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Pressure mounts on Cambodia a year after Kem Ley's killing

On the one-year anniversary of the death of popular Cambodian activist and political commentator Kem Ley, IFEX joins Cambodian CSOs to reiterate concerns regarding the investigation into his murder and call for an independent Commission of Inquiry. Kem Ley’s case is an emblematic case for IFEX’s No Impunity Campaign.

Kem Ley, 4 June, 2016
Kem Ley, 4 June, 2016


Samdech Kralahom Sar Kheng,
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, Royal Government of Cambodia

Dear Samdech Kralahom Sar Kheng,

On the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the death of Kem Ley, we, the undersigned civil society organizations (“CSOs”), reiterate our concern regarding the apparent lack of progress in investigating other suspects in this case, as well as the inadequacy of the investigation and trial of Oeuth Ang, the only person yet to be convicted or charged in relation to Kem Ley's death. In light of the inadequacy of the investigation by the Cambodian authorities, we urge the establishment of an independent and impartial Commission of Inquiry to continue the investigation.

On 23 March 2017, immediately following the conviction of Oeuth Ang for the murder of Kem Ley, it was announced that an investigation would be launched into two suspected accomplices in the murder — a man named 'Pou Lis', who, according to Oeuth Ang's own testimony, allegedly introduced Oeuth Ang to Kem Ley, and a second man named 'Chork', who Oeuth Ang claimed had sold a handgun to him. Despite this, neither the investigating judge, Seng Leang, nor the Royal Government of Cambodia (“RGC”), have since reported any progress regarding this supposed investigation.

The right to life, enshrined in the Cambodian Constitution and binding international human rights law, includes a positive obligation on the RGC to ensure an impartial and thorough investigation into the murder of Kem Ley. The United Nations Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extralegal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (“UN Principles”) build upon this and explicitly emphasize that states must launch a 'thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions.' Furthermore, the UN's Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Deaths (“the Minnesota Protocol”) requires 'government verification of the facts and public disclosure of the truth' where there has been a violation to the right to life, as well as providing that “investigative processes and outcomes must be transparent, including through openness to the scrutiny of the general public and of victims' families.” The failure of the authorities to publicize information related to the investigation in Kem Ley's case constitutes a failure to meet these standards of transparency, and further suggests that little progress has been made in the investigation.

We, the undersigned CSOs, also reiterate our concerns regarding the flawed trial of Oeuth Ang. The trial of Oeuth Ang was also met with substantial criticism from international observers. The alleged motive for the murder, an unpaid debt of $3,000, was rejected, including by both the widow of Kem Ley and the wife of Oeuth Ang. The implausibility of this motive went unchallenged by the prosecution at trial and was not even referenced in the trial judgement, while the possibility of further accomplices was not adequately addressed. The role of other actors identifiable in video evidence submitted to the court was apparently not subject to scrutiny at either investigation or trial. Moreover, following the charging of Oeuth Ang, reports emerged stating that senior district and military officials had a meeting with Oeuth Ang only a week before the murder of Kem Ley.

The alleged motive for the murder, an unpaid debt of $3,000, was rejected, including by both the widow of Kem Ley and the wife of Oeuth Ang.

Representatives of the RGC have themselves cast doubt upon both Oeuth Ang's motive and testimony claiming he was acting alone. These statements, combined with failure of the prosecution to pursue these lines of questioning at trial, suggests that the investigation and trial failed to meet the standards required by domestic and international human rights law`.

The RGC must now establish a Commission of Inquiry to conduct an effective and thorough investigation into the murder. Principle 11 of the UN Principles calls for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry when 'the established investigative procedures are inadequate because of lack of expertise or impartiality, because of the importance of the matter or because of the apparent existence of a pattern of abuse, and in cases where there are complaints from the family of the victim about these inadequacies.' The rejection of alleged motives by relatives of both Kem Ley and Oeuth Ang are likely to satisfy the requirement of 'complaints from the family of the victim' under the UN Principles.

It is imperative that the Commission of Inquiry be staffed by individuals, including legal experts and United Nations human rights officials, with no ties to the RGC.

For a Commission of Inquiry to be credible and to satisfy the requirements outlined under the UN Principles, '[m]embers of such a commission shall be chosen for their recognized impartiality, competence and independence as individuals. In particular, they shall be independent of any institution, agency or person that may be the subject of the inquiry'.

Given the fact that the killing occurred against a backdrop of escalating attacks on human rights defenders and the political opposition, and in the context of a well-documented history of killings of human rights defenders with impunity in Cambodia, it is imperative that the Commission of Inquiry be staffed by individuals, including legal experts and United Nations human rights officials, with no ties to the RGC.

