CAMBODIA: Police bury a corpse of an alleged rape victim without postmortem


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-008-2008
ISSUES: Police negligence, Police violence, Sexual violence, Violence against women, Women's rights,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) writes with deep concern regarding the failure to conduct a proper postmortem examination by the police before they buried a female corpse recovered from a forest in Battambang province. There were indications that the woman could have been raped before she was killed. However, the police chose bury it where it was recovered without conducting a postmortem or any other forensic investigation that would scientifically establish the cause of death and could have helped identify those responsible.

CASE DETAILS: (According to an interview with a local police officer, Ngeth Sakheang and other media sources)

On 13 January 2008, three fishermen found the corpse of an unknown woman in a swampy forest bordering Koah Smang Lake in Prey Troap village, Prek Norin commune, Ek Phnom district, Battambang province. They then reported it to the police.

After receiving the report, Ngeth Sakheang, a local police officer, went to the scene together with the head of the provincial police “forensic” unit. The corpse had no clothes on, was bloated and had been submerged in 15 centimeter deep water and covered with thick grasses. Her left shoulder was broken and her clothes were found about five meters away from where her body was discovered.

According to Ngeth no one in the village living nearby could identify the corpse. The woman was about twenty years of age, 1.5 meters tall, with a fair complexion and shoulder length hair. The clothes she would have been wearing were a blue long sleeve shirt and yellow trousers.

Shortly after arriving and briefly examining body, the police then quickly came to the conclusion that the woman was a victim of rape and that she was murdered probably around four to five days earlier. The police likewise theorized that the victim may have known her attacker and could have identified them had she been left alive.

The police later buried the victim’s corpse in the area where it had been found. The manner of investigation the police claimed to have conducted was not credible and their conclusions fail to have any grounding in any systematic scientific examination; however, they nevertheless claimed they had already launched and conducted their investigation. They also made public pronouncements appealing for persons who may have known the victim and her relatives to come forward to retrieve the corpse from where it is buried.


Burying and cremating dead bodies in absence of a proper post mortem examination and thorough forensic investigation is a common practice in Cambodia.

For instance, when union leader Chea Vichea was shot dead in January 2004, the manner in which the police conducted his postmortem examination was also improper. (For background of this case please read: UA-124-2007). It was done in haste and the doctor did not do anything other than to certify the death.  Had the victim’s relatives not been able to prevent the police from cremating his body in a Buddhist monastery, the body would have been cremated without their knowledge or consent. They had to take the body from the police in order to give him a proper funeral ceremony and had it cremated few days later. However, no proper forensic and postmortem examination was either requested or performed on the body by the police before it was sent for cremation.

In August 2007, an army general and businessman, Oum Chhay, was found to have died within the premises of the police’s anti-drug department where he had been detained on charges of production of illegal drugs. His body was taken to a public hospital for a postmortem examination; however, no further investigation was conducted to determine his cause of death while in police custody. The hospital merely capitulated to the police’s story which claimed Oum Chhay’s had committed suicide by throwing himself out of that window. No credible investigation was conducted to establish whether his death was anything other than suicide which would have been especially prudent since he was in a position to possibly implicate influential people in his illegal business.

In July1997 the body of a senior politician, Ho Sok, was also hurriedly cremated in a Buddhist monastery immediately after he was shot dead while detained in a room inside the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh. No postmortem examination was conducted on his body.


In Cambodia, corpses found floating in rivers, lakes or found in forests, as in this case, happens from time to time. However, proper and professional postmortem examination on the corpses recovered in order to establish their cause of death and to collect evidence in identifying the attackers rarely takes place. There is no independent forensic service apart from a police forensic unit located in Phnom Penh.

As in the case mentioned above, establishing the cause of death depends heavily on the judgment of police investigators or officials who have little or no forensic training. They are allowed to decide the cause of death on cases even in those involving suspicious deaths or in cases of corpses that have been reported to them. They do not seek assistance from doctors and forensic experts in order to obtain a medical conclusion as part of the process in their police investigation.

Also, there are practically no morgues in Cambodia where bodies can be preserved for periods of time while awaiting postmortem examinations. Once a corpse is found, the police request the relatives or friends to take them away for burial or cremate them according to their religious practices. The lack of proper facilities and training in forensic investigation methods has resulted in policemen making conclusions in their investigations on the victim’s death using arbitrary criteria and their own questionable judgment. .

However it must also be noted that it is rare for relatives or friends of the victim to request the carrying out of a postmortem examination or request to exhume a body for forensic examination even in cases involving suspicious deaths. The combination of lack of facilities, training and dismissive practices preventing the scientific examination of corpses has in effect shielded perpetrators of these murders from being identified and held to account. Often limiting the possibility of them being identified and that the cause of the victim’s death being established.

Please write your letters to the authorities listed below urging them to ensure that a proper forensic examination is performed of the female corpse. The police should also be investigated either for their neglect or for failing to ensure that the corpse is examined properly before it was buried.

