Human rights in Cambodia

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The human rights situation in Cambodia is facing growing criticisms both within the country and an increasingly alarmed international community. After a series of flagrant violation against basic human rights a feeling of incertitude regarding the direction the country is emerging, sometimes comparing the situation to a newborn Burma.[1]

In its report on Cambodia, Human Rights Watch stated that "Authorities continue to ban or disperse most public demonstrations. Politicians and journalists critical of the government face violence and intimidation and are barred from equal access to the broadcast media. In addition, the judiciary remains weak and subject to political influence. Trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation through networks protected or backed by police or government officials is rampant. The government continues to turn a blind eye to fraudulent confiscation of farmers’ land, illegal logging, and widespread plundering of natural resources.”

The current state of the country could be described as a semblance of pluralistic democracy. In July 2004, the royalist opposition party FUNCINPEC formed a coalition government with the Cambodian People Party (CPP) after a political deadlock of more than a year. More recently, Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) members have been targeted for criminal prosecutions, after seeing the parliamentarian immunity of several SRP members lifted by a criticized closed-door hand vote with members of the parliament.

Historical background

Human rights in Cambodia may be seen in the context of both its traditions deriving primarily from Indian culture and its absolute rule of god-kings, and Buddhism, the main religion within Cambodian society.

On the other hand, the country is also greatly influenced from its modern influences of French colonialism, and a half century of radical change from constitutional monarchy, to a presidential regime under Lon Nol, a radical Marxism-Leninism under the Khmer Rouge, a Vietnamese occupation under the communist party People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), to finally the restoration of constitutional monarchy under a United Nations administered transition (UNTAC), a result of the Paris Agreement signed in 1991. Under the Khmer Rouge, extensive violations of human rights were conducted.[2]

The Paris Agreement required that the Constitution include "basic principles, including those regarding human rights and fundamental freedoms ..." The Paris Agreement also required Cambodia “to take effective measures to ensure that the policies and practices of the past shall never be allowed to return." The Constitution of 1993 does indeed contain a chapter on "The Rights and Obligations of Khmer Citizens" consisting of twenty articles (Articles 31-50), seventeen of which relate to rights and three to duties. In compliance with the requirement of the Paris Agreement that the constitution provide that "[a]ggrieved individuals will be entitled to have the courts adjudicate and enforce these rights" and that "[a]n independent judiciary will be established, empowered to enforce the rights provided under the constitution", the Constitution stipulates that Khmer citizens have the right to denounce, make complaints or file claims against the state of state agents, the settlement of which should be determined by the courts.

Since the adoption of the Constitution in 1993, the UN appointed a Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights opened a Cambodian office. These institutions alongside local and international human rights groups have documented a wide range of human rights violations, with limited results, in terms of reform and redress.


Freedom of Expression and Assembly

Violations of freedom of expression, including lack of access to the media, are endemic. More recently, what was decried as a campaign against freedom of expression[3] marked an accelerating backward slide in Cambodia’s efforts to promote human rights values. There are severe restrictions on freedom of assembly, granted by the Cambodian Constitution, is also being perceived by local organizations[4] as a deliberate campaign to repress Cambodian civil society to grow and voice their concern.

Weak Judiciary System

Efforts to establish an independent judiciary have been considerable for over a decade but have not yet achieved hoped-for results. The judiciary remains corrupt, inefficient, and mostly controlled by the ruling party CPP. Flagrant violations of human rights by state agents have been identified but prosecutions have been rare.

Arbitrary arrests are also practiced by the CPP government using a politically controlled court as a mean to strengthen its grip on power. Recently, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that 'the detention of Sam Rainsy Party MP Cheam Channy is in violation of both Cambodian and international law'.[5]

Women's Rights

Gender roles in Cambodia are strict and domestic violence against women is a very serious problem. But for several years, the Cambodian Ministry of Women's Affairs has shown a considerable commitment in the fight against gender-specific and domestic violence, even making it a national Millinnium Development Goal.

