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Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000


The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

Both government policy and the generally amicable relationship among the religious communities in society contribute to the free practice of religion.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the Government respects this right in practice.

The law requires all religious groups, including Buddhists, to submit applications to the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs in order to construct places of worship and to conduct religious activities. Religious groups have not encountered significant difficulties in obtaining approvals for construction of places of worship, but some Muslim and Christian groups report delays by some local officials in acknowledging that official permission has been granted to conduct religious meetings in homes. Such religious meetings generally take place unimpeded despite delay or inaction at the local level, and no significant constraints on religious assembly were reported during the period covered by this report.

Monks can move internally without restriction.

Religious Demography

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.

Over 95 percent of the population are Theravada Buddhist. The Buddhist tradition is widespread and active in all provinces, with an estimated 3,700 pagodas throughout the country. Virtually all ethnic Cambodians are Buddhist, and there is a close association between Buddhism, Khmer cultural traditions, and daily life. Adherence to Buddhism generally is considered intrinsic to Cambodian ethnic and cultural identity.

Most of the remainder of the population is made up of ethnic Cham Muslims, who generally are located in Phnom Penh and in rural fishing villages in Kompong Cham, Kompong Chhnang, and Kampot provinces. There are four branches of Islam: The Malay-influenced Shafi branch, which constitutes 70 percent of the Cham Muslims; the Saudi-Kuwaiti influenced Wahabi branch (20 percent); the traditional Kom Iman-San branch (7 percent); and the Indonestan Kadiani branch (3 percent).

The country's small Christian community constitutes less than 1 percent of the population. Over 100 separate Christian organizations or denominations operate freely throughout the country and include over 700 congregations.

Governmental Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Foreign missionary groups generally operated freely throughout the country and have not encountered significant difficulties in performing their work. However, there reportedly are occasional local constraints on evangelization by Christians in public places--especially in areas of new Christian religious activity--but these generally are resolved satisfactorily by intervention with provincial or central government authorities.

Government officials expressed appreciation for the work of many foreign religious groups in providing much needed assistance in education, rural development, and training. Government officials also expressed some concern that foreign groups use the guise of religion to become involved in illegal or political affairs.

Government officials organize meetings for representatives of all religious groups to discuss religious developments and to address issues of concern. There are no constraints on the distribution of religious books or literature.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

Forced Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens

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

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations generally are amicable between the various religious communities. The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion, and minority religions experience little or no societal discrimination in practice. Adherents of the minority Muslim or Christian faiths reported few societal problems on issues of religion. The Cham Muslims generally are well integrated into society, enjoy positions of prominence in business and in the Government, and face no reported persecution.

Occasional tensions have been reported among the various branches of Islam, which receive monetary support from groups in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Malaysia, or Indonesia depending on the tenets of the particular branch. Some Buddhists also have expressed concern about the Cham Muslim community receiving financial assistance from foreign countries.

During the period covered by this report there were no reports of tension between Cambodian Christians and non-Christians. However, occasional tensions have been reported when Christian evangelists attempted to remove Buddhist images or religious items from private homes, but these disputes have not resulted in physical violence.

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

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

U.S. Embassy representatives met with some religious leaders and are in contact with representatives of religious nongovernmental organizations and other groups representing the Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian faiths.

Embassy representatives have spoken with officials from the government Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs to discuss religious freedom.

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