Cambodia

Last updated: 5 August 2019

Update

On July 3, 2019, a fifth inter-ministerial meeting was held to continue reviewing and discussing the first draft of the Law on Access to Information. It was reported that the government expects to consolidate reviews and discussions at the inter-ministerial level into a final draft to be submitted to the National Assembly for adoption in the near future. 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. Despite this, there have also been recent negative developments. For example, on August 1, 2019, Mai Hongsreang, an activist of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, was arrested by Anti-Cybercrime Department police for allegedly insulting government leaders on social media. Similarly, in July 2019, several activists, including Kong Raiya and Soung Neakpaon, were arrested for commemorating the anniversary of political analyst Kem Ley’s death. This followed a June 2019 joint statement by 73 local and international CSOs “express[ing] serious concern and call for a stop to the ongoing judicial harassment of former Cambodia National Rescue Party members.” On July 16, 2019, UN human rights experts also expressed their concern over the arrests of the activists for involvement in the “peaceful commemoration ceremony” for Kem Ley and demanded the immediate release of Kong Raiya and Soung Neakpaon.

Introduction

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.

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 FormsNGOs and associations
Registration BodyThe Ministry of Interior is responsible for local NGOs and associations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is responsible for international NGOs.
Approximate NumberApproximately 4,953 registered NGOs and associations (it is estimated that approximately 1,350 organizations remain active).
Barriers to EntryRegistration 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 ActivitiesAdvance 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 AdvocacyLaws criminalizing defamation, disinformation, and incitement.
Barriers to International ContactNo 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 ResourcesNo barriers in law and policy.
Barriers to AssemblyVague 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.
Population16,449,519 (July 2018)
CapitalPhnom Penh
Type of GovernmentMultiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy
Life Expectancy at Birth62.7 (Men) and 67.9 (Women) (2018)
Literacy RateMale: 86.5%
Female: 75%
Religious GroupsBuddhist: 97.9%; Muslim: 1.1%; Christian: 0.5%; Other: 0.6% (2013 est.).
Ethnic GroupsEthnic Groups Khmer: 97.6%; Cham: 1.2%; Vietnamese: 0.1%; Chinese: 0.1%.
GDP per capita4,000 (2017 est.)

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

Ranking BodyRankRanking Scale
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index146 (2018)1 – 187
World Bank Rule of Law Index13 (2018)100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index16 (2018)100 – 0
Transparency International161 (2018)1 – 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the WorldStatus: Not Free
Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 5 (2018)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index46 (2019)178 – 1

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International AgreementsRatification*Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)Yes1992
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)Yes2004
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)Yes1992
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)No
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)Yes1983
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)Yes1992
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against WomenNo2001
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)Yes1992
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)Yes2004
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)Yes2007

* 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 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.

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. On May 9, 2019, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia, Prof. Rhona Smith, released a concluding statement on her seventh mission in Cambodia. The Special Rapporteur urged the government to start a process to amend the Trade Unions Law and to review the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO).

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. More recently, on July 3, 2019, a fifth inter-ministerial meeting was held to continue reviewing and discussing the first draft of the Law on Access to Information. It was reported that the government expects to consolidate their reviews and discussions at the inter-ministerial level into the final draft to be submitted to the National Assembly of Cambodia for adoption in the near future. 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 occurr. 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.

Organizational Forms

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.” [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 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.”

Lastly, 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”.

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.”

Several impediments also arise under the LPD:

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. In July 2015, authorities in Phnom Penh arrested and released six people dressed in prison uniforms and chained together for protesting outside the National Assembly against the LANGO, reportedly on the grounds that they did not ask for permission to protest.

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).

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, were met with “restrictions”, such as a limitation to gather only in the square. There was also a heavy police presence at the square.

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.

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).

UN Universal Periodic Review ReportsThe 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 RapporteursCambodia
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human rights in Cambodia (August 5, 2014)
Fundamental Freedoms Monitoring ProjectCambodia (2017)
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country NotesNot available
U.S. State DepartmentHuman Rights Report (2017)
Fragile States Index ReportsForeign Policy: Fragile States Index 2019
IMF Country ReportsCambodia and the IMF
International Commission of JuristsNot available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online LibraryNot available

Key Events

1. On July 31, 2019, HEKS/EPER Cambodia, the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, and the NGO Forum on Cambodia (NGOF) organized a joint event on “The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas” attended by a number of NGO networks including the Network for Development of Food Security and Safety in Cambodia (NDC-C), the Land and Housing Rights Network (LAHRiN), the Indigenous People and Forestry Network (IPFN) and other grassroots organizations.

2. On July 18, 2019, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and Solidary Center (SC) organized a joint event on “Cambodia Fundamental Freedoms Monitor: Presentation of Third Annual Report & Stakeholder Dialogue”.

