Country report and updates: Cambodia

Last revision: 10 Aug 1998
10 Aug 1998

There was a civil war in Cambodia for several decades, which has gradually ceased since the signing of the 1993 Peace Accord. In 1993 a coalition government was formed, consisting of three of the former warring factions: the faction led by Prince Norodom Rinadiddh (representing the FUNCINPEC government which ruled Cambodia from 1953 to 1970), the BLDP (Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party) (representing the KPNLF ( Khmer's People Republic) government which ruled from 1970 to 1975) and the CPP (Cambodian People's Party) (representing the SOC (State of Cambodia) government which ruled from 1979 to 1989). Their armed forces merged to form the Royal Cambodian armed forces. The Khmer Rouge were the only faction that did not sign the 1993 Paris Peace Accord and continued the civil war. [9] By 1998 the coalition government is no longer in place and the government is formed by the CPP led by Hun Sen. This hasn't led to resumption of the civil war, but the situation is very tense.

1 Conscription

conscription does not exist

Since the signing of the 1993 Peace Accords there has, officially, been no conscription in Cambodia. There have, however, been many reports of forced recruitment. (see: forced recruitment)

At present there is no legal basis for conscription.

In 1993 the government abridged the 1989 Law on Military Service, which was introduced by the previous SOC government.

In April 1994 the government approved a draft law on military service, which was rejected by parliament in March 1996. The draft law provided for an 18 months' military service for all men between the ages of 18 and 35. According to the government, the conscription law would only be used if the country was threatened by a foreign army. King Norodom Sihanouk, who was at that time co-president, declared himself a fierce opponent of the reintroduction of conscription in Cambodia. [2] [8]

It is not known if any legislation on conscription is still in preparation.

Popular resentment against the reintroduction of conscription seems to be strong, due to the human rights violations committed in the course of conscription in the past.

Neither does reintroduction of conscription seem to be compatible with the planned reduction of the Cambodian armed forces. The government planned to reduce the size of the armed forces from 140,000 in 1993 to 90,000 by 1997, and therefore the Ministry of Defence decided there would be no official recruitment until troop levels were down to the level actually needed. Furthermore, foreign aid donors link aid to the reduction of the armed forces. [1] [7]

In practice the reduction of the armed forces is a difficult process as the Ministry of Defence only has limited control over the armed forces and each partner in the coalition was wary to allow the influence of their troups to be reduced. Furthermore, the ranks of the armed forces have swollen by the large number of soldiers who have defected from the Khmer Rouge in recent years. [1] [9]

forced recruitment

Although the Ministry of Defence has stated several times that there has been no policy of conscription or forced recruitment since 1991, there have been reports of forced recruitment. Forced recruitment by the government forces in particular took place during the so-called dry season offensives against Khmer Rouge strongholds in Along and Palin between 1993 and 1995. Men were rounded up in villages and taken away by government soldiers, with no indication being given of where they are taken or for how long they had to serve. In several villages men slept in rice fields for months, because they were too frightened to sleep at home at for fear of being forcibly recruited. [2] [3]

Forced recruitment can continue because the Ministry of Defence exercises limited control over the armed forces. The recruitment takes place locally, and when a unit loses soldiers due to casualties or desertion, it usually resorts to informal recruitment in the area where it is located. [1]

2 Conscientious objection

There is no known legal provision for conscientious objection.

3 Draft evasion and desertion


No information available.


Desertion seems to be frequent. Conditions within the armed forces can be poor, soldiers being poorly and infrequently paid. The line between being a soldier and not being a soldier is said to be extremely thin: allegedly it is common for men to join the armed forces when they need money and leave again when they are tired or are not paid. [1]

4 Forced recruitment by the Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge is the only faction that didn't sign the 1993 Peace Accord and continued the civil war. In recent years many Khmer Rouge soldiers defected and it is unclear how strong the Khmer Rouge are at present. [4]

Reportedly the Khmer Rouge turn to forced recruitment in the areas under their control, although detailed information is difficult to obtain as the Khmer Rouge do not allow foreigners in the areas under their control. Reports suggest that the Khmer Rouge have turned to recruiting women and children by force, as they have a shortage of manpower in their troops. [1]

5 History

The first conscription law was introduced in 1954, but in the 50s and 60s it wasn't enforced. [11]

During the civil war all warring factions turned to forced recruitment at some stage. [1]

In 1989 the SOC government introduced a law on military service, which provided for a three years' military service for all men between the ages of 17 and 30. Conscription by the SOC government particularly increased after the withdrawal of the Vietnamese troops in 1991. One reason for conscripting men was that the government was afraid that they would join the Khmer Rouge or another faction. [1]

Between 1989 and 1993 the right to conscientious objection was not legally recognized and there were no provisions for substitute service. [6]

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces comprise 140,500 troops, which is 1.38 percent of the population. [10]

The Khmer Rouge are believed to be 3,500 strong. [10]


[1] Child soldiers in Cambodia. Case study for the UN Study on the impact of armed conflict on children 1996. [2] Amnesty International 1995. Cambodia: human rights and the new government. AI, London. [3] Human Rights Watch/Asia 1995. Human Rights Watch Arms Project: Cambodia at war. HRW, New York. [4] Südostasien Aktuell July 1998, Institut für Asienkunde, Hamburg. [5] Cambodia Times, 3-9 March 1996 [6] Amnesty International 1991. Conscientious objection to military service, AI, London. [7] Société I3c 1991. Military Powers Encyclopedia, Volume 6. Paris. [8] Asian Defence Journal, 4/1996. [9] Asian Defence Journal, 12/1996. [10] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London. [11] Prasad, D., T. Smythe 1968. Conscription: a world survey, compulsory military service and resistance to it. War Resisters' International, London.

Recent stories on conscientious objection: Cambodia

05 Aug 2010

Already in 2006, War Resisters' International reported on plans to introduce conscription in Cambodia, which so far did not materialise (see CO-Update No 24, November 2006). It remains to be seen if the new announcement by a senior Cambodian Defence Ministry official on 1 August 2010 that the ministry is poised to introduce a military conscription soon after the military reservist conscription sub-decree was signed by the king, is more real.

01 Nov 2006

The National Assembly of Cambodia voted in October to introduce conscription in the country. According to the new law, young men aged between 18 and 30 will be liable to serve 18 months in the military. The law also carries a prison term of up to five years for men who refuse to join the military.

Since the signing of the 1993 Peace Accords there has, officially, been no conscription in Cambodia. However, there have been attempts to reintroduce conscription in the past.