part of a larger system — one that has created massive amounts of wealth, yet largely ignored the needs of ordinary people.

As rural migrants have flooded the cities, joining a growing urban working class of garment and construction workers, they have escaped the smothering influence of CPP village chiefs and commune authorities — the bedrock of the party’s power since the 1980s. As time goes by, fewer people carry portraits of Prime Minister Hun Sen during demonstrations calling for his kingly intercession in local disputes. More people are now criticizing the system. The 2013 election functioned as a flashpoint for the discontent that has been rising slowly over the past decade.

As with every Cambodian election since the United Nations-organized 1993 poll, the July 2013 election gave way to a protracted deadlock. CNRP president Sam Rainsy and his deputy Kem Sokha immediately claimed that they were robbed of victory and demanded a UN-backed investigation into alleged voter fraud. To drive their demands home, they boycotted the newly elected National Assembly and launched a campaign of colorful public demonstrations at Freedom Park, a government-sanctioned “protest zone” in the center of Phnom Penh. Predictably, Hun Sen refused the opposition’s demands, and the CPP-dominated National Election Committee (NEC) rubber-stamped the party’s 68–55 margin of victory.

As the deadlock dragged on, and political negotiations limped along behind closed doors, election complaints coalesced into a broader movement for social change. Garment workers took to the streets, demanding a large hike in the minimum wage. Teachers threatened to strike, and garbage collectors walked off the job. Buddhist monks defied their superiors and attended protests. The wave of opposition crested in late 2013, when more than 100,000 people marched through Phnom Penh, openly calling for Hun Sen’s resignation — the largest sign of opposition to his rule in 15 years. In early January 2014, garment worker protests on the outskirts of the city degenerated into violence as police fired live rounds at demonstrators, killing five. The government responded by banning public gatherings. Freedom Park, now living up to its name as a symbol of free expression and dissenting opinions, was blocked off with barriers and patrolled by thuggish helmeted security guards in the pay of the district authorities.

Nearly a year passed before the deadlockended. On July 15, 2014, during an opposition protest to “free Freedom Park,” CNRP supporters set upon a squad of district security officials, beating several bloody. In the aftermath, seven CNRP politicians were arrested, slapped with trumped-up charges, and locked up at Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh. In typical Cambodian style, the wheel turned quickly within days, the incident had led to a resumption of talks, and an eventual agreement. On August 5, the CNRP’s 55 elected lawmakers were finally sworn into the National Assembly, bringing the post-election deadlock to an end. As opposition lawmakers entered parliament, normality returned to Phnom Penh. The barricades came down and Freedom Park was restored to the public. The tense standoff between Cambodia’s two largest parties — one on the rise, the other battling the accretions of age and decades-long incumbency — came to an end, at least for the time being.

What is in store for Cambodian politics between now and the 2018 national election? In purely institutional terms, the political settlement looks promising for the opposition. In exchange for ending its National Assembly boycott, the seven CNRP detainees were released from prison, and the party received the chairmanships of five of the parliament’s ten special commissions (including a new Anti-Corruption Commission) and the post of National Assembly vice-president. The agreement also reconfigured the National Election Committee (NEC), previously a CPP fief. The nine members on the newly constituted NEC will now be split between four delegates from each party, with the balance held by one “neutral” delegate. The two parties initially agreed that this position be held by Pung Chhiv Kek, the respected founder and president of the human rights group LICADHO.

At the first joint session of the National Assembly, CNRP president Rainsy hailed a new dawn in Cambodian politics: “To guarantee the implementation of this agreement, both parties must carry it out with optimism, honesty and belief in each other, even though we will be met with obstacles and difficulties.” Hun Sen described the occasion in slightly less sunny terms, as “the start of a long process together.” [8] But this new dawn didn’t last long. By October, negotiations over the shape of the new-look NEC had run aground on disagreements over the qualifications that members of the body should hold. [9] The CPP also sought to bar dual citizens from sitting on the committee, a hurdle that would disqualify Pung Chhiv Kek from being appointed the body’s ninth member. [10] In mid-November, as the negotiations dragged on, police arrested Meach Sovannara, a CNRP official, in a move that many saw as an attempt to once again strong-arm the opposition into accepting a political arrangement on the CPP’s terms. [11]

And so a new political cycle begins, which will set the stage for the crucial 2017 commune election and the national election the year after. Where to now for the country? Were the 2013 election and the deadlock that followed a watershed for Cambodia, or were they business as usual? Did the election represent continuity, or change? John Marston has written that the key to understanding contemporary Cambodiais “the way transnational forces interface with local agendas. Its poverty and history of war, the ineffectiveness of state bureaucratic mechanisms, and the way that Vietnam and the United States played major roles in recent history in the creation of the current state apparatus, all bear on the fact that Cambodia stands particularly exposed to a variety of international pressures.” [12] To get a grasp on where Cambodia may be heading, it is therefore necessary to examine the local and international dynamics that have driven Cambodian politics over the past 20 years, from the country’s democratic rebirth at the end of the Cold War to its emergence into an uncertain and increasingly multipolar world.


Cambodia’s current political system is the product of tensions and collisions between local and international imperatives. Formally, it came into being on October 23, 1991 with the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements, which sought to bring the country’s long civil war to an end. The signatories of the Agreements included 18 nations and representatives of the four Cambodian armed factions that had been fighting one another since the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge in 1979: the Cambodian People’s Party (formerly the Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party), which had ruled the country since being installed by Vietnam on the ashes of the Pol Pot regime the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front, a loose collection of pre-war republicans and nationalists Funcinpec, a royalist political organization founded by the pre-war leader Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1981 and the so-called “Party of Democratic Kampuchea,” the rebranded Khmer Rouge, which, thanks to Cold War expediency, continued to occupy Cambodia’s UN seat.

