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Southeast Asian Legal Research Guide: Constitution & Laws

Contents of this page

  • Laws
    • Hierarchy of Laws
    • The Legislative Process
    • Finding Laws in English

Cambodian Constitution

The Constitution is the supreme law of the Kingdom of Cambodia. All laws and decisions made by State institutions must be in strict conformity with its provisions (Article 150 of the Constitution). 

Text of the Constitution of Cambodia

There have been six versions of the Constitution since 1945:

  • The 1st Constitution of 1947: Kingdom of Cambodia (1947-1970)
    • original text as passed and as amended to 1964 available on HEIN Online (UniMelb staff & student access)
  • The 2nd Constitution of 1972: Khmer Republic (1970-1975)
  • The 3rd Constitution of 1976: Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979)
  • The 4th Constitution of 1981: Popular Republic of Kampuchea (1979-1989)
    • original text as passed available on HEIN Online (UniMelb staff & student access).
  • The 5th Constitution of 1989: State of Cambodia (1989-1993)
  • The 6th and current Constitution of 1993: the Kingdom of Cambodia
    • An unofficial English translation of the New Constitution of 1993 as amended to 2015 is available on the Cambodian Constitutional Council website (open access).
    • An unofficial English translation of the New Constitution of 1993 as originally passed is available on the Cambodia Law Services website (open access).

The present Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia - the New Constitution of 1993 has been amended at least seven times to date. It was adopted in compliance with the 1991 Agreements on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict ('the Paris Agreement') - 1663 UNTS 27. The 1993 Constitution was made under the influence of the United Nations and the International Community and reflects universal and modern constitutional characteristics – democracy, human rights, and rule of law – and also its own historical and traditional characters in an attempt of restoring historical continuity: kingship, state religions and state institutions. This Constitution enshrines a British/Japanese model of parliamentary democracy of government, rather than the French or American system of presidential democracy with the strict separation of powers. The main principles and characteristics of the Constitution are:

  • National Sovereignty
  • Democracy
  • Human Rights
  • Rule of Law
  • Kingship
  • Separation of Powers
    • Legislative Power: The National Assembly and the Senate
    • Executive Power: The Council of Ministers / The Royal Government of Cambodia
    • Judicial Power: The Supreme Court and the Constitutional Council
  • The Principle of Regular Functioning of Institutional Eternity

 

Commentary on the Constitution

The open access book Cambodian Constitutional Law by Hor Peng, Kong Phallack & Jörg Menzel (Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, 2016) provides a detailed scholarly analysis of the Constitution, and includes an English translation of the current Constitution as amended, indicating clearly which Articles have been amended .

The open access book Introduction to Cambodian Law (Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, 2012) contains excellent and in-depth commentary on the background and evolution of the Constitution, commentary on all six constitutions and the Paris Agreement, and analysis of the main features of the current Constitution - written by Hor Peng. See pages 23-69.

Oxford Constitutions of the World (UniMelb staff & student access)  - contains an English version of the current Constitution as amended up until 2008 accompanied by a concise introductory background and commentary, comparative notes on the 1999 amendments and a bibliography of books and articles.

World Constitutions Illustrated on HeinOnline (UniMelb staff & student access) contains the original text of the current Constitution as passed in Khmer and in English, as amended to 2008, amending Acts, and original source documents, scholarly articles and commentary. This source is a good place to find historic, rather than up to date, scholarship.

See also:  

Cambodian National Assembly
Image source: Wikipedia

Laws

Hierarchy of Laws

Each Cambodian legal instrument takes its validity and legitimacy from the instrument that is placed above it. A new rule therefore:

  • Must comply with the superior rule;
  • Can modify previous rules of the same level; and
  • Repeals any contrary inferior law / rule.

