Cambodian FlagNGO Law Monitor: Cambodia

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 16 December 2014

Update: In November 2014, the Council of Ministers' Press and Quick Reaction Unit created a "Cyber War Team (CWT)" to monitor and collect information from Facebook and other websites in order to "protect the government's stance and prestige," according to a proclamation published in the Royal Gazette. The creation of the CWT came as CSOs continued to call attention to the country's draft Law on Cybercrime, which was leaked to the media in April 2014 and found to have sections that were directly copied from the European Convention on Cybercrime. One section that was not copied, however, and which drew much criticism, was Article 28, which allowed for the punishment of individuals who publish content online that slanders or undermines the integrity of the government or government agencies at any level. The draft law also outlined the establishment of a 14-person body known as the National Anti-Cybercrime Committee, which would be chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his deputy to control the implementation of the law. The Council of Ministers, however, have reportedly "scrapped" the controversial draft Law on Cybercrime in December 2014, at least for the time being. For more information, please see the "Pending NGO Legislative Initiatives" section below in this report.


Cambodia is an example of a post-conflict society in which traditional forms of civil society organizations (CSOs) were devastated and then re-emerged in new forms as part of the reconstruction process. CSOs include Buddhist institutions, trade unions, media associations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In 1989 the first humanitarian international NGOs (INGOs) arrived and the establishment of local NGOs soon followed. 

The Royal Government of Cambodia (RCG) and development partners recognize that NGOs and INGOs have made an important contribution to rehabilitation, reconstruction and development for the past 30 years. NGOs are viewed as important partners in the delivery of basic social services. Formally the RCG has a number of mechanisms that involve NGOs in national development strategy formulation and policy implementation and dialogue. In practice, however, NGOs have limited influence on government strategy and policy and limited space for dialogue.

Beyond the service provision sphere, the environment for NGOs is very different. NGOs involved in advocacy, legal rights and human rights are seen by the RCG as unwanted opposition and the environment for their activity is restrictive. The power of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is increasing and the Cambodian State is becoming increasingly authoritarian. There is widespread concern from NGOs and other stakeholders on key issues relating to the increased violation of land rights and the restriction of fundamental human rights, such as the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Human rights defenders are continually the target of threats and attacks. The recent UN UPR submissions and outcomes document this.  Currently the legal framework in Cambodia is governed by the Constitution, but there are no specific implementing laws.

There are different registration requirements for INGOs and NGOs. INGOs are required to conclude a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and an administrative order requires local NGOs to register with the Ministry of the Interior. The current legal framework is open to discretion and its implementation saddled by a weak understanding of the concept of civil society. There is no effective judiciary or effective rule of law in Cambodia. The RCG has recently taken the unprecedented step of including civil society leaders within the scope of the newly enacted Anti-Corruption Law, by requiring them to disclose assets.  From December 2010 through December 2011, the Cambodian Government issued four versions of a restrictive draft Law on Associations and NGOs.

Thanks to a sustained advocacy campaign led by Cambodian organizations, the Prime Minister announced in December 2011 that more time for consultations on the law would be provided. Two years later, in December 2013, the Ministry of Interior said it was planning to have the highly contentious Law ready for the Council of Ministers in early 2014 and voted on by July 2014. Since the general elections in July 2013, the situation for civil society has deteriorated. Civil society has increasingly been criticized by the government for “incitement” because of its association with the political opposition. The government has also introduced the Development Cooperation and Partnership Strategy (DCPS) 2014 - 2018; however, the key roles that civil society play -- as recognized by the Accra Agenda for Action -- were not mentioned in this draft strategy. 

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms NGOs and associations (although there is no clear definition of these organizational forms provided in the law)
Registration Body The Ministry of Interior is responsible for local NGOs and associations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is responsible for international NGOs.
Approximate Number Approximately 3,492 registered NGOs and associations (it is estimated that approximately 1,350 organizations remain active).
Barriers to Entry Registration is mandatory for all NGOs and associations. The procedural requirements for the registration of international NGOs are complex and burdensome. Procedural safeguards regarding registration are lacking, with the Government having full discretion to deny registration.
Barriers to Activities Advance notification to the state or governmental approval is required for certain activities. International NGOs are subject to reporting requirements on a quarterly basis. The Government of Cambodia is increasingly applying pressure and intimidation on certain NGOs and the communities in which they work.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy Laws criminalizing defamation, disinformation, and incitement.
Barriers to International Contact No barriers
Barriers to Resources No barriers
Barriers to Assembly Vague definition; right restricted to Cambodian citizens only; excessive use of force on protesters; restrictive notification requirements.

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Key Indicators

Population 14, 494, 293
Capital Phnom Penh
Type of Government Multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy
Life Expectancy at Birth Male: 60.03 years
Female: 64.27 years (2009 est.)
Literacy Rate Male: 84.7%
Female: 64.1%
Religious Groups Buddhist: 96.4%; Muslim: 2.1%; other: 1.3%; unspecified: 0.2% (1998 census).
Ethnic Groups Ethnic Groups Khmer: 90%; Vietnamese: 5%; Chinese: 1%; other:4%.
GDP per capita $1,900 (2009 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 138 (2013) 1 – 187
World Bank Rule of Law Index 17 (2012) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 19 (2012) 100 – 0
Transparency International 160 (2013) 1 – 177
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Not Free
Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 5 (2013)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 2014
40 (2014) 177 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 19992
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) Yes 2004
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1992
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) No --
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1983
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1992
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women No 2001
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1992
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) Yes 2004
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 2007

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The Cambodian Constitution was adopted by the Constitutional Assembly in Phnom Penh on 21 September 1993.

