73rd Session of the Committee on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 

Review of Cambodia - Third Review

21 and 22 February 2023

By Khoa Doan / GICJ

Executive Summary 

On the 21st and 22nd of February 2023, the Committee on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) conducted its second periodic review of Cambodia's implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The country submitted its report on the 24th of June, 2020. Taking into account the recommendations made by Special Rapporteurs and treaty body experts, the Committee and civil society organisations delivered reports with a compilation of different human rights issues in Cambodia. In addition, the Kingdom of Cambodia submitted detailed replies to the Committees’ List of Issues on the 13th of July 2022.

As part of the interactive dialogue, participating delegations raised several issues, which Cambodia addressed and clarified in its responses. Among the topics discussed was the dissolution of the only viable opposition that disenfranchises millions and violates the rights of individuals to freely determine their political status. It also discussed the proposed law arbitrarily interfering with the right to work,  unjust and unfavourable working conditions for vulnerable groups, the right to social security, the right to food, adequate housing, health, and education, the rights to an adequate standard of living and education, and the right to take part in cultural life. 

Despite the country's progress in implementing the ICESCR, Cambodia’s campaign against drugs has not only failed in its primary mission of reducing drug use and drug-related harms, but has also led to serious and systematic human rights violations. Cambodia’s Law on Drug Control, enacted in 2012, continues to provide the primary legal basis for drug prosecutions under the anti-drug campaign. The law criminalises the “unlawful consumption of narcotic substances” for individuals who have “already accepted compulsory treatment”, issuing penalties of between one and six months in prison, or up to one year in cases of repeat offending (Articles 45 and 53). Trafficking is criminalised under Article 40, carrying prison sentences of two to 20 years. People suspected or accused of using or possessing drugs are detained under two parallel systems of detention and punishment: the criminal justice system or drug-related administrative detention. Decisions as to whether an individual is held in a drug detention centre or criminally prosecuted appears not to follow any clear or systematic pattern.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) calls for Cambodia to amend the Law on Drug Control and release people in prison owing to their wrongful offence immediately.  GICJ urges the country to discard the draft Public Order Law as it restricts Cambodians’ right to free expression and peaceful assembly and incorporates provisions that violate the rights of women and persons with actual or perceived mental or developmental disabilities.


The CESCR organises two sessions per year: a three-week plenary session and a one-week pre-sessional working group. First, a State must make a report on its implementation two years after acceding to the ICESCR. Following that, periodic reports are then requested every five years thereafter. In July 2019, the Committee adopted an eight-year reporting cycle. The Kingdom of Cambodia was first reviewed in May 2009. 

The Kingdom of Cambodia submitted its country report for its second review in June 2020, that included specific information relating to the implementation of Articles 1 to 15 of the ICESCR and any national law or policies taken to implement the ICESCR in accordance with Articles 16 and 17 of the Covenant (E/C.12/2008/2). Accordingly, the Committee and civil society organisations delivered reports about human rights issues in Cambodia. Concerns were raised about their concern on several issues, such as drug policies, forced evictions, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Interactive Dialogue 

The Secretary of State of the Ministry of Justice and Vice President of the Cambodia Human Rights Committee (CHRC), Mr. Chin Malin, opened the meeting by laying out the most recent developments and updates on the application of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in Cambodia. 

First, with respect to the right to freely dispose of natural wealth and resources, Cambodia has been working on a draft Environment and Natural Resources Code since 2015 as part of its implementation of the Environment and Natural Resources Reform Policy in line with its rectangular strategic policy. In order to ensure the management of natural resources and the conservation of biodiversity, the country has established protected areas, which currently cover a total area of over 7-million hectares, or about 41% of the total land area of Cambodia. Second, pertaining to the maximum available resources, the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) has taken several measures to fight against corruption. Amongst others, the unit scrutinises all court-related complaints at all times. In the past five years, the ACU forwarded 28 case files to courts, and 41 perpetrators were convicted. 

