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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Cambodia

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Cambodia, 2007, available at: [accessed 1 May 2016]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The Kingdom of Cambodia is wedged between Thailand to its west, Laos to its north, and Vietnam to its east. Much of its geography is flat fertile land and dominated by the Mekong River.


Cambodia lost most of the territory it once held to the growing states of Siam and Annam, now Thailand and Vietnam, after the fifteenth century when the great kingdom and civilization centred on Angkor went into steep decline. During the nineteenth century, Cambodia was almost completely swallowed up by its encroaching neighbours before this process was halted by the imposition of French colonial rule.

Cambodia's brief period of stable, postcolonial rule ended in 1970 when the war between the USA and North Vietnam swept into central Cambodia. A bitter and destructive civil war ensued, augmented by massive US bombing, between the US-backed Khmer republican regime led by Lon Nol and an insurgent Chinese- and Hanoi-backed Khmer Rouge. In April 1975 the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot won, and the new government sought to restructure Cambodian society completely. The Khmer Rouge called the new start 'Year Zero'. More than 1 million Cambodians died in the process: one of the world's darkest moments, where a government turned against its own people.

In 1979, the Khmer Rouge fell out with the Vietnamese communists, their former allies, and the Vietnamese successfully invaded and installed a puppet regime in Phnom Penh (1979-90). From sanctuaries in Thailand, the Khmer Rouge, joined by remnants of former royalist and republican regimes in Cambodia and backed by China, the ASEAN states and the West, waged a guerrilla war.

A rough stalemate continued for a decade until 1991, when the warring factions signed a peace agreement in Paris. The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) took control until elections were held. Though Cambodia has been developing as a democracy, the political situation was still somewhat unsettled in recent years, after 2003 national elections failed to give any single party the two-thirds majority of seats needed to form a government. In 2005, a number of opposition parliamentarians and human rights activists were detained by government authorities, though the prime minister decided to release all political detainees in 2006.


Main languages: Khmer (official), Chinese, Vietnamese, Cham, Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian minority languages

Main religions: Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Animism

The overwhelming majority of Cambodia's population of an estimated 14 million people (CIA World Factbook, 2006), perhaps as much as 90 per cent, is ethnic Khmer. Most Khmer follow Theravada Buddhism, and their language belongs to the Mon-Khmer subfamily of the Austroasiatic group.

The other 10 per cent is made up of four distinct ethnic groups: Cham (most of whom are Muslims), indigenous hill tribes (also known as Khmer Leou), ethnic Chinese and ethnic Vietnamese.


The Kingdom of Cambodia is, since 1993, a constitutional monarchy with nascent democratic institutions still struggling to re- establish themselves after the disaster of the Khmer Rouge rule and the political compromises made in the 1991 Paris Agreement peace plan. Though the constitution of 1993 contains a large number of human rights provisions (Articles 31Â-50), which are supposed to be enforceable by an independent judiciary, the day-to-day practice of and respect for these rights still remains elusive in many cases. Critics have pointed out that Cambodia, despite a great deal of effort and resources, is far from having a truly independent and well-functioning judiciary and still remains controlled by the ruling Cambodia Peoples Party. Violations of human rights, such as arbitrary arrests and violence by security and military personnel or government officials are rarely prosecuted.

The status and protection of minorities in the new Cambodia is tenuous: while the constitution is silent on any rights of minorities, it does confirm in Article 31 that Cambodia 'shall recognize and respect human rights' contained in treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and presumably that could also imply minority rights provisions such as Article 27. In practice of course, the weak state of the judiciary and of the rule of law in the country do not augur well for those vulnerable members of Cambodian society, such as minorities, who are most in need of strong human rights protection. Additionally - and contrary to international human rights standards - the numerous and apparently generous constitutional human rights provisions are only available to the country's 'citizens'. This is problematic for some minorities, especially the Vietnamese, many of whom are not recognized as citizens by state authorities.



Minority based and advocacy organisations


Cham Khmer Islam Minority Human Rights and Development Association
Tel: +885 12 304 009


Association of Khmer Chinese in Cambodia
Tel: +855 23 364 266


Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia)
Tel: +66 2391 8801

Cambodian Centre for Human Rights
Tel: +855 23 883 832

Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
Tel: +855 023 330 965

Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
Tel: +855 23 25435

Cambodian Institute of Human Rights
Tel: +855 15 912 607

Documentation Center of Cambodia
Tel: +855 23 211 875

Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'Homme

Human Rights Vigilance of Cambodia (Vigilance)
Tel: +855 23 27767

Tel: +816 6577 35 78

NGO Forum on Cambodia
Tel: +855 23 214 429

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
Tel: +1 202 667 4690

Sources and further reading


Cham of Cambodia, _cambodia


Collins, William, The Chams of Cambodia, in Interdisciplinary Research on Ethnic Groups in Cambodia, Center for Advanced Study, 1996, pp. 15-108.