Relevant Constitutional provisions include:

Article 41
Khmer citizens shall have the freedom of expression, press, publication and assembly. No one shall exercise this right to infringe upon the rights of others, to affect the good traditions of the society, to violate public law and order and national security. The regime of the media shall be determined by law.

Article 42
Khmer citizens shall have the right to establish associations and political parties. These rights shall be determined by law. Khmer citizens may take part in mass organisations for the mutual benefit to protect national achievement and social order.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Relevant laws relating to civil society in Cambodia include:

  • Law on Taxation (2004);
  • Penal Code (new 2009 Code pending enactment);
  • Civil Code (2007);
  • Counter-terrorism Law (2007)

Legal personality: The Civil Code, adopted in 2007, recognizes registered NGOs as legal entities and makes them subject to its provisions.

Registration: The procedure for registration, governed by administrative order or prakas, can be a complex and lengthy process for local NGOs. INGOs must conclude a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government, which is also a more complex process.

Criminal responsibility: Members of NGOs are subject to the UNTAC Penal Code, pending enactment of the new Penal Code. The new draft Penal Code – currently before the National Assembly - will regulate a number of criminal activities, including such crimes as fraud, embezzlement, corruption, terrorism, etc. The 2007 Counter-terrorism Law has detailed provisions relating to the question of financing of and material assistance to terrorism.

Taxation: According to the 1997 Tax Law, NGOs do not pay taxes on their income, if they are organizations with either religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes. (Article 9 of the Tax law)

Financial transparency: NGOs are accountable to the public that they aim to serve, and to their donors through financial audits. To guard against financial mismanagement and corruption, the recently enacted Anti-corruption Law will be applicable to everyone, including public authorities, civil society actors and private enterprises.

Self-regulatory mechanism: NGOs in Cambodia have established a Voluntary Certification Scheme. To be certified by this system, NGOs subject themselves to a Code of Ethical Principles. The system is recognized at international and national levels as an effective way to build accountability and transparency. 

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. The Government has introduced the Development Cooperation and Partnership Strategy (DCPS) 2014 - 2018; however, the key roles that civil society plays -- as recognized by the Accra Agenda for Action -- were not mentioned in this draft strategy. It also restricts CSOs to work that is only in support of service delivery and peoples' welfare. The Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC), NGO Forum on Cambodia, and other CSOs gathered comments on the draft DCPS and sent the feedback to the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC). 

In addition, the final draft of the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) 2014 - 2018 has been circulated to development partners for their input. CCC and the NGO Forum on Cambodia worked together to collect CSO input, which was submitted to the Ministry of Planning on December 26, 2013. CSOs worry about the lack of communication between CSOs and government at the policy level.

2. The draft Law on Associations and NGOs was reportedly sent to the Council of Ministers (CoM) in early 2014. The current status of the draft law is currently uncertain, however. CSOs are monitoring this closely, because of the restrictive nature of previous drafts of the law issued in 2010 and 2011.  

The legislative history leading up to the release of the fourth draft Law in 2011 was as follows: 

- In August 2010, a draft Law on NGOs/Associations was reportedly completed by an inter-ministerial committee. The Ministry of Interior issued an open call for support for a national consultation on the draft Law. In response, NGO representatives sought assurances that the draft Law be made available to the NGO community to allow for adequate review of the draft law and time for regional consultations at least one month prior to the planned national consultation. 

- The first version of the draft Law was released on December 15, 2010. A public consultation workshop on the draft Law was hosted by the Ministry of Interior on January 10, 2011. More than 200 national and international NGO representatives attended.

- After the workshop, local NGOs submitted suggested revisions of the law to the government.  A second, revised version of the draft Law was released on March 24, 2011. Reaction to the revised draft has highly critical, as many of the problematic provisions from the first draft remained and new concerns arose. There was, however, no second consultation meeting. 

- The third draft was released on July 29, 2011. Reportedly, the draft Law moved from the Prime Minister’s Office to an inter-ministerial working group at the Council of Ministers and was approved by the Council of Ministers, but not forwarded to the National Assembly.   

- On December 12, 2011, the Royal Government of Cambodia released the fourth draft version of the Law on Associations and NGOs. ICNL prepared an analysis of the fourth draft Law, which is available here. Cambodian CSOs prepared and submitted a consolidated analysis on the draft Law, which was submitted to the Ministry of Interior on December 23, 2011. Subsequently, on December 28, Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that the Law on Associations and NGOs need not be enacted quickly and that consultations with CSOs can continue until 2014.

3. The Access to Information Law is undergoing consultations. CSOs have made efforts in drafting and commenting on it.

4. The Peaceful Demonstrations Law (2009) is pending enactment and the Anti-corruption Law (2010) has been approved by the Senate and is pending promulgation by the King.

