The Law on National Management in the State of Emergency was signed into law on April 29, 2020. It provides the government with broad new powers during a state of emergency. These include banning meetings and gatherings, restricting people from leaving their homes, mobilizing military forces, surveilling telecommunications “by any means,” banning or restricting news media that may harm “national security” or create confusion about the state of emergency, and other measures that are “suitable and necessary” to respond to the emergency. “Obstructing” the state’s response to the emergency, or noncompliance with the response in a way that creates “public chaos,” is punishable by up to 5 years in jail and a fine of up to 5 million riels ($1,200). Organizations found culpable of these offenses may be fined up to 1 billion riels ($247,000). The Law has been heavily criticized by international and local organizations for violating rule of law principles and international human rights law and standards, particularly on freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, and imprisonment of those critical of state measures on COVID-19. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, expressed her concerns over the draft Law for potentially violating the right to privacy, silencing free speech, and criminalizing peaceful assembly. The drafting process for the Law was carried out without public participation and consultation, and as enacted, the Law reinforces the government’s authority to continue cracking down on civil society organizations, as well as on independent journalists and media organizations for allegedly spreading fake news.
For more information, see ICNL’s COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker Cambodia entry.
In February 2020, the RGC and civil society organizations continued to negotiate on a number of articles under the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), which is to be amended. One hundred NGOs and associations signed a joint statement calling for LANGO to be completely repealed and for using the Cambodia Code of Civil Law and Procedure to regulate associations and NGOs instead. The government rejected this call. Articles 10, 11, and 20 of the LANGO were under discussion, with the NGOs requesting that they be removed and the government insisting on keeping them.
In March 2020, the treason trial against Kem Sokha, the leader of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescure Party (CNRP), was temporarily suspended by agreement of both parties, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. On March 24, 2020, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision to sentence Kong Mas, a former CNRP member, to serve a year and a half in prison after he was found guilty of insulting the government and inciting the violence. In addition, in April an online journalist, Sovann Rithy, was charged with incitement to commit a felony for reporting Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments during a press conference.
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 1979 the first humanitarian international NGOs (INGOs) arrived and the establishment of local NGOs soon followed.
The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) and development partners recognize that NGOs and INGOs have made an important contribution to rehabilitation, reconstruction and development for the last 30 years. NGOs are viewed as important partners in the delivery of basic social services. Formally the RGC 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 an increasingly limited space for meaningful dialogue.
Aside the service provision sphere, the environment for NGOs is not enabling. NGOs involved in advocacy, legal rights and human rights are seen by the RGC as unwanted opposition, and the environment for their activity is restrictive. The Cambodia People’s Party (CPP), which maintains control over the Cambodian State, is becoming more authoritarian despite an increasingly vocal political opposition. 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.
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 RGC has taken the unprecedented step of including civil society leaders within the scope of the newly enacted Anti-Corruption Law by requiring them to disclose their assets. From December 2010 through December 2011, the RGC issued four versions of a restrictive draft Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO) and ultimately promulgated the final version in August 2015, despite wide protests from citizens, civil society and the international community regarding both its content and the lack of meaningful public participation in crafting the law. Among concerns with the law are mandatory registration for all domestic and international associations, unfettered ministerial discretion over registration, and the requirement of “political neutrality” by all associations and NGOs.
The operating environment for civil society therefore continues to shrink. The LANGO, in particular, has been used by government authorities to break up meetings and trainings conducted by NGOs and community-based organizations. Authorities have claimed that the LANGO requires groups to receive permission from local authorities before holding meetings, trainings, and other events. However, the LANGO does not have any such requirement.
Additionally, 2016 saw numerous prominent opposition politicians and civil society leaders arrested on spurious charges. Staff members of the NGO called ADHOC were arrested and charged with bribing a witness under Article 548 of the Criminal Code, stemming from ADHOC’s legal representation of an alleged mistress of a leading opposition politician. There were also calls for NGOs to be suspended or shut down due to allegedly violating the “political neutrality” clause of the LANGO. For instance, several NGOs and their employees, including the leaders of ADHOC, learned they were “being investigated” by the Interior Ministry in June 2017 for allegedly aiding the opposition party and that they would face legal action if the allegations proved true. There have also been reports that protests have consistently been shut down and protesters detained without legal justification. In December 2018, hundreds of participants gathered in the Phnom Penh’s Democracy Square to mark 70 years since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, they, too, were met with “restrictions”, such as a limitation to gather only in the square. The 2020 Law on the State of Emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the increasing restrictions on rule of law and fundamental freedoms, particularly on civil society, by giving the RGC more legal tools to mute dissenting voices.
