According to Country Minus, Cambodia is a state of Southeast Asia, on the Indochinese peninsula. The ancient Khmer civilization had its heyday between the 10th and 13th centuries, when the empire of Angkor came to control much of Indochina. The decline and dynastic struggles of the following centuries led to a drastic downsizing and increasing subordination of the kingdom to the Siamese and Vietnamese hegemony, which lasted until the advent of the French protectorate (1863), followed by the insertion of Cambodia in Indochina French. The maintenance of an authority, albeit exclusively ceremonial, for the reigning dynasty helped to prevent the birth of a nationalist movement in the country and only the events connected with the Japanese occupation (1941-45) of Indochina laid the foundations for a gradual exit of Cambodia from the colonial regime. Under the leadership of Norodom Sihanouk (king since 1941), Cambodia gained independence (1954) and total control over the country’s political life passed to the popular socialist community political movement, made up of Sihanouk. The regime was inspired by a sort of “Buddhist socialism”, strongly linked to tradition. On the international level, Sihanouk pursued a policy of non-alignment, trying above all to keep the country out of the Vietnamese conflict. In the course of the 1960s, relations with the United States deteriorated (up to the breakdown of diplomatic relations) and there was a growth in communist influence among the peasant masses which, starting from 1967-68, resulted in the development of a movement of guerilla warfare in the countryside (the Khmer Rouge). Deposited by a right-wing coup, headed by General Lon Nol (1970), Sihanouk took refuge in China, where he formed, together with the Khmer Rouge, a United National Front of the Cambodia (func). After five years of war waged with the support of North Vietnamese and Vietcong, in 1975 the Khmer Rouge seized power and their leader, Pol Pot, became prime minister. The disastrous situation inherited from the war, the drastic measures taken by the new government in an attempt to cope with it (in particular, the forced relocation of most of the urban population to the countryside) and the ferocious repression caused an enormous number of victims. At the same time, relations between the Vietnamese communist movement and Pol Pot, who feared a new Vietnamese hegemony, deteriorated. China and the USSR exerted their influence over the region by supporting Cambodia and Vietnam respectively, until the massive invasion of Cambodia by the troops of Hanoi led to the overthrow of the government of Pol Pot (1979) and the proclamation of the People’s Republic of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge reacted to the Vietnamese domination by creating a coalition government in exile of the Democratic Republic, with Sihanouk as president, giving rise to intense guerrilla activity. However, starting from 1986, the improvement of relations between China, the USSR and the USA favored a gradual process of detente and a progressive Vietnamese disengagement from Cambodia, culminating in 1990 with the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Hanoi and with training (1991) of a Supreme National Council, formed by the representatives of the different factions and chaired by Sihanouk. The 1993 elections were narrowly won by the National United Front for an independent, neutral, peaceful and cooperating Cambodia (funcinpec), expression of the followers of Sihanouk, who again ascended the throne immediately after the approval of a new Constitution that transformed Cambodia into a constitutional monarchy. A series of coalition governments formed by the two main forces: funcinpec and ppc (Cambodian People’s Party) followed one another in the 1990s and early next decade. In 2003, the Cambodian government and UN representatives agreed to create a joint tribunal to put the leader of the Pol Pot regime. In 2004 Sihanouk left the throne to his son Norodom Sihamoni.
Population, society and rights
The Cambodian population is made up of 90% Khmer, 5% Vietnamese and 1% Chinese. Almost all Cambodians (95%) are Theravāda Buddhist (the oldest Buddhist school, founded in India and also present in Laos, Myanmar and Thailand), and there are some Christian, Islamic and animist minorities. The population is young (the median age is about 23 years), mainly made up of women, and mainly located in the countryside.
The literacy rate is 73.9%, among the lowest among ASEAN members,but it increases to 88.4% for children aged 15 to 24. Even if primary schooling exceeds 98%, child labor remains a widespread phenomenon, affecting almost half of children. Furthermore, there are not many graduates and this leads to a shortage of qualified work. Corruption is widespread and represents a brake on economic development and social stability: Cambodia ranks 156 out of 175 in Transparency International’s global ranking on perceived corruption. The problems of education and corruption are manifested in the widespread practice of selling exams by teachers, against which the government has recently tried to launch an all-out battle. Another critical issue is that of land grabbing, a phenomenon that frequently produces tensions between local communities and the authorities.