Cambodia: four years on, no effective investigation into Kem Ley’s unlawful killing

Today, in advance of the fourth anniversary of the killing of prominent political commentator and human rights defender Kem Ley, the ICJ and 29 other organizations called on Cambodian authorities to create an independent Commission of Inquiry to conduct an effective and impartial investigation that is long overdue into Kem Ley’s death.

The organizations further urged Cambodian authorities to cease intimidation and harassment of persons peacefully commemorating his passing.

On 10 July 2016, Kem Ley was shot and killed at a petrol station in central Phnom Penh. Without conducting a prompt, thorough, and independent investigation, and following a half-day trial which was widely criticized for failure to meet international fair trial standards, in March 2017, Oeuth Ang was found guilty of the murder of Kem Ley and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Since 2016, many international and domestic human rights organizations have consistently called on the Cambodian government to set up an independent Commission of Inquiry to conduct a prompt, impartial, and effective investigation into this killing, with emphasis on examining the potential criminal responsibility of persons other than the direct perpetrator, in line with international standards set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extralegal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions as well as the revised Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death reinforce the duty of governments to investigate unlawful deaths and to establish an independent commission of inquiry when states, like Cambodia, lack effective procedures to conduct such an investigation in accordance with international standards.

The Cambodian government, has to date, failed to take any steps towards the establishment of such an independent and impartial investigative body. Given the government’s unwillingness to conduct an independent investigation into Kem Ley’s killing, and civil society’s highly warranted lack of trust and confidence in Cambodia’s justice system which lacks the requisite levels of independence to adjudicate cases involving public officials, this body should be established under the auspices of the United Nations and composed of independent experts.

Following the killing of Kem Ley, the Cambodian authorities have continually monitored, harassed, and ultimately disrupted and prohibited planned anniversary memorials of his death. These actions constitute arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The organizations condemned such attempts to stifle free speech and reiterated their call to the Cambodian government to stop such harassment.

The joint statement is available here.


Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia and Pacific Regional Director, frederick.rawski(a)

See also

ICJ, ‘Cambodia: three years and still no effective investigation into Dr. Kem Ley’s killing’, 9 July 2019

ICJ, ‘Cambodia: Commission of Inquiry into killing of Kem Ley should be established without further delay’, 9 July 2018

ICJ, ‘Cambodia: request to create a commission of inquiry into the killing of Kem Ley’, 7 July 2017

ICJ, ‘Cambodia: Kem Ley’s killing demands immediate credible and impartial investigation’, 13 July 2016