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Sida's work in Cambodia

Democratic development is on the decline in Cambodia. Due to the political situation, development cooperation focuses on strengthening human rights, democracy and the rule of law to ensure equal treatment of all citizens and compliance with the law.

Progress has been made

97 %

of all children are now enrolled in primary and lower-secondary school. Slightly more girls than boys finish primary and lower-secondary school.1

Poverty has been reduced

Poverty in Cambodia has been drastically reduced since 2007. Average life expectancy has also increased significantly.2

Reduced corruption

Corruption is still prevalent but has decreased among citizens and officials since 2019. Citizens can now receive help with the verification of documents in open premises where the costs are clearly stated. Cambodia is ranked 157 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s corruption index.3

Challenges remain

Human rights violations

The political climate has deteriorated sharply since autumn 2017. There are violations of human rights, such as restrictions on freedoms of the press and assembly, as well as in the judicial system.

The pandemic has made more people vulnerable

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a major social and economic impact on Cambodian society, including on groups not previously considered vulnerable.4

Widening gaps and low rates of female representation

Economic growth has to some extent benefited the poor, but the gaps in the country are widening. Cambodia faces major challenges in child nutrition, environmental protection and women’s representation in parliament.5

Development cooperation in Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge held power in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, when some two million people, 20 % of the population, were murdered or died of starvation caused by the regime’s policies. The years of war and terror have left deep wounds in the country’s population. The Khmer Rouge were driven out in 1979, when Cambodia invaded Vietnam. A low-intensity civil war lasted until 1999, and was followed by a more politically stable period with a strong economic upswing. After the 2017 local elections, the court decided to dissolve the main opposition CNRP party and prosecute and imprison its political leaders and hundreds of party members.

Since the 2018 elections, Cambodia has been a de facto one-party state, which is a serious setback for democracy. Therefore, the Swedish government decided in 2020 that development cooperation should focus exclusively on strengthening human rights, democracy and the rule of law to ensure equal treatment of all citizens and compliance with the law. Swedish development cooperation is carried out exclusively in cooperation with civil-society organisations and other non-state actors.

Democracy, human rights and the rule of law

Democratic development has regressed. Human rights are violated and freedom of the press is restricted, as is freedom of assembly. The country’s justice system is inadequate and people are not always treated equally before the law.

Developing the judicial system and protecting rights

Sida supports the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which prevents conflict and ensures that human rights are respected. OHCHR provides technical and financial assistance to state institutions, the judicial system, civil society and human-rights defenders. This work protects the rights of ethnic minorities and prevents forced displacement. It has also led to a new code of conduct to ensure that state-run COVID-19 quarantine centres are safe for women and children. 30,000 factory workers, mostly women, were forced into a 14-day state-supervised quarantine during the pandemic, improving their conditions.

About the work in Cambodia at OHCHR website

Disabled people employed

People with disabilities find it difficult to enter the labour market. Through the project “An inclusive labour market in Cambodia,” we provide support to people with disabilities to help them enter the labour market. The project is a collaboration between the Swedish Arbetsförmedlingen (AF), Finn Church Aid (FCA) and local NGOs. The project also influences the development of a national labour market programme involving people with disabilities.

About the project at Openaid

Empowering young people

Together with other donors, Sida supports BBC Media Action’s Klahan9 SPACE project, which increases the ability of women and men between the ages of 15 and 30 to participate in decisions that affect them and their communities. The programme is available both online and offline and provides access to increased knowledge and skills, increasing their engagement and amplifying their voices.

Strengthened conditions for accountability, transparency, gender equality and reduced corruption

Media actors who stand by the government and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) are favoured and used as the government’s communication channel. Women are more vulnerable than men to harassment and intimidation, especially those involved in representing local communities and journalists. Corruption permeates Cambodian institutions at all levels. This is detrimental to democratic governance of society, human rights, the rule of law and sustainable development.

Challenging gender roles and strengthening civil society

Patriarchal norms and traditional gender roles are deeply rooted. Men’s violence against women is widespread and seen as acceptable in certain situations.  Sida supports Diakonia and a dozen civil-society organisations working to increase gender equality and respect for human rights. This is done, for example, through local platforms for dialogue about equality and gender roles.

Vulnerable communities, workers and human-rights defenders will also have access to legal, social and technical support to continue their work for democracy and human rights. In 2021, they took on around 700 new cases, provided legal support to more than 44,000 families and individuals, and ensured that the authorities accepted a total of more than 1,200 legal cases.

About the work in Cambodia at Diakonia website

Scholarships reduce law-school gender gap

More men than women study in law programmes in Cambodia. Since 2013, female students from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds can apply for scholarships through the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (RWI) to study law up to the bachelor’s-degree level. With more women lawyers, the legal system can better address issues such as gender-based violence, since vulnerable women often prefer to be represented by a female lawyer.

Article about the project (in Swedish)


Despite significant progress, access to quality higher education and research remains a major challenge. Many of the skills needed for the country’s socio-economic development are lacking.

Opportunities for young researchers

Most lecturers and students at universities in Cambodia report obstacles to their research. The Young Researchers Program (YRP) is a one-year program that provides between 10 and 20 students and teachers the opportunity to conduct research each year. The programme is successful, the young researchers are often contacted for interviews, and their articles are well disseminated.

Young Researchers Program (YRP) website

Research collaboration improves education

A serious problem in Cambodia is the lack of higher education. Sida supports the country’s largest university, the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), and their cooperation with 12 Swedish universities. The support goes to doctoral and master’s level education and to building laboratories, IT and libraries, for example. The project shall enable the University to offer high-quality postgraduate education and research opportunities.

About the International Science Programme (ISP) on Uppsala University website

Governance of Sida's development cooperation with Cambodia

Updated: December 16, 2022