After several activists, including Kong Raiya and Soung Neakpaon, were arrested for commemorating the anniversary of political analyst Kem Ley’s death, on July 26, 2019, UN human rights experts expressed their concern over the arrests of the activists and demanded the immediate release of Kong Raiya and Soung Neakpaon. They reaffirmed their previous concern about the “ongoing crackdown on civil society and the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms”.
|Organizational Forms||NGOs and associations|
|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 5,523 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 both domestic and 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 RGC 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 in law and policy, but in practice most activists are monitored by the government, and international contact can especially subject activists to scrutiny and harassment.|
|Barriers to Resources||No barriers in law and policy.|
|Barriers to Assembly||Vague definition; right restricted to Cambodian citizens only; excessive use of force on protesters; restrictive prior notification requirements which in practice act as a prior permission regime.|
|Population||16,572,061 (October 2019)|
|Type of Government||Multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||63.4 (Men) and 68.6 (Women) (2020)|
|Literacy Rate||Male: 86.5%|
|Religious Groups||Buddhist: 97.9%; Muslim: 1.1%; Christian: 0.5%; Other: 0.6% (2013 est.).|
|Ethnic Groups||Ethnic Groups Khmer: 97.6%; Cham: 1.2%; Vietnamese: 0.1%; Chinese: 0.1%.|
|GDP per capita||4,000 (2017 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale|
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||146 (2019)||1 – 189|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||13 (2018)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||16 (2018)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||162 (2019)||1 – 180|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Not Free|
Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: 20 (2020)
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free|
40 – 0
60 – 0
|Fragile States Index||54 (2019)||178 – 1|
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1992|
|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
The Cambodian Constitution was adopted by the Constitutional Assembly in Phnom Penh on 21 September 1993.
Relevant Constitutional provisions include:
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.
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 Political Parties (1997) (amendmended in 2017);
- Law on Taxation (2004);
- Penal Code (new 2009 Code pending enactment);
- Civil Code (2007);
- Counter-terrorism Law (2007);
- Law on Agricultural Cooperatives (2013);
- Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO) (2015);
- The Law on Election of Member of National Assembly (LEMNA) (2015); and
- Trade Union Law (2016) ; and
- Law on Telecommunications (2015) (unofficial translation).
Registration: The LANGO outlines new burdensome registration requirements, but leaves the actual registration procedure to be determined by the Ministry of Interior through administrative orders or Prakas. As of February 2015, these Prakas have not been drafted. INGOs are also subjected to burdensome registration requirements under the LANGO, including signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government before undertaking any activities. Under the newly passed LANGO, the Ministry of Interior has complete discretion over registering associations. Registration can be denied on the broad grounds of “endanger[ing]” the security, stability and public order or jeopardize the national security, national unity, cultures, tradition, and custom of the Cambodian national society.”
Legal personality: The Civil Code, adopted in 2007, recognizes registered NGOs as legal entities and makes them subject to its provisions. The LANGO now requires all NGOs and associations, including informal groups, to register and thereby conferring legal entity status.
Criminal responsibility: Members of NGOs are subject to the Cambodia Penal Code. The 2007 Counter-terrorism Law has detailed provisions relating to the question of financing of and material assistance to terrorism. The new LANGO provides that associations and NGOs are subject to criminal punishments in accordance with the existing criminal law in Cambodia for offenses including jeopardizing national security and operating without registration.
Election activity: The Law on Election of Member of National Assembly (LEMNA) was passed in March 2015 with provisions that ban CSOs from engaging in the electoral process, including pre- and post-election campaigns.
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. The new LANGO provides that domestic and foreign NGOs must annually report on activities and finances, and are subject to government audits.
Self-regulatory mechanism: NGOs in Cambodia have established a Voluntary Certification Scheme. To be certified by this system, NGOs must comply with a Code of Ethical Principles. The system is recognized at international and national levels as an effective way to build accountability and transparency.
Internet privacy: The Law on Telecommunications was approved in December 2015 with provisions that give the government sweeping powers to spy on electronic communications and criminalize communication deemed to cause “national insecurity,” among other reasons.