The Paris Agreements created the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), which was tasked with taking temporary control of the Cambodian state and guiding its transition towards peace and democratic elections. UNTAC had a daunting mission. It was expected to coordinate a ceasefire and the withdrawal of all foreign (i.e. Vietnamese) forces from Cambodia, followed by the disarmament and demobilization of the four Cambodian armed factions. Refugee camps along the Thai border were emptied and the UN resettled hundreds of thousands of refugees who had fled there in 1979. In order to create a “neutral political environment” for an election, UNTAC staff were given sweeping vice-regal powers over key ministries. During the transitional period, sovereignty was temporarily vested in a 13-member Supreme National Council consisting of delegates from each of the four factions, with Prince Sihanouk serving as the body’s “neutral” president. The scope and ambition of the UNTAC mission was unprecedented. Retiring UN Secretary-General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, described it as “probably the most important and most complex in the history of the United Nations.” [13]

All this took place at a crucial historical juncture: the fall of the Soviet Union and the wave of liberal optimism that followed in its wake. These were the heady years of US President George H. W. Bush’s “new world order,” and succeeding UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s “An Agenda for Peace.” In 1989, Francis Fukuyama had famously proclaimed the “end of history,” arguing that communism’s collapse heralded “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” [14] Post-Cold War optimism was present in Cambodia in an especially concentrated form. With the signing of the Paris Agreements, the country became a symbol and subject of the new world order. A newly united “international community,” working with empowered local NGOs, were expected to usher a victim of Cold War realpolitik along the road towards post-history — an elysian state of human rights, democratic government and free markets. Cambodia was seen in the light of past tragedies and future utopias. Atavistic horror and the hope of human progress came together in a symmetrical moral adventure, with well-intentioned outsiders in starring roles. As one aid worker had memorably told William Shawcross nearly ten years earlier, Cambodia “had everything. Temples, starving brown babies and an Asian Hitler figure — it was like sex on a tiger skin.” [15]

After the UN arrived, Phnom Penh, an impoverished socialist capital, became a tropical outpost of what Alex de Waal has termed the “humanitarian international” [16] — a postmodern treaty-port city, forced open not by colonial gunboat diplomacy, but by “overseas development assistance.” Foreign money flooded in, along with a legion of NGOs, aid workers, and development consultants. But while the West had experienced what Michael Ignatieff has called a “revolution of moral concern,” [17] no parallel shift had occurred inside of Cambodia. Throughout the 1980s, Cambodia had languished in war and poverty. The regime in Phnom Penh was isolated and embargoed by the West — a punishment for its close association with communist Vietnam — while the men and women who had presided over the horrors of the Khmer Rouge continued to enjoy Chinese and Western support.

For Hun Sen, who came of political age during this decade of Cold War double standards, all this imparted a pointed lesson: when superpowers invoke high-minded principles like democracy or justice or universal rights, they are often a cover for political interests. Powerful states such as China, the US, and the Soviet Union had stoked the Cambodian conflict for decades in pursuit of wider strategic objectives at Paris, they suddenly decided that peace should prevail. Hun Sen and his government had different ideas. They saw no reason to give up power just because the “international community” demanded it. This was the same “international community,” after all, that had helped keep Pol Pot’s men in the UN since 1979. As a result, the CPP saw the Paris Agreements and the coming of democratic elections not as an end to the civil war and a chance for democratic government, but as a new and more sophisticated way of unseating it from power. The NGOs, newspapers and civil society groups that sprung up under UNTAC’s protective umbrella were not the advance guard of a new global order they were the fifth column of a hostile West. The end of the Cold War and the political transition it heralded was not a revolutionary change it was an obstacle to be overcome.

Hun Sen’s particular political genius was to see that by aping the language of the new world order, and by permitting a limited degree of pluralism, his party could navigate the period of pluralism and successfully maintain its grip on power. In the late 1980s, as the prospects for peace improved, he emerged as a key proponent of cosmetic reform — of exchanging of a “red” shirt for a “blue” one. [18] Between 1989 and 1991, his party jettisoned communism, released political prisoners, abolished the death penalty, reinstated private property rights, committed itself to “pluralism,” and redefined itself as a party of Buddhist-inflected populists: the “Cambodian People’s Party.” The old posters of Lenin and Marx came down. The party’s socialist insignia was thrown out in favor of a devada, a Buddhist angel, sprinkling divine blessings. Party leaders soon began patronizing temples and taking part in traditional religious ceremonies, as the old monarchs had once done. [19] Despite excoriating Prince Sihanouk for years as a “feudal reactionary,” the party positioned itself as the heir and “younger brother” of his royalist regime of the 1950s and 1960s. [20] In due course, the party — and Hun Sen himself — had undergone a thorough rebranding.

Of course, Cambodian history didn’t end with the Paris Agreements it moved into a new phase of political struggle. The keynotes of the immediate post-UNTAC years were not peace and stability, but contingency, fragility, and continuity with earlier forms of governance. To put it another way, the old war simply played out in a new arena. After coming second in the UN-organized 1993 election, the CPP blustered and threatened its way into an equal share of power with Funcinpec, which had won a majority of seats due to the magnetic appeal of the soon-to-be-re-crowned King Sihanouk. When the new government was formed, Funcinpec’s leader (and Sihanouk’s son) Prince Norodom Ranariddh became “First” Prime Minister while Hun Sen became “Second” — a farcical division of titles which can best be appreciated in the French, which anointed Ranariddh “Première Premier Ministre” to Hun Sen’s “Deuxième Premier Ministre.” [21]

The coalition comprised two parties that had been at war for more than a decade. Mounting violence and political dysfunction marked the four years of its existence as two patronage networks struggled for supremacy. The arms race culminated in July 1997, when forces loyal to Hun Sen defeated Ranariddh’s men in bloody street battles — a result that quashed Funcinpec as a source of serious political opposition, eliminated its military wing, and cemented Hun Sen’s supremacy within the CPP. [22] Soon afterward, the Khmer Rouge were finally defeated and the Cambodian civil war came to an end — not by treaties and resolutions, but by military force and political deals.

