United Nations

Secretary-General António Guterres (right) meets with Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia in New York. Photo taken from the UN website on 22 September 2022.

The United Nations (UN), founded in 1945 and guided by the UN Charter, is an international organization comprising 193 member states. 1 The UN comprises six main organs: General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Trusteeship Council, International Court of Justice, and UN Secretariat.2  António Guterres is currently the ninth Secretary-General of the UN since January 2017 and was reappointed for his second term on 18 June 2021 to continue helping the world fight the COVID-19 pandemic. 3

To better understand the UN, it is crucial to take a glimpse at its predecessor, the League of Nations (1920-1946). It consisted of three main organs: (1) the Assembly, where all member states were represented on equal footing, (2) the Council which was composed of permanent and non-permanent members, and (3) the Secretariat which performed the day-to-day work at the League’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.4 The League resulted from the Treaty of Versailles that aim to maintaining peace and international order in adherence with 26 articles of its Covenant.5 However, the league was dissolved following its incapability to prevent the second world war.

The UN work to solve global issues and support its member state’s development through financial and technical assistance.  The UN allocates funds from its member’s contributions to support and maintain its operations across various organs and agencies. Two types of contributions are Assessed and Voluntary contributions.6 The former is the mandatory payment by the member while the latter is the contribution method based on the member state’s discretion.7

The UN in Cambodia

Cambodia became a member state of the UN on 14 December 1955.8  Throughout the years, the UN has promoted peace and advanced human development in Cambodia by focusing on maintaining peace, eradicating poverty, and human rights and supporting the priorities, plans, and programs of Cambodia’s government, civil society, and other partners.9  In collaboration with the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), the UN also continued to provide technical assistance and build capacities to support Cambodia in achieving its national development objectives and embracing the importance of sustainable development goals (SDGs). 10

The engagement between the UN and Cambodia can be traced back to the early 1950s when Cambodia received independence and joined UN membership. Cambodia receives assistance through UN bodies and entities including World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations’ Children Fund (UNICEF), and the Expanded Programme for Technical Assistance (which later become United Nations Development Program UNDP).11 The UN operation was halted in the 1970s during the Khmer Rouge regime. After the regime ended, the UN continues its operation to assist and support Cambodia during the 1980s, 1990s, and the present day.

The UN operates under various entities and bodies that are designated to their prospective sectors. In Cambodia, there are 25 United Nations entities operating across different areas ranging from economy, healthcare, education to gender equality.12 UN agencies function under different financial frameworks that entail different funding, programming schedules, and timeframe.

 Through the aforementioned UN bodies and entities, this international organization has been continuously supporting Cambodia through Official Development Assistance (ODAs) and technical assistance to the implementation of effective laws, policies, and strategic plans on the development agenda that aligns with Cambodia’s national development plan and the global SDGs. In 2022, the UN provided 90 million USD to support Cambodia’s development in various sectors.13

United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC)

Following the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 that marked the end of the civil war in Cambodia, UNTAC was established under resolution 745 adopted by the UN's Security Council as a peacekeeping operation force in the kingdom.14 The official operation began in Cambodia in March 1992. UNTAC's mandate is to maintain peace and stability in the kingdom and ensure a favorable environment for democratic elections to form the government. UNTAC deployed some 21,000 personnel including military personnel, civilian personnel, civil administrative, and police officers. UNTAC's expenditures during its mandate are estimated to be around 1.6 billion USD.15 The UNTAC operation was dissolved in September 1993 after Cambodia successfully promulgated the constitution and formed its government. Since then, some United Nations personnel and institutions have still remained in Cambodia to support the country’s socio-economic development up to the present day.16

United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials  (UNAKRT)

Besides UNTAC, there is another key player in ensuring peace and reconciliation in Cambodia​ namely the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (UNAKRT). It provides technical assistance to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), better known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.17  As stated in the Agreement between the UN and Cambodian government, the Extraordinary Chambers are mandated to try senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge leaders) and those who were most responsible for the crimes committed from 1975 to 1979. Strategically located in Phnom Penh to allow survivors to participate in the justice searching process, the ECCC has a special feature in that it composes of Cambodian and foreign judges and personnel in accordance with relevant provisions of Cambodian laws and international laws. All of these characteristics make the ECCC be well known as a “hybrid court”. 18

United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF)

UNDAF is one of the most crucial United Nations tools that monitor the implementation and planning of member-state development at the country level. National development plans and global SDGs are the core component of the framework. Working collaboratively with the national government, UNDAF identifies specific key outcomes that are unique only to the country’s context and priorities. The framework contains key activities to be achieved, outcomes, projected budget spent, challenges, and possible solutions.19

The Cambodia UNDAF 2019-2023 was designed following the 2017 UNDAF guidelines, using an interactive and inclusive approach that involved discussions with all relevant stakeholders including the government, non-governmental organizations, development partners, the private sector, and other involved parties. The framework put the Rectangular strategy, NSDP, and global SDGs at the core of policy implementation. The United Nations has conducted a comprehensive assessment of the country's circumstances and the changing function of the UN system in Cambodia. The analysis plays an important role in shaping the nature of assistance that the UN should extend in its upcoming collaboration with the RGC. 20

5 key outcomes of Cambodia's UNDAF 2019-2023 are:

  1. Outcome 1: Expanding social opportunities
  2. Outcome 2: Expanding economic opportunities
  3. Outcome 3: Promoting sustainable living
  4. Outcome 4: Strengthening participation and accountability
  5. Outcome 5: Managing urbanization.

In the UNDAF 2019-2023, budget allocations for the 5 outcomes are:

Total budget requirement for the 5 outcomes of the UNDAF (2019-2023)

Source: The United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) 2019– 2023,
OutcomeTotal budget required (US$)
1, Expanding social opportunities266,906,000
2. Expanding economic opportunities131,395,744
3. Promoting sustainable living115,356,506
4.Strengthening participation and accountability44,680,433
5. Mananging Urbanization19,305,500

Response to COVID-19 in Cambodia

The United Nations has supported both finance and technical assistance to its member states in the fight against COVID-19. For Cambodia, the UN has worked closely with the government to reduce vulnerabilities, leave no one behind, and increase sustainability. The UN has adopted 5 pillars as a socio-economic framework response to COVID-19 in Cambodia.21 The 5 pillars are: 

  1. Health first
  2. Protecting people
  3. Economic response and recovery
  4. Macroeconomic response and multilateral collaboration
  5. Social cohesion and community resilience

The UN put a strong emphasis on protecting vulnerable and marginalized groups. Together with the National Social Protection Council and other development partners, the UN responded to the outbreak in Cambodia through integrated approaches to social protection, and cash transfer programs and supported the government in implementing the National Social Protection Policy Framework.22 The UN spent approximately 36 million USD from April 2020-December 2021 on pillar 2, Protecting People.23 Around 650,000 poor households including children, women, and people with disabilities benefit greatly from the cash transfer program that helps to sustain their living conditions during the pandemic’s outbreak.24 The UN also supported the RGC to reflect on the lessons learned and improve its preparation, response, and resilience to future shocks.25

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