State of emergency: The Law on National Management in the State of Emergency negatively impacts freedom of expression, the right to access to information, freedom of assembly, freedom of movements, the right to privacy related to state surveillance, and the right to property through obscure provisions that are prone to broad interpretation to fit political interest when applied. If found guilty, an individual could be jailed between 5-10 years in prison.
1. On March 31, 2020, Cambodia’s Council of Ministers approved the “Law on Governing the Country in a State of Emergency,” which Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned would allow the government to “restrict all civil and political liberties and target human rights, democracy, and media groups.” A vote on the bill by the country’s one-party National Assembly is expected in April 2020.
2. International partners and the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) signed an agreement to draft the Freedom of Information Law in mid-2014. Pursuant to that agreement, drafting was to take approximately three years. In early 2016, a website was created to solicit input from the public. In October 2019, the Information Ministry announced that the draft Law on Access to Information is ready to be reviewed. The draft law is currently in the hands of the Information Ministry and will be reviewed during an upcoming inter-ministerial meeting. After that, it is scheduled to be submitted to the Council of Ministers before it is sent to the National Assembly. The Draft Law consists of nine chapters and 38 articles and aims to provide the Cambodian public the right to access to information and set legal obligations for the government’s ministries and public institutions to release information.
3. The government proposed laws to be enacted within the fifth mandate of its government (the fifth mandate refers to the period of 2013-2018). They were in the process of being “fast-tracked” to adoption, though this did not initially occur. Among the laws were a Draft Law on Cybercrime. On July 12, 2019, however, it was reported that the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice were reviewing that draft law, which is designed to fight against fake news. A human rights defender expressed concern over the draft law, however, saying that it would restrict “the freedom of citizens, other political parties, civil society organizations.”
4. The Ministry of Interior is reportedly drafting a Law to Protect State Secrets. It would aim to protect “state secrets in order to ensure national secrecy is strictly protected.” However, the concern is that the drafting process has not been open and transparent.
5. In August 2019, the Ministry of Information began reviewing amendments to the Press Law to bring it in line with recent developments in the media industry and current legal standards. In November, the International Federation of Journalists appealed the government to expedite the amendments to meet global press standards to ensure the protection of journalists.
6. On November 27, 2019, the National Assembly unanimously passed amendments to the Trade Union Law, stating that it promotes workers’ rights and ensures union freedom. “Unions are no longer required to make and submit a copy of activity and finances to the Labour Ministry, but the ministry has an obligation to demand those reports if requested by union members or donors.” However, unions have argued that “requested audit of activity and financial reports will result in interference.” Articles 54, 55, and 59 in the old law stated that unions have the right to be a representative of the workers to solve labour disputes, but the new amendment stipulates that a unionist cannot represent workers in labour dispute anymore.
7. On November 5, 2019, the Interior Ministry held a meeting on the revision of the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO) in order to address concerns raised by civil society groups relating to as registration, facilitation of fieldwork, and restrictions on human rights work. The Interior Ministry then met with representatives of local and foreign NGOs to review and give feedback on draft amendments to the Law. After a series of meetings, a coalition of CSOs stated that they believed the government lacked the will to make amendments.
8. On October 9, 2019, the Information Ministry announced that the draft Law on Access to Information. As of February 2020, the Ministry is reviewing the draft Law, particularly the section on penalties. Human Rights Watch has urged the RGC to amend the Draft Law to reflect international standards relating to the right to information under Article 19 of the ICCPR.
The LANGO provides the following definitions for NGOs and Associations:
1. A domestic association refers to a membership organization created under Cambodian law by natural persons and/or legal persons with the purposes of representing and protecting the interests of its members without making profits or gain for mutual distribution.
2. A domestic non-governmental organization refers to a membership non-governmental organization, including foundations, created under Cambodian law by natural persons and/or legal persons with the purpose of providing funds or services in one or many realms in order to serve the public interest without making profits or gain for mutual distribution.
3. A foreign association or foreign non-governmental organization refers to a legitimate organization created outside the country with the purpose of conducting activities to serve the public interest without making a profit.
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
Under the new LANGO, 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 and face criminal sanctions. Despite assurances from the Ministry of Interior that the LANGO would not apply to community-based organizations (CBOs), some small groups have been barred from meeting on the grounds that they lack registration under the LANGO. For example, just days after the passage of the LANGO, officials in Kratie province demanded that a small group of families involved in land rights advocacy register with the Ministry of Interior or be “punished.”