Hun Sen has ruled the country ever since, consolidating his political and economic power and slowly whittling back the democratic gains of the UNTAC years. At the same time, the CPP has elevated its dissimulative strategy of the early 1990s into an entire system of governance. Wanting foreign aid minus foreign scrutiny, Cambodian officials make frequent lofty promises to the international sphere, while continuing to govern in the same fashion: through a decentralized and highly-individualized system of patronage, made up of webs of personal relationships that connect the country’s political, business, and military elites. Steve Heder has described this system as an “involuted façade state,” characterized by political theatre and hollow institutions. [23] In my book Hun Sen’s Cambodia I refer to this as a “mirage” of liberalism and reform, which the Cambodian government has fostered — consciously and strategically — in order to placate and manipulate its international “partners.”

In this context, the “humanitarian international” lives on. Twenty-three years after the UN pitched its blue tents, Cambodian civic culture is awash in democratic symbols and human rights narratives. Government officials speak the language of universal values and “good governance.” Artificial UN events such as International Human Rights Day are official public holidays. Colorful NGO insignias can be seen everywhere: on posters, banners, t-shirts, bumper-stickers, calendars, coffee mugs, and the sides of the white 4WDs that roar around the capital Phnom Penh, kicking up dust. The hopes of the early 1990s — for accountable government, human rights, and social justice — are literally emblazoned on Cambodia’s civic life. This collision of local and international prerogatives has produced not democracy, but a façade, an almost perfect abstraction.


Cambodian politics of the past two decades has thus been defined in part by how various political players have situated themselves in relation to the institutions and guiding ideologies of the international sphere. As Marston has written:

[G]overnment institutions and public non-governmental bodies, claiming to be local, must nevertheless negotiate their positions with international bodies, always defensive of their legitimacy at the same time, not far under this surface of public discourse, there remain the insistent realities of political patronage and ‘strongman’ politics. [24]

Hun Sen has defined himself squarely in opposition to the “humanitarian international,” happy to accept aid but lashing out at donor countries when they appear to meddle in Cambodian politics. “I am fed up with the world expressing alarming fear over Cambodia’s internal affairs,” he said in a barnstorming speech in late 1995, setting the tone for his relationship with the donor countries that were bankrolling Cambodian reconstruction. “Let me say this to the world: whether or not you want to give aid to Cambodia is up to you, but do not discuss Cambodian affairs too much.” [25]

Sam Rainsy has taken the opposite approach. As Cambodia’s main opposition leader since 1995, Rainsy has made frequent attempts to harness the “end of history” optimism of the age and conscript outside forces into his political struggles with Hun Sen. [26] His career has been marked by a remarkable ability to shift dialects, aping the language of World Bank bureaucrats, European human rights activists, and US democracy evangelists as the need arises. Appeals to the “international community” have played a central part in Rainsy’s political strategy, as have references to the Paris Agreements. Unsurprisingly, Rainsy has even described himself in implicitly Fukuyamaite terms:

In a typical family, you have the grandfather, who votes for Funcinpec you have the father, who votes for the CPP and you have the children, who when they reach voting age will vote for the SRP [Sam Rainsy Party]. It will take less time than one might imagine now, because of the progress of technology, information, communication and education. History is accelerating. [27]

This interplay between local and international spheres was on show throughout the 2013 election and its aftermath. The opposition surge began with Hun Sen requesting the royal pardon that allowed Rainsy to return from self-exile [28] in time for the poll, a move presumably designed to mollify international concerns about the legitimacy of the election. At post-election protests, opposition supporters wore stickers calling for the intervention of the UN in speeches Rainsy and Kem Sokha made frequent calls for a UN investigation into the conduct of the election, even though they must have been aware that the UN had no power to do so without a formal invitation from the Cambodian government, which claimed the election was legitimate. On October 23, 2013, the anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreements, [29] CNRP leaders marched to Western embassies to call for their governments to somehow force on Hun Sen an independent election investigation.

In between protests, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha spent a great deal of time outside the country, raising funds among Khmer diaspora communities in the US and France, and appealing to European bureaucrats, human rights activists, and US Republican congressmen for support in their struggle against Hun Sen. The flavor of these tours and events was of a distinct 1990s vintage. In December 2013, Sokha appeared at a fundraising event in Long Beach at which Ed Royce, a Republican congressman for California, declared, “Hun Sen must go. We want fair elections in Cambodia.” During the event, Sokha claimed: “I have personally been financially supported by the American government to extend democracy for more than five years. Today the results of the assistance from American citizens have helped Cambodians to stand up.” [30] The whole post-election period was framed by opposition attempts to enlist international forces and allies through protests and political stunts of various kinds. While the CNRP now has a strong basis of support among the Cambodian people, much of its attention is still directed outwards.

There are several problems with the CNRP’s focus on the international sphere. The first is that it clashes with the party’s undiluted Khmer nationalism, and its focus on the country’s historical enemy: Vietnam. Since the 1990s, opposition leaders such as Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha have consistently condemned Hun Sen as a puppet of Hanoi, illegitimate by definition and beyond any sort of electoral redemption. This theme dominated the 2013 election campaign, when Vietnam became a key element of Rainsy’s stump speeches in rural areas. “We have been eating sour Vietnamese soup for 30 years,” Rainsy told a cheering crowd in Svay Rieng. “It’s time for that to stop.” [31] In June 2014, Kem Sokha went so far as to blame the yuon, as Vietnamese are often derogatorily termed, for the tragic bridge stampede at Diamond Island during the Water Festival in 2010, which killed 353 people and injured many hundreds more. “They created the scene to kill Khmers at Koh Pich,” he said. [32] Taken as a whole, the CNRP presented a contradictory mélange of liberal bromides and Khmer nationalist mythology, each working to undermine the other.