Please also urge them to ensure that in the future corpses or persons who have died in suspicious circumstances are subjected to postmortem and proper forensic examination. This is necessary in ensuring that the cited cause of death had factual and scientific basis; and a method for identifying those responsible for their deaths is possible.

The AHRC writes letters to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia and Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women calling for their intervention in this matter.

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER



CAMBODIA: Police bury a corpse of an alleged rape victim without postmortem

Identity of the victim: Unknown female corpse
Place where her corpse is recovered: At Koah Smang Lake in Prey Troap village, Ek Phnom district, Battambang province
Date of incident: 13 January 2008
Place of incident: At the Prey Troap village, Ek Phnom district

I am deeply concerned by the absence of a proper postmortem examination by the police when they buried the corpse of an unknown woman found on 13 January 2008. The corpse was found at a swampy forest bordering Koah Smang Lake located in Prey Troap village, Prek Norin commune, Ek Phnom district, Battambang province.

A local police officer, Nget Sakheang, went to the scene the same day together with the head of the provincial police “forensic” unit. The corpse had no clothes on, was bloated, submerged in shallow water and covered with thick grasses. Her left shoulder was broken and the clothes she would have been wearing were found some five meters away from her body. She was about twenty years old, 1.5 meters tall, had a fair complexion and shoulder length hair. The clothes found were a blue long sleeve shirt and a pair of yellow trousers.

I have learned that after only a brief examination at the crime scene, the police came to a conclusion and presumed that she had been a victim of rape and murdered four days earlier. However, this conclusion was apparently not supported by scientific evidence due to the failure to conduct a forensic investigation. I have learned that there was no proper postmortem examination when they conducted the investigation. Though they claimed that the victim was raped and the attacker was known to the victim; there is no substantial factual basis to support this claim.

Instead of conducting a thorough investigation, for instance by subjecting the corpse to a proper postmortem examination by forensic experts, the police investigators completely disregarded these procedures. They reached their conclusion on the victim’s death without employing any scientific means that could factually establish the cause or death and to support their claims. Their findings are a result of their own unspecialized judgments. They also buried the corpse where it had been found instead of transferring it in a morgue for further examination and for identification purposes.

Though they claimed they had launched their investigation already, the manner in which they conducted their investigation is a farce. Their actions have made them complicit in concealing the identity of the perpetrators by failing to verify the victim’s cause of death with scientific evidence. I am deeply concerned that unless a proper and thorough forensic method of investigation is employed on the victim’s body the perpetrators would effectively escape any responsibility for her death.

I am aware that in Cambodia, corpses found floating in rivers, lakes or forests as in this particular case, are common occurrences. However, I deplore the general lack of professional postmortem examinations to find out the causes and collect evidence on the causes of death that would support an effective prosecution. There is apparently little interest in having professional forensic training for police investigators and other services within the country though this is important in the development of the criminal justice system.

I strongly urge you to ensure that a proper forensic and scientific means of investigation is performed in this case to ensure the possibility of justice for the victim. This must also be done in other cases where corpses have been recovered or persons have died in suspicious circumstances. Services providing credible methods of forensic investigation must also be made available throughout the country.

Finally, I urge you to obtain forensic professionals to conduct postmortem examinations of all persons who have died of suspicious causes, build morgues for the preservation of bodies for such purposes, and ensure that no corpses be cremated before they are subjected to proper postmortem examinations.

Yours sincerely,


1. Mr. Samdech Hun Sen
Prime Minister
Cabinet of the Prime Minister
No. 38, Russian Federation Street
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855 23 36 0666
Tel: +855 2321 9898

2. Mr. Sar Kheng
Deputy-Prime Minister
Minister of Interior
No.275 Norodom Blvd., Phnom Penh 
Fax/phone: +855 23 721 905 / 23 726 052 / 23 721 190 

3. Mr. Tea Banh
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister of National Defence
Russian Federation Street
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855-23 883184
Tel: +855-23 883184 / 428171

4. Mr. Ang Vong Vathna
Minister of Justice
No 240, Sothearos Blvd.
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855 23 36 4119 / 21 6622

5. Mr. Nuth Sokhom
Minister of Health
No 151-153 Kampuchea Krom Blvd.
Phnom Penh
Fax +855-23 426841 / 722873 / 880261 / 366186
Tel: +855-23 722873 / 880261 / 881405 / 881409

6. Mr. Henro Raken
Court of Appeal
No 240, Sothearos Blvd.
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855 23 21 66 22
Tel: +855 11 86 27 70

7. General Hok Lundy
National Police Commissioner
General-Commissariat of National Police
Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 23 21 65 85
Fax: +855 23 22 09 52

8. General Sao Sokha
Military Police
Mao Tse Tung Blvd
Khan Tuol Kok
Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 12 36 3636

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : AHRC-UAC-008-2008
Countries : Cambodia,
Issues : Police negligence, Police violence, Sexual violence, Violence against women, Women's rights,