Second, the LANGO still requires INGOs to conclude a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFA/IC). The current procedural requirements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFA/IC) for the registration of INGOs are complex and burdensome. Besides requiring an MOU, an INGO must receive a supporting letter from a line ministry as a prerequisite for processing the MoU or for renewing the MoU with MoFA/IC.
INGOs that support human rights and democracy find it hard to conclude the MoU and/or receive the supporting letter from the 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, line ministry has sometimes required INGOs to have line ministry officials employed by the organization as a pre-requisite for the MoU supporting letter, though this practice might be rare. 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. It is unknown how prevalent these practices are.
Local NGOs that register with Ministry of Interior (MoI) are also subject to complex and lengthy procedures, pursuant to the LANGO. 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. Application forms for registration, two (02) copies;
2. A letter stating the address of the central office of the domestic association or non-governmental organizations issued by the commune or Sangkat chief, one (01) copy;
3.Profiles of each founding members with a recent 4×6 size photograph, two (02) copies;
4. Statutes signed by the president of the domestic association or non-governmental organization, two (02) copies.
For INGOs, registration with the MoFA/IC requires the applicant organization to provide:
1. A letter of the director of a foreign association or non-governmental organization which has its permanent office in a foreign country, requesting to appoint its representative with the attachment of the profile of a person requested to be appointed, one (1) copy and the request to open a representative office, one (1) copy;
2. A letter stating the address of the representative office in the Kingdom of Cambodia issued by the Commune or Sangkat Chief, one (01) copy;
3. An operation permit for the foreign association or non-governmental organization issued by a foreign competent authority of the country of origin, one (1) copy;
4. A supporting letter of the projects of the foreign association or non-governmental organization issued by the public authorities of the Kingdom of Cambodia, one (1) copy;
5.A certifying letter declaring the budget for implementing the projects of the foreign association or non-governmental organization for at least six (06) months, issued by its permanent office in the foreign country, one (1) copy;
6. A pledging letter to provide all accounts of the foreign association or non-governmental organization in the banks in the Kingdom of Cambodia, one (01) copy.
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. The Government has wide discretion to deny registration based on broad grounds. For a domestic organization, the Ministry of Interior can deny registration if an association’s purpose and goal is found to endanger security, public order, national unity, culture, and tradition, and custom of the Cambodian national society. No grounds for denial of registration are provided for INGOs. The LANGO provides a right to domestic NGOs to appeal a registration decision to the court, but no further details to exercise this right are provided.
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. It is unclear if the LANGO will affect these requirements.
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);
2. Meetings monitored by police and state authorities;
3. An increase in the frequency of arrests, charges and detention of NGO representatives and community members;
4. Threats against communities that engage with NGOs;
5. Photographing meeting participants;
6. Requesting names/contacts of meeting participants; and
7. 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.” 
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 the 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.
New laws passed in 2015 further constrained freedom of expression. The LANGO requires political neutrality of all CSOs, and CSOs risk being denied registration or being shut down if they are found to jeopardize national security, national security, national unity, cultures, tradition, and custom of the Cambodian national society. The Law on Election of Member of National Assembly (LEMNA) was passed in March 2015 with provisions that ban CSOs from engaging in the electoral process, especially pre-, during, and post-election campaigns. In particular, CSOs are prohibited from “insulting” or showing bias during the campaign period, election observers who “disturb” the polls are subject to fines, and foreigners can be deported if they are found to be “campaigning” for a party. The Law on Telecommunications was approved in December 2015 with provisions that reportedly gave the government sweeping powers to spy on electronic communications and criminalize communication deemed to cause “national insecurity.”
In addition, in 2015 and 2016, Facebook users, environmental activists, and members of the opposition party were arrested or charged with crimes. Kong Raya, a 25-year-old student, for example, was convicted of incitement to commit a felony for making a posting on his Facebook page asking if anyone would “dare to make a color revolution with me?”
More recently, on March 5, 2018, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) promulgated an amendment, Cambodia’s Criminal Code, Article 437(Bis) “Insulting the King.” Article 437(Bis) states, “An insult addressed to the King shall be punishable by imprisonment from 1 (one) year to 5 (five) years and/or a fine from 2,000,000 (Two Million) to 10,000,000 (Ten Million) Riels. The term “insult” is defined in Article 437(Bis) as “any speeches, gestures, scripts/writings, paintings or items that affect the dignity of individual persons.” Article 437(Bis) is a “Lèse Majesté” provision, which essentially criminalizes any negative speech against the King. This provision will restrict the freedom of expression and is in violation of international law.