A second and more critical problem for the CNRP is that the international arena is changing in ways that militate against the re-entanglement of foreign powers in Cambodian politics. The most significant sign of this over the past decade has been the emergence of China, which has risen to become Cambodia’s chief foreign patron. Today, Chinese state banks act like a giant cash box for the Cambodian government,bankrolling the construction of bridges, hydropower dams, real estate projects, and tourist resorts. Chinese-built highways have opened up remote corners of the country. Beijing has given Cambodia around $2.7 billion in loans and grants since 1992, most of them in the last decade. [33]

Today, the “China model” of authoritarian capitalism looms as a direct challenge to the liberal democratic model that appeared to be in the ascendant at the end of the Cold War. Whenever donor countries put pressure on Hun Sen to improve governance and enact reforms, China steps in to relieve the pressure with loans and investments. Beijing’s sales pitch is simple. It claims a doctrine of mutual non-interference. It makes no demands on how Hun Sen runs the country. “China respects the political decisions of Cambodia,” Hun Sen said in September 2009, cutting the ribbon on a $128 million Chinese-funded bridge over the Tonlé Sap. “They build bridges and roads and there are no complicated conditions.” [34] In response, the Cambodian government has been willing to toe the Chinese line. It has given Chinese firms open access to Cambodian land and resources. Its leaders have voiced frequent support for the “One China” policy. As it has frequently done for its older patron Vietnam, Cambodia has also deported political activists and other “undesirables” wanted by the Chinese government. [35]

The rise of China is not only reconfiguring the geopolitical balance in East Asia it is also part of a broader shift toward globalmulti-polarity. Arguably this shift has undercut the strengthening of international human rights architecture resulting from the end of the Cold War, a paralysing rivalrythat had prevented global institutions like the UN from fulfilling their founding promise. The British political scientist Stephen Hopgood has provocatively argued that with the relative decline of European and American power the world is now entering the “endtimes of human rights.” According to Hopgood, human rights norms flourished during the years of American unipolarity, and with the recent rise of states like China, India, Russia, Indonesia, and Brazil, the Western power necessary to export human rights norms around the world is waning. The result has been termed “Eastphalia Rising”: the resurgence of traditional Westphalian concepts of global order and sovereignty alongside increased challenges to “Western preferences for universal adoption of transnational principles, such as democracy, free market economics and human rights.” [36]

There is already evidence of this in East Asia. With China’s rise, the United States has systematically downgraded the importance of human rights in its dealings with Asian states. Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has visited the White House, as has Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (in 2008) and President Truong Tan Sang (in 2013). If the invitation has yet to be extended to Hun Sen, it is largely because Cambodia’s small size and marginal global status makes it low-hanging fruit for international human rights groups and US Congressmen. Even though US President Barack Obama reportedly rebuked Hun Sen for the country’s human rights record in a closed-door meeting during the November 2012 ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, the US has done little to sanction the Cambodian government. After the 2013 election, Washington was one of the few Western governments to refrain from officially congratulating Hun Sen on his reelection and it called for an independent investigation into allegations of electoral irregularities. Yet it did little to actually make that happen.

Hopgood writes that, as a result of geopolitical realignments, “[T]he prospect of one world under secular human rights law is receding. What seemed like a dawn is in fact a sunset.” [37] Whether we accept Hopgood’s view that this is indeed the “endtimes” — or, as one critic put it, merely the beginning of “hard times” [38] — it’s undeniable that the global balance of powers is changing, that the global liberal consensus of the post-Cold War period is subject to increasing challenge.

At the same time, local struggles for social justice continue to impose serious demands on leaders around the globe. Hopgood draws a useful distinction between “human rights” (in the lower-case) and “Human Rights” (in the upper). In its former sense, human rights is a local language, which “can be used tactically to help prevent torture, disappearances, or extrajudicial executions or to demand economic and social rights to food, water, and health care. It is a flexible and negotiable language. It does not ‘defend human rights,’ it defends the person. It is a means, not an end in itself.” This is the world of local struggles, drawing from a diverse range of languages of fairness, decency, solidarity and religious faith. Then there is the capitalized version of “Human Rights,” the global regime of conventions, treaties, and legal instruments. Unlike local expressions of human rights, these norms are seen as categorical, indivisible, and absolute — a legalistic menu that must be consumed whole, or not at all. Hopgood argues that “the singularity of the Human Rights message resists local adaptation on any basis other than a transient and tactical one.” [39]

This distinction is germane in the case of Cambodia. Indeed, “tactical and transient” is as good a description as any of the Cambodian government’s adoption of the universalizing discourse of the post-Cold War years. Although human rights discourse has been hailed as “the lingua franca of international morality,” [40] it is far from clear that this represents a victory in and of itself. In fact, Cambodia’s recent history may show that the spread of human rights and democratic narratives has taken place in nearly inverse proportion to the habituation of these ideals in practice. After all, it’s much easier to universalize a language than it is to universalize a moral and political cast of mind — especially one that poses such a revolutionary challenge to the global status quo. Cambodia today provides a vivid illustration of the global gap between norms and realities.

Nevertheless, as evidenced by the 2013 election, Cambodia is also experiencing a wave of local challenges and demands that its leaders can no longer ignore. This is “human rights” in Hopgood’s lower-case sense: a coalescence of concrete struggles for social justice that seek to address a wide range of grievances. After all, few of the protesters who poured into the streets to welcome Sam Rainsy’s return to Cambodia or joined post-election protests did so in the name of an abstraction. Most people that I spoke to during and after the election had simply grown tired of the widening gap between the CPP’s promises and the realities of daily life. A few months after the election, I met a 67-year-old woman named Yiv Yek Khuan, who lived in a small hamlet along the Mekong River in Kampong Cham province. “I still remember and pay gratitude to January 7, to the Hun Sen government, which liberated me from the killing,” she said. But the promises and ritual invocations of “prampi makara” (January 7) could no longer paper over the fact that people in her village still struggled to survive. As she said, “the paying of gratitude never ends.” This wave of discontent also includes local elements — like anti-Vietnamese animosities and an occasional willingness to use violence — that run counter to the menu of international human rights norms. Change is clearly coming to Cambodia, but it’s by no means certain that it will happen according to a peaceful or democratic script.

So where does this leave Cambodia for the next few years? Given the history of Cambodia’s collision with liberal internationalism, we can foresee a few probable developments. One is that with Western power in relative decline in the Asia-Pacific, the balance between the local and international imperatives in Cambodian politics will continue to shift in the direction of the local. For better or worse, Cambodia’s time as the embodiment of a global promise is drawing to a close. With little appetite to become re-entangled in Cambodian politics, Western donor governments will remain aloof. This will not only be signaled by a decline in Western leverage over Hun Sen’s government, but also by an increasing reluctance to use what leverage remains.

