C AMBODIA'S controversial draft Nationality Law has been praised by observers as
"quite liberal" - though the same people fear that "ambiguous" clauses could
lead to wide-spread abuses against non-Khmer residents.
Interior Ministry's 20-article draft - now being reviewed by government lawyers
- all children having one parent born in Cambodia as "Khmer" qualify for
Foreigners "who have no right to claim for
nationality" can ask the King for naturalization.
However, they have to
meet conditions such as being able to speak and write Khmer, have "proper
knowledge" of Khmer geography and history, and show "precise evidence" of their
practice of Khmer customs and tradition.
They must also have letters
certifying they have lived in Cambodia for five years from the date they were
granted resident-cards within the framework of the Immigration
Observers considered the requirements for naturalization were
impractical in a country like Cambodia where a large percentage of population
can not read and write their own language.
"Not even all Cambodians can
meet these requirements because the majority cannot read and write Khmer. Sixty
to seventy percent of adults are illiterate. The requirements just handicap all
foreigners," said one source, who requested anonymity.
The law - which
went before the Council of Ministers on Jan 18 - says in its first article that
the object was to specify Khmer nationality and citizenship of every individual
living in the territory of Cambodia.
Observers spoken to by the Post are
worried that some provisions of the law might still have a side-effect on
For instance, one observer who is close to the issue
said that the use of word '"Khmer" in defining nationality was very problematic,
and it tried to limit the opportunity for long-term minority residents, such as
Chinese, Chams and Vietnamese, to claim Khmer status.
"One concern is
that this law is used to exclude those who are not ethnically Khmers. The law
will raise fears that the Vietnamese may be targeted and particularly denied
citizenship. To avoid misunderstanding, it is better to use the word "Kampuchea"
for nationality," he said.
The law required proof of a five-year
continuous stay, recognized under the framework of the Immigration Law. Sources
said ethnic Vietnamese who had resident papers issued by the former State of
Cambodia government would be deemed ineligible for citizenship.
would have to apply for new resident cards under the Immigration Law and wait
for another five years to be eligible for naturalization, sources
There were also claims that Article 13 of the draft Nationality Law
was in violation of Cambodia's constitution.
Article 13 says: "Those who
obtained Khmer nationality by naturalization shall be entitled to become Khmer
citizens. But their right to stand (as candidates) to be elected or appointed as
judges, commanders in the army, military police and national police, and as
(high ranking) senior officials in the administrative framework, shall be banned
for a period of 10 years."
The constitution says: "...Cambodian citizens
are equal before the law and have the same rights, freedoms and obligations,
regardless of race, color, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency,
ethnic origin, social wealth, or other status."
"The Vietnamese can be
recognized as residents, but not granted citizenship. What will be the message
to the State of Cambodia which issued those IDs? It is a question of fairness,"
said one observer.
In practice, ambiguity in the law may leave a lot of
room for corruption by people bribing their way to become citizens, he
"There is big money with people trying to get Cambodian passports.
It's very easy with a few bucks to buy yourself into this country," said another
Gen. Luor Ramin, director of the immigration department, said
that more than 50 Cambodian passports have been confiscated from Chinese and
Vietnamese nationals during the past five months.
They were illegal
immigrants, he said, adding that it was difficult to determine their number in
the country as there was no nationality legislation to enforce the Immigration
Law passed in August last year.
The confiscation of those passports was
based on practical evidence like testing the bearer's skill in the Cambodian
language, he said.
"We've determined that the holders of Cambodian
passports must speak and write Khmer. If their testimony does not meet the
criteria, their passport must be confiscated," said Ramin.
He added that
passports were mostly obtained by bribing "crooked officials" using photos of
Khmer faces when applying for passports, before replacing them with their own
and fraudulently stamping them.
"The nationality law is desperately
needed because it is complicated implementing the Immigration Law without it,"