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Country Facts

Area: 181,035 sq km (69,898 sq miles)
Population: 14,453,680 (2010)
Capital City: Phnom Penh
People: Khmer (90 to 95%), with the remainder being Chinese, Vietnamese, Cham or about one dozen other smaller ethnic groups.
Languages: Khmer
Religion(s): The population is largely Buddhist, with a small Muslim minority (around 2.5%). There is a small Christian community.
Currency: Riel (the economy remains highly dollarized and the US dollar is accepted for most transactions in Cambodia)
Major political parties: Cambodian People's Party (CPP), National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) (acronym from French initials), Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP), Human Rights Party (HRP)
Government: Constitutional Monarchy
Head of State: King Norodom Sihamoni
Prime Minister: Hun Sen
Foreign Minister: Hor Namhong
Membership of international groupings/organisations: United Nations (UN), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Group of 77 at the United Nations (G77), Non Aligned Movement (NAM), Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), ASEF (Asia-Europe Foundation).

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Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$ 9.9bn (2009)
GDP per capita: US$2,000 (2010)
Inflation: 4.1% (2010)
Major Industries: Agriculture, fishing and forestry, mining, construction, garment manufacture, tourism.
Major trading partners: United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Canada and Taiwan
Exchange Rate: 1 GBP = 6,453.42 KHR (Cambodian Riel) (April 2010)
Cambodia’s per capita income is increasing but is still low compared with other countries in the region. The economy is stable and the government has made significant progress in reducing poverty levels. In 2005 the government developed a comprehensive reform agenda set out in the National Strategic Development Plan, which has solid support from foreign donors. The NSDP II (2009-2013) was approved in May 2010 and at the Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum in June 2010 donors confirmed their intention to spend some $1.1 billion in development assistance during 2010.

Cambodia sustained a decade of high economic growth until the global economic downturn in 2008/09. Drops in exports, tourist arrivals from beyond the region, and in foreign direct investment, affected the economy severely during the economic crisis. Growth recovered in 2010, and is forecast to be around 5-7% in 2011. The financial sector is buoyant, with loan growth increasing and preparations in hand to launch a Stock Exchange.

Cambodia remains largely agrarian with a large percentage of the population engaged in subsistence agriculture. An estimated 31% of Cambodians lived below the poverty line in 2007. Inequality has grown over the last two decades. Much infrastructure is rudimentary and the country remains dependent on external donor funding for over a third of its expenditure. From 1997-2007, economic growth was narrowly based (primarily in the garment, construction and tourism sectors) with modest linkages to the rest of the economy and this pattern has resulted in limited benefits to the 84% of the population who live in rural areas. To produce more sustainable, faster and broader growth the priority of the Cambodian government is now to tackle core governance issues and improve the climate for investment, especially in agriculture.

Cambodia has made progress in education enrolment rates and in some health reforms, although there is still concern about high rates of maternal and child mortality. Cambodia has also instituted broad governance reforms in public financial management, and in decentralising government from the centre to local governments. Further progress is needed in those, and in tackling corruption and in judicial reform, and improving revenue transparency. A long-awaited anti-corruption law was passed in March 2010 and government is setting up the structures to implement that law.

The government has made progress on adopting new and amended legislation to fulfil its World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership commitments (Cambodia was the first LDC to conclude membership negotiations with WTO). In 2005, Oil and natural gas deposits were found in Cambodian territorial waters but quantities have not yet made public. Commercial extraction is expected to begin in 2012. Further oil and gas fields lie within an area of overlapping territorial claims in the Gulf of Thailand. Limited progress has been made with Thailand over resolving rights within this area.

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The Khmer people have lived in the Indochina area for at least 2,000 years. The Khmer Kingdom, with its capital at Angkor from around 900 AD, was the most powerful mainland Southeast Asian state for most of the period from 802 to 1432. Most Cambodians consider themselves to be Khmer, descendants of the Angkor Empire. The Kingdom enjoyed its heyday around 1200, when it included much of present-day Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. From 1432 the Kingdom declined, losing much territory to increasingly powerful neighbours.