5. The government proposed laws to be enacted within the fifth mandate of its government. These included laws related to court reform, a Law on Trade Unions, a Law on Cybercrime, and a Law on Agricultural and Farmers' Land Management and Use. Various individuals and organizations commented on the draft laws, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights after his 11th visit to Cambodia in June 2014[1], noted that the draft laws contained some articles that potentially restrict freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and violate the Constitution. They also do not meet the standards of some international human right instruments and laws that Cambodia has signed. The drafting process for most of these laws was not transparent and not open for meaningful consultations, making it difficult for CSOs to provide substantial comments and input into the draft laws. However, CSOs in Cambodia have worked together to analyze the laws, to come up with a collective position, and to develop strategies for better communication and advocacy.

The laws related to court reforms have been passed by the Senate and endorsed by the Cambodian Constitutional Council and submitted to the King for approval. As for the draft Law on Cybercrime, in November 2014 the Council of Ministers' Press and Quick Reaction Unit created a "Cyber War Team (CWT)" to monitor and collect information from Facebook and other websites in order to "protect the government's stance and prestige," according to a proclamation published in the Royal Gazette. The creation of the CWT came as CSOs were continuing to call attention to the draft Law on Cybercrime, which had sections that were directly copied from the European Convention on Cybercrime. One section that was not copied, however, and which drew much criticism, was Article 28, which allowed for the punishment of individuals who publish content online that slanders or undermines the integrity of the government or government agencies at any level. The draft law also outlined the establishment of a 14-person body known as the National Anti-Cybercrime Committee, which would be chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his deputy, Mr. An, to control the implementation of the law. The Council of Ministers, however, have reportedly "scrapped" the controversial draft Law on Cybercrime in December 2014, at least for the time being.

6. The government has announced that the constitution will be reviewed as both elected parties want to add the provisions on the holding of elections into the Constitution's 15th chapter. The parliament is in the process of reviewing its internal rules, and also will look at the national constitution to put the election into the constitution.


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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

Cambodian law currently lacks a clear definition of “NGO”.

The Ministry of Interior (MoI) registers local NGOs and associations. There is no definition for local NGOs and Associations in the administrative order relating to NGO registration.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation agrees to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with INGOs; there is also a requirement for INGOs to sign separate MoUs with the various Ministries that relate to the INGO’s sphere of work. The definition of an NGO, as provided in the annex of the MoU document for INGOs is as follows:

    • "The Non-governmental Organization may be defined as the Organization which has been established by an individual or by any group of individuals to carry out humanitarian activities and non-profit, social development for social welfare and public benefit. The NGO refrains from any activities in support of any Political Parties."

According to recent figures from the MoI, there are 3,492 registered NGOs and associations (it is estimated that approximately 1,350 of these organizations remain active). It is estimated that there are approximately 300 INGOs, but some of these are believed to be inactive.

Public Benefit Status

According to the 1997 Tax Law, NGOs with either religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes are exempt from taxation on their income. (Article 9, Tax law).

Barriers to Entry

The legal framework in Cambodia includes at least three barriers to the formation of organizations. 

First, registration for all NGOs and associations is required. Unregistered organizations can be closed down. 

Second, the current procedural requirements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFA/IC) for the registration of INGOs are complex and burdensome. One of the most cumbersome requirements that affects INGOs is the requirement to conclude a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the MoFA/IC and receive a supporting letter from line ministry as a prerequisite for processing the MoU or for renewing the MoU with MoFA/IC.

INGOs report that INGOs that are supporting human rights and democracy find it hard to conclude the MoU and/or receive the supporting letter from line ministry as these INGOs are not working directly with any line ministry. The registration process also sometimes requires INGOs to make unofficial payments to the officials in order to get MoU approval in a timely manner. In addition, sometimes the line ministry requires INGOs to have line ministry officials employed by the organization as a pre-requisite for the MoU supporting letter. Some organizations also have had to pay a facilitation fee to fast track their MoU and line ministry officials have in some instances required organizations to employ line ministry officials as a pre-requisite for the MoU.
Local NGOs that register with Ministry of Interior (MoI) are also subject to complex and lengthy procedures. The process starts with securing approval on key documents from local authorities and submitting them to the MoI. Most of the applications do not meet the requirements for registration without assistance from MoI officials. The applicant may need to make revisions and/or wait for approval from one official or another.  Reportedly, this process can be even more difficult if no payments are made to officials. 
For local NGOs and associations, registration with the MoI requires the applicant organization to provide: 
1. Five copies of the application form for registration, with signatures (confirmed by the commune and district on the back of the form); 
2. Two copies of permission letters, issued by the municipality, relating to the location of the office of the local organization; 
3. The curriculum vitae of at least three Cambodian founders, including the director, the administrator and the treasurer (5 copies each), and 4x6 photographs (attached with copied Khmer ID card or birth certificate or equivalent documentation); and
4. Five copies of the statute of the local organization, with the signature of the director; and 
5. Five copies of the organizational structure, with the signature of the director.   

Additional requirements include maps of office locations, photos of buildings and copies of lease agreements.  There are slightly relaxed requirements for organizations with offices outside Phnom Penh. 

