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Discrimination is something we all do all the time.  We use mental shortcuts of our past experiences to make decisions easier.  However, some discrimination is wrong and can be bad for society.  When people of a certain race or gender are excluded from jobs solely on the basis of their skin or gender then useful, productive workers for that job are forced to do something else that they might not be as good at.  A recent article in the Phnom Penh Post details Cambodian women’s difficulty in being treated equally in the workplace.   (story here).

Section 2, Article 12 of The Labor Law of 1997 does provide women and many other groups with protections against discrimination, it reads:

Except for the provisions fully expressing under this law, or in any other legislative text or regulation protecting women and children, as well as provisions      relating to the entry and stay of foreigners, no employers shall consider on account of:

  • race,
  • color,
  • sex,
  • creed,
  • religion,
  • political opinion,
  • birth,
  • social origin,
  • membership of worker’s union or the exercise of union activities;

to be invoked in order to make a decision on:

  • hiring,
  • defining and assigning of work,
  • vocational training,
  • advancement,
  • promotion,
  • remuneration,
  • granting of social benefits,
  • discipline or termination of employment contract.

Distinctions, rejections, or acceptances based on qualifications required for a specific job shall not be considered as discrimination.

This language seems to extend beyond the hiring process and to wage inequality as well.

More generally, the Cambodian Constitution itself says “every Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law . . . regardless of race, color, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency, birth origin, social status, wealth or other status” (article 31).  That covers an awful lot of people, but are LGBT groups left out?  What about the disabled?  At the risk of being too bold, I wonder whether the clause would be stronger if it simply said “every Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law” full stop?

In 2009, a law was passed that had the purpose to “prevent, reduce and eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities” (article 2 – Law on the Protection and the Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).  The law requires all public facilities to provide access for all disabled people (nothing terribly surprising there).  However, provisions requiring “ministries and state institutions that recruit civil servants to be employed, shall employ persons with disabilities as states in article 33 of this law, in accordance with the appropriate set quota.  The set quota and recruitment process shall be determined by Sub-decree.”

Officials from The Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization have been quoted as being happy with the laws on the books, but unhappy with the resources devoted to implementation (source:  here).  I suspect women and other groups would have similar things to say.

In the last few months there has been quite a bit of news about ancient Cambodian cultural relics and who owns them.  The New York Times has a couple of articles on the fight over several gorgeous Angkorian statues at Sotheby’s and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (stories here and here).  These cases involve some fascinating moral and legal issues a bit too complex to be dealt with in the scope of this blog.

We’ve had a look through Cambodia’s 1993 Decision on the Protection of Cultural Property (a copy can be found here).  According to the decision, what sort of obligations and responsibilities come with owning a cultural artifact?  Very generally, It sets up a system where the government can classify any property that it considers to be of “scientific, historic, artistic or religious nature which bears witness to a certain stage in the development of a civilization or of the natural world and whose protection is in the public interest.”  There are several categories of objects – from unregistered, to registered, proposed for classification, and finally classified. Each category sets certain restrictions on ownership and the owner’s ability to sell or give away the object. For instance, classified property may not even be moved, altered or repaired without approval from the government.  However, the law does provide that the government can reimburse an owner of a classified property for restoration, repair or maintenance of the property.  If the government deems a repair or restoration to be urgent, it can repair or restore the item at its own expense, even without the owner’s consent.

Punishments for not complying with the law can be quite significant: jail time from six months to five years and/or a fine equal to the value of the object can be imposed on anyone who negligently “alienates, moves, destroys, modifies, alters, repairs or restores a registered cultural object”.  Keep an eye out for how these cases play out.

Surely, that’s been the question at the very top of global leaders’ minds over the last few years.  Cambodia, too, has its own banking problems, but it’s not that they are “too big to fail,” but that they are not big enough.  The Phnom Penh Post is reporting on a World Bank report that shows Cambodians utilized banks less than any other Asia-Pacific country last year.  (Story here).

About a quarter of Vietnamese and Laotians have accounts at a financial institution, while only 4% of Cambodians do.   Banks here aren’t just sitting on money – 82% of deposits were lent out – so there must be something else causing this phenomenon.  Is there a trust issue with banks?  Are Cambodians weary of the formalized documentation process that a bank requires?    Whatever the reason, the result is more informal lending, which means more lending requiring collateral.

A loan that involves collateral is technically called a “secured transaction.”  This means that if the borrower doesn’t make his payments, then the lender gets the property the borrower staked for the loan.  This sort of lending has been going on since ancient times.  The assurance of property gives the lender enough comfort to lend out cash.  A secured transaction in Cambodia requires a loan contract as well as a security agreement.  The security agreement is only about the property that is standing as the foundation of the loan (the collateral).  There are rules for what property may stand as collateral, for more detail see our recent report.  Finally, the security agreement should be filed with the Ministry of Commerce, which is conveniently done online through the Secured Transaction Registry.

These sort of laws make good sense, because it is very important for governments, borrowers and lenders to have reliable, clear information about financial markets.  Earlier this month the brand new Credit Bureau of Cambodia began operations.  Its timing couldn’t have been better: It aims to facilitate lending in the country by centralizing information from banks and microfinance lenders.  According to the World Bank’s report, microfinance seems to be popular in Cambodia where collateral is often necessary.

Given that Cambodians are wary of banks, perhaps something can be done to bring make the informal lending market more transparent.  More transparency could mean lower interest rates, increased availability of capital, and a more efficient capital market.

The Blue Lady Blog shares some interesting thoughts on the oath that witnesses swear when testifying in criminal court in Cambodia. As in most countries, when someone testifies in court in Cambodia, they are sworn in by the judge or court clerk. The purpose is generally to impress upon the witness the importance of what they’re about to say, and maybe even scare them into the telling the truth. What’s fascinating is the language the clerk uses to scare them straight:

Should anyone answer untruthfully about what they know, have seen, have heard, and remember, may all the guardian angels, forest guardians, Yeay Tep and powerful sacred spirits utterly and without mercy destroy them, and bestow upon them a miserable and violent death by means of bullets, electricity, lightning, tiger bites, and snake strikes, and in their future reincarnation separate them from their parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren, impoverish them, and subject them to miseries for 500 reincarnations.

Just imagine being shot, electrocuted, hit by lightning, and bit by a tiger AND snake strikes. Yikes! I’ve done a bit of research, and have not found any country that uses such colorful language in their oaths, Cambodia could very well be unique in this regard. Check the Blue Lady’s original post for the full text.



The work of a handful of attorneys at BNG Legal, this blog's mission is to keep the world up-to-date on legal issues in the Kingdom of Cambodia.

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