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Cambodia: Situation of Buddhist monks who are political activists; treatment of those monks by the authorities

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 31 August 2009
Citation / Document Symbol KHM103188.FE
Related Document Cambodge : situation des moines bouddhistes qui militent politiquement; traitement que leur réservent les autorités
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Cambodia: Situation of Buddhist monks who are political activists; treatment of those monks by the authorities, 31 August 2009, KHM103188.FE, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
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.

Buddhist monks in Cambodian society

There are more than 50,000 Buddhist monks in Cambodia (Pacific Daily News 20 May 2009; AFP 18 Dec. 2008; AED n.d.) and approximately 4,000 pagodas [temples] (AFP 18 Dec. 2008; Xinhua 17 Dec. 2008; US 19 Sept. 2008). Buddhism is the state religion in Cambodia (ibid.; AED n.d.). Ninety-three to ninety-five percent of Cambodians are Therevada Buddhist (Pacific Daily News 20 May 2009; US 19 Sept. 2008).

All religious groups, including Buddhist groups, are legally required to register with the authorities in order to build places of worship and to conduct religious activities, but no penalty is in place for failure to meet that requirement (ibid.; AED n.d.). According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2008 from the United States (US) Department of State, the law prohibits religious groups from "insulting other religious groups, creating disputes, or undermining national security" (US 19 Sept. 2008). According to the Asia-Pacific Humanist Forum, which was created by volunteers of the Humanist Movement (Asia-Pacific Humanist Forum 26 Aug. 2008), an organization that promotes social, cultural and political non-violent activism (Mouvement humaniste n.d.), "Buddhism has always been much more than a religion in Cambodia: it is a social doctrine encompassing all aspects of life" (Asia-Pacific Humanist Forum 20 Feb. 2009).

Buddhist monks hold an influential position in Cambodian society (AED n.d.). For example, at the end of 2008, the government banned the Cambodian television broadcast of a rock opera, Where Elephants Weep, because of complaints from monks (Today 3 Jan. 2009; 20 Jan. 2009). According to the monks, the show, depicting monks singing and dancing, was an insult to Buddhism (ibid.; Today 3 Jan. 2009). As a result of the controversy, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered that any production involving Buddhism or Buddhist monks be approved by the Ministry of Cults and Religions before it is broadcast on television (Media Blab 10 Feb. 2009; see also AFP 8 Feb. 2009).

Treatment of politically active Buddhist monks by the authorities

According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), on 19 June 2009 Cambodian police stopped Cambodian monks and Burmese refugees from celebrating the birthday of Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi at a pagoda, without providing any reason (AFP 19 June 2009).

Some Buddhist monks advocate for the rights of the Khmer Krom, an ethnic minority group from South Vietnam (LICADHO 10 Apr. 2009 No. 6; HRW 2009). According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), in 2008, the Cambodian authorities threatened the monks "with eviction from their pagodas or deportation to Vietnam" if they continued to distribute documents in support of the Khmer Krom (HRW 22 May 2008).

In December 2007, 100 police officers clashed violently with approximately 40 monks who were protesting in front of the Vietnamese embassy (AFP 17 Dec. 2007; AP 17 Dec. 2007; 17 Dec. 2007). The Khmer Krom monks were attempting to submit a petition demanding the release of monks jailed in Vietnam (ibid.; Reuters 17 Dec. 2007; see also HRW 20 Dec. 2007).

In June 2007, a Khmer Krom monk was defrocked and unlawfully deported to Vietnam, where he was detained (LICADHO 10 Apr. 2009, No. 6; Asia Times Online 6 June 2009; see also Lao Mong Hay 18 July 2007). He was charged with undermining relations between Vietnam and Cambodia; reportedly the Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong relieved him of his duties (Asia Times Online 6 June 2009; Lao Mong Hay 18 July 2007).

In February 2007, a Khmer Krom monk was killed after he participated in a protest in Phnom Penh (Targeted News Service 21 Jan. 2009) in front of the Vietnamese embassy (LICADHO 10 Apr. 2009, No. 6).