Following the address of the Secretary of State, the head of delegation emphasised that Cambodia’s Criminal Code defines discrimination as a criminal offence that may be applied to all situations of discrimination. The Labour Law prohibits discrimination by employers against workers on the basis of race, colour, religion belief, sex, political affiliation, national origin, social status, culture, or trade union membership. The National Policy on Primary Health Care focuses on all people and the health sector as a whole, both public and private. Furthermore, the Kingdom of Cambodia  has launched and expanded various education and vocational training programs for women to develop entrepreneurial skills and their potential for increasing productivity and quality products. It also promotes decent and productive job opportunities and urges employment in priority sub-sectors through enterprise development and supports for small and medium enterprises in downtowns and cities, increases access to education and the TVET3 framework for vulnerable groups, and enhances the link between education and TVET service providers with the private sector so as to reduce the skills gap.

With respect to the right to work, the Royal Government continues to strive to increase the skilled workforce to respond to the current evolution of the labour market. Between the academic years of 2017/2018 and the 2021/2022, the number of graduates of technical and vocational training and short course vocational training increased by about 270,000 persons, while those who received technical and vocational certificates 1, 2 and 3 (C1, C2, C3) increased by about 50,000 persons over the same period. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training provided each of the workers who were suspended or lost employment due to the Covid-19 crisis with a monthly allowance of 200,000 Riels (two hundred thousand Riels) during their studies on Technical and Vocational Degree in order to give them the opportunity to gain a clear vocational skill so that they can seize new job opportunities. 

Moreover, the country upheld  the ideal of wage equality by mandating that companies pay all employees equally for labour of equivalent circumstances, professional skills, and production regardless of origin, sex, or age. The Ministry of Labour has established inter-ministerial inspection teams in the manufacturing, agricultural, and tourism industries as part of the reform of the interministerial/inter-institutional inspection team. Additionally, the ministry is getting ready to establish an inter-ministerial inspection team in the construction industry. In Cambodia, neither labourers nor union activists have ever been detained or accused of engaging in peaceful strikes and protests. They are accountable to the law if they organise or lead a strike that results in physical harm to any person or damage to any public or private property. As of 2022, a total of 6,014 professional organisations, including 40 confederation trade unions, 267 federation trade unions, 5,694 enterprise-based trade unions, and 13 employers’ associations, have been registered with the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training. 

Concerning the right to social security, the 2019 Law on Social Security Schemes clearly states that the National Social Security Fund is the only operating body that provides the social security schemes, including pensions, healthcare, occupational risk and unemployment. The National Social Protection Policy Framework 2016-2025 divides the social protection schemes into two: social assistance and social security. With protection of the family and children, the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT) is jointly in charge of the battle against human trafficking. The Inter-Ministerial Working Groups, Municipal-Provincial Committees, and Provincial Committees each include six ministries and institutions as members. Each working group is tasked with addressing the root causes of human trafficking in accordance with their particular fields of expertise. In cases of international human trafficking they gather information that may help to ensure measures to prevent crime, quickly apprehend offenders, and assist victims. The Ministry of Labour has established a Migration Working Group (MWDG) to ensure the safety and welfare of migrant labourers. 

In an aspect of the right to an adequate standard of living, the Council for Agriculture and Rural Development has launched the Second National Strategy for Food Security and Nutrition 2019- 2023. The Government of Cambodia has focused on the housing sector in order to ensure that low-and-middle income and vulnerable groups have access to affordable housing. Efforts are now being made to monitor food prices and the cost of healthy food packages. It has launched the National Strategy for Rural Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene 2011-2025. With the right to physical and mental health: The Ministry of Health has ensured that public health facilities have appropriate basic infrastructure, including medical equipment, modern medical and information technologies and telecommunication networks. Despite the absence of a legal framework covering mental healthcare, Cambodia has given the following priorities to the development of mental healthcare. Firstly, it has identified human resource development as human resources development as the first step and the highest priority in the promotion of human rights in the field of mental health. Second, it has focused on the development of mental health services by implementing the WHO recommendations, paying attention to the provision of basic mental health care and treatment services.

In regards to the right to education, the country has been undergoing comprehensive and in-depth education reform to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning for all. The quality of students’ learning outcome, teachers’ qualification upgrading via continuous professional development, and strengthening school-based management have been prioritised in the education reform efforts. School infrastructure and teaching facilities have been built, renovated and equipped to schools in collaboration with development partners to ensure school learning environment for students. Finally, regarding cultural rights, the country has included indigenous dances in the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. In order to protect, preserve and promote indigenous languages, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has taken steps which include implementing a multi-level primary education program for indigenous children in provinces, develop the alphabet of Tampuon, Kreung, Preav, Kavet, Phnong and Jarai among all, 24 languages, and do various collaboration with other ministries and work with indigenous people to protect, preserve and promote indigenous languages and awareness of indigenous traditions, cultures and customs. The Ministry of Rural Development has been implementing National Policy on the Development of Indigenous Peoples by determining the guidelines and setting up the criteria on the establishment of Indigenous Peoples’ communities with the participation and acknowledgement from local authorities, the Ministry of Interior, with collaboration with relevant ministries and institutions. 