Following the murder of Kem Ley, five UN human rights experts made similar calls for investigation, stating, “We call for a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the crime […] conducted by an independent body with no ties to the government.” The deeply flawed nature of the investigation into the death of Kem Ley has not met international standards or Cambodia's obligations under binding domestic and international law and now necessitates the establishment of an independent Commission of Inquiry, in order to facilitate justice for the family of the victim.

We, the undersigned, reiterate our concerns regarding the flawed investigation into the murder of Kem Ley and lack of progress in the subsequent investigations into alleged accomplices to the murder, as well as our demand that the investigation now be taken over by an independent and impartial Commission of Inquiry.

Yours sincerely,

7amleh - Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media
ActiveWatch – Media Monitoring Agency
Ad IDEM/Canadian Media Lawyers Association
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC)
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Albanian Media Institute
Aliansi Jurnalis Independen/Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Artículo 19 (Mexico and Central America)
Artigo 19 (Brazil)
Association for Civil Rights
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS)
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Association of Independent Electronic Media
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism
Bytes for All (B4A)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Center for Independent Journalism - Hungary
Center for Independent Journalism - Romania
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR)
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building (CEMESP)
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información Pública
Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala - CERIGUA
Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social
Child Rights International Network (CRIN)
Comité por la Libre Expresión - C-Libre
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Derechos Digitales
Digital Rights Foundation
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR)
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Espacio Público
Federation of Nepali Journalists
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Foundation for Press Freedom - FLIP
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI)
Free Media Movement
Fundación Karisma
Fundamedios - Andean Foundation for Media Observation and Study
Globe International Center
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Hong Kong Journalists Association
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
I'lam Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
Institute for Media and Society (IMESO)
Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
Institute of Mass Information
Instituto de Prensa y Libertad de Expresión - IPLEX
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
Inter American Press Association
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
International Press Centre (IPC)
International Press Institute (IPI)
International Publishers Association (IPA)
IPS Communication Foundation - Bianet
Journaliste en danger (JED)
Journalists' Trade Union
Latin American Observatory of Regulation, Media and Convergence - OBSERVACOM
Maharat Foundation
Mediacentar Sarajevo
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Media Policy Institute
Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
Media Watch
Metamorphosis, Foundation for Internet and Society
Mizzima News
National Press Association
National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)
Norwegian PEN
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión - OLA
P24 Platform for Independent Journalism
Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF)
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
PEN International
Privacy International
Public Association "Journalists"
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay
Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media
South East Europe Media Organisation
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
Thai Journalists Association
Trinidad and Tobago's Publishers and Broadcasters Association
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
Visualizing Impact (VI)
West African Journalists Association (WAJA)
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
Latin American Observatory of Regulation, Media and Convergence - OBSERVACOM

Affiliated Network for Social Accountability Cambodia
Amnesty International
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
Boeung Chhouk Community
Boeung Kak Community
Boeung Tunle Mrech Natural Recourse Protection Area Community, Rovieng District,
Preah Vihear Province
Building Community Voice
Cambodia Development People Life Association
Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association (CIYA)
Cambodian Human Right and Development Association (ADHOC)
Cambodian Independent Teachers' Association (CITA)
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
Civil Rights Defenders
Coalition for Integrity and Social Accountability (CISA)
Committee For Free And Fair Elections In Cambodia (COMFREL)
Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)
Community Network of Pursat Province
Equitable Cambodia (EC)
Freedom of Expression Institute
Fundación Andina para la Observación y el Estudio de Medios (Andean Foundation for Media Observation & Study)
Global Witness
Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF)
Indigenous Youth at Prome Community, Preah Vihear Province
Indradevi Association (IDA)
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
International Publishers Association
Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association
Khmer Student Intelligent League Association (KSILA)
Land Community, I Village, Sangkat III, Preah Sihanouk province
Land Conflict Community, Krous Village, Battambang province
Land Conflict Community, Skun Village, Siem Reap province
Lor Peang Community, Kampong Chhnang Province
Media Policy Institute
Mediacentar Sarajevo
Mother Nature
Neutral & Impartial Committee for Free & Fair Elections in Cambodia
People Improvement Organization
Phnom Bath Community
Ponlok Khmer (PKH)
Railway Station, Tuol Sangkae A Community
Samakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
SOS International Airport Community, Phnom Penh
The Alliance for Conflict Transformation
The Cambodian Defender Project
Women's Media Center of Cambodia
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Youth Council of Cambodia
Youth Resource Development Program

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