Buddhist monks in Cambodia were allowed to vote in the general election of July 2008 (Ka-set 28 July 2008; AFP 27 July 2008; ibid. 22 July 2008). Previously, the Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong, head of the country's largest Buddhist sect, had barred monks from voting in elections even though their right to vote is recognized in the constitution (Ka-set 28 July 2008; AFP 22 July 2008). The voting ban was imposed after monks led demonstrations against the election of Prime Minister Hun Sen a decade earlier (ibid.; ibid. 27 July 2008). During the election campaign, supreme monks attempted to influence younger monks to vote for the ruling party (Ka-set 28 July 2008; AFP 22 July 2008). According to AFP, Tep Vong announced his unequivocal support of the ruling party before the 2003 election (AFP 22 July 2008).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France-Presse (AFP). 19 June 2009. "Suu Kyi Birthday Ceremony Ejected from Cambodia Pagoda." (Factiva)
_____. 8 February 2009. "Buddhism on TV Should Be Approved: Cambodian PM." (Factiva)
_____. 18 December 2008. "Cambodian PM Tells Buddhist Monks to Clean Up Their Act." (Factiva)
_____. 27 July 2008. Ros Sothea. "La crise avec la Thaïlande domine les préoccupations des Cambodgiens." (Factiva)
_____. 22 July 2008. Patrick Falby. "Opinion Split as Cambodia's Monks Revisit Democracy." (The Standard) [Accessed 21 Aug. 2009]
_____. 17 December 2007. "Cambodian Monks Fight Police at Vietnam Embassy: Police." (Factiva)

Aide à l'église en détresse (AED). N.d. "Cambodge." [Accessed 22 June 2009]

Asia-Pacific Humanist Forum. 20 February 2009. "People of Asia-and Active Non-Violence." [Accessed 19 Aug. 2009]
_____. 26 August 2008 "Who Started the Forum." [Accessed 24 Aug. 2009]

Asia Times Online. 6 June 2009. Craig Guthrie. "Khmer Krom Hero Rises from the Delta." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2009]

Associated Press (AP). 17 December 2007. "Cambodia Buddhist Monks, Police Clash During Protest to Show Solidarity with Vietnam Monks." (Factiva) 17 December 2007. "Heurts entre des bonzes et des policiers." [Accessed 22 June 2009]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 2009. "Cambodia." World Report 2009: Events of 2008. [Accessed 21 Aug. 2009]
_____. 22 May 2008. "Cambodia: Lift Ban on 'Burma Daily'." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2009]
_____. 20 December 2007. "Cambodia: Ensure Safety of Buddhist Monks." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2009]

Ka-set. 18 December 2008. Ros Dina. "Le Premier ministre Hun Sen fait la leçon aux bonzes du Cambodge." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2009]
_____. 28 July 2008. Stéphanie Gée and Im Lim. "Élections législatives : les bonzes cambodgiens sont retournés aux urnes." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2009]

Lao Mong Hay. 18 July 2007. "Commentary: Cambodia's Extremist Political Culture." (UPI Asia Online). [Accessed 27 Aug. 2009] 20 January 2009. "Culture – 'Where Elephants Weep,' la polémique." [Accessed 25 Aug. 2009]

Ligue cambodgienne pour la promotion et la défense des droits de l'homme (LICADHO). 10 April 2009. "Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO). Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodical Review, Cambodia. Introduction & Executive Summary." [Accessed 19 Aug. 2009]

Media Blab. 10 February 2009. Peter Olszewski. "Don't Use Monks in Jokes, Cambodia's Prime Minister Warns Media." (Factiva)

Mouvement humaniste. N.d. "Qui sommes nous?" [Accessed 24 Aug. 2009]

Pacific Daily News [Hagatna, Guam]. 20 May 2009. A. Gaffar Peang-Meth. "Internalize Beliefs, Don't Just Talk." (Factiva)

Reuters. 17 December 2007. "Nine Hurt as Cambodian Monk Protest Turns Ugly." (Factiva)

Targeted News Service. 21 January 2009. "Vietnam: Halt Abuses of Ethnic Khmer in Mekong Delta." (Factiva)

Today [Singapour]. 3 January 2009. "Monks Force Nation's First Rock Opera Off Air." (Factiva)

United States (US). 19 September 2008. Department of State. "Cambodia." International Religious Freedom Report 2008. [Accessed 21 Aug. 2009]

Xinhua Press Agency. 17 December 2008. "Cambodia Opens 17th Annual Congress of Religion." (Factiva)

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: The following organizations could not provide any information within the time constraints for this Response: the Buddhist Association for Environment and Development (BAED), the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO).

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International (AI), Buddhachannel, Buddhism Today, Buddhist Association for Environment and Development (BAED), Cambodia Information Center, Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Center for Social Development (CSD), Global Voices Online, Khmer Institute of Democracy (KID), Khmer Youth Association (KYA), LICADHO-Canada.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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