Calls for Justice continues and In Memory of Kem Ley

Kem Ley is most commonly described as a political analyst. Though accurate, this description feels insufficient to capture the work he did, the people he engaged, the bravery he showed, and the message he sent to Cambodians everywhere. Kem Ley was unshaking in his commitment to the truth. He did not let fear or bias sway him, and criticized both the main parties at time, when he felt it was merited. In the days leading up to his death, it is said that Kem Ley knew his life was in danger, yet still he spoke out against the corruption and injustice that was continuing to impact the lives of ordinary Cambodians.

The murder of Kem Ley five years ago constitutes the most emblematic case of impunity in Cambodia and is a constant reminder of the rampant impunity that plagues Cambodian society, especially for crimes committed against critical voices.

The investigation conducted following the murder of Kem Ley lacked thoroughness, independence, and transparency. Similarly, the purported killer, Oeuth Ang, was swiftly sentenced to life imprisonment after a mere four-hour trial –  which was widely criticized for its failure to meet international fair trial rights standards – during which no questions were asked about whether Kem Ley’s murder had been ordered by someone else to silence him. Both the investigation and the trial raised more questions than they answered, leaving many people to think that Kem Ley’s murder was much more than the tragic outcome of an unsettled debt and that there was a mastermind behind the murder.

The impunity with which the murder of Kem Ley has been met means that his true killer may be roaming freely, able to continue perpetrating other serious crimes. It also sends the message that it is tolerated to kill human rights defenders for their activism in Cambodia. In addition, there is no sense of closure or safety for Kem Ley’s family, who have fled the country.

In this context, it is crucial to continue to honor the memory of all the human rights activists and journalists who lost their lives for seeking and speaking out the truth and standing up for human rights, and to continue to demand justice for them and their loved ones.

The RGC shall be reminded that there can be no full realization of human rights as long as impunity prevails and that both the families of the murdered activists and journalists in Cambodia and Cambodian society deserve the truth and justice. There is an urgent need to eradicate impunity to ensure that every citizen in the Kingdom can enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms freely and safely.

We urge the RGC to carry out an efficient, thorough, and independent investigation into Kem Ley’s murder and the murders of other prominent human rights activists and journalists who remain unsolved or unsatisfactorily solved as well as into all reports of human rights violations without exceptions to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice; to make the results of the investigations accessible to the public; to advance judiciary reforms and strengthen the justice system to ensure that the judiciary is independent and impartial and delivers effective and fair justice for all; and to ensure access to justice and uphold the victim’s rights to justice, truth, remedy, and reparation.

In my memory of Kem Ley:

Kem Ley was facilitating the roundtable discussion hosted by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) on “The Role of Women in Political Participation at National Level” on 07 February 2013. I was holding a tablet to prepare for CCHR’s social media update.
On the morning of 19 September 2013, as a Researcher and CCHR’s board director, Kem Ley was joining with The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) in hosting a Roundtable Discussion entitled “Freedom of Expression in Cambodia: Looking forward to the future”. CCHR during that time also launched its new report on the situation of freedom of expression in Cambodia in 2012 and 2013 entitled,“Repression of Expression: The state of free speech in Cambodia”. My colleague and I met him days before the event to seek his insight to organise the discussion as well as the input into the agenda. He offered us lot of feedback and willingness to act as facilitator during the whole discussion.
Kem Ley loved to wear the T-shirt CCHR and IFEX had designed together for our General Assembly Meeting hosted in June 2013. He cared of his family so much and he asked for additional T-short to gift for his wife so they could wear in couple.
Kem Ley is the symbol of freedom of expression and he adored our T-shirt a lot: ‘The Rights to Freedom of Expression Should Come At No Cost’.


CCHR acknowledged and is thankful for Kem Ley’s contributions with CCHR, as one of board of directors. Picture taken at his farewell reception at CCHR on 23 January 2015. It was also a jointed farewell for UN Special Rapporteur Surya P. Subedi who ended his mission with Cambodia.
On 17th November 2015, Together with political analyst Kem Ley, we were having lunch together with Director of Asia-Pacific in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Mr Stephen Lillie, during his official mission to Cambodia, at the time Ambassador Bill Longhurst and Embassy’s colleagues to discuss current human rights and political situation.
It was the moment, we were at the Radio Free Asia discussing the fair trial rights, hosted on 20 April, 2016.


On 28 April 2016, on the day of summons against ADHOC 5 case and we were having a chat outside the Anti-Corruption Unit, waiting for the 5 who were questioning).
It was also the last meeting and I never thought to be the last good bye before Kem Ley got shot.
There was a time when Kem Ley sent me an inspiring message to my inquiry how best to respond to the chronic issues of political labeling culture on each other in Cambodia and whether this could be changed or not: He replied to my message saying: “Dear Sopheap…We all need to continue to normalize all those issues culture and social capital at any time, anywhere, and at any means for young generation. Best Regards Kem Ley” (e-mail exchanged in 2012 and this picture he had sent to me on my request for his profile to be CCHR’s board member).
Kem Ley’s wife and all 5 sons including the newly born who could not see his father, were living in the second country before leaving to Australia. While many have been painful for the lost of Kem Ley, the tragedy affected these family members the most.

We have fondly remembered Kem Ley and his valiant efforts to protect human rights and democracy in Cambodia.

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