For INGOs, registration with the MoFA/IC requires the applicant organization to provide: 

1. The letter of registration recognized by the authority of the country where the headquarters of the INGO is located; 
2. The project plan and budget (to be implemented in Cambodia), as approved by the Board of Directors of the INGO;
3. The letter from the headquarters of the INGO, giving authority to its organizational representative in Cambodia to sign the MoU and represent the INGO in Cambodia;
4. The list of foreign staff persons, including the nationality, passport number, role, address in Cambodia and accompanying employment contract; 
5. The list of Cambodian staff persons, including the worker ID Card or any similar document and accompanying employment contract; 
6. The address of the office in Cambodia, with accompanying lease agreement; 
7. A bank Statement; and 
8. Support letters from the line ministries.   

INGOs are required to renew the MoU every 3 years.  

Third, the legal framework does not provide procedural safeguards that ensure a professional, apolitical, uniform registration process. For example, there is no fixed time period for government review of registration applications. The Government has discretion to deny registration; there are no standards provided to guide the exercise of its discretion. There is no clear right to appeal.  

Barriers to Operational Activity

Advance notification and approval:   Regarding Local NGOs: The Ministry of Interior (MoI) has issued guidelines relating to activity notification. If local NGOs are conducting activity in a province other than where they are registered, then the local authority needs to be informed five days in advance. In some provinces the guidelines are interpreted as directives that mean that approval for activity is required by provincial authorities.   
Regarding INGOs: Article 2 of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) requires INGOs “to carry out its humanitarian projects in other locations or provincial cities upon due approval of relevant governmental authorities based on government priorities.” Article 18 requires INGOs to work “in close consultation with counterpart government institutions and local authorities to implement the approved projects or programs.” In particular, INGOs must inform counterparts when assigning a consultant to work in the field or requesting visa extension for an expert to complete the job.   

Political activity: Currently NGOs and INGOS are required “to refrain from activity in support of Political Parties.” There is concern that political activity will be subject to broader restrictions under any new legislation. 

Reporting requirements: MoUs with line ministries, MoI, and MoFA/IC, and the CDC require CSOs to provide both regular (quarterly and annual) reports on their finance and progress. The varying formats and requirements and frequencies of reporting pose a formidable challenge to CSOs. Small local NGOs may not be able to produce reports meeting these requirements. It is difficult for NGOs that are working on sensitive issues, such as human rights violations, human trafficking, and legal aid, to report the status of these cases during the investigation process, which often requires confidentiality and privacy.   

Government harassment: There is growing concern that the RCG is increasingly applying pressure and intimidation on people in the communities NGOs work with and also directly on NGOs and their staff. This is particularly evident where NGOs are conducting activities relating to the protection of land rights of the poorest communities in urban and rural areas, natural resources management, and the promotion of the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. In such spheres of activity, the Government has acted arbitrarily to restrict the freedom of movement and the freedom of assembly and expression.

Examples of state action include: 

1. Permission needed for community members to travel (even between villages); - Meetings monitored by police and state authorities;  An increase in the frequency of arrests, charges and detention of NGO representatives and community members;
2. Threats against communities that engage with NGOs; 
3. Photographing meeting participants; 
4 Requesting names/contacts of meeting participants; and 
5. Police disturbances of activities in meetings.   

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

There are a number of legal avenues used by the courts to curtail the freedom of expression in the country, namely through charges of defamation, disinformation and incitement. [These legal avenues are found within the UNTAC Code (Provisions relating to the Judiciary and Criminal Law and Procedure Applicable in Cambodia during the Transitional Period).] According to one NGO representative: “The ruling party has embarked on a campaign to crack down on freedom of expression and suppress the parliamentary opposition, the news media, the legal profession and, to some extent, NGOs. At the center of the campaign is the government’s misuse of the courts to file unjustified criminal charges against its critics.” [1] 

According to an October 2009 statement made by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia to the Human Rights Council, the defamation laws of Cambodia have gone beyond what is a permitted level of restriction on freedom of expression under the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Cambodia is a party. A series of defamation and disinformation suits were brought primarily by high-ranking government officials against opposition journalists and editors, opposition Parliamentarians and human rights defenders in 2009.[2] 

The 11th draft of the Development Cooperation and Partnership Strategies (DCPS) 2014-2018 potentially restricts CSOs that are playing roles in humanitarian assistance and advocating for changes for benefits of the poor. This raises concerns about the government's willingness to protect the speech and advocacy activities of CSOs.  In addition, the Executive Director of Transparency International Cambodia (TIC) and the leaders of the Labor Union, as well as other CSOs, have been threatened. 

[1] Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on Cambodia, September 10, 2009.Testimony by Dr. Chhiv Kek Pung, President & Founder, Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO).

[2] See statement of OHCHR Cambodia Office of 5 August 2009

Barriers to International Contact

There are no legal barriers limiting international contact or communication. However, the case of Transparency International Cambodia (TIC) is indicative of government stifling international NGO operations. The TIC and the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) signed an MoU to implement some key activities in fighting against corruption after September 2012. During the election process in July 2013, TIC was actively engaged in election monitoring and providing comments for reform on issues such as the national election committee and the ACU. However, the Executive Director of TIC was not allowed to participate in a joint event organized by TIC andthe ACU in September 2013 as he was accused of being "a politician."  