Cambodia was governed from Hanoi as part of French Indo-China from 1864 until 1953 when King Norodom Sihanouk, who had been placed on the throne by the French in 1941, achieved full independence. He ruled Cambodia until 1970, when Marshal Lon Nol ousted him in a coup. The Lon Nol government was defeated by the insurgent forces of the Khmer Rouge, an extreme left-wing party, led by Saloth Sar (known as Pol Pot), which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, when it is estimated around 1.7m Cambodians (over 20% of the population) died from starvation, disease or execution. In early 1979 Vietnam invaded Cambodia, ousted the Khmer Rouge and established the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1979-1989), later renamed the State of Cambodia (1989-91).

The Khmer Rouge regrouped their forces along the Thai border and waged a war against the Phnom Penh government, in a loose alliance with royalist and other anti-Vietnamese groups. The Vietnamese eventually withdrew their forces from Cambodia in 1989. The Paris Peace Agreements of 1991 and the establishment of the UNTAC (the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia) from 1991-1993, helped bring stability to Cambodia.

In 1993, the country adopted its current name of the Kingdom of Cambodia. The first democratic elections, organised by the UNTAC in 1993, were narrowly won by the royalist National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) who formed a coalition government with the Cambodian People's Party (CPP). However, heavy fighting broke out between the two coalition partners in 1997 in advance of the 1998 elections, which established CPP as the dominant party. The subsequent 1998 elections were won by the CPP. A new coalition government between CPP and FUNCINPEC was formed in November 1998 with Hun Sen as Prime Minister. A Senate was established in 1998.

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Relations with Neighbours

Since Cambodia joined the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1999, its foreign policy has been largely regionally-focused, and Cambodia generally enjoys cordial bilateral relations with all its regional neighbours.

Relations with Thailand, however, are complicated by a border dispute in the region of the Preah Vihear temple. The International Court of Justice has ruled that the temple is in Cambodian territory, but Thailand continues to contest the line of the border. Tensions increased following Cambodia’s successful bid to have the temple declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, which led to an outbreak of fighting between troops at the border. Both sides have publicly committed to resolving the dispute peacefully, but there have been occasional flare ups of fighting subsequently, most significantly in February 2011.

Bilateral relations between Cambodia and Thailand deteriorated further in 2009 when Hun Sen appointed Thaksin Shinawatra (ousted PM of Thailand, subsequently convicted of corruption charges) as an Economic Adviser. Thailand recalled its Ambassador from Phnom Penh and Cambodia did the same with the Ambassador to Bangkok.

Cambodia co-operates closely with neighbouring Laos and Vietnam, including on demarcation of its land borders with these countries. Some opposition politicians have claimed that Cambodian territory is being surrendered during the border demarcation with Vietnam.

Relations with the International Community

Cambodia benefited enormously from the involvement of the UN, and of individual members of the Security Council including the UK, in reaching a settlement of its civil war in the early 1990s. Thereafter the international community particularly the EU, Japan, the US and China have invested heavily in the reconstruction of the country, which was severely damaged by 20 years of civil war.

Relations with the UK

The first resident British Ambassador arrived shortly after independence in 1953. The Embassy closed in March 1975 a month before the Khmer Rouge take-over. In May 1975 the UK recognised the government of Democratic Kampuchea and diplomatic relations were established in 1976. However, the Embassy was not reopened and no British diplomats visited Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge period. The UK was the first country to publicly condemn the violation of human rights in Cambodia by raising the issue at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in March 1978. After clearer evidence of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge emerged, the British Government formally withdrew recognition of Democratic Kampuchea in December 1979.

Full relations were only restored with the conclusion of the Paris Peace Agreements. In 1991 a British Mission was opened in Phnom Penh which became the British Embassy following the 1993 elections.

