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Located on the Indochina peninsula in South East Asia, Cambodia’s terrain is dominated by the fertile lands around the Mekong river. The country has benefited from two decades of relative stability in the aftermath of the violent Khmer Rouge regime, under the rule of which an estimated 2 million people were killed. The State has been criticised for permitting impunity for perpetrators of human rights abuses as well as the ongoing practice of arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of vulnerable groups, including children, who use drugs or live and work on the streets.
Cambodia is a country in the Asia-Pacific region bordering Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. It is largely a land of paddies and forests dominated by the Mekong River and Tonle Sap – the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. The capital city is Phnom Penh.
Population and Language
Cambodia is home to 15,053,100 people, most of whom are ethnically Khmer. The largest minority group is the Vietnamese although there are also large pockets of Chinese. Other ethnic groups include Tai and Cham.
The major language in Cambodia is Khmer.
History and Politics
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world and relies heavily on aid. It is perhaps most notable, at least outside the region, for being the country that was terrorised by the Khmer Rouge regime in the latter half of the 1970s. As a result of this communist party’s reign, orchestrated largely by leader by Pol Pot, around two million Cambodians died, from exhaustion, starvation or execution by the regime. The Khmer Rouge also abolished money and private property and sent people from the city into the countryside to cultivate the fields in a policy that devastated the country. After an invasion by the rival communist government in Vietnam, the Khemr Rouge regime was lost control of much of the country, becoming an insurgent organisation until a wave of mass surrenders and defections during the 1990s led to its final dissolution. The atrocities of the Pol Pot era are still a major issue in Cambodia and though controversial amnesties have been granted for some, trials for many of those involved are ongoing.
Cambodia has a monarchy, although the role of the current king is largely ceremonial. The country is ruled by a parliamentary democracy, but has been dogged in recent years by allegations of political corruption. The legal system in Cambodia is largely a civil law system (influenced by the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia) consisting of customary law, Communist legal theory, and common law.
Today, around 70 per cent of Cambodia's workforce is employed in subsistence farming. Exports of clothing generate most of Cambodia's foreign exchange and tourism is also important. The temple complex at Angkor, built between the ninth and 13th centuries, is a UN heritage site and is integral to the tourism industry.
Media and civil society
Many Cambodian newspapers and private broadcasters depend on support from political parties, and several outlets are controlled by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his allies.In early 2010, Reporters Without Borders said several journalists were in prison or facing criminal charges over their work, despite an earlier pledge from the prime minister that journalists would not be jailed because of their output. Imprisonment can be imposed for "spreading false information or insulting public officials", Freedom House reports.
At the time of writing, a draft NGO law, roundly condemned by national and international civil society and human rights organisations, proposes excessive regulation for NGOs. Peaceful protests have been the subject of government crackdowns, and opposition party members have been silenced.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
Sex workers and people who use drugs, including children, have been subject to arbitrary detention and other abuses, including torture. Others on the margins of society, including homeless children, are also regularly detained and mistreated in government centres. In general, freedoms of expression, association and assembly are routinely violated.
Cambodia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on October 15, 1992, the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict on 16 July 2004, and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography on 30 May 2002. There are thought to be millions of unexploded munitions in Cambodia, and children continue to be maimed and killed despite extensive de-mining operations. Cambodia is also a destination for child sex tourism, although it should also be noted that government crack downs on sex work have frequently exposed sex workers, and children in the sex trade, to human rights violations.
- BBC Cambodia Country Profile
- Index Mundi, Cambodia Legal System
- Human Rights Watch, World Report 2011: Cambodia
- World Bank, Cambodia Country Profile