Principles of Citizenship


“Know your human right” (High profile campaign of the fortieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human right).

“Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings; their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of Governments” (Vienna Declaration and Program of Action 1993).

“For our human livelihood, approach to citizenship is the very first instigation” (Coined by Lay Vicheka, 2005).

“Live to the best of our dignity”, I would say, is my very persuasion to such the essay titled; Principles of Citizenship. Until today, “the best way to lead humankind is through rationalism” is still valid. Everything shall have its one or more purposes, but prior to gaining such the purpose(s), we should initiate by knowing ourselves as much as possible. Everyday, on daily national television, we have been brainwashed by human rights’ issues from global perspectives, the rights of the citizens, the relationship between the rulers and the ruled, inter-state relations, and even human right. The purpose of this essay is to define the word “citizenship” from my perspective. I will draw the ideas from the very general perspectives to the very specific ( Cambodia ). How a person holds a “citizenship” values.

Recently, I have been accused of “proving to be intelligent (from mostly the uneducated)”, but no matter what will happen, how hard it will be and how mistaken I am, I believe that I am positively contribute to Cambodia’s well-being, and this is one of other contributions for Cambodia’ general good. Thanks for reading my article(s) and constructive criticisms.

Most of us holding National Identification Card, Passport and other administrative certificates; birth, marriage, and death, but we don’t know for sure what are the essences of those materials. The purpose of this paper is to endeavor to catch the “already-there opportunities” of every people as much as possible.

Its Definition

I am not trying to coin the new definition of the term “citizenship”, since it has been clearly defined by well-known professional experts. But I like to express my own view on such the abstract tactic. Citizenship, in my perspective, is people’s routine activities that directly or indirectly affect the government’s policy. For example, if a person decides to go to cast the ballot, he or she is filling one of the principles of citizenship, which will affect the government. Such the decision to cast the vote does affect the government’s policy, because people’s political rights is one of the most prominent policy of the government.

So what are the fundamental and central rights and obligation of citizen? It would be too much to list all the fundamental and central rights and obligation of the citizen, since I just want to show the path to “citizenship” and you, the readers, are obliged to steer your own boats.

The Right to Life:

“Every Khmer citizen shall have the right to life, personal freedom, and security. There shall be no capital punishment.” Article 32 of the Cambodian constitution (1993, amended in 1999).

Don’t think this “right” is awfully simple, as I was confused myself as well. The right to life has a very broad meaning and as Smith stated in his International Human Right; “other rights just add qualities to this right.” So what are those rights to life? I think to make the reader easy to understand, I take Maslow’s theory on physiological needs; food, shelter, clothes, love, care, dignity…etc as the foundations of these “rights to life.” Just think about these physiological needs and then you will understand that your right to life is arisen from these needs. The right to life is the birthright of every humankind as indirectly stipulated in the universal declaration of human right and the charter of the United Nations Organization.

We are lucky to be born human, but our human quality or tenet will be withdrawn if our right to life is inadequate or non-existent. For our essence of humankind, the right to life is extremely important and must be equal amongst all other human persons, either in the Cambodian, regional or global context. And as I quoted on the top; “the right to life the foremost responsibility of the government.” It is the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for the second generation is – in particular, concerned with the right to life: the right to education, the right to appropriate housing, the right to social security, and the right to a safe and healthy working environment and adequate leisure and rest time (Smith, 2005, p. 46).

Cambodian constitution 1993 and amended in 1999 all clearly stipulated such the right to life: personal freedom and security, the right to choose employment, enjoy the protection of the State, etc. And we even see that the right to life must be meticulously equal amongst all the Cambodian people and the rest of the world, as article 31 stipulates “The Kingdom of Cambodia shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the covenants and conventions related to human rights, women’s and children’s rights.”

The Right to Political Participation:

Don’t think this “right” is awfully not important for the people in the twenties century. But why political participation from the people of all walks of life is important?

Most people (wrongly) think that politics is just for only some kinds of people; lawyers, politicians, intellectuals and other interest groups. Moreover, politics are not important to them, since it does not positively or negatively impact their lives. Such the ignorant mentality has, of course, extended until today. When just starting with political topic, most of the elders would say “it is none of our business, what we should care is to make sure our stomachs are full, politics is nothing to us, it is just for the politicians and their counterparts.”

Yes, as I said above, the right to life is the most fundamental right, preceding all others, but it is hard to make most of Cambodian people be aware of their rights or even innate rights, since political participation is largely abstained. As we can see, Cambodian people’s rights like other people around the world are guaranteed by the state and other legal instruments. For instance, Article 15 of Agreement on a Comprehensive Political Settlement on the Cambodia Conflict ” states that:

All persons in Cambodia and all Cambodian refugees and displaced persons shall enjoy the rights and freedoms embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international human rights instruments.