Lack of Evidence-Based Treatment and Harm Reduction Services 

Cambodia’s drug detention centres have faced sustained criticism over the years, including allegations of torture, forced labour, sexual violence, and deaths in detention. Despite the many concerns raised from civil society organisations and several international human rights mechanisms, including from this Committee during Cambodia’s previous review,  there has been little or no improvement in the monitoring and supervision of these detention facilities and reports of human rights abuses continue to be rife. 


Testimonies of individuals formally detained in Cambodia’s drug detention centres strongly suggest that this system is not intended to meaningfully assist those with drug dependence, but rather appears intended to remove individuals deemed “undesirable” from public spaces and to punish people for their perceived moral failings. Individuals formerly detained in the name of “rehabilitation” spoke to Amnesty International of the complete absence of appropriate medical care and facilities within detention centres and described an absence of concrete rehabilitation and treatment plans, with an apparent reliance on abstinence as the sole solution to drug dependence. Several medical studies have concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that compulsory treatment approaches have better outcomes than non-compulsory methods. In fact, the UNODC has also recognised that mandatory confinement has not resulted in sustained treatment outcomes but rather has been associated with increased HIV risks, added stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs, numerous violations of human rights, and significant deviations from evidence-based best practices in drug dependence treatment. 


Cambodia’s anti-drugs campaign has also led to police raids targeting drug treatment and other health facilities, further deterring people from seeking the health care they may require and creating additional barriers to the right to health of people who use drugs.  As told to Amnesty International by service providers, raids regularly involve the arbitrary arrest and detention of people who use drugs, interrupt essential health services, and act as a deterrent to individuals who are seeking to access drug treatment and rehabilitation. This practice further underlines the skewed implementation of the anti-drug campaign in favour of criminalisation and incarceration at the expense of public health and human rights.

People arrested during these raids are regularly subjected to compulsory drugs urine testing and asked to sign or thumbprint documents which they often cannot read or do not understand in what constitutes an arbitrary interference with the right to privacy.  

Right to Adequate Housing 

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Cambodian authorities have forcibly evicted people from ten sites  comprising 1,507 families,  in and around Phnom Penh. The circumstances in which the forced evictions occurred are endangering life because they were undertaken during a pandemic. Amnesty reviewed the process for these evictions, which regularly involved a lack of due legal process, including not providing evicted families with clear information about their eviction so that they may seek to challenge it in court. Evicted families typically received less than 90 days’ notice of the eviction, which is recommended by the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement. Written notices were provided to families at only two sites of evictions. In addition, little or no compensation and/or relocation to sites that were not fit for housing was reported at five sites. Cambodia’s track record on evictions has not improved since Cambodia’s last review before this Committee, and the latest forced evictions indicate that the authorities are unwilling to protect public health and human rights during a global health crisis.

Cambodia’s Land Law, enacted in 2001, continues to provide the primary legal basis for evictions. The law provides classifications for types of property (land) that can and cannot be owned by individuals (Articles 15, 16). State public property is land that is for public use, such as rivers, lakes, and train-tracks (Article 15). This land cannot be owned by private individuals, but it is often unclear where the boundaries of a lake end, and the private land of an individual may begin. Occupation of state public property is a crime (Article 19) and is the primary argument used against communities to evict them at will. The authorities have justified most evictions in Phnom Penh because the communities allegedly occupied state public property – typically by living on the edge of a lake, river or train track.  The Land Law also provides avenues for the government to provide land to landless groups (Article 17); however, instead the authorities have forcibly evicted communities in the absence of legal and procedural safeguards against forced evictions and rendered them homeless or living in highly inadequate housing and precarious circumstances.


