Humanity & Nature: Traditional, Cultural & Alternative Perspectives

Sombath Symposium-2016-02Public Forum

February 17, 2016, 9.30 am–12.30 pm

Ruan Chula Narumit, Chulalongkorn University

This public forum will share the key lessons and conclusions from the Sombath Symposium, a three day event which aims to exchange and explore various traditional, cultural and alternative perspectives on how humans value and interact with nature.

Participants of symposium will come from Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, The Philippines, Indonesia, and India, and represent a wide range of ethnic, cultural, religious and vocational backgrounds and perspectives.

The forum will also be joined by local community and activists from Thailand to contribute to the discussion on their struggles to protect the nature and livelihood.

Organised by Focus on the Global South and the Sombath Initiative, in cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation

English-Thai-English translation will be provided

Lunch will be served at 12:30 at SASA International House

For more information about this event and to confirm attendance please contact Hamdee Tohming at niabdulghafar@focusweb.org or 089-004-4117.

UN Special Rapporteur Slams Laos

Maina KaiMaina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, is sharply critical of the situation facing civil society in the Lao PDR in a forward to the book Au Laos, la Répression Silencieuse by Anne-Sophie Gindroz. Excerpts include:

Laos is something of a void on the human rights map these days… A casual observer might take this to mean that things are all well.

But that is a horribly misguided assessment, of course,  for Laos is like few countries I know.

I first began to understand few years back, when I had my first encounter with members of Laos’ civil society at an international conference. My overriding impression from these individuals was the profound and all-encompassing fear that engulfed them. Their lack of trust was palpable. They did not want to talk to me with others present. They did not even want to be seen with me.

I have never seen anything quite like it. These individuals were like islands– operating in apparent isolation, prevented from exercising their fundamental human right to connect with others who shared their concerns.

…And Sombath’s case seems to have only created more trepidation, which is a tragic irony. He dared to affirm his convictions, and his courage and dedication should be an inspiration. Instead, it is viewed as a warning. The culture of fear is that deep.

This culture, of course, is toxic to a thriving civil society movement. Activism is based on connections, relationships, discourse, and open discussion. None of this is possible when fear crushes people’s very ability to talk to one other.

The full text is available here. The book will be available from Asieinfo Publications on February 15, or can be ordered at asieinfopublishing@gmail.com

What is…the Role of the ASEAN Chair?

Introduction

ASEAN logo 2016The ASEAN Charter provides that all Member States shall take turns in acting as Chair of the ASEAN. The chairmanship of ASEAN rotates annually, based on the alphabetical order of the English names of Member States.

There were instances in the past, however, when Member States switched turns or did not take a turn in the rotation. For instance, Myanmar did not take a turn as ASEAN Chair from 2006 to 2014. It was reported that Myanmar feared Western countries could boycott meetings held there and cause the country to gain bad publicity. In 2011, Indonesia switched places with Brunei because it did not want to be swamped with organizing too many meetings in 2013 as they were scheduled to also host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in the same year.

In 1976, Indonesia became the first Chair of the ASEAN. Malaysia was the previous chair, and Lao PDR took this role in 2016. Continue reading

What is…a Least Developed Country (LDC)?

Background and Criteria

The classification of Least Developed Country (LDC) was established by the United Nations in 1971. The main purpose was to enhance support those countries facing severe and persistent challenges to economic growth and development.

The criteria for LDC status have evolved over time. They currently are:

  • Gross National Income (GNI): The average income per capita must be less than US $1,035 (2015 standard).
  • Human Asset Index (HAI): Based on indicators of undernourishment, under-five mortality rate, secondary school enrolment, and adult literacy.
  • Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI): Based on indicators of population size, remoteness, instability of agricultural production and exports, effects of natural disasters, etc.

Continue reading

Parliamentarians urge Secretary Kerry to raise human rights concerns on visit to Laos and Cambodia

APHR: 24 January 2016

“Sombath’s work touched the lives of many in Laos and across the ASEAN community. We hope Secretary Kerry raises his case directly with the Prime Minister. That kind of high-level discussion would be hard for the Lao authorities to ignore,” Santiago said.

APHRJAKARTA – US Secretary of State John Kerry should raise concerns about the state of democracy and human rights in Laos and Cambodia when he meets with leaders in Vientiane and Phnom Penh this week, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said today.

“Secretary Kerry should make it clear that the United States views respect for human rights as a core component of bilateral relations, inseparable from trade and security concerns that too often overshadow it. He should seek firm, public commitments from Lao and Cambodian leaders on this front,” said APHR Chairperson and Malaysian MP Charles Santiago. Continue reading

Open Letter to John F. Kerry

FIDH/LMHR: 22 January 2016

John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520 US

22 January 2016

Dear Mr. Secretary,

LMHR logoFIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) respectfully request that you use your upcoming official visit to Vientiane on 25 January as an opportunity to raise important human rights issues that the Lao government has left unaddressed for far too long.