LGBT Rights

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Cambodians suffer from discrimination and abuse; including violence, workplace discrimination, and social and familial exclusion.[6] In 2010, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights established the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Project to empower LGBT people throughout Cambodia to advocate for their rights and to improve respect for LGBT people throughout Cambodia. [7] [8] [9] In December 2010, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights published a ground breaking report on the situation of LGBT people in Cambodia.[6]

Same-sex sexual acts are not a criminal offence in Cambodia. However, there is no anti-discrimination legislation, or other sanctions for those who violate the rights of LGBTI people. Further, marriage is limited strictly to opposite-sex couples. This definition is also used in the Law on Marriage and Family, where article 3 reads: ‘marriage is a solemn contract between a man and a woman’, and in article 6 ”marriages are prohibited between persons of the same sex”. The Constitution extends its rights and freedoms to every citizen, regardless of ‘race, colour, sex… or other status’ – a phrasing that can be used in favour of LGBTI persons’ rights, given its intent to provide equality regardless of personal characteristics. With widespread corruption and a long road ahead for Cambodia to become a constitutional state, LGBTI persons face the same type of difficulties as other citizens, where rule of law is weak. In addition, they are also targets of extortion related to their LGBTI identities The most common situation where LGBTI persons face poor attitudes from authorities is when police target lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals for financial gain. There are two provisions: ‘Human trafficking law’ and ‘Commune and village safety policy’. The police have used these to arrest people (mostly transgender and gay men) under false charges and claim a payment (between USD 10 and 30) not to keep them overnight. Transgender sex workers are frequently abused by the police. UNDP reports that local authorities and police sometimes use various laws to limit the rights of LGBTI people; for example through forced separation of same-sex couples, as per parental request, or linking of LGBTI people with drug use or sex work Issues related to LGBTI persons’ living conditions and rights are overall absent from political and media discourse in Cambodia. There are a few cases where LGBTI matters have made it to the public agenda, with officials both speaking in favour and against LGBTI rights. There is no legal group yet to protect LGBT who are victims of legal abuses as well as human right violations. October 2014 a lesbian couple got married but police and commune officials stop them from getting married while their both family still continued and committed to make the marriage happened in cultural way. Article in Khmer

Forced evictions

Human rights activists are increasingly worried that [forced eviction]s in Cambodia are spiralling out of control. An Amnesty International report shows how,[10] contrary to Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law, those affected by evictions have had no opportunity for genuine participation and consultation beforehand. Information on planned evictions and on resettlement packages has been incomplete and inaccurate, undermining the rights of those affected to information, and to participate in decisions which affect the exercise of their human rights, in particular the right to adequate housing. The lack of legal protection from forced eviction, and lack of regulation of existing standards has left an accountability gap which increases the vulnerability of marginalized people, particularly those living in poverty, to human rights abuses including forced evictions.


Other serious and persistent human rights problems include unresolved political murder, abuse of unionists and opposition politicians. Amongst several unresolved assassinations, the murder of union leader Chea Vichea received strong international coverage by major human rights and labour organizations, and the United Nations.

Land confiscations, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, forced child labor, trafficking in women and children, discrimination and domestic violence against women, and abuse of children are also affecting Cambodians.

Current Issues

Current issues of particular concerns are the forcible repatriation of Vietnamese Montagnard asylum seekers by the Cambodian government and an alarming number of land issues throughout the country.

See also


  2. Ben Kiernan. 2008. The Pol Pot regime: race, power, and genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 544 pages
  6. 1 2 'Coming Out in the Kingdom', Cambodian Center for Human Rights, 9 December 2010.
  7. SOGI Project, website of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
  8. 'Not easy to be out in the Kingdom', Phnom Penh Post, 10 May 2010. "There’s not very much information out there at all ... I don’t think anyone really knows what the general everyday situation is for the gay community in Cambodia, and I think that’s because they’ve been afraid to speak out” - Rupert Abbott.
  9. 'Human Rights for Everyone', press statement, Cambodian Center for Human Rights et al, 16 May 2010.

International Organizations

National Organizations


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