On 28 April 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, people living in poverty in both urban and rural settings joined together to submit a petition to the government outlining their requests for support to withstand the effects of Covid-19, including a request to halt all evictions. Authorities responded to the petition by detaining and interrogating community members who tried to peacefully submit it. Rather than listening to the calls for assistance from the public petition, the Cambodian government utilised the crisis as an opportunity to forcibly evict more communities, while civil society organisations and the media were often unable to monitor the conduct of the evictions due to the pandemic.

Indigenous Peoples’ Rights 

Cambodian environmental authorities have increasingly resorted to conservation-based arguments to justify their harassment and marginalisation of independent environmental activists in recent years. On 22 February 2020, at various locations around the Prey Lang forest, armed forest rangers deployed by the Ministry of Environment intercepted, harassed and in some cases temporarily detained members of PLCN (Prey Lang Community Network), monks and community members seeking to participate in PLCN’s annual tree blessing ceremony.  The tree blessing ceremony is an important event for local Kuy communities, both in terms of their cultural and spiritual practices, and in respect of their efforts to protect Prey Lang. PLCN explains that its annual tree blessing ceremony event is: “[c]elebrated so that the spirits of the mountain, valley, and the streams that take care of the territory and forests would keep them peaceful and prosperous”.   


Official reasons for not being allowed to enter forests provided to Kuy monitoring groups were that they were not officially registered either as a community forest groups or NGO.  Ministry of Environment officials have weaponised Cambodia’s Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO), and the Law on Protected Areas to restrict groups such as PLCN and PPRFCN (Prey Preah Roka Forest Community Network) that are not “registered” (Article 6 of LANGO) from engaging in forest patrols. LANGO was introduced in August 2015 amid heavy criticism from international and Cambodian human rights organisations, with Amnesty International calling for the law to be rejected, citing inconsistencies with the right to freedom of association and the potential negative impacts on grassroots activism. Penalties for conducting activities in the absence of registration under the LANGO include bans on activity, fines, and can lead to the criminal prosecution of members.  


Investigations into illegal logging in Prey Lang and Prey Preah Roka have consistently pointed to the role of corruption on the part of state officials in facilitating the illegal logging trade.  The illicit activities of logging companies would not be possible without facilitation by Ministry of Environment rangers and police. The November 2021 report by USAID and Tetra Tech also contains references to evidence of official corruption within the Ministry of Environment in the context of the illegal logging of Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary.  Across both Prey Lang and Prey Preah Roka, community members consistently told Amnesty International that Ministry of Environment officials and local police were making a profit from the illegal logging trade.   

Government authorities routinely use repressive tactics to intimidate and threaten environmental defenders. Testimony from 10 PLCN members indicates death threats occur frequently. In one case, a PLCN member overheard communications between police and loggers indicating the police were coming to kill him. In another, a police officer asked a PLCN member if he was familiar with the case of Chut Wutty, which was interpreted as threatening given Wutty’s murder. In April 2012, renowned environmental activist Chut Wutty was shot dead by a military police officer while investigating illegal logging in Koh Kong province. Wutty was widely known for his work to protect Prey Lang and had worked closely with PLCN since its foundation, but nobody was brought to justice for his murder.   


The PLCN has also reported that the complicity of the state in illegal logging has led to a rise in home-made firearms amongst illegal loggers. Testimony and photographic evidence indicate that illegal loggers are bringing home-made firearms with them into the forest, primarily for hunting. However, in 2022, there were several incidents in which illegal loggers shot at or around members of the PLCN in attempts to intimidate them.


Violent attacks by loggers are not unheard of in Prey Lang. In March 2016, a prominent woman human rights defender from PLCN, Phon Sopheak, was attacked with an axe by unidentified assailants while she was resting during a PLCN forest patrol in Prey Lang.  PLCN described the attack as attempted murder.  Nobody was ever prosecuted for the attack.

Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) calls on the Kingdom of Cambodia to eliminate the 2012 Law on Drug Control to ensure justice for the people as well as maintain the safety and hygiene of the detention centres and prisons. We urge Cambodia to publicly conduct investigations to guarantee the rights for Indigenous Peoples. In conclusion, the Kingdom government must ensure that the right to adequate housing should be respected for all people in the society.  

Kingdom of Cambodia, Law on Drug Control, Indigenous Peoples, Adequate Housing, Prey Lang Community Network, Prey Preah Roka Forest Community Network, Geneva, geneva4justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre For Justice


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