Barriers to Resources

There are no legal restrictions inhibiting either domestic or foreign funding. In terms of spending, there is a guideline limiting the amount spent for administration to a maximum of 25% of funding.

Barriers to Assembly

On January 3, 2014, Cambodian police fired on garment workers protesting for a higher minimum wage, killing at least three people and injuring several others. An activist from the local human rights group Adhoc said as many as 10 of the protesters were badly injured. On January 4, 2014, the Cambodian authorities banned all public gatherings and protests “until security and public order has been restored.” 

As a general rule, the right to freedom of assembly in Cambodia is governed by the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations (LPD).  Several impediments arise under the Law. 

Vague Definition. Article 2 of the LPD states that its purpose is to assure the freedom of expression of Khmer citizens through peaceful assembly, but also states that “this right shall not be used abusively affecting the rights, freedoms and honor of others, good customs of the national society, public order and national security.” The law therefore contains terms that could be interpreted arbitrarily, such as “honor of others.” 

Right available to citizens only. Article 41 of the Cambodian Constitution extends the right to assembly only to Khmer citizens.  The LPD is based on the same limited assumption, assuring the freedom of expression through peaceful assembly only to “Khmer citizens.” (Article 2, LPD). 

Advance Notification. To hold an “ordinary” demonstration, the organizers must notify the Provincial Governor at least five days in advance. Demonstrations of fewer than 200 people (i.e., not an “ordinary” demonstration) require 12 hours notice. If a planned demonstration will have less than 200 attendees, it may take place in one of the country’s designated “freedom parks.” Competent municipal or provincial territorial authorities must examine and respond within a maximum period of three working days from the date the notification letter was submitted. If the competent municipal or provincial territorial authorities fail to respond within three days, then “that implies that the competent municipal or provincial territorial authorities have approved” the assembly. (Article 10)

During the July 2013 general elections and post-election period, CSO requests for holding assemblies were restricted to allow only a limited number of participants in demonstrations/rallies. 

Time, Place and Manner Restrictions. The LPD explicitly prohibits demonstrations on national holidays, including: the King’s birthday, Coronation day, Water Festival, National Independence day, Khmer New Year day and Pchum Ben day.  In addition, all demonstrations must occur between 6:00am and 6:00pm (Article 14).    Enforcement. Although the LPD Implementation Guide expressly instructs authorities to “show absolute patience with demonstrations,” there are in fact frequent instances of the authorities’ misapplying the Demonstration Law and breaking up peaceful demonstrations with excessive force. This is especially true in relation to demonstrations of a political nature. For example, on January 3, 2014, Cambodian police fired on garment workers protesting for a higher minimum wage, killing at least three people and injuring several others. 

In addition, in December 2013, the government warned Mr. Rong Chhun and his colleagues in labor unions and teachers' associations that they will be arrested or jailed if they continue to hold demonstrations. In January 2014, there were then several bloody and brutal crackdowns against the protestors who were demonstrating for better payment and justice. At least four people were shot to death, about 39 people injured, and 23 people arrested and detained in prison far from Phnom Penh. The government warned people to not gather together more than 10 people and/or carry out further demonstrations.

Three orders were sent to opposition political leaders (Mr. Sam Raingsey and Mr. Kim Sokha) and union leader (Mr. Rong Chhun), had to appear in court on January 14, 2014. CSOs have issued a number of statements (Khmer) to condemn the government shootings and toadvocate for proportionate solutions for the protests and other related issues.   Criminal Penalties. Article 495 of the Criminal Code, which provides penalties for disturbances of social and national security, can be applied to people engaged in demonstrations. In addition, people who protest against the implementation of a court decision that they regard as unjust may be open to accusations of incitement to obstruct a public official (Articles 505 and 506).  

See also: The Delusion Of Progress: Cambodia’s Legislative Assault On Freedom Of Expression.     

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UN Universal Periodic Review Reports The Human Rights Council convened in June 2014 for its 26th session, at which it formally adopted the Outcome Report of Cambodia's UPR. At the Council's meeting, the government decided to accept 163 recommendations and to take note of the 42 remaining recommendations.
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia (August 5, 2014)

USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes

Not available

U.S. State Department 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cambodia
Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports, 2010: Cambodia
Fragile States Index Reports Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 2014
IMF Country Reports Cambodia and the IMF
International Commission of Jurists Not available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Not available

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News and Events


From October 6-10, 2014 there was an International solidarity visit from different stakeholders such as Beyond 2015, International Federation for national NGO Platform (IFP),  CIVICUS, Global Call for Actions Against Poverty (CGAP), Forum Asia, and Asian Democracy Network (ADN) and South East Asia Coalition for Advocacy (SEACA). They met with different stakeholders, including CSO leaders, government officials, UN agencies, and other development partners, to learn and to advocate for civic space and enabling environment for CSOs in Cambodia.

Cambodian CSO leaders visited Brussels, Belgium and Germany from October 5-12, 2014 to meet those two countries' parliaments and other key stakeholders to advocate for their support for CSO space.