We currently have 3 UK-based FCO staff at the Embassy in Phnom Penh and 14 locally employed staff. The current British Ambassador to Cambodia is Mark Gooding. A Cambodian Embassy opened in London in 2004. The Cambodian Ambassador to the UK is Hor Nambora.

UK Development Assistance

The Department for International Development (DFID) Cambodia office closed in March 2010. However, programmes supported by DFID will continue under different management arrangements until 2013.

UK DFID support for Cambodia previously focused on 4 objectives:

-- increasing the impact of development resources in Cambodia by supporting improved public financial management and better donor coordination;

-- more responsive, accountable and effective local government;

improved livelihoods for poor rural people;

-- better health services and information.

DFID is a major contributor to the Pilot Programme on Climate Resilience (PPCR), a trust fund managed by the World Bank to build capacity to deal with climate change. The PPCR in Cambodia is being designed in coordination with an EU/UNDP supported programme.

For more information on DFID programmes in Cambodia please visit (

The UK is well represented through the NGO community, including VSO (around 90 volunteers), OXFAM, The Cambodia Trust and the 2 major de-mining charities: The Hazardous Area Life Support Organisation (HALO) Trust and the Mines Advisory Group (MAG).

Cultural Relations with the UK

The UK resident community is estimated to number around 1,500, with many spread across the country involved in aid programmes/projects. The number of British tourists visiting Cambodia is growing each year (approximately 103,000 in 2010).

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Cambodia, with an area of 69,898 square miles, is bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam and has a coastline on the Gulf of Thailand. Apart from the Cardamom Mountains in the south-west and uplands in the north-east, the country is predominantly flat. The scarp slope of the Dangrek Mountains marks much of the northern border with Thailand. In the centre of the country is the largest lake in South East Asia, the Tonle Sap. The capital, Phnom Penh, is located at the confluence of the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers. Beyond the river valleys the land is frequently infertile, because rainfall is scant and there is little irrigation. Most Cambodians live in rural areas, cultivating rice as their staple crop.

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Trade and Investment with the UK

In 2010 UK exports to Cambodia totalled £7.1million, an increase of 76% from £4 million in 2009. Cambodian exports to UK (predominantly garments and footwear), however, have traditionally been much higher, totalling £244 million in 2010 up 38% over 2009. The UK Government does not have any commercial representation in Cambodia although political support to British companies is available from the British Embassy in Phnom Penh The British Business Association in Cambodia ( provides a focal point for further assistance, while the International Business Chamber is the main vehicle for consultation with the Cambodian Government.

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Political system

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy. The cabinet is constitutionally responsible to the National Assembly. The Head of State is King Norodom Sihamoni. The King is selected by the Throne Council. The National Assembly (Lower House) is made up of 123-seats and has a term of 5 years. The term of the 61-member Senate (Upper House) runs concurrently with the National Assembly.

Political developments

Inaugural local elections were held in February 2002 as part of the Cambodian Government's drive towards decentralisation. The CPP won a landslide victory.

The third general election was held in 2003. Out of the 123 MPs elected, 73 were from the CPP, 26 from FUNCINPEC, and 24 from the Sam Rainsy party.

On 22 January 2006, Cambodia held its first Senate election with 11,261 commune councillors throughout the country and 123 parliamentarians taking part. Four political parties competed for 57 of the 61 Senate seats while the remaining four seats were evenly appointed by the National Assembly and the King. The four parties included the ruling CPP, the FUNCINPEC party, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party and the lesser-known Khmer Democratic Party (KDP).

The fourth general election was held on 27 July 2008. Out of the 123 MPs elected, 90 were from the CCP, 26 from the Sam Rainsy Party, three from the Human Rights Party, two from the Norodom Ranharidh Party (NRP) and two from FUNCINPEC.

In June 2010, discussions began about a possible merger between FUNCINPEC and the Norodom Ranariddh Party, although negotiations subsequently stalled. There have also been ongoing discussions between HRP and SRP about a merger or electoral alliance.