In addition, on August 1, 2019, the Phnom Penh Post reported that Mai Hongsreang, an activist of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, was arrested by Anti-Cybercrime Department police for allegedly insulting government leaders on social media. In May 2019, Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the the same political party, was sentenced to a total of eight years in prison with a fine of 10 million riel on two charges of “Inciting Military Personnel to Disobedience and Demoralising the Army” and “Insulting King Norodom Sihamoni” under articles 471 and 472 of the Criminal Code, respectively. As a result of this, in June 2019, 73 local and international CSOs released a joint statement stating that “CSOs express serious concern and call for a stop to the ongoing judicial harassment of former Cambodia National Rescue Party members.” The 73 CSOs also urged the government to cease their campaign of legal harassment under “vague allegations” and adopt “concrete measures to restore political and civic space, ensure respect for the human rights of all Cambodians, and foster a free and enabling environment for civil society.”
In July 2019, several activists, including Kong Raiya and Soung Neakpaon, were also arrested for commemorating the anniversary of political analyst Kem Ley’s death. Raiya was selling T-shirts with the printed message: “You will also be VICTIMIZED even if you do nothing. It’s just a matter of time.” Both Raiya and Neakpaon were charged with “incitement to commit a felony,” which carries a potential prison sentence of six months to two years, and the other activists were immediately released. For its part, on July 26, 2019, UN human rights experts expressed their concern over the arrests of activists for their involvement in a “peaceful commemoration ceremony” of Kem Ley and demanded the immediate release of Kong Raiya and Soung Neakpaon. They reaffirmed their previous concern about the “ongoing crackdown on civil society and the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms.”
On April 8, 2020, online journalist Sovann Rithy, the Director of the TV FB news outlet, was arrested for committing the felony of inciting the public for quoting a statement made by Prime Minister Hun Sen on his Facebook page. The statement was, “If the moto taxi driver is bankrupt, they can sell their moto because the government is unable to help” in the context of the RGC’s measures on COVID-19. This act of Mr. Sovann Rithy was seen as an insult to the Prime Minister, which is the RGC’s pretext to shut down any dissenting voice.
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 explicit 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. However, the final version of the Development Cooperation and Partnership Strategy (DCPS) 2014-2018 encourages all funding, especially Official Development Aid, to be managed and channeled through the Council for Development of Cambodia (CDC). The DCPS therefore can restrict CSOs’ ability to receive direct funding from bilateral and multilateral donors and could lead to bureaucratic institutions that contribute to disenabling environment for CSOs to finance generated independently.
Besides this, the LANGO has a potential impact on international donor funding to domestic civil society and increased scrutiny on civil society finance by the government. According to a 2012 study by Suárez and Marshall, about 60% of grants and contracts were provided by the United Nations, foreign governments, and INGOs. However, many bilateral and donors have withdrawn their support from Cambodia. As a result, hundreds of CSOs have closed their offices or ceased some project. These will negatively affect livelihood and human rights of the poor and vulnerable people, especially women, children, indigenous and marginalized citizens.
Barriers to Assembly
As a general rule, the right to freedom of assembly in Cambodia is governed by the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations (LPD), which was adopted by the National Assembly and promulgated in late 2009. In December 2010, the Ministry of Interior adopted an Implementation Guide (IG) to be used as a basic tool to assist the authorities and citizens in respecting and complying with the LPD. While many CSOs have become aware of the LPD and IG through regional trainings, the authorities dealing with various demonstrations have not received such extensive training and are therefore have lower awareness of the LPD and IG.
An example of the lack of awareness and implementation of the LPD and other good practices related to freedom of assembly occurred on January 3, 2014, when 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 proceeded to ban all public gatherings and protests “until security and public order has been restored.” In November 2019, armed forces deployed around Cambodia to suppress gatherings ahead of the publicized return of opposition activist Sam Rainsy. Military vehicles with machine gun turrets were placed directly across the street from Phnom Penh International Airport, and armed forces processed through the streets of Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Kampong Thom, Koh Kong, and Svay Rieng provinces.
Several impediments also arise under the LPD: