Systemic Failure Contributed to Women’s Murder, Licadho Reports

In its latest report, Licadho explores the killings of 26 women and five children, and the failure to protect them, while urging the amendment of the Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence and Protection of Victims to remove mediation, and for more accountability for authorities that fail to intervene
Women vendors on the riverside in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Women vendors on the riverside in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Twenty six women and five children were murdered by current or ex-intimate partners between January 2020 and June 2022, said Licadho, stating that violence against women is the most pervasive human rights violations in Cambodia.

“Yet a flawed and often unenforced legal framework frequently allows violence to continue and escalate. Too often, this leads to murder,” the NGO said, in light of its report, “No Path to Safety: Failing to Prevent Intimate Partner Killings in Cambodia”, released in conjunction with International Women’s Day on March 8.

The report explores the systemic failures that contributed to the deaths of 26 women and five children. In addition, eight children witnessed their mothers being killed.

While not representative of the total prevalence of domestic violence in Cambodia, its findings indicate that gender norms not only underpinned and fuelled this violence, but also plague the institutions that failed to respond, Licadho said.

“More than half of the murdered women had faced prior acts of domestic violence before they were killed; many of them faced social, cultural and economic obstacles to reporting violence. When they did reach out, interventions by authorities were consistently ineffective,” it added.

Accordingly, Cambodia’s systems of prevention and response must be overhauled to protect women and children across the country who are either experiencing domestic violence, or are at risk of it.

They must be offered clear routes to safety that enable them to live their lives free of violence.

Licadho outreach director Pilorge Naly said protections and services empower women to safely leave abusive relationships. “It is essential that these are available and women are informed of the legal rights and options they are entitled to during these crucial moments.”

Responding to questions, Chhay Kim Khoeun, spokesperson for the General Commission of the National Police rejected the organisation’s report, calling it an understatement of the actual situation.

He said the violence and death of women and children in the country is also due to the authorities’ late response and difficulties seeking their help in the community.

“I find this to be an understatement about the real situation. It is pessimistic … [it] sees only the dark side,” he said via Telegram on Tuesday.

Chin Malin, spokesperson for the Justice Ministry, did not reply immediately to queries.

‘My daughter is dead’

The report, which investigated 173 domestic violence cases, highlighted that in at least 11 cases, authorities were aware of violent behaviour or the woman’s decision to end the relationship.

The breakdown showed that the women, aged 20 to 57 at the time of their deaths, with more than half in their 30s, were killed by their husbands (16 cases), partners (five cases), former husbands (two cases) or former partners (three cases).

The five children, all boys aged three to 11, were killed alongside their mothers.

Findings also revealed that 16 of the murdered women were subjected to their partners’ previous attempts to exert control through physical, economic or sexual violence, or other acts of intimidation.

For example, at least 12 women experienced prior physical violence, two women experienced prior economic violence and two women experienced prior sexual violence.

Some 11 of them are believed to have been subjected to behaviours that indicate emotional or psychological violence, such as not being allowed to meet other people or wear make-up, death threats, stalking, and intimidation by throwing and breaking household items.

Not a single woman received effective protection or support. Instead, unfair divorce procedures left too many women unable to escape violence, while at least six perpetrators had been engaged in unproductive sessions of conciliation or education.

Licadho said the failure to consider domestic violence as a criminal offence is reflected in the failure to prosecute these murders.

Of the cases, only 65 percent explored in the report (17 out of 26 murders) had reached a conviction as of January 2023, with other suspects remaining at-large, in pre-trial detention or deceased.

The conviction, as Licadho noted, consisted of a jail term of up to 10 years, which is the minimum sentence for murder under Cambodia’s Criminal Code.

A mother of a woman who was killed by her ex-husband, was quoted as saying that there was no intervention by the authorities. “They did not come. My daughter is dead and the perpetrator is still free.”

Mediation not effective

The NGO said the “flaws” in the 2005 Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence and Protection of Victims have been repeatedly raised by civil society, but no meaningful effort has been made to address them since its enactment nearly 20 years ago.

“The government must immediately take action and provide all women in Cambodia with safe paths to a life free of violence,” said Am Sam Ath, operations director for Licadho.

He said “mediation” in Cambodia is too often used as an excuse to push reconciliation at all costs. “It is simply not effective at ending violence. The Domestic Violence Law needs to be significantly amended, and there must be accountability for authorities who fail or refuse to intervene.”

Among its seven recommendations, Licadho asked that the government create an enabling environment in which women can safely and autonomously report domestic violence by enforcing the domestic violence law and Criminal Code.

In that, authorities are required to immediately intervene in and file reports regarding all domestic violence, felonies or misdemeanours to the court.

It also urged the authorities to provide comprehensive legal definitions and penalties for physical, emotional, sexual and economic violence under the Criminal Code and include mentions of these new articles in the domestic violence law. “Remove any distinction between ‘minor’ and ‘severe’ misdemeanours from the law.”

Licadho said the safety of women who report domestic violence should also be guaranteed by immediately responding to their or their children’s call for intervention and ensuring their protection from perpetrators during every investigation.

“The authorities should also plan, create and extensively fund a national system of referral to shelters for women and children experiencing domestic violence, guaranteeing their professional independence and confidentiality and ensuring that they do not further infringe on women’s rights or autonomy,” they added.