During the past 10 years Cambodia has enjoyed greater political stability and territorial unity than for decades, with an increased sense of security amongst the general population.

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

The ECCC - better known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal - is a “hybrid” international criminal tribunal established in 2003 to bring to justice the senior leaders and those individuals most responsible for the deaths of around 1.7 million people and other serious crimes during the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia (1975-1979).

The ECCC is part of the Cambodian court system but, as with other “hybrid” tribunals (such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone); there is a considerable international component. For example, the law combines elements of domestic and international law. The court has both Cambodian and international judges and other personnel.

The international elements (and the costs of the defence teams, witness protection etc) are funded through voluntary contributions by states. Japan has been the major funder to date, contributing around half of the total cost. Other significant contributors include France, Germany and Australia. The UK has provided financial assistance exceeding US$ 5.7 millionto the ECCC budget, and supported outreach work of the ECCC and non-governmental organisations. The British Embassy has also funded specialised training for the Co-Prosecutors and the Trial Chamber judges at the ECCC ahead of the first trial, involving experts from the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Government of Cambodia contributes towards the cost of the domestic elements of the tribunal (e.g. Cambodian judges and staff).

On Monday 26 July 2010, the ECCC announced the verdict in the first case against a Khmer Rouge leader. Kaing Guek Eav (known as Duch) was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in prison for crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Duch was the head of the notorious torture prison, Toul Sleng (or S21), during the Khmer Rouge regime. The British Ambassador was at the ECCC for the verdict. Other embassy staff watched the verdict live on television in Kandal and Takeo provinces with survivors of the Khmer Rouge period and former members of the Khmer Rouge.

The second trial of the most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge – Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary Ieng Thirith and Khieu Samphan will begin in the first half of 2011.

For more information on the ECCC please visit their website. (

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The human rights situation in Cambodia has progressed in some areas over the past decade especially with regard to social and economic rights, such as education, health, medical treatment for HIV/AIDS, gender equity and deepening political participation with the elections of commune councils. However, fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly have shown indications of deterioration since 2004. Civil and political rights protection is also limited by failure to carry out or conclude proper investigations into the violations that have occurred.

The government's capability, accountability and responsiveness for its human rights obligations could be stronger in many areas. A planned NGO law is anticipated negatively by some civil groups as there are concerns such a law could be used to curb NGO activities, push civil society into greater self-censorship, and be used to shut down organisations that are critical of government policy.

Freedom of expression has been a key concern in 2009-10 with the number of prosecution cases for defamation that seem disproportionate to the circumstances, e.g. criticism of Government. Three opposition MPs have been stripped of their parliamentary immunity and prosecuted for defamation. One has been found not guilty and his immunity was reinstated.

There is concern about inadequate protection of legal rights in relation to urban land development and the award of economic land concessions, and how community relocations are being handled. Many members of the international community have called for a moratorium on evictions until the adoption of comprehensive regulations that protect rights. There have been several cases of clashes between communities and developers and law enforcement officers.

Overall, Cambodia’s judicial system is weak by international standards, in part due to the persecution of judges and lawyers alongside other professionals during the Khmer Rouge period. Public confidence in the court system and the police needs to improve. There is little separation of powers, and the legislature and judiciary are weak relative to the executive. Faster reform of the judiciary and strengthening of the rule of law are essential for a better human rights record, and to reduce corruption.

In December 2009, Cambodia presented its report on Human Rights to the HR Council in Geneva for the Universal Periodic Review. The Government has accepted all the recommendations made by UN member states to improve human rights in Cambodia. The Cambodia Human Rights Committee is the government’s focal point. There are also plans to establish an independent National Human Rights body.

There is a UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Cambodia. Since his appointment in 2009, Professor Surya Prasad Subedi has made four visits to Cambodia and developed a constructive dialogue with the Government and civil society. Professor Subedi is also a member of the Foreign Secretary’s Human Rights Advisory Group, which was established in November 2010.

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Last Updated: February 2012

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