De Féo, Agnès, The syncretic world of the 'pure Cham', Phnom Penh Post, Volume 14, Number 19, pp. 8-9, 23 September - 6 October 2005,

Graceffo, Antonio, Cham Muslims: A look at Cambodia's Muslim Minority,

Kiernan, Ben, Orphans of Genocide: the Cham Muslims of Kampuchea under Pol Pot, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 20, 1988.;jsessionid=F1pMgvrHd32kQSxFRxjPVgMpMZ4d1Vcm7JJ2pQWcKQC8TTJwMnqT!-218190685!1786939510? a=o&d=97786157

Setudeh-Nejad, S., The Cham Muslims of Southeast Asia: A Historical Note, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Volume 22, Number 2/October 01, 2002, pp. 451-455.

So, Farina, The Study of the Qur-An vs. Modern Education for Islamic Women in Cambodia, Documentation Center of Cambodia, 2005. %20Muslim%20Leaders/Cham_Muslim_Leaders.htm

Trankell, Ing-Britt, and Ovesen, Jan, Muslim Minorities in Cambodia, Asia Insight No. 4, December 2004,

Willoughby, J., The Cham Muslims of Indo-China, 1991,

Ysa, Osman, Oukoubah: Genocide Justice for the Cham Muslims under Democratic Kampuchea, Documentation Center of Cambodia, 2002.

Ysa, Osman, The Cham Rebellion: Survivors' Stories from the Villages, Documentation Center of Cambodia, 2006.


Chan, Sambath, The Chinese minority in Cambodia: Identity construction and contestation, Concordia University, (MA), 2005.

Chinese in Cambodia,

Edwards, Penny, Ethnic Chinese in Cambodia,

Edwards, Penny, Ethnic Chinese in Cambodia, in Interdisciplinary Research on Ethnic Groups in Cambodia, Center for Advanced Study, 1996, pp. 108-176.

Franke, Wolfgang, Some observations on Chinese schools in Cambodia, in Sino-Malaysiana: Selected Papers on Ming and Qing History and on the Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, 1942-1988, University of Malaya, 1989.

Kiernan, Ben, Kampuchea's ethnic Chinese under Pol Pot: a case of systematic social discrimination, Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol. XVI, No. 1, 1986.

Népote, Jacques, Les nouveaux Sino-Khmers acculturés: un milieu social perturbateur?, Péninsule, Vol. XXX, No. 1, 1995.

Somers, Heidhues, M. et al., The Chinese of South-East Asia, London, MRG report, 1992.

The Chinese, chinese.html

Tsai, Maw-Kuey, Les Chinois au Sud-Vietnam, Bibliothèque Nationale, 1968.

Willmott, William, The Chinese in Cambodia, University of British Colombia, 1968.
Willmott, William, The Political Structure of the Chinese Community in Cambodia, Athlone Press, 1970.


Blench, Roger, The status of Cambodia's minorities in the context of ethnolinguistic self-determination in Southeast Asia, World Bank Study, 2002.

Chandler, D.P., Cambodia, Sydney, Asia-Australia Institute, University of New South Wales, 1993.

Coomaraswamy, Radhika and Goshal Baldas, Minorities in Cambodia, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 1993.

Doody, Aine, The Minorities of Cambodia, Cambodian Institute of Human Rights, 1997.

Ehrentraut, Stefan, The Theory of Multiculturalism and Cultural Diversity in Cambodia, Thesis, 2004,

Ethnicity and Forest Resource Use and Management in Cambodia,$FILE/FULLTEXT.html

Hawk, D., Minorities in Cambodia, London, MRG report, 1995.

Indigenous Peoples/Ethnic minorities and poverty reduction Cambodia, Asia Development Bank, 2002.

Interdisciplinary Research on Ethnic Groups in Cambodia, Final Draft Reports, Center for Advanced Study, 1996,

Kiernan, Ben, The Survival of Cambodia's Ethnic Minorities, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Issue 14.3, 1990,

Neou, Kassie, Human Rights in Action: Developing Partnerships between Government and Civil Society - Our Unique Non- confrontational Approach in Cambodia, Human Development Report 2000 Background Paper, 1999,

Overview of ethnic diversity in Cambodia,

Ovesen, Jan and Trankell, Ing-Britt, Cambodia, in Ethnicity in Asia C. Mackerras (ed.), Routledge Curzon, 2003.

Ovesen, Jan; Trankell, Ing-Britt, Foreigners and Honorary Khmers: Ethnic Minorities in Cambodia, in Duncan, Christopher R., Civilizing the Margins. Southeast Asian Government Policies for the Development of Minorities, Cornell University Press, 2004, pp. 241-269.

Pen, Dareth, On Ethnic Minority Policy in Cambodia, MRD National Workshop, 2002.

Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia, Yash Ghai, UN Document A/HRC/4/36, 30 January 2007,

Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia: Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1996/931996,

Somers, Heidhues, M. et al., The Chinese of South-East Asia, London, MRG report, 1992.

Van Acker, Frank, Decentralization and Civil Society in Cambodia: A Brave New State?, Phnom Penh Press, 2002.

