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. Sex trafficking in Cambodia of women and children 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.

The NGO Human Rights Watch offers this assessment of the current state of affairs in Cambodia:

Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander, has been in power since 1985. His rule has relied on security force violence and politically motivated persecution of opposition members, activists, and human rights workers. Security forces commit killings and torture with impunity. Authorities regularly restrict the right to peaceful assembly by suppressing protests and banning nonviolent gatherings and processions. The politically powerful have carried out forced evictions and illegal land grabs for decades. Government officials and judges are mired in corruption. Garment industry workers, primarily women, are subject to sexual discrimination and other rights abuses.[2]

Historical background[edit]

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.

In more modern times, the country has been greatly influenced by 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), and 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 committed.[3]

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[edit]

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[4] 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[5] as a deliberate campaign to repress Cambodian civil society to grow and voice their concern. On 14 March 2018, the UN expert on the human rights situation in Cambodia Professor Rhona Smith of United Kingdom, "expressed serious concerns about restrictions on the media, freedom of expression and political participation ahead of a national election in July, calling on the Government to choose the path of human rights." She urged the authorities to lift the ban on 118 politicians participating in politics.[6]

Soy Sros, a Cambodian woman who makes bags for international fashion brands like Michael Kors and Kate Spade, worked at the Superl factory in Kampong Speu Province. On 4 April 2020, Soy was sent to prison for a Facebook post in which she wrote about her concerns that workers from her factory would be laid off in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. She was interrogated by several police for more than 48 hours. "There were several policemen in the interrogation room, and they asked me if I wanted attention, or to be famous, whether I was trying to incite somebody," Soy said. "They called me names, offended my dignity as a woman." Soon after, Soy was thrown into the Kampong Speu prison. Superl's initial charges against Soy claimed that she had posted fake news and defamed the factory. But the court that was looking into her case also charged her with two criminal offenses, provocation and discrimination. If Soy were found guilty, she faced up to three years in prison and a fine of up to six million riels (approximately US$1,500). She was jailed for two months.[7]

Weak Judiciary System[edit]

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. In 2006 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'.[8]

Women's Rights[edit]

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[edit]

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Cambodians suffer from discrimination and abuse; including violence, workplace discrimination, and social and familial exclusion.[9] 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.[10][11][12] In December 2010, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights published a ground breaking report on the situation of LGBT people in Cambodia.[9]

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 US$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[edit]

Human rights activists are increasingly worried that [forced eviction]s in Cambodia are spiralling out of control. An Amnesty International report shows how,[13] 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[edit]

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.[14]

Across Cambodia, authorities routinely detain alleged drug users, homeless people, "street" children, sex workers, and people perceived to have disabilities in a "haphazard system of detention centers around the country". Some of those detention centres are ostensibly for drug treatment, while others are ostensibly for "social rehabilitation". In addition to Prey Speu, the Ministry of Social Affairs also has authority for the Phnom Bak centre in Sisophon town, Banteay Meanchey province, and manages a drug detention centre with the military on a military base in Koh Kong town, Koh Kong province. There are "a further six drug detention centers" in Cambodia "that each year hold at least 2,000 people without due process".[15] Events of 2013. Amnesty International and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, located in Cambodia, also raised 'impunity' as a concern. "Impunity for perpetrators of human rights abuses and lack of an independent judiciary remained serious problems," Amnesty's 2012 Annual Report said. Since June, NGOs reported that authorities "abused at least 30 prisoners – 29 while in police custody and one in prison. Kicking, punching and pistol whipping were the most common methods of reported physical abuse, but electric shock, suffocation, caning and whipping with wires were also used." The US State Department report says "politicized and ineffective judiciary is one of the country's key human rights abuses." That report says "the government generally does not respect judicial independence, and that there has been widespread corruption among judges, prosecutors and court officials."[16]

"Human Rights Watch documented how guards and staff at informal detention centers "whip detainees with rubber water hoses, beat them with bamboo sticks or palm fronds, shock them with electric batons, sexually abuse them, and punish them with physical exercises intended to cause intense physical pain." Informal detainees held in extra judicial centres have been forced to work on construction sites, including in at least one instance to help build a hotel.[15]

