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Southeast Asian Legal Research Guide: Introduction to Cambodia & its Legal System

Rule of Law & Human Rights

Update on the Rule of Law for Human Rights in ASEAN: The Path to Integration (2016) - includes a detailed Chapter on Cambodia.

See also:

  • Rule of Law ( Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, 2009) - open access
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia website includes a Rule of Law section. The OHCHR Rule of Law Programme aims to strengthen the protection of human rights under the rule of law in Cambodia. The Programme consists of:
    • Treaty ratification and legal framework
    • Institution building
    • Compliance with international norms and procedures
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights country pages - Cambodia
  • Bünte, Marco,'The rule of law in illiberal contexts: Cambodia and Singapore as exemplars' in:

Doing Business in Cambodia

See also:

  • Business and Human Rights Handbook for Cambodia (2016) by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. This Handbook was developed as a guide to business and human rights in Cambodia’s land sector. It is aimed at civil society organisations, government officials, the media, companies, activists and workers. 

This Research Guide is maintained by Robin Gardner, MLS Academic Research Service, Melbourne Law School. Please contact Robin at law-academicresearch@unimelb.edu.au with corrections, suggestions or comments about the Guide.

The Legal System of Cambodia

The Cambodian legal system is based largely on the French civil system, and is statute based. The Constitution is the Supreme Law. The legal system has evolved from unwritten customary law, prevalent during Angkorian times, to statutory law, under the French colonisation from 1863 to 1953 and up until 1975. Under the Khmer Rouge, from 1975 to 1979, the entire Cambodian legal system was destroyed. After the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam in 1979, the Cambodian legal framework was influenced by the Vietnamese system - in particular, contract law. During the presence of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) from 1991 to 1993, a number of laws were enacted - including criminal law, judicial law, and press law. As a result of foreign legal assistance to legal and judicial reform in the country, the Cambodian system also absorbed some common law features. The current legal system is thus a hybrid system of all these influences.

Sources of Cambodian law  

The Cambodian legal system is a statutory law system, which means it is mostly based on written law passed by the legislature. Sources of law in Cambodia can be classified into primary sources and secondary sources.

  • Primary sources include the formal laws issued by State authorities. International law is also an integral source of Cambodian law: so the word 'law' in Cambodia can mean both domestic and international law.
  • Secondary sources include customs, traditions, doctrine and judicial decisions. 

For a comprehensive explanation of the Cambodian legal system, see the open access book Introduction to Cambodian Law ( Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, 2012)The book includes an excellent overview of the legal system, and chapters on constitutional law, international law, civil and criminal procedure, labour, land, environmental, criminal and education law, women and the law, and the rights of indigenous people.

Image source: Wikipedia

Cambodia Legal Research Guides

Image Source: Wikipedia

General Country Information

The Kingdom of Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy, guided by principles of liberal democracy and pluralism (Article 51 of the Constitution). The country became a French protectorate in 1863 and a French colony in 1884. Cambodia gained independence from France in 1953. It then went through several relatively short regimes, from constitutional monarchy (1953-1970) to republic (1970- 1975) to communism / dictatorship (1975-1979) to communism / socialism (1979-1991) before a constitutional monarchy was restored in 1993.  

The following resources include general country information - history, demographics, economy, politics and government etc.

  • Cambodia Country Review (UniMelb staff & student access) - an annually updated detailed report of demographic, social, political, economic, business, investment, cultural and environmental information. This is an excellent an up to date source of information on the history and government of Cambodia, and includes information on freedoms, human rights, status of women etc.
  • Europa World Plus (UniMelb staff & student access) - use the Countries/Territories tab on the top menu to find information on Cambodia.
  • The CIA World Factbook - Cambodia (open access) includes country information in 80 topic areas under the main headings of Geography, People and Society, Economy, Energy, Communications, Military & Security, Transportation, and Transnational Issues.