Khmer Leou

An Assessment of Khmer Language Skills and Literacy Levels within the Adult Hilltribe Population of Mondulkiri Province, International Cooperation Cambodia, 2003.
Asian Development Bank 2001, Capacity Building for Indigenous Peoples/Ethnic Minority Issues and Poverty Reduction, Cambodia Country Report, ADB, Phnom Penh.

Escott, Jennifer, Minority education in Cambodia: the case of the Khmer Loeu, Intercultural Education, Routledge, Volume 11, Number 3, November 2000, pp. 239-251.

Fox, Jefferson, Customary Land-Use Practice and Resource Tenure Systems among Krung and Tampuen Communities in Northeastern Cambodia, Hanoi, 1997.

He, Chey Chap, Bilingual Education in Cambodia, 2003,

Helmers, K. and Wallgren, P, Cambodia: Rural Investment and Local Governance Project:
Indigenous Upland Minorities Screening Study, Final Report, The World Bank, East Asia
and Pacific Region, Rural Development and Natural Resources Sector Unit, 2002.

Indigenous and tribal peoples' perceptions of poverty and poverty reduction strategies in Cambodia, Project to Promote ILO Policy on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (PRO 169), Center for Advanced Study (CAS), Phnom Penh, 2005, te/itpp/download/cambodiaprsp.pdf

Indigenous Minority Rights Project,< /p>

Indigenous Peoples in Cambodia Report,

Interministerial Committee for Highland People (IMC) Report "Workshop VI on Field Visit to Kratie, Ratanakiri and Stung Treng"; October-November 1997

Ironside, J., 2005. 'Overview of the History and Distribution of Pear (Por) Groups in Cambodia.'

Ministry of Land Management/GTZ/FFI, Phnom Penh,

Ironside, J., 2004. 'Land Titling Issues for Indigenous Communities in Mondul Kiri Province.' Land Management and Administration Project, MLMUPC/GTZ/WCS, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Ironside, Jeremy, Cambodia Report on Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas, Open Ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Protected Areas, United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, 2006,

Jarai in Cambodia, "retrieved 3 August 2007,

Land Alienation Report, t.pdf

Noorlander, Jan, et al., Highland Children's Education Project (HCEP) Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia, 2003, %20samal_and_%20sohout.pdf

Ovesen, J. and Trankell, I.-B., Foreigners and Honorary Khmers: Ethnic Minorities in Cambodia, in Duncan C.R. (ed.): Civilizing the Margins. Southeast Asian Government Policies for the Development of Minorities, Cornell University Press, 2004, pp. 241-269.

Rural Investment and Local Governance Project, Indigenous Peoples Plan, Vol. 2. March 2003, World Bank.

Simbolon, Indira, Access to Land of Highland Indigenous Minorities: The Case of Plural Property Rights in Cambodia, Working Paper No. 42, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, 2002,

Sokhom, H., The Khmer Loeu in Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, Interdisciplinary Research on Ethnic Groups in Cambodia, Cambodian Research Assistant's Reports, 1996.

Thomas, Anne, Designing and launching bilingual community-based non-formal education and extension initiatives in the Cambodian Highlands, 2003,

Tribal Land Rights a Matter of Survival for Cambodia's Hill Tribes, 23 November 2005,

White, J., Of Spirits and Services: Health and Healing amongst the Hill Tribes of Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia, Health Unlimited, 1995.


Abuza, Zachary, The Khmer Rouge and the Crisis of Vietnamese Settlers in Cambodia, Contemporary Southeast Asia, March 1995.

Amer, Ramses, The Ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia: A Minority at Risk?, Contemporary Southeast Asia 16:2, 1994, p. 210.

Amer, Ramses, Cambodia's Ethnic Vietnamese: Minority Rights and Domestic Politics, Asian Journal of Social Science, Volume 34, Number 3, 2006, pp. 388-409.

Cambodia's Ethnic Vietnamese Continue to Live in the Shadow of Discrimination and Hatred, The Cambodia Daily, WEEKEND Saturday and Sunday, July 6-7, 2002, htm

Derks, Annuska, Diversity in Ethnicity. A Picture of the Vietnamese in Cambodia, in Interdisciplinary Research on Ethnic Groups in Cambodia, Center for Advanced Study, 1996, pp. 251-276,

Forest, Alain, Cambodgiens et Vietnamiens au Cambodge, in Le Cambodge et la Colonisation Française, L'Harmattan, 1993, pp. 433- 462.

Jordens, Jay, Persecution of Cambodia's Ethnic Vietnamese Communities During and Since the UNTAC Period, in Heder, Steven and Ledgerwood, Judy (eds.), Propaganda, Politics, and Violence in Cambodia. A Democratic Transition under United Nations Peace-Keeping, East Gate, 1996, pp. 134-158.

Prasso, Sheri, Violence, Ethnicity and Ethnic Cleansing, Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge, University of Cambridge, 1995.

Tarr, Chou Meng, The Vietnamese minority in Cambodia, Race and Class, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2, 1992.

Vietnamese flee Cambodia's racist jibes, Taipei Times, 23 July 2003,< /p>

Vietnamese in Cambodia torn between going on exile and returning home, UNHCR News Stories, 11 November 2004, tbl=NEWS&id=419387944

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