There are documented cases in Cambodia of people committing murder and then paying state officials so as not to be prosecuted. "Impunity enjoyed by the rich and powerful helps explain a lack of public trust in Cambodia's judicial and law enforcement institutions."[17] One type of slavery present in Cambodia is when parents sell the virginity of the daughters, often to pay off a debt. Even after their daughter is no longer a virgin, parents may continue to sell their daughters into sex slavery.[18][19][20] According to ABC News, it was during a brutal and lawless period, following the fall of the Khmer Rouge, that child sex slavery began to flourish.[20] Other slaves in Cambodia are forced to make bricks.[21]

On 14 March 2018, the UN expert on the human rights situation in Cambodia Professor Rhona Smith of United Kingdom, “expressed serious concerns about restrictions on the media, freedom of expression and political participation ahead of a national election in July, calling on the Government to choose the path of human rights.”[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cambodia: Hun Sen Systematically Silences Critics". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 19 July 2017.
  2. ^ "Cambodia". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 19 July 2017.
  3. ^ Ben Kiernan. 2008. The Pol Pot regime: race, power, and genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 544 pages
  4. ^ Department Of State. The Office of Electronic Information, Bureau of Public Affairs. "Cambodia: Arrests of Activists and Opposition Leaders". Retrieved 2019-06-25.
  5. ^ "Briefing: Restrictions on the Freedom of Assembly in Cambodia 2005". LICADHO. Retrieved 2019-06-25.
  6. ^ "Cambodia at a crossroads”:" UN expert calls on Government to choose path of human rights “Cambodia at a crossroads”: UN expert calls on Government to choose path of human rights
  7. ^ Jha, Nishita (11 June 2020). "A Woman Who Makes Bags For Michael Kors Was Sent To One Of The Most Crowded Prisons In The World For A Facebook Post". Buzzfeed News. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  8. ^ "UN Rules Against Imprisonment of Cheam Channy". FIDH. Retrieved 19 July 2017.
  9. ^ a b 'Coming Out in the Kingdom', Cambodian Center for Human Rights, 9 December 2010.
  10. ^ SOGI Project, website of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
  11. ^ 'Not easy to be out in the Kingdom'[permanent dead link], 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.
  12. ^ 'Human Rights for Everyone', press statement, Cambodian Center for Human Rights et al, 16 May 2010.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Thai, Tha (18 April 2017). "Cambodia to Repatriate Montagnard Asylum Seekers to Vietnam". Radio Free Asia. Retrieved 19 July 2017.
  15. ^ a b "Cambodia: Death Highlights Detention Center Abuses". 7 December 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  16. ^ "Is Cambodia engulfed in a human rights crisis?". ABC News. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  17. ^ Doyle, Kevin (7 December 2014) Cambodia's culture of impunity: What price for a life?. Retrieved on 5 July 2015.
  18. ^ Penh, Phnom; Hume, Tim; Cohen, Lisa; Sorvino, Mira; Montessuis, Jeremie. "The Women Who Sold Their Daughters into Sex Slavery". CNN. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  19. ^ Field, Alexandra; Tham, Dan; Tutton, Mark (September 6, 2017). "Life after trafficking: The girls sold for sex by their mothers". CNN. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  20. ^ a b Woodruff, Bob; Kapetaneas, John; Martz, Geoff; Yiu, Karson (March 8, 2017). "Inside the world of Cambodia's child sex trade, as told through the eyes of a survivor". ABC News. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  21. ^ Cochrane, Liam (2 December 2016). "'They're sold like shoes': Cambodia's building boom built on slave labour, report says". ABC. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  22. ^ “Cambodia at a crossroads”: UN expert calls on Government to choose path of human rights “Cambodia at a crossroads”: UN expert calls on Government to choose path of human rights

External links[edit]

International Organizations[edit]

National Organizations[edit]