The second likely outcome is that Cambodia will continue to develop according to its own internal political dynamics, which remain largely divided along the fault-lines of the civil war years. At the symbolic level this comes down to a sharp polarization of views toward January 7, which was either a liberation or an invasion, and October 23, which either put Cambodia on the road to liberal democracy or produced an “indecent peace” that failed to end the civil war. [41] Both perspectives offer nationalist myths that contain their own ambiguities and contradictions. Concomitantly, it’s also likely that the tradition of charismatic leadership will continue to provide the template for Cambodia’s actual and potential leaders. There’s little doubt that the country’s politics will remain highly personalized, highly egotistic, and therefore highly unpredictable. [42]

As a consequence, the current surge of discontent in Cambodia is unlikely to produce anything approaching democracy on the European or American model of a society in which power is vested in independent political institutions rather than in powerful individuals and their galaxies of clients. Michael Vickery’s prediction in May 1997, two months before Hun Sen cast off the remaining scraps of the Paris Agreements to seize power from his rivals by force, seems as true now as then: “democracy of the western European type will not be seen in Cambodia soon, if ever.” [43] But if “democracy” is defined expansively to mean a society that is more just and responsive to ordinary people, then the 2013 election may well prove a watershed. There is every indication the Cambodian population is becoming more informed, more engaged, and more demanding of change. The course of this small country’s future will not be determined by a shape-shifting “international community,” though foreign governments and international human rights groups can play a useful supporting role. The Cambodian people themselves will determine it. As one political stalemate ends in a burst of optimism, a more intractable one is almost certainly beginning.

Cambodia Human Rights - History

Over the course of the last thirty years, Cambodia has experienced one of the most dreadful human rights records in modern history. The worst was between 1975 and 1979 under the Communist Party of Kampuchea, the "Khmer Rouge," who carried out war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity on a scale that left more than one quarter of the population dead and the remainder in a semi-permanent state of shock. Though the situation improved markedly with the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, and has advanced since then, the improvement has been unsteady and relative. Even today, following the end of the three decades of civil war in 1998, human rights remain more a theoretical aspiration than a reality for the vast majority of Cambodia's population. The situation is exacerbated by a judicial system that remains fundamentally unreconstructed from its authoritarian roots and a "culture of impunity" among elite segments of society in which the powerful prey at will on the society at large.

Read More

  • US State Department Human Rights Reports
    1999 - 1998 - 1997
  • US State Department Reports on Religious Freedom in Cambodia
    2000 - 1999
  • Amnesty International Reports - UNHCR

    On the Record: UN Human Rights Activities on Cambodia
    2000 | 1999 | 1998 | 1997

Cambodia Human Rights - History

Thank you for visiting the website of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR). Your interest in, and support of, CCHR is greatly appreciated and essential to our ongoing efforts to promote and protect human rights in the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Cambodia is at a crossroads: rapid economic growth in recent years has expanded the opportunities available to Cambodian citizens, yet the Government’s failure to systematically respect and promote human rights has led to widespread violations which continue to hinder the development of true democracy in the country. More often than not, the interests of the wealthy and powerful trump those of average Cambodian citizens, at a detriment to the whole country.

CCHR works to address these issues, through monitoring human rights violations and the democratic process, advocating for policy and legislative changes necessary to the promotion of human rights, and through empowering activists and communities to advocate for their rights.

We also promote a collaborative approach to human rights. This means we work in association with other partners and seek to address human rights from the ground up. Each of our projects seeks to empower a number of different actors: ordinary people, grassroots activists, community-based organizations and so on. On this site you will find information regarding these actors but you will also find links to our partners (both national and international), donors and other organizations working to promote human rights in Cambodia.

I encourage you to use this website to learn more about the human rights situation in Cambodia and about CCHR’s history, staff and work in promoting human rights and democracy. The site provides links to all CCHR resources, from press releases, to reports, to news stories about our work and information on how you can support CCHR and stay up to date with our activities.

If you have any questions about CCHR or want to become involved with our work, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our Facebook and Twitter pages are also an excellent way to stay updated on information related to human rights in Cambodia and to follow CCHR activities. We hope you will find the CCHR website a useful resource and will continue to visit us in the future.

Welcome and thank you for visiting our website,

Chak Sopheap
Executive Director, Cambodian Center for Human Rights

Cambodia Human Rights - History

Situation of human rights in Cambodia

C.H.R. res. 1998/60, ESCOR Supp. (No. 3) at 189, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1998/60 (1998).

The Commission on Human Rights,

Guided by the purposes and principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants on Human Rights,

Recalling the Agreement on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict signed in Paris on 23 October 1991, including Part III relating to human rights,

Recalling also its resolution 1997/49 of 11 April 1997, General Assembly resolution 52/135 of 12 December 1997 and previous relevant resolutions, including Commission resolution 1993/6 of 19 February 1993, in which it requested the Secretary&SHYGeneral to appoint a special representative in Cambodia, and the subsequent appointment of a special representative,

Recognizing that the tragic history of Cambodia requires special measures to assure the protection of the human rights of all people in Cambodia and the non&SHYreturn to the policies and practices of the past, as stipulated in the Agreement signed in Paris in 1991,

Desiring that the United Nations respond positively to assist efforts to investigate Cambodia's tragic history, including responsibility for past international crimes, such as acts of genocide and crimes against humanity,

Welcoming the continuing role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the promotion and protection of human rights in Cambodia and her visit to Cambodia in January 1998,

1. Requests the Secretary&SHYGeneral, through his Special Representative for human rights in Cambodia, in collaboration with the office in Cambodia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to assist the Government of Cambodia in ensuring the protection of the human rights of all people in Cambodia and to ensure adequate resources for the enhanced functioning of the operational presence in Cambodia of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and to enable the Special Representative to continue to fulfil his tasks expeditiously

2. Welcomes the report of the Secretary&SHYGeneral concerning the role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in assisting the Government and people of Cambodia in the promotion and protection of human rights (A/52/489, sect. III), and encourages the Government of Cambodia to continue to cooperate with the Office, particularly in the run&SHYup to the national elections

