U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999 - Cambodia

Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the Government respects this right in practice. Buddhism is the state religion. The Government promotes national Buddhist holidays, provides Buddhist training and education to monks and others in pagodas, and modestly supports an institute that performs research and publishes materials on Khmer culture and Buddhist traditions.

The law requires all religious groups, including Buddhists, to submit applications to the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs in order to construct places of worship and to conduct religious activities. Religious groups have not encountered significant difficulties in obtaining approvals for construction of places of worship, but some Muslim and Christian groups report delays by some local officials in acknowledging that official permission has been granted to conduct religious meetings in homes. Such religious meetings generally take place unimpeded despite delay or inaction at the local level, and no significant constraints on religious assembly have been reported.

Over 95 percent of the population are Theravada Buddhist. The Buddhist tradition is widespread and active in all provinces, with an estimated 3,700 pagodas throughout the country. Virtually all ethnic Cambodians are Buddhist, and there is a close association between Buddhism, Khmer cultural traditions, and daily life. Adherence to Buddhism generally is considered intrinsic to Cambodian ethnic and cultural identity. Monks can move internally without restriction.

Most of the remainder of the population is made up of ethnic Cham Muslims, who generally are located in Phnom Penh and in rural fishing villages in Kompong Cham, Kompong Chhnang, and Kampot provinces. There are four branches of Islam: The Malay-influenced Shafi branch, which constitutes 70 percent of the Cham Muslims; the Saudi-Kuwaiti influenced Wahabi branch (20 percent); the traditional Kom Iman-San branch (7 percent); and the Indonestan Kadiani branch (3 percent).

The country's small Christian community constitutes less than 1 percent of the population. Over 100 separate Christian organizations or denominations operate freely throughout the country, and include over 700 congregations.

Government officials organize meetings for representatives of all religious groups to discuss religious development and to address issues of concern. There are no constraints on the distribution of religious books or literature.

Foreign missionary groups generally operate freely throughout the country and have not encountered significant difficulties in performing their work. However, there are reportedly some constraints on evangelization by Christians at the local level – especially in areas of new Christian religious activity – but these generally are resolved satisfactorily by intervention with provincial or central government authorities.

Government officials have expressed appreciation for the work of many foreign religious groups in providing much needed assistance in education, rural development, and training. At the same time, government officials also have expressed some concern about foreign groups using the guise of religion to become involved in illegal or political affairs.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

The Khmer Rouge traditionally discouraged religion in areas that they controlled. At mid-1999, they controlled no areas of the country.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations generally are amicable between the various religious communities. The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion, and minority religions experience little or no discrimination in practice. Adherents of the minority Muslim or Christian faiths report few societal problems on issues of religion. The Cham Muslims generally are well integrated into society, enjoy positions of prominence in business and in the Government, and face no reported persecution.

Occasional tensions have been reported among the various branches of Islam, which receive monetary support from groups in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Malaysia, or Indonesia depending on the tenets of the particular branch. Some Buddhists also have expressed concern about the Cham Muslim community receiving financial assistance from foreign countries.

During the period covered by the report there were no reports of tension between Cambodian Christians and non-Christians. However, occasional tensions have been reported when Christian evangelists have attempted to remove Buddhist images or religious items in private homes, but these disputes have not resulted in physical violence.

There are ecumenical and interfaith organizations, which often are supported by funding from foreign public or private groups.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

U.S. Embassy representatives have met with some religious leaders and are in contact with representatives of religious nongovernmental organizations and other groups representing the Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian faiths.

Embassy representatives have spoken with officials from the government Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs to discuss religious freedom, including both secretaries of state.

The Annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom describes the status of religious freedom in each foreign country, and government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. It is submitted in compliance with P.L. 105-292 (105th Congress) and is cited as the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

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