The hierarchy of laws is:

  1. The Constitution - the supreme law.
  2. Laws (Chbab or Kram) - issued by the Legislature.
    • Laws include domestic and international law (a decision of the Constitutional Council affirmed that international laws recognised by Cambodia are directly applicable, and judges must consider international laws in their decision making process - Decision Nº 092/003/2007 CC.D of July 10 2007).
  3. Royal Decrees (Preah Reach Kret) - used to organise the functioning of an institution, create a new public body or appoint officials, ambassadors and judges. 
  4. Sub-Decrees (Anu-Kret) - used to clarify provisions within existing laws, set out the functions and duties of government bodies or appoint government officials.
  5. Ministerial Orders or Proclamations (Prakas) - used to implement and clarify specific provisions within higher-level legislative documents.
  6. Decisions (Sech Kdei Samrach) - usually issued by the Prime Minister or relevant minister, are used for a temporary purpose and disappear once their goal is reached. However, decisions issued by the Constitutional Council are final and binding and have supremacy within the legal system, meaning that all legal instruments must strictly conform to them.
  7. Circulars (Sarachor) - used to clarify the work and affairs of ministries or a point of law and give instructions. It is signed by the Prime Minister and relevant minister. A circular is not legally binding.
  8. Local Regulations or By-laws (Deika) - legal rules issued by local Councils at the sub-national level, including the Capital Council, Provincial Councils, Municipal Councils, Districts Councils, Khans Councils, Sangkat Councils and Commune Councils. They have force of law only within the territorial authority of the local Council that has issued it, and cannot conflict with any other legal instrument at the national level.

More information on the hierarchy of laws on the Cambodian Law Library website and the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.

 

Legislative Process

The National Assembly and the Senate share legislative power. Senators, National Assembly members and the Prime Minister have the right to initiate legislation (Article 91 of the Constitution). More information on enactment of laws on the Cambodian Law Library website.

  • The Senate's website is in Khmer only - Google Translate can translate some of the site into English.
  • The National Assembly's website is available in English.

New legal instruments must be published in the official Royal Gazette. This is not available online or in English - however, a 2nd February 2017 news item in the Phnom Pehn Post  entitled 'Royal Gazette to move online' notes that in 2017 the government will stop printing the Royal Gazette and begin publishing new editions freely online. It is unknown when this will happen, or whether the Gazette will be available in English and Khmer.

 

Finding Laws in English 

There is no one place to find up to date Cambodian laws in English.

Open Access Laws

The following recommended open access websites contain unofficial translations of laws:

  • The Annotated Code of Criminal Procedure is available on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Cambodia website. It annotates articles from the Cambodian Code of Criminal Procedure (2007), drawing on the jurisprudence of the ECCC, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the European Court of Human Rights and the French Court of Cassation (FCC),  illustrating key provisions of the Code with examples of how the other courts have interpreted and applied them. Cited decisions of the ECCC, ECtHR and FCC are available in full text - in English, apart from those of the FCC which are available in French.
  • The Cambodian Center for Human Rights Laws website has an extensive collection of draft and national laws and decrees, many available in both English.
  • The Cambodian Council of Jurists Laws and Regulations of Cambodia website includes public, business and civil, and sectoral laws. This site does not appear to include amended laws.
  • The Council for the Development of Cambodia Laws & Regulations website has many sectoral laws, decrees and sub-decrees in English - arranged by topic.
  • Many up to date laws, decrees, sub-decrees, proclamations and decisions are available on the Open Development Cambodia website. Most are in Khmer only - but many important Laws are in English.
  • Cambodia Law Services includes major laws such as Code of Civil Procedure, Code of Criminal Procedure, Criminal Code, Anti-Corruption Law, Labour Law and Land Law.

Subscription services

  • The BNG Legal Cambodian Laws & Regulations database includes over 7000 legal instruments in 53 categories, many in English. The aim of BNG Legal is to include all Cambodian laws from 1920 to the present in an open access database in Khmer and English. Currently, however, it is not open access - you can find all relevant laws listed, and to obtain the full text you need to email your details - the law will be sent to you for payment.  
  • The Foreign Law Guide (UniMelb staff & student access) lists legislation alphabetically by subject and links to English translations of the laws on open access websites where possible.