3. Also welcomes the agreement by the Government of Cambodia to extend the mandate of the office in Phnom Penh of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, enabling the Office of the High Commissioner to continue its operations and to maintain its technical cooperation programmes

4. Encourages the Government of Cambodia to request the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide advice and technical assistance with respect to the creation of an independent national institution for the promotion and protection of human rights, and looks forward to the establishment of such an institution

5. Takes note with appreciation of the report of the Special Representative on the situation of human rights in Cambodia (E/CN.4/1998/95), in particular his concerns about the problem of impunity, the independence of the judiciary and the establishment of the rule of law, the use of torture, the administration of prisons and the ill&SHYtreatment of prisoners, and child prostitution and trafficking

6. Expresses grave concern about numerous instances of violations of human rights, including extrajudicial executions, torture, including rape, illegal arrest and detention, and violence in relation to political activities, including those of March 1997 and July 1997, as detailed in the reports of the Special Representative, and calls upon the Government of Cambodia to investigate urgently and prosecute, in accordance with due process of the law and international standards relating to human rights, all those who have perpetrated human rights violations

7. Also expresses grave concern at the situation of impunity in Cambodia and stresses that addressing the continuing problem of impunity, as detailed by the Special Representative, including the repeal of article 51 of the 1994 Law on Civil Servants and bringing to justice those responsible for human rights violations, together with ensuring security of persons and the rights of association, assembly and expression, remains a matter of critical and urgent priority and essential to the creation of an atmosphere conducive to the holding of free, fair and credible elections

8. Welcomes the legislative framework adopted by the National Assembly, but calls for the Constitutional Council to be convened as soon as possible, for the political atmosphere in the run&SHYup to and during the elections to be free from intimidation, for the armed forces to remain neutral, for free and equal access for all political parties to the electronic and print media, for the individual vote to be confidential, for full cooperation to be given to local and international observers, and for all parties to act in a constructive manner and to accept the outcome of the elections

9. Also welcomes the return of political leaders from abroad, a key requirement for a credible election process, and welcomes the role that the office of the Secretary&SHYGeneral in Phnom Penh is playing in monitoring the return of political leaders and their unfettered resumption of political activity

10. Further welcomes the decision by the Secretary&SHYGeneral to accept the invitation from the Government of Cambodia for the United Nations to play a coordinating role in the international observation of elections scheduled for 26 July 1998

11. Calls upon Member States to contribute to the election process, including through election assistance, the provision of electoral observers and contributions to the trust fund

12. Welcomes the ceasefire and calls upon all Cambodian parties to implement its terms fully and to facilitate the integration of all units into the Cambodian armed forces and guarantee their safety

13. Urges the Government of Cambodia, as a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women, including in the political and public life of the country, and to combat violence against women in all its forms

14. Also urges the Government of Cambodia to take concrete action to combat child prostitution and trafficking and, in this connection, to work with the office in Cambodia of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Children's Fund and non&SHYgovernmental organizations to develop an action plan

15. Expresses appreciation to the Government and people of Thailand for the humanitarian assistance provided to displaced persons from Cambodia, welcomes the role of United Nations agencies in the repatriation of refugees and displaced persons, and calls upon the Government of Cambodia to ensure their full reintegration into Cambodian society and political life, and, in particular, to exercise its best efforts to enable their participation in the forthcoming elections

16. Welcomes the signing in May 1997 of a memorandum of understanding between the International Labour Organization and the Government of Cambodia to formalize areas of cooperation in the field of child labour

17. Notes with concern the Special Representative's comments about the judicial system and the prison administration, and strongly urges the Government of Cambodia to increase its efforts to create a functioning and impartial system of justice, including convening the Supreme Council of Magistracy, to institute a system to guarantee the essential sustenance of prisoners and to continue its efforts to improve the physical environment of prisons

18. Expresses grave concern at the devastating consequences of the use of anti&SHYpersonnel landmines on Cambodian society and encourages the Government of Cambodia to continue its efforts for the removal of these mines and to give priority to adopting the draft law on banning all anti&SHYpersonnel landmines

19. Endorses the comments of the Special Representative that the most serious human rights violations in Cambodia in recent history have been committed by the Khmer Rouge and that their crimes, including the taking and killing of hostages, have continued to the present, and notes with concern that no Khmer Rouge leader has been brought to account for his crimes

20. Requests the Secretary&SHYGeneral to examine the request by the Cambodian authorities for assistance in responding to past serious violations of Cambodian and international law, including the possibility of the appointment, by the Secretary&SHYGeneral, of a group of experts to evaluate the existing evidence and propose further measures, as a means of bringing about national reconciliation, strengthening democracy and addressing the issue of individual accountability

21. Encourages the Government of Cambodia to include Cambodian human rights non&SHYgovernmental organizations in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Cambodia

22. Notes with appreciation the use by the Secretary&SHYGeneral of the United Nations Trust Fund for a Human Rights Education Programme in Cambodia to finance the programme of activities of the office in Cambodia of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as defined in resolutions of the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights, and invites Governments, intergovernmental and non&SHYgovernmental organizations, foundations and individuals to consider contributing funds to the Trust Fund

23. Requests the Secretary&SHYGeneral to report to the Commission at its fifty&SHYfifth session on the role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in assisting the Government and people of Cambodia in the promotion and protection of human rights and on the recommendations made by the Special Representative on matters within his mandate

24. Decides to continue its consideration of the situation of human rights in Cambodia at its fifty&SHYfifth session under the agenda item entitled "Advisory services in the field of human rights".

International Federation for Human Rights

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations in Cambodia, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) and the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) express their deep concern regarding the situation of human rights in Cambodia.

Despite the recommendations made by Mr. Yash Ghai, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on human rights in Cambodia, in September 2006, before the UN Human Rights Council, little progress has been made. The Cambodian government has ratified 13 human rights international instruments and the Constitution of the Royal Kingdom of Cambodia has incorporated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, Cambodians are increasingly subject to a wide range of human rights abuses - often committed by State personnel.

Freedom of expression and association

Over the past months, there has been continued threats to freedom of speech and freedom of association, although those rights are guaranteed under the Cambodian Constitution and the international human rights instruments that Cambodia has ratified.