News Items

'Controversial Cybercrime Law 'Scrapped' (December 2014)
Amid ramped-up efforts by the government to monitor and control the Internet, and plans to install surveillance equipment on the networks of mobile phone and Internet providers, the Council of Ministers has "scrapped" a controversial draft cybercrime law for the time being. The government's decision to set aside the draft cybercrime law, however, comes as it is quickly ramping up efforts to control the Internet. A government directive dated October 7 ordered 12 mobile and Internet providers in the country to allow Interior Ministry officials to inspect their networks, billing records and data logs.

'Cyber War Team' to Monitor Web
(November 2014)
The Council of Ministers' Press and Quick Reaction Unit has created a "Cyber War Team" to monitor and collect information from Facebook and other websites in order to "protect the government's stance and prestige," according to a proclamation published in the Royal Gazette. The document, signed by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and published on October 15, says that the Cyber War Team (CWT) will monitor and diffuse information from "websites, Facebook, Twitter, Google-plus, blogs, YouTube and other media outlets." The creation of the CWT comes as NGOs and observers continue to call attention to the country's draft law, which was leaked to the media in April 2014 and found to have sections that were directly lifted from the European Convention on Cybercrime. One section that was not copied, however, and which has drawn much criticism, is Article 28, which allows for the punishment of individuals who publish content online that slanders or undermines the integrity of the government or government agencies at any level.

Lawmakers Call for Talks Over Lor Peang Land (October 2014)
The National Assembly's Human Rights Committee has laid out its plan to mediate negations to settle a more than decade-long land dispute between villagers and a powerful development company in Kompong Chhnang province's Lor Peang village. The bipartisan committee announced early this month that it would intervene to settle the conflict over land that was purchased in 2002 by KDC International, a company owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem. CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said Friday that the Human Rights Committee, which he chairs, will attempt to resolve the dispute in three stages, first with the 17 families who have remained defiant since 2007, when KDC first started preventing them from farming the land that they have depended on for decades.

Cambodian Authorities Drafting New Laws to Curtail Freedom
(October 2014)
The Cambodian government plans to tighten Internet censorship, regulate civil society organizations and effectively institutionalize land seizures as part of five laws being drafted, according to a coalition of international groups. The laws, which cover farmland, cybercrime, telecommunications, nongovernmental organizations and trade unions, are being drafted by government ministries. The proposed legislation, in addition to three judicial laws passed earlier this year that undermined the independence of courts, would further restrict free speech and other basic rights. "This is not a patchwork of legislation," said Kwak No-hyun of Forum Asia, a network of human rights NGOs, in a joint statement issued by the coalition. "If implemented in their current form, these eight laws will restrict the space for dissenting voices and criminalize demands for justice."

About 40 Injured at Cambodia Opposition Protest
(July 2014)
Opposition demonstrators disarmed Cambodian security forces and beat them with batons and flag poles in a confrontation that came two weeks before the anniversary of the disputed general election last year that led to a bitter political deadlock. Officials said at least 40 people were injured, mostly security forces. Police arrested three lawmakers from the political party that led the protest to demand that Phnom Penh's Freedom Park be reopened to the public. Authorities banned public demonstrations and closed the park in January after a spasm of political violence.

Old problems persist in new NGO draft law (May 2014)
The latest version of the government's draft law on NGOs, which was approved by the Council of Ministers in January, is identical to an earlier version made available to civil society in 2011, with several outstanding concerns still intact, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) said. Working from a copy provided by the government late last month, CCHR found that the draft law – despite having addressed many of civil society's concerns – was likely to be passed as is, still with several troubling articles, including vague language that "could not be much worse for foreign NGOs and associations".

Bans Violate Election Law Right to Campaign, Comfrel Says (May 2014)
Bans issued by the municipality and Interior Ministry on assemblies in Phnom Penh's Freedom Park are not only unconstitutional, but also in violation of the Election Law, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) said in a report. The report cites an April 30 notice sent by City Hall, which said the National Election Committee (NEC) should halt campaigns for the May 18 election that are carried out along the road or “oppose the law.” “The intervention letter from Phnom Penh City Hall is without a legal basis,” Comfrel's report says.

“Participation, transparency and accountability are key in law-making” (April 2014)
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, expressed concern that the Cambodian National Assembly held its second session without the opposition MPs taking up their seat, and urged the legislature to upkeep the key principles of any law-making process: transparency, accountability and participation. "I have been following closely the situation in Cambodia where restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms continue, as a direct consequence of the unresolved political situation arising from the 2013 general election, the results of which continue to be contested," said Subedi.

United Nations Envoy Visits After Protest Deaths (February 2014)
The U.N. special rapporteur on the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, began a three-day unofficial visit to Cambodia, just one month after military police shot dead five protesters in Phnom Penh and the government imposed a ban on public gatherings. Mr. Kiai, a Kenyan lawyer, is tasked with monitoring and reporting on people's rights to assembly and will meet with union leaders and NGO representatives during his visit, which was organized by the Bangkok-based Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development.

Cambodia Steps Up Crackdown on Dissent With Ban on Assembly
(January 2014)
Seeking to quash one of the most serious challenges to the nearly 30-year rule of the country's authoritarian leader, the Cambodian authorities have banned all public gatherings and summoned two opposition leaders for police questioning. After months of inaction in the face of growing public dissent to his rule, Prime Minister Hun Sen appeared to signal that he was entering a more aggressive posture toward his critics. The crackdown, including the clearing of protesters from a public square on Saturday, came after a clash on Friday between protesting garment workers and the Cambodian police that left at least four demonstrators dead. The workers have been at the forefront of growing protests against Mr. Hun Sen's government.

