Rights group LICADHO documented the killings of 26 women by their current or former “intimate partners” from January 2020 to June 2022, noting that five children were killed alongside them.

In its March 10 report, the NGO attributed the high number of homicides to “inadequate legislation” – a claim disputed by a senior official at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

The report – titled “No Path to Safety Failing to Prevent Intimate Partner Killings in Cambodia,”– noted that perpetrators were arrested and convicted in 17 cases, or 65 per cent of the total. It said this demonstrated inconsistent legal procedures and failures to render justice, hand out appropriate sentences or conduct timely investigations in many cases of domestic violence as a number of the perpetrators remain at large.

“Gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive human rights violations in Cambodia. The killings documented in this report are the result of lenient provisions included in an often unenforced legal framework,” it said.

LICADHO suggested that Cambodia’s protection and response systems need to be reformed and improved to protect the women and children across the country who are at risk. They should have a path to safety to live without violence.

“These cases do not represent the total number of domestic violence incidents that occurred across the country. But the findings in the report showed that gender norms not only support and perpetuate violence, but also make relevant institutions fail to respond to and resolving this issue,” said the report.

The report added that half of the women who experienced domestic violence before they were killed were slow to report the violence, due to a variety of cultural, social and economic factors.

“Even when violence was reported, the intervention of authorities was slow and ineffective,” it continued.

LICADHO deputy director Am Sam Ath said the report had identified systemic failures that contributed to the killing of 26 women and five children. In at least 11 cases, local authorities or police were aware of women’s decision to end relationships or of their partners’ violent behaviour, yet failed to facilitate separation or provide protection.

He added that undue release procedures had prevented many women from escaping the violence. At least six perpetrators had been previously engaged in various forms of conciliation or education.

He continued that many loopholes in the 2005 Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Protection of Victims (DV Law) had been raised repeatedly by civil society organisations, but no efforts had been made to address the loopholes since the law was passed nearly 20 years ago.

“Authorities should take urgent action and provide all women with a path to safety so that they can avoid violence. The use of mediation is a pretext to bring reconciliation and is ineffective at ending the violence,” he said.

Interior ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment on March 12.

Nhean Sochetra, head of the General Department of Social Development at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, said the ministry had not seen the report, but disagreed with the conclusion that the failure of relevant institutions to intervene and address the violence was a factor.

“I am unaware of what the organisation based its analysis on,” she said.

“We cannot offer our interpretation of the report, but we do not agree with the claims of systemic failure. If they based it on demographic and health survey reports, they would realise the rate of violence against intimate partners has declined,” she added.

She regretted that violence against women still existed but said it was present in all societies.

On the 112th anniversary of International Women’s Day, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the prevention of all forms of violence against women and children through the implementation of the National Action Plan for the Prevention of Violence against Women.

“We should expand the scope and quality of multi-sectoral response services, assist victims, provide free legal services, and strengthen the implementation of laws and relevant legal documents,” he said.

“According to a report, violence has declined, but some serious cases are still occurring, such as the shooting of a wife or other forms of violence. It needs to be eliminated through joint action by men and women,” he added.

Women’s affairs minister Ing Kantha Phavi said domestic violence places a serious economic burden on families and society.

“Families and the state have to spend funds on health services, lost productivity, safe shelters for women, social services, legal assistance and other necessary rehabilitation services. Getting rid of all forms of violence against women remains a priority task in developing human capital and harmony, both in individual families and in society,” she added.