While 2005 was characterised by the arrest and detention of civil society activists, 2006 was predominantly characterised by threats and intimidation directed against human rights defenders and community leaders who were engaged in efforts to protect the rights of the poor as well as ethnic communities.

Human rights defenders continue to be the target of harassment, intimidation and other obstructions to their work. The most serious attacks - such as physical assault or arrest and imprisonment - are increasingly being directed against community activists, trade union leaders and other representatives of marginalized and vulnerable groups. Reflecting an increase in conflicts over land and other natural resources, as well as worsening labor conditions, this is a trend which is unlikely to be reversed in the near future. In 2006, LICADHO documented 71 community and labor activists who were illegally detained and/or had spurious charges brought against them.

The removal of custodial sentence for defamation under Cambodia’s criminal law on 26 May 2006 (Article 63 of the transitional criminal law - UNTAC Law) has been an important development. However, there is a high possibility of misuse by political forces-which control the law enforcement agencies, the prosecution and the courts-to fine individuals of up to 2,450 USD, an amount above the average yearly income of a Cambodian citizen. In addition, imprisonment can be used to coerce a guilty defendant to pay fines. Dam Sith, editor of the local newspaper « Moneaksekar Khmer », was condemned to a fine for disseminating false information while academic Tieng Narith was arrested on 5 September 2006 for writing strong criticism of the government in one of his books. He was condemned on 28 February 2007 to two years and a half in prison, and a fine.

On February 24, Hy Vuthy, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers in the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) at the Suntex garment factory, was shot dead while riding his motorbike home after finishing his night shift at the Suntex factory in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district. Hy Vuthy is the third FTUWKC official to be killed in three years. Chea Vichea, the union’s President, was shot dead in January 2004. In May 2004, Ros Sovannareth, the FTUWKC President at the Trinunggal Komara factory, was murdered. The killing of Hy Vuthy is the latest in a string of attacks and assassinations of union activists in Cambodia. During 2006 there were several violent attacks against FTUWKC officials at Suntex and the neighboring Bright Sky factory. Such a pattern of violence is extremely likely to have a chilling effect on the members and leaders of FTUWKC and other union activists throughout Cambodia.

Arbitrary denials of peaceful protests has been continuing throughout 2006, as well as violent crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations and strikes, in particular by garment workers and people protesting against eviction from their land. In 2006, LICADHO documented 39 cases of demonstrations that were violently dispersed by armed forces.

Women’s rights

FIDH, and its leagues in Cambodia, LICADHO and ADHOC, note with concern that although Cambodia is beginning to recognise the significance of violence against women, the extent of the Government’s willingness to educate the judiciary, the police and the public on these issues, and to implement laws and policies that prevent such violence and protect victims, is still quite limited. Main violations of women’s rights include rape, domestic violence, as well as trafficking and sexual exploitation due to the fact Cambodia is a source, transit and destination country for victims of human trafficking.

Human rights violations in connection with land disputes
The sharp increase in conflicts over land is one of the most disturbing trends to emerge in recent years, with far-reaching consequences for human rights in Cambodia, where an estimated three-quarters of the population depend on the land for survival. Many of the instigators of reported cases of land grabbing were soldiers, police or local government officials. Threats, intimidation and violence are often used to bring about evictions and fair compensation is all too rarely considered. Moreover, Cambodia is involved in extra judicial killings, involving mainly police officers shooting protesters during land protests.

The new National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution (NALDR) creates another level of bureaucracy that further confuses the situation, and undermines the prerogative of the Cambodian courts to definitively adjudicate land cases. In reality, Cambodia’s Land Law (and a patchwork of associated sub decrees) is often manipulated by corrupt officials or totally disregarded. The negative impact of land concessions has been well documented, most recently by the former UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for Human Rights in Cambodia, Peter Leuprecht. The Government has signed contracts handing over plots of land up to 176,000 hectares in deals that have been kept secret despite international calls for transparency. Furthermore, NGOs working on land-related issues are facing increasing threats and obstacles to their work.

Lack of Independence of the judiciary and prevailing impunity

Cambodia’s judiciary continues to be characterised by corruption, incompetence and political bias. The judiciary continues to be used as a tool of the government in political cases, and as a theatre of corruption. The Supreme Council of Magistracy and the Constitutional Council - established under the Constitution to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and the compatibility of laws with the Constitution - need to be strengthened and safeguarded against executive interference.

In addition, many of the laws used today in Cambodian courts were enacted prior to Cambodia’s accession to the major international human rights treaties and the adoption of the current Constitution in 1993. As a result, many of these laws are inconsistent with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations. The long-delayed adoption of key pieces of legislation (Criminal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, Civil Code, Code of Civil Procedure, Organic Law on the Organization and Functioning of Courts, Law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors, Law on Anti- Corruption), has still not progressed.

The absence of effective action to prosecute police, soldiers and government officials who commit human rights violations continues to deeply undermine any sense of justice in Cambodia and to fuel further violations. Impunity in Cambodia thrives on a symbiotic relationship between those with political and economic power and the armed forces and police.

On March 12th, 2007, a panel of three judges upheld an unjust 20 years prison sentence against two innocent men, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun for the assassination of the trade union leader Chea Vichea in January 2004. They were condemned in the absence of convincing evidence and based on confessions elicited allegedly under torture. This case illustrates a perfect example of miscarriage of justice.

Freedom of expression and association

Over the past months, there has been continued threats to freedom of speech and freedom of association, although those rights are guaranteed under the Cambodian Constitution and the international human rights instruments that Cambodia has ratified.

While 2005 was characterised by the arrest and detention of civil society activists, 2006 was predominantly characterised by threats and intimidation directed against human rights defenders and community leaders who were engaged in efforts to protect the rights of the poor as well as ethnic communities.

Human rights defenders continue to be the target of harassment, intimidation and other obstructions to their work. The most serious attacks - such as physical assault or arrest and imprisonment - are increasingly being directed against community activists, trade union leaders and other representatives of marginalized and vulnerable groups. Reflecting an increase in conflicts over land and other natural resources, as well as worsening labor conditions, this is a trend which is unlikely to be reversed in the near future. In 2006, LICADHO documented 71 community and labor activists who were illegally detained and/or had spurious charges brought against them.