Three dead in Cambodia as police fire on protesters (January 2014)
Cambodian police fired on garment workers protesting for a higher minimum wage, killing at least three people and injuring several others, police say. Phnom Penh deputy police commissioner Chuon Narin said the three were killed and two others wounded when police shot at several hundred workers blocking a road south of the capital. He said the protesters had burnt tires and thrown objects at police. An activist from the local human rights group Adhoc said as many as 10 of the protesters were badly injured. Workers at most of the country's more than 500 garment factories are currently on strike, demanding a doubling of their minimum wage to $160 (117 euros) a month. The government is offering $100.   

Government Pushes Ahead With NGO Law (December 2013) 
After nearly two years of silence on its draft NGO Law, the Ministry of Interior said it was aiming to have the highly contentious piece of legislation ready for the Council of Ministers early in 2014 and voted on by July. NGOs fear the government will use the bill's vague wording to clamp down on groups it perceives to be too critical of the ruling CPP, and few draft laws have attracted as much international criticism in recent years.  Cambodian Officials Ask Opposition to Downsize Election Protest Rallies

Cambodian Officials Ask Opposition to Downsize Election Protest Rall ies (September 2013)
Officials in Cambodia’s capital ordered the country’s main opposition party to scale back plans for mass demonstrations aimed at backing demands for an independent probe into election fraud charges. The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), led by Sam Rainsy, has vowed to hold a 20,000-strong protest in Phnom Penh for three consecutive days beginning September 15 after the authorities rejected calls to investigate irregularities in the July 28 elections. The country’s National Election Committee (NEC), which supervised the polls, confirmed over the weekend that Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had won the hotly-contested vote, prompting warnings from the opposition that it would rally against the result.

Resistance and Solidarity: Cambodian CSOs confront a repressive draft law on associations and NGOs (May 2013)
At the end of December 2011, in a surprise move, Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, agreed to delay by two years the adoption of a controversial proposed law governing the activities of civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Cambodian civil society organizations (CSOs) welcomed the commitment by the Prime Minister to give more time for the government and Cambodian civil society community to come to an agreement on outstanding issues in the fourth version of this draft law, published by the government a few weeks earlier. In 2013, the draft law remains pending, though other obstacles in the CSO legal framework remain.

Human Rights Group Shortlists Sonando for Award (January 2013)
A Dublin-based human rights group has named jailed Beehive Radio station owner Mam So­nan­do one of a half-dozen finalists from around the world for its an­nual award for rights defenders. Mr. Sonando, who owns one of the country’s few independent ra­dio stations and heads an NGO that teaches rural communities about their human and voting rights, was convicted of fomenting a rural secessionist movement in November and sentenced to 20 years in jail. Dozens of local and international rights groups have denounced the conviction—after a show trial that offered no evidence linking Mr. Sonando to the alleged insurrection—as a political move to silence a popular government critic.

Call for Cambodia to respect freedom of assembly ahead of ASEAN Summit (November 2012)
FIDH calls on Cambodia to preempt disrupting civil society events and restricting freedom of expression and assembly ahead of ASEAN Summit. Read the Statement here.

Obama should publicly denounce rights abuses (November 2012)
US President Barack Obama should publicly express grave concern about Cambodia’s long deteriorating human rights situation while in Phnom Penh for the US-ASEAN and East Asia summits on November 19 and 20, 2012, Human Rights Watch said today. Hun Sen, Asia’s longest serving head of government, has ruled Cambodia for over 27 years and has publicly vowed to remain in power for another 30.

UN labour agency names five countries where ‘serious and urgent’ labour-rights cases need attention (November 2012)
A key rights committee of the United Nations labour agency identified five countries where it says worker-rights violations – some involving murder – represent the “most serious and urgent cases” among 32 countries examined at its meeting. Argentina, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Fiji and Peru were singled out by the Committee on Freedom of Association of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) after Committee members reviewed cases involving rights to organize, negotiate through collective bargaining and engage in social dialogue.

Cambodian NGO workers, villagers face intimidation (November 2012)
During a mission to the provinces to collect information regarding land conflicts, the Land Reform Project Team of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights ("CCHR"), was faced with interference and disruption to its work in Thlao Village, Banteay Chhmar Commune, Thma Pouk District, Banteay Mean Chey Province on 29, 30 and 31 October 2012. The disruption of the work of NGOs is a growing trend and amounts to the violation of freedoms of expression, information, assembly and association, all of which must be upheld under the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Cambodia in 1992, and also protected under the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Cambodia disrupting civil society events and restricting freedom of assembly ahead of ASEAN Summit (November 2012)
Civil society organizations strongly urge the Cambodian authorities to immediately end the ongoing intimidation, threats and harassment of organizers, venue owners and participants involved in civil society events in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh ahead of the 21st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and the 7th East Asia Summit.