To this end,

a) Cambodia undertakes:

to ensure respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia ;

to support the right of all Cambodian citizens to undertake activities which would promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms;

to take effective measures to ensure that the policies and practices of the past shall never be allowed to return;

to adhere to relevant international human rights instruments;

b) the other Signatories to this Agreement undertake to promote and encourage respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia as embodied in the relevant international instruments and the relevant resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, in order, in particular, to prevent the recurrence of human rights abuses .

Not only the international instruments, Cambodian constitution also guarantees the right to enjoy political participation as they are the steer of their country.

Though many criticisms have been drawn on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, I still claim that his government does have the mentality toward free-market economy and for-the-people policy. What I am trying to do here is just to show you the readers that all of us already have power-in particular, the political power. But our weakness is that we don’t know or may be scared to use such the innately imposed powers.

The right to political participation is already stated in many Cambodian provisions and other legal acts, and what we should do now is to make those abstract ideas into realities; “the most valuable of an idea is practice, people can be well-respected when they turn their ideas into practice.”

Citizen’s Rights Vs Human Rights:

It shows much difference between Human Rights and Citizen’s Rights, especially for such the perplexed world. So how the two rights prove differences?

As stated by ancient Greek and French philosophers, humankind is bounded by innate rights; physiological needs, unlimited use of natural resources, expression, dignity, movement, and indeed, these rights are guaranteed by the state, with legal act and other provisions as the testimonies. However, since we are the citizens of one state, we are bound by the contract with the state. This contract is the Constitution. Of course, my aforementioned rights are guaranteed by the Cambodian government as well as other governments in the world, but one statement has been added to those innate or natural rights: “as long as it does not impinge with other rights.” Such the statement has turned, I thought, the innate/natural rights into citizen’s rights.

Returning back to those ancient philosophers, human rights are unlimited, genuinely equal, but such the theory does not apply anymore to our modern civilization. To restore the public order and other public goods, we are divided between the rulers and the ruled. The ruled vote for the rulers to hold the offices. Though we are the ones that select members of parliament, we are already expected to comply with the laws adopted by whom we have selected, and of course, they must comply also with what we have expected before we vote for them. This stream, I call, is the mutual contract; we are bounded by the laws adopted by those we vote for and they must also comply with our opinions. By raising such the concrete example, I believe, we can clearly see that human rights have been turn to citizen’s rights since we are the citizens of one state. This means that our rights are limited and we are obligated to pay remedies for our wrong-doings: accountabilities.


It is too brief to view the principles of citizenship from just few pages of paper; I can assume that it is not in-depth and carry too little scopes. The rights to citizenship are too broad and I believe no one can cover them all, but somebody may carry it more effectively than another. It would take long to cover such the topic from philosophical, historical and social backgrounds, and this is beyond my knowledge and target. These few papers just seem to be the initiative on “provoking Cambodian people’s already-set rights.”

But how can one have the citizenship? Education, I believe, is the primary source to grant such the aspiration. Educated people seem to be more on tract with current state of affairs, so it is the educated ones who can see better light on citizenship.

What about the uneducated/low-educated one? Do their aspirations toward citizenship are dim? I truly believe so. I am not underestimating the uneducated/low-educated ones, but what I am saying is for the better tomorrow. For, the better light to citizenship, ones must be educated to be on par with the government’s and international affairs and other specific branches of knowledge and know-how. Let’s just take a very simple example: to have a chance to read this article, somebody needs to have some practical knowledge of English and social issues. Moreover, we need knowledge and attitude to understand government’s legal acts and international legal instrument including: treaties, conventions, protocols, etc.

This little article strives to push the government to put more attention to education; quality education. In the event such the aspiration is achieved, the government will have a lot of assistants and volunteer advisors.

For the purpose for getting more knowledge on citizenship, you are humbly requested to view more international instruments, tabulated hereunder:

“Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, adopted by the Constitutional Assembly in Phnom Penh on September 21, 1993 at its 2 nd Plenary Session. Amendments passed 4 th March 1999 .”

Agreement on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict” (Paris, 23 October 1991).

“International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”

“Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” Adopted by the General Assembly resolution 39/46 of December 10, 1984 .”

“Convention on The Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979)”.

“Convention on the Rights of the Child, Adopted the General Assembly resolution 44/25 of November 20, 1989 “.

“International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Adopted by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of December 16, 1966 “.

“The Charter of the United Nations, Done at the city of San Francisco the twenty-sixth day of June, one thousand nine hundred and forty-five”.

“The International Bill of Human Rights, adopted by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of December 10, 1948 .”

And for our aspirations for “citizenship”, you are obliged to learn about your own powers.

“Great power comes from great responsibility” (extracted from a movie titled SPIDER MAN).