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Cambodian Law – Global Legal Collection Highlights

The following is a guest post by Sayuri Umeda, senior foreign law specialist for Japan and several Southeast Asian countries.  She has previously also written posts on the Law Library’s collections for Korea and Japan, as well as on her report about post-earthquake legislation in Japan.

Cambodia map

Map of Cambodia, Central Intelligence Agency [1997] (Source: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division).

Cambodia is an interesting country to study and is well-known for both its ancient temples and the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.  Unfortunately, there are not a large number of Cambodian law books or other materials available to English-language researchers.  There are also gaps in what is available in other languages.  When we review the country’s modern history, we can understand the reasons for this.

Cambodia became a French protectorate in 1863.  During the period of French colonization, formal legislation, originating from France and more or less customized to local conditions, was introduced.  After Cambodia gained independence in 1953, few changes to these laws were initiated.  However, during the period of the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, there was a complete eradication and destruction of existing laws, both ancient and modern.  Cambodia followed a socialist model during the following decade.  Then, things changed again.  In 1989, constitutional amendments were passed that shifted the country to a market-oriented economy.  The Agreements on the Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict (known as the Paris Peace Agreements) were signed on October 23, 1991.  A new Constitution was subsequently adopted in 1993.  Information about these developments can be found in a 1998 book by Siphana Sok and Denora Sarin, “The Legal System of Cambodia.”  The Constitution has since been amended five times.

Cambodia enacted many laws in the 1990s.  There are two compilations of English translations of these laws in the collections of the Law Library of Congress:

Cambodia’s laws and government notices are currently published in Khmer in the official journal, Rājkicc, which the Law Library collects.  In recent years, the Japanese government has assisted Cambodia to draft key legislation, including the civil law, civil procedure codes, and other related laws.  France has also assisted with the drafting of criminal laws and criminal procedure codes.  English translations of recent legislation are increasingly being made available online. For example, the Council for the Development of Cambodia, the SK & P Cambodia Law Firm, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency post various laws on their websites.  The Law Library also holds some recent titles, in English, on different areas of Cambodian law, as well a number of titles that discuss the special tribunal before which several former Khmer Rouge leaders are being prosecuted.  We are also collecting materials from these trials, including transcripts.

Cambodia tribunal

30 Aug 2011: A number of Buddhist Monks from Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University attended the second of the preliminary hearings on Nuon Chea’s and Ieng Thirith’s fitness to stand trial. (Source: Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia Flickr photostream; used under Creative Commons licence, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.)

Pre-Khmer Rouge laws, however, are hard to find, particularly in English translation.  Most older laws were written in French.  While this language might be more familiar and accessible to English-speakers than the Khmer language, even French legal resources related to Cambodia are quite rare.

The first source to look for the texts of laws is the country’s official gazette.  The Law Library of Congress has a good collection of French Indochina official gazettes.  The National Archives of Cambodia has a list of the old Cambodian official gazettes, and we have two of the journals covering different periods in our collection (although there are some gaps).  Only a few libraries have these journals in the US, and they are precious materials.

The Library of Congress also has the texts of some old laws.  These are also quite rare materials.  For example:

  • Code civil et de procédure civile cambodgiens [Cambodian Civil Code and Civil Procedure Code] [microform] : d’apres les travaux des Commissions instituées par Arrêtés des 5 Juillet et 3 Septembre 1912, 9 Avril 1913, 19 Juillet 1918 et 29 Janvier 1919 (1920) [From the Works of Commissions Established by Executive Decisions of July 5 and September 3, 1912, April 9, 1913, July 19, 1918, and January 29, 1919].
  • Code de Commerce [Commercial Code]: [Kram No. 579-NS du13 Mars 1950] (1950)
  • Code de Procedure en Matière Civile [Civil Procedure Code] (1939)
  • Code Pénal promulgué par ordonnance royale no. 103 du 23 juillet 1934 [Penal Code promulgated by Royal Ordinance No. 103, July 23, 1934] (1934)
  • Code Pénal: promulgué par ordonnance royale no. 103 du 23 Juillet 1934 1934 [Penal Code promulgated by Royal Ordinance No. 103, July 23, 1934] (1950)
  • Code pénal et lois pénales [Penal Code and penal laws] (1956)
  • Code de Procedure en Matière Pénale [Criminal Procedure Code] (1964)

There are not many commentaries on pre-Khmer Rouge laws either.  The Law Library owns books written by Marcel Clairon that were published during this period:

If you have questions about researching Cambodian law you can visit us at the Law Library or submit a request for assistance via our Ask a Librarian service.

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