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Cambodia


International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. However, Buddhism is the state religion.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among the religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of approximately 67,000 square miles, and its population is approximately 13.4 million. Approximately 93 percent of the population is Hinayana, or Theravada, Buddhist. The Buddhist tradition is widespread and active in all provinces, with an estimated 4,100 pagodas throughout the country. Since the vast majority of ethnic Khmer Cambodians are Buddhist, there is a close association between Buddhism, Khmer cultural traditions, and daily life. Adherence to Buddhism generally is considered intrinsic to the country's ethnic and cultural identity. The remainder of the population includes approximately 700,000 Muslims, predominantly ethnic Chams, who generally are located in towns and rural fishing villages on the banks of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers and in Kampot province. There are four branches of Islam represented in the country: the Malay-influenced Shafi branch, which constitutes 88 percent of Cham Muslims; the Saudi-Kuwaiti influenced Salafi (sometimes called "Wahhabi") branch, which represents 6 percent of the Muslim population; the traditional Iman-San branch, which represents 3 percent of Muslims; and the Kadiani branch, which also represents 3 percent of the Muslim population. The country's small Christian community, although growing, constitutes slightly more than 1 percent of the population. More than 100 separate Christian organizations or denominations operate freely throughout the country and include more than 1,000 congregations. Other religious organizations with small followings include the Vietnamese Cao Dai religion and the Baha'i Faith, with approximately 2,000 practicing members in each group.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. 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 Constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion.

The law requires all religious groups, including Buddhists, to submit applications to the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs to construct places of worship and conduct religious activities. In their applications, groups must state clearly their religious purposes and activities, which must comply with provisions forbidding religious groups to insult other religious groups, create disputes, or undermine national security. There is no penalty for failing to register. Religious groups have not encountered significant difficulties in obtaining approval for construction of places of worship. No significant constraints on religious assembly were reported during the period covered by this report.

In January 2003, the Ministry of Cults and Religions issued a Directive on Controlling External Religions. The directive requires registration of places of worship and religious schools, in addition to government approval prior to constructing new places of worship. Places of worship must be located at least 2 kilometers from each other and may not be used for political purposes or to house criminals or fugitives from the law. The order requires that religious teachings respect other religions. The distance limitation enumerated in the directive has begun to be enforced, but it is limited to approvals for new construction of places of worship and does not affect offices of religious organizations.

Government officials continue to organize annual meetings for representatives of all religious groups to discuss religious developments and to address issues of concern. The Ministry of Cults and Religions is involved in arbitrating certain religious disputes as they arise.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. Foreign missionary groups generally operated freely throughout the country and have not encountered significant difficulties in performing their work. Government officials expressed appreciation for the work of many foreign religious groups in providing much needed assistance in education, rural development, and training. However, government officials also expressed some concern that foreign groups use the guise of religion to become involved in illegal or political affairs.

The 2003 Directive on Controlling External Religions prohibits public proselytizing. However, enforcement is limited to a ban on door-to-door proselytizing during the lunch hours of 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. daily.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

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

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

Minority religions experienced little or no societal discrimination during the period covered by this report; however, adherents of the Muslim and Christian faiths reported minor conflicts. In July 2003, a mob of angry villagers severely damaged a local Christian church in Svey Rieng Province, blaming the construction of the church several years earlier for the area's drought. Police authorities went to the area to prevent another attack on the church. In August 2003, a tribal group in Rattanakiri Province demanded that a Christian group stop conducting conversion activities in their villages.

Occasional tensions have been reported among the branches of Islam, which receive monetary support from groups in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Malaysia, or Indonesia, depending on the tenets of the branch. Some Buddhists also have expressed concern about the Cham Muslim community receiving financial assistance from foreign countries. However, in general the Cham Muslims are integrated well into society, enjoy positions of prominence in business and in the Government, and faced no reported acts of discrimination or abuse during the period covered by this report.

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. U.S. Embassy representatives met with religious leaders on various issues and contacted representatives of religious nongovernmental organizations and other groups representing the Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian faiths. The Embassy has initiated a Muslim outreach program that provides for additional channels of information on the status of religious freedom in the country among the Muslim population. In addition the Embassy continues to follow closely the status of national and foreign practitioners of Falun Gong.



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