Cambodia: Kem Ley’s killing demands immediate credible and impartial investigation

The ICJ deplores the killing of Kem Ley, an outspoken human rights defender, political analyst and organizer of grassroots community activists, and calls on the Government to carry out a prompt, impartial and effective investigation to identify and bring to justice those responsible.

Shortly after the killing, Cambodian police arrested a suspect approximately two kilometers from the crime scene who “confessed” on a leaked video to killing Kem Ley for failing to repay a personal loan.

“Kem Ley, a prominent political commentator and human rights defender, was killed against a backdrop of escalating attacks on civil society and the political opposition,” said Kingsley Abbott, ICJ Senior International Legal Adviser.

“In the context of Cambodia’s long history of impunity in cases of allegedly politically motivated killings, and even though a suspect is already in custody, the authorities must continue the investigation in a transparent and methodical manner until all potential lines of inquiry have been exhausted,” he added.

There are already concerns about certain events that took place immediately after the killing which may have harmed the investigation.

For example, shortly after news spread of Kem Ley’s death, the authorities observed a large crowd gather in and around the courtyard of the petrol station in which he was killed, potentially compromising important sources of evidence from this wider area and the vehicles within it.

The large gathering effectively served to block medical vehicles from removing Kem Ley’s body from the scene, which may have prevented a forensic autopsy from taking place.

Later the same afternoon a large procession accompanied his body from the crime scene through the streets of Phnom Penh to Wat Chas pagoda, where his body remains lying in wake.

“Where it lacks capacity, Cambodia should seek technical assistance from States and international organizations particularly in the specialized areas of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) and telecommunication data analysis which may assist in establishing the identification and movements of the perpetrator and whether he or she acted alone or with others,” Abbott said.

The ICJ calls on the Cambodian authorities to:

1. Ensure that the investigating judge and investigators are – and are seen to be – impartial and independent of undue influence, and are free to perform their professional functions objectively without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.

2. Ensure that the investigation process and its outcome are transparent and open to scrutiny by the victims and the general public.

3. Protect the rights of the victims including by ensuring Kem Ley’s family:

  • receive regular information about the progress of the investigation and their rights;
  • receive all necessary support and assistance; and
  • are protected from any ill-treatment, intimidation, or sanction as a result of their participation in the investigation.

4. Protect anyone who provides information to the authorities from ill-treatment, intimidation or sanction.

5. Actively seek out and accept offers of assistance from States and international organizations including in the areas of:

  • the analysis of any CCTV and telecommunication data; and
  • the forensic examination of Kem Ley’s body, crime scenes and vehicles.


At approximately 0830 on 10 July 2016, Kem Ley was shot and killed at a petrol station cafe on Phnom Penh’s Monivong Boulevard. Shortly afterwards, the authorities apprehended a man nearby in connection with the killing who identified himself as “Chuob Samlab”.

On a leaked video, the man reportedly “confessed” to the killing claiming he shot Kem Ley over a debt the political commentator allegedly owed him, a fact reportedly disputed by Kem Ley’s widow and the suspect’s wife.

Under Article 12 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, States are required to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders against any violence, threats, and retaliation.


Kingsley Abbott, ICJ Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t: +66 94 470 1345 ; email:

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