News Items

Government signs security agreement with Turkey (August 2019)
Cambodia and Turkey have signed a security cooperation agreement after Minister of Interior Sar Kheng met his Turkish counterpart Suleyman Soylu in Ankara this week for talks on international security.

Senators approve 2019-2023 development plan (July 2019)
Senators yesterday unanimously agreed to pass the National Strategic Development Plan of 2019-2023 worth $57.7 billion in capital. In order for the budget plan to be finalised, it will need to be reviewed by the Constitutional Council and approved by the King. Mr Sarith said it would also help transition Cambodia from a lower-middle income country to an upper-middle income country in 2030.

End of Mission Statement from Rhona Smith (July 2019)
On May 9, 2019, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Prof. Rhona Smith, released a concluding statement on her seventh mission in Cambodia. According to the statement, the Special Rapporteur emphasizes on the important partnership between the government and CSOs and the participation of CSOs at all level in achieving lasting peace, sustainable development and inclusive society under the framework of SDGs. The Special Rapporteur highlights the government’s obligations to respect and protect the exercise of fundamental freedoms such as freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of assembly and free press.

CHRC reviews ‘factual errors’ in Smith’s report (July 2019)
On July 17, 2019, the Phnom Penh Post reported that Cambodian Human Rights Committee found “factual errors” in the draft annual reports compiled by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, Professor Rhona Smith, which will be submitted to the 42nd session of the UNHRC in September 2019.

Cambodia Marks Human Rights Day Despite ‘Restrictions’ (December 2018)
Unions and rights groups have criticized the government and local authorities for placing “restrictions” on their planned events to mark International Human Rights Day on Monday. Several hundred participants, led by nine unions and non-governmental groups, gathered in the capital’s Democracy Square on Monday to mark 70 years since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The demonstrators were met by a heavy police presence, as well as the deployment of informal para-police forces.

Cambodia’s Hun Sen orders task force for civil society groups (October 2018)
Prime Minister Hun Sen has created a task force to address grouses of civil society groups that have cried foul over restrictions placed by the government. The premier announced a line-up of eight officials to man the task force led by Interior Minister Sar Kheng, according to Voice of America. “Gather information; study the requests and proposal and share ideas with government, ministries and relevant stakeholders to resolve it,” Hun Sen said in a statement. The formation of the taskforce comes amid a visit by the United Nations rights envoy to Cambodia, Rhona Smith, who was on a fact-finding mission following criticisms by western countries on alleged suppression of basic freedoms in the Southeast Asian nation.

Cambodia’s government claims upcoming election will be free, fair and plural—but civil society says otherwise (July 2018)
Liberal, pluralistic, democratic, peaceful, free, fair, and non-violent. These were the words used in a video by a Cambodian state-affiliated press office to describe how the government will conduct the general election scheduled to take place on July 29, 2018. Campaigning starts on July 7, 2018. The video was likely intended to address the criticism from local and global civil society groups about the deteriorating state of democracy in Cambodia.

US cuts aid to Cambodia to ‘urge government to reconsider its current course (February 2018)
The White House is cutting aid to several assistance programs in Cambodia due to “recent setbacks to democracy”, it announced late Tuesday. Some programs supporting Cambodia’s Tax Department, military and local government will be cut or reduced “to ensure that American taxpayer funds are not being used to support anti-democratic behavior”, according to a statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Cambodia passes controversial lese majeste law (February 2018)
The National Assembly of Cambodia has passed a lese majeste law that makes it a crime to insult the country’s monarchy. The legislation also places new restrictions on freedom of assembly.

Ministry ups scrutiny of NGOs (October 2017)
The Interior Ministry has instructed provincial officials to urgently report any instances in which activities are carried out by any NGOs or grassroots associations without prior notification, adding that authorities can stop any planned events if they affect “public order and national security”. The letter, which was dispatched countrywide on October 2, coincides with an intensified government crackdown on NGOs. “Associations and NGOs wishing to conduct activities in the territory of a specific city or province have to inform the Ministry of Interior about the nature of activity or directly inform the administration . . . within three days before the activity starts,” the letter reads.

Cambodia Charges Opposition Leader Kem Sokha With Treason (September 2017)
The president of Cambodia’s main opposition party was formally charged with treason, after being accused by the country’s authoritarian government of plotting to overthrow its leaders with the backing of the United States. The charge comes amid a wider crackdown on dissent ahead of parliamentary elections next year, with a particular focus on groups linked to Washington. If convicted, the opposition leader, Kem Sokha, could be jailed for up to 30 years and his Cambodia National Rescue Party could be dissolved, under the terms of a law amended this year.

Observers Warn of New Era of Repression in Cambodia (August 2017)
A crackdown on independent NGOs, media and political parties that began almost two years ago has reached an inflection point that threatens to push Cambodia into a new era of repression, observers said. Political analyst Meas Nee said that citizens and the government’s definition of democracy were on a collision course, with Cambodians hoping for freedoms and rights the state found dangerous. The government worried that “if they give too much rights to the people, it might be hard to control. It might be dangerous.”

