Perhaps that erroneous perception came about as a result of those brief but horrendous years of infamy when the Khmer Rouge of Pol Pot held sway, a regime that was spawned by the chaos that overtook the region as a result of geo-political ambitions and the pursuit of hegemony. Cambodia’s “crime” then was its insistence on adhering to its steadfast belief in neutralism, a policy that its King, who was himself a founding father of the Non-aligned Movement, believed fervently in. It will help therefore to put that period into perspective.
As from April 1975, when the Khmer Rouge regime took power, an attempt was made to destroy all aspects of a then prevailing legal system and to eliminate all vestige of the commercial private sector, There was physical destruction. Documents at law libraries, registry offices, Government Ministries and Courts were destroyed, private businesses and property rights etc. were banned. The Khmer Rouge, in its madness, sought the total eradication of the past and the complete restructuring of Cambodian society, and this included the murder of more than 3 million of the educated and those deemed beyond re-training. Nearly all industries were abandoned or placed under state control, institutions were destroyed, money and private ownership of land were abolished and all agriculture was rigidly collectivized.
After the ouster of the monstrous Khmer Rouge in 1979, the political, economic and judicial systems were based on a planned economy. It was only in the late eighties that the thrust of change to a market economy was made and this is the direction the Kingdom of Cambodia, as it now is, has taken.
In order to better understand the development of the legal system, or a better word would perhaps be evolution, we set out below the various metamorphoses of the State after Independence from France [which was achieved on 9th November, 1953] :
- The Kingdom of Cambodia [The Sihanouk era] 09-11-1953 to 18-03-1970;
- The Khmer Republic [The Lon Nol era] 18-03-1970 to 17-04-1975;
- The Democratic Kampuchea [The Khmer Rouge era] 17-04-1975;
- The Peoples Republic of Kampuchea [the PRK era] 07-01-1979 to 30-04-1989;
- The State of Cambodia [The PRK adopted a change from Planned Economy to Market Economy and allowing private land ownership] 30-04-1989 to 23-10-1991;
- The UNTAC Period 23-10-1991 to 1993;
- The Kingdom of Cambodia [Current Status].
In the period between the peace agreement signed in Paris on 18-07-1989 and the first Elections, a Supreme National Council was established and this body had legislative superiority and governed Cambodia together with four administrative structures which were under the control of UNCTAD.
The current Constitution, which was promulgated in 1993 after democratic elections [which saw an incredible 92% voter turn out], established a Kingdom with a Constitutional Monarch of ancient lineage as its Head of State and a political system rooted on Liberal Democracy. After the 1998 Elections, which saw the Cambodian People’s Party secure a majority, this process was carried further with the separation in fact and at law of the executive, legislative and judicial powers.