Cambodian culture tends to avoid confrontation because it is essential to never “lose face.” 142 Those
who come into contact with the law often “lose their reputation,” which can lead them to “change
their identity and even residence,” says Sowell Chan, who is a law student at the Royal University of
Law and Economics (RULE). 143 Parental expectations of their children are very high and can often
place a great deal of stress on children. Sok Sambath Pichny, another law student at RULE, echoed
her mother’s words that, “millions of eyes are watching and the reputation of the whole family is in
[her] hands.” 144 Since a child’s actions reflect their parents’ values, “many parents always expect their
child to be perfect and live under much pressure,” and find it near impossible to forgive a child who
has “broken” the law. 145
Moreover, patron-client relations are also essential to understanding Khmer culture. Since
“Khmer Buddhism…arises from an agrarian society that places a high value on patron-client
relationships and harmony as well as strong disincentive to challenge the social order,” 146 it is integral
to everyday interactions. It is a about nuanced reciprocity where the patron uses their power to assist
clients and the clients provide their loyalty and services. 147 Additionally, dispute resolution is usually
left to more traditional means rather than a formalized state mechanism in most provinces. 148
Peacekeeping and crime prevention are not usually externalized as activities of
agencies such as the police, but remain, at least in rural areas, in the domain of
village and commune chiefs…and [are] based on…long standing practices of
mediation and reparation. Only the most serious criminal matters gravitate to
district and provincial centers, and therefore, to outside scrutiny. 149
Tha Zanarith, a law student at RULE, believes that “the tradition in Cambodia creates a wide
gap that separates Cambodia from other countries… Cambodia should enforce laws in a different way
from other countries” due to these cultural and societal differences. 150 It is important for outside
organizations, including NGOs and international assistance, to understand that a Western-style
judicial system may struggle in a society that values patron-client relationships and collectivity rather
While restorative justice aligns with Buddhist values about collective responsibility,
acceptance, and healing, it also differs in various ways. For example, many restorative practices
include the “accept[ance of] the expression of anger by victims”, this expression being almost
For example, Western traditions value an impartial adjudicator while Cambodians often seek out mediators who are
familiar with the community and disputants. Bloomfield, infra note 146, at 51.
142 COMMUNICAID, Country: Cambodia, https://www.communicaid.com/country/cambodia.
143 See generally Rodriguez, supra note 40.
146 David Bloomfield et al., Reconciliation After Violent Conflict A Handbook 51 (2003),
147 Dr. Ledgerwood, supra note 139.
148 AUSAID, Cambodia Case Study: Evaluation of Australia law and justice assistance (Dec. 2012),
https://www.oecd.org/countries/cambodia/cambodia.pdf [hereinafter Cambodia Case Study].
149 Id.; Rod Broadhurst & Thierry Bouhours, Policing in Cambodia: legitimacy in the making?, 19 POLICING & SOC’Y
174, 175 (2009).
150 See generally Rodriguez, supra note 40.