Anger Mounts as Radio Purge Knocks 19 Stations Off-Air (August 2017)
Independent radio producers, managers and listeners said they were angry and confused after an Information Ministry crackdown on at least 19 radio stations last week cut off access to programming for millions of potential listeners. Information Minister Khieu Kanharith denied any political motives in the closures, claiming the stations had violated their contracts with the government by overselling programming to outlets like the Voice of Democracy (VOD) as well as U.S.-funded Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA).But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan seemed to suggest otherwise on Sunday, branding VOD director Pa Nguon Teang a “foreign agent” for accepting foreign donations and joining the ad hoc election monitoring group the Situation Room.

NDI Banned, Foreign Staff Face Forcible Expulsion (August 2017)
Foreign staff have been given one week to leave the country after the U.S.-affiliated National Democratic Institute (NDI) was ordered to cease operations in Cambodia. The expulsion of NDI for allegedly not fulfilling tax and registration obligations comes amid recent and mounting government threats against U.S.-funded groups. Following the announcement, a ruling party spokesman said NDI foreign employees would be ejected from the country “by force” if they do not willingly leave. Authorities “have reached the decision to stop the operation of the National Democratic Institute in Cambodia and to expel its foreign staff from the Kingdom within seven days after the official notification of this decision,” said a statement from the ministry.

New Laws Undercut Constitutional Freedoms and Rights (August 2017)
Newly-enacted laws have jeopardized the freedoms laid out by the Constitution and have left less than 12% of Cambodians confident in exercising their rights, according to an NGO report. The research, conducted over a year beginning in April 2017 by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Adhoc and the Solidarity Center, identified 391 cases of restrictions or violations of the right to free expression, assembly or association. The report was intended to provide an “empirical and evidence-based assessment of the state of fundamental freedoms in Cambodia” to be used as a tool for civil society and the government to improve the situation in the future, Ms. Sopheap, who participated in the writing of the report, said. But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the research was merely a manipulation of facts and figures, rather than something to guide Cambodia forward.

Cambodia’s laws on freedom of expression are routinely misapplied, says report (August 2017)
In spite of a generally good legal framework, Cambodians face systematic restrictions on their fundamental freedoms, according to a new joint report released by rights organisations. The first annual report of the Fundamental Freedoms Monitoring Project by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), Adhoc, and the Solidarity Center examined freedom of association, assembly and expression across Cambodia, and found hundreds of restrictions or violations of fundamental freedoms over the past year. The authors logged 391 individual cases of restrictions or violations of fundamental rights, as well as 60 reports of association meetings, trainings or celebrations being interrupted by the police “without a legal basis”. Additionally, they found 590 incidents reported in the media in which the Cambodian government’s “actions or words” had an impact on fundamental freedom. They also found that some elements of the legal framework “unjustifiably restrict[ed] the freedom of expression” – for instance the NGO Law clause requiring all organisations to “maintain their neutrality”.

Cambodia Passes Changes to Political Parties Law Targeting Former Opposition Leader (July 2017)
Parliament has passed more amendments to the law to block political parties from making use of campaign material produced by convicted criminals. The former opposition president, Sam Rainsy, though not named during the debate around the changes, is thought to be the target of the amendments. Rainsy is living in self-imposed exile after years-old criminal defamation conviction was revived in 2015. He is also facing fresh defamation charges and could face at least two years in prison if he returns to Cambodia. The political parties law was passed in 1997 but amended in February ahead of local elections to ban convicted criminals from leading political parties. The move led to Rainsy’s resignation as president over fears his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) could be dissolved if he remained in the position. Under the new rules, the CNRP would not be able to use audio, visual or written material produced by Rainsy and could not be seen to “affiliate” with Rainsy. Breaking the rules could lead to the party’s dissolution.

‘Adhoc 5’ released on bail in case widely seen as political (June 2017)
In a surprise move, four human rights workers and an election official, collectively known as the “Adhoc 5”, were released from pretrial detention yesterday evening, 427 days after they were taken into custody on bribery charges relating to an opposition sex scandal. Adhoc staffers Lim Mony, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan and Ny Sokha, and former staffer and the National Election Committee Deputy Secretary-General Ny Chakrya were granted bail yesterday by the investigating judge, Theam Chanpiseth, under Article 276 of the Criminal Code.The five have been languishing behind bars since April 2016, when they were detained for allegedly bribing CNRP President Kem Sokha’s alleged mistress, Khom Chandaraty, to deny a purported extramarital affair. The case has been widely criticised as politically motivated, and the five have strenuously denied the allegations. A closing order has been issued and the case will now proceed to trial, though a date has not been s