Cancel convictions of critics and protesters (October 2012)
Cambodia’s donors, including the United States, European Union, Japan, and the United Nations, should insist on the immediate release of prominent critic of the government Mom Sonando and other activists convicted on trumped-up charges. On October 1, 2012, a Phnom Penh criminal court sentenced Sonando to 20 years in prison on trumped up charges of participating in a purported “secession” movement, while three local activists were sentenced to terms of 15 to 30 years and three others to terms of up to 5 years.

A Robust Civil Society is Necessary for Cambodia’s Advancement(September 2012)
Read the Statement that a member of the US Delegation to the UN Human Rights Council, Eric N. Richardson, made at the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

NGOs push donors on rights (September 2012)
More than 100 NGOs gathered in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh calling on donor countries to make aid conditional on government reforms for a more transparent electoral process and efficient judicial system.

Activists detained on dubious charges (September 2012)
Yorm Bopha and Tim Sakmony were arrested on September 4 and 5, respectively, on dubious charges. Yorm Bopha, for example, long prominent in protests against forced evictions of residents from the Boeung Kak area of Phnom Penh, was detained for allegedly assaulting a person who was suspected of stealing. In view of the Cambodian authorities’ established record of abuse of the law and misuse of the courts to persecute political opponents, social activists and human rights defenders for their legitimate exercise of basic human rights, CSOs are concerned that the actions against Bopha and Sakmony were very likely motivated by their involvement in protests and campaigns on behalf of the land and housing rights of local communities.

Radio station owner and NGO leader is prisoner of conscience (July 2012)
Mam Sonando, aged 71, was arrested at his home in Phnom Penh on July 15. He was charged with offences against the state and, if convicted, faces a long prison sentence. Mam Sonando owns one of Cambodia’s few independent radio stations, Beehive Radio. He is also the head of a popular NGO that promotes human rights and democracy, the Association of Democrats. The charges against Mam Sonando stem from a speech the Prime Minister delivered on June 26 accusing the radio station and members of the Association of Democrats of being behind a plot for a village in Kratie province to secede from Cambodia and become an independent state. The Cambodian authorities used this as a pretext for the violent eviction in mid-May of around 1,000 families living in that village, during which the security forces shot dead a 14-year-old girl. The real reasons for Mam Sonando’s arrest seem to be the popularity of the Association of Democrats and his radio station.

U.S. Secretary of State Clinton prods Cambodia on jailed protestors (June 2012)
In her talks with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in Washington on Tuesday, Secretary of State Clinton said the United States was concerned about the Cambodian government's handling of the land protests which led to the jailing of 13 women for between one year and two and a half years. The protests were over a longstanding dispute between tens of thousands of residents of capital Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake district who were evicted from their homes, or are in risk of losing them, and developers looking to turn the area into a luxury residential and shopping center. The women had been jailed for disputing authority and trespassing on the development site.

Cambodian government sparks outrage by picking NGO representatives for ASEAN Summit (March 2012)
The Cambodian government chose representatives from two NGOs to send to the annual meeting between civil society groups and regional leaders at the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh in April. However, most Cambodian NGOs believe that the selection process was unfair and biased, and have stated that the government has prevented mainstream organizations and critical voices from being heard on an international stage. They claim that the organizations nominated by the government are obscure and unheard of in civil society circles and that the two organizations were selected because they are likely to be supportive of government views. As it turns out, the two selected NGOs were handpicked by the government seven months before the “open vote” to select the Cambodian NGO representatives took place in March.

News archive

Cambodian draft law on NGOs may breach international pact, UN rights expert warns (October 2011)

Cambodia’s draft law on NGOs deserves further review – UN expert (September 2011) 

Cambodian Minister’s letter proposes crackdown on NGOs (September 2011) 

Groups urge UN to mull funding Cambodia NGO law (September 2011)

International experts add to worries on NGO law (August 2011) 

Silencing Cambodia's honest brokers (August 2011) 

Civic groups warned to ‘readjust’ their work (August 2011)

Cambodia suspends German-funded NGO that lobbies for urban poor (August 2011)

‘Worrisome’ NGO law moves to council for approval (August 2011)

Cambodian rights group urges defeat of proposed NGO regulations (August 2011)

NGOs in final bid to change controversial draft law (June 2011)

Cambodia lags on land, freedom of speech rights, says UN official (June 2011)

Draft of NGO law withheld (June 2011) 

Western donors must stand up to Cambodia's government (May 2011) 

Government Plans to Tighten Noose Around Civil Society (April 2011) 

Evictions, NGO Law High Among Donor Concerns (April 2011)

Groups Unite To Push Changes to NGO Law (April 2011)

NGOs condemn new Cambodia law (April 2011) 

Donors Asked to Withhold Aid Over Proposed Law in Cambodia (April 2011) 

Government Officials Defend Need for NGO Law (March 2011) 

Criticism is not a crime, UN tells Cambodia (February 2011)

Opposition Party Wary of Revamped NGO Law (February 2011) 

Cambodia/Thailand: Border dispute displaces up to 30,000 (February 2011)

Ministry Accepts Many NGO Changes to Draft Law (January 2011)

Conviction of Sam Chankea is an attack on freedom of expression, says Article 19 (January 2011)

The foregoing information was prepared by ICNL's local partner in Cambodia.

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at

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