The removal of custodial sentence for defamation under Cambodia’s criminal law on 26 May 2006 (Article 63 of the transitional criminal law - UNTAC Law) has been an important development. However, there is a high possibility of misuse by political forces-which control the law enforcement agencies, the prosecution and the courts-to fine individuals of up to 2,450 USD, an amount above the average yearly income of a Cambodian citizen. In addition, imprisonment can be used to coerce a guilty defendant to pay fines. Dam Sith, editor of the local newspaper « Moneaksekar Khmer », was condemned to a fine for disseminating false information while academic Tieng Narith was arrested on 5 September 2006 for writing strong criticism of the government in one of his books. He was condemned on 28 February 2007 to two years and a half in prison, and a fine.

On February 24, Hy Vuthy, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers in the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) at the Suntex garment factory, was shot dead while riding his motorbike home after finishing his night shift at the Suntex factory in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district. Hy Vuthy is the third FTUWKC official to be killed in three years. Chea Vichea, the union’s President, was shot dead in January 2004. In May 2004, Ros Sovannareth, the FTUWKC President at the Trinunggal Komara factory, was murdered. The killing of Hy Vuthy is the latest in a string of attacks and assassinations of union activists in Cambodia. During 2006 there were several violent attacks against FTUWKC officials at Suntex and the neighboring Bright Sky factory. Such a pattern of violence is extremely likely to have a chilling effect on the members and leaders of FTUWKC and other union activists throughout Cambodia.

Arbitrary denials of peaceful protests has been continuing throughout 2006, as well as violent crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations and strikes, in particular by garment workers and people protesting against eviction from their land. In 2006, LICADHO documented 39 cases of demonstrations that were violently dispersed by armed forces.

Women’s rights

FIDH, and its leagues in Cambodia, LICADHO and ADHOC, note with concern that although Cambodia is beginning to recognise the significance of violence against women, the extent of the Government’s willingness to educate the judiciary, the police and the public on these issues, and to implement laws and policies that prevent such violence and protect victims, is still quite limited. Main violations of women’s rights include rape, domestic violence, as well as trafficking and sexual exploitation due to the fact Cambodia is a source, transit and destination country for victims of human trafficking.

Human rights violations in connection with land disputes

The sharp increase in conflicts over land is one of the most disturbing trends to emerge in recent years, with far-reaching consequences for human rights in Cambodia, where an estimated three-quarters of the population depend on the land for survival. Many of the instigators of reported cases of land grabbing were soldiers, police or local government officials. Threats, intimidation and violence are often used to bring about evictions and fair compensation is all too rarely considered. Moreover, Cambodia is involved in extra judicial killings, involving mainly police officers shooting protesters during land protests.

The new National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution (NALDR) creates another level of bureaucracy that further confuses the situation, and undermines the prerogative of the Cambodian courts to definitively adjudicate land cases. In reality, Cambodia’s Land Law (and a patchwork of associated sub decrees) is often manipulated by corrupt officials or totally disregarded. The negative impact of land concessions has been well documented, most recently by the former UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for Human Rights in Cambodia, Peter Leuprecht. The Government has signed contracts handing over plots of land up to 176,000 hectares in deals that have been kept secret despite international calls for transparency. Furthermore, NGOs working on land-related issues are facing increasing threats and obstacles to their work.

Lack of Independence of the judiciary and prevailing impunity

Cambodia’s judiciary continues to be characterised by corruption, incompetence and political bias. The judiciary continues to be used as a tool of the government in political cases, and as a theatre of corruption. The Supreme Council of Magistracy and the Constitutional Council - established under the Constitution to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and the compatibility of laws with the Constitution - need to be strengthened and safeguarded against executive interference.

In addition, many of the laws used today in Cambodian courts were enacted prior to Cambodia’s accession to the major international human rights treaties and the adoption of the current Constitution in 1993. As a result, many of these laws are inconsistent with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations. The long-delayed adoption of key pieces of legislation (Criminal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, Civil Code, Code of Civil Procedure, Organic Law on the Organization and Functioning of Courts, Law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors, Law on Anti- Corruption), has still not progressed.

The absence of effective action to prosecute police, soldiers and government officials who commit human rights violations continues to deeply undermine any sense of justice in Cambodia and to fuel further violations. Impunity in Cambodia thrives on a symbiotic relationship between those with political and economic power and the armed forces and police.

On March 12th, 2007, a panel of three judges upheld an unjust 20 years prison sentence against two innocent men, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun for the assassination of the trade union leader Chea Vichea in January 2004. They were condemned in the absence of convincing evidence and based on confessions elicited allegedly under torture. This case illustrates a perfect example of miscarriage of justice.

FIDH, LICADHO and ADHOC call on the Human Rights Council to

renew the mandate of the Special Representative on Cambodia
to adopt a resolution on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, requesting the authorities to:

Guarantee the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and the international human rights instruments applicable in Cambodia, including the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of peaceful association and assembly

Pass the above-mentioned key legislation in full compliance with international human rights standards and proceed in their full implementation

Cambodia Human Rights - History

We want to see

Cambodian people are the masters of the country, living with human dignity and in peace.

What we do

CENTRAL organizes and supports the Cambodian working people through legal aid and other appropriate means to demand transparent and accountable governance for labor and human rights.

What we aim

To contribute to a transparent and accountable governance for fulfillment of workers’ & human rights in Cambodia.

Save them from trafficking.

This post is also available in: Khmer

About Us

CENTRAL empowers Cambodian working people to demand transparent and accountable governance for labor and human rights through legal aid and other appropriate means.

Vision: Cambodian people are the masters of the country, living with human dignity and in peace.

Mission: CENTRAL organizes and supports the Cambodian working people through legal aid and other appropriate means to demand transparent and accountable governance for labor and human rights.

Goal: To contribute to a transparent and accountable governance for fulfillment of workers’ & human rights in Cambodia.

Watch the video: Human rights in Cambodia: A long history of abuse