Laos is ruled by one of the most repressive regimes of Southeast Asia. Authorities in the one-party state continue to severely restrict the right to freedom of information, association, and peaceful assembly within its borders. Authorities have also continued to crack down on religious minorities and arrested numerous members of various Christian groups in 2015.

FIDH-LogoImpunity continues to reign for enforced disappearances. Authorities have repeatedly refused to disclose any information concerning all victims of enforced disappearances in the country. To this day, the fate or whereabouts of at least 13 individuals remain unknown. Among them is civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who was abducted at a police checkpoint in Vientiane on the evening of 15 December 2012. The government has failed to conduct a competent, thorough, and transparent investigation into his enforced disappearance. We call upon you to urge the Lao authorities to accept international assistance to help determine Sombath’s fate or whereabouts. Continue reading

Laos in 2016: Sustainable Development and the Work of Sombath Somphone

By Kearrin Sims

Introduction

Logo Please-return-Sombath-SafelyIn 2016 it will be 20 years since the Government of Laos (GoL) first announced its goal to graduate from Least Developed Country (LDC) status by 2020.1 During this time, much has changed. With the exception of a few years following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, economic growth has remained strong and in 2011 the World Bank raised Laos’ income categorization from a low-income economy to a lower-middle income economy.2 Foreign Direct Investment has also growing rapidly and strong progress has been made on a number of the country’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets. This has led the UNDP to categorize Laos as the 6th most successful country for improved human development over the past 40 years.3

Yet alongside these markers of progress, there is another story to be told about ‘development’ in Laos. This is a story of widening inequality, severe environmental degradation, human rights abuses, state and private sector corruption, persistently high maternal mortality and malnutrition rates, land grabbing and forced resettlement as well as tensions with fellow ASEAN countries over controversial Mekong hydropower projects.4 These widespread and often interrelated challenges have led to new forms of poverty and damaged the country’s international reputation. Continue reading

Shades of Southeast Asia Among Hong Kong’s Missing Book Sellers

The Diplomat: 09 January 2016

Sombath Somphone (d.) en compagnie de l'archevêque sud-africain Desmund Tutu en 2006. Wikimedia Commons / Shui-Meng Ng

Sombath Somphone, seen here with Desmond Tutu.

Nothing will upset an Asian government more than comparisons with the heinous dictatorships and juntas of South America in the 1980s. Gun-toting soldiers sporting Ray-Ban aviators on deserted city streets, backed by tanks and a sinister security apparatus, is one common image.

The forced disappearance – a euphemism for state-sponsored kidnappings – of critics, political opposition or just plain irritants is another. Nor are those disappearances uncommon in Southeast Asia.

The disappearance of agriculturalist and reformer Sombath Somphone in Laos, labor protester Khem Sophathin Cambodia and lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit in Thailand are three of the more notable examples in a region mired in human rights abuses.

Now that practice seems to have been extended to nearby Hong Kong, where residents have for years believed that such dreadful things could never happen in the former British colony.

Five people who are linked to a Chinese book shop in the well-known Causeway Bay shopping precinct have gone missing amid speculation they have been taken by mainland authorities. One is a British citizen another is Swedish-Chinese.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Ho recently said that he believed publisher Lee Bo had been taken against his will into the Chinese mainland because he planned a book about the love affairs of China’s President Xi Jinping and his exploits while working in the provinces.

“It’s a forced disappearance … all those who have disappeared are related to the Causeway Bay bookshop and this bookshop was famous, not only for the sale, but also for the publication and circulation of a series of sensitive books,” he said in a recent television interview.

The alleged kidnappings have also earned comparisons with North Korean tactics, although there the abductions took place outside the country. In Beijing, the government has said little, which is not unlike the response from authorities in countries south of the Chinese border.

The third anniversary marking the disappearance of Sombath Somphone was held in December, while the first anniversary of the disappearance of Khem Sophath – who was last seen with a gunshot wound to the chest – was held earlier this week.

Government friendly and state-controlled media ignored both anniversaries while journalists in both countries confided privately that local reporters were pressured by their editors not to run commemoration stories.

“We were ready to go out and do this story on Khem Sophath,” one Cambodian reporter told this journalist. “Then the editor walks in and yells wait, wait, no, no, we’re not doing that story.”

That came just two weeks after a Thai court upheld the acquittal of five police officers accused of abducting Somchai Neelapaijit, a prominent human rights lawyer who vanished in 2004 while he was defending suspected Islamic militants who had accused authorities of torturing them. Thailand is now controlled by the military.

Over the years, forced disappearances have, sadly, not been uncommon in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and the Philippines. Nor was mainland China an exception. If instigated by the government, then such practices do amount to one form of state-sponsored terrorism.

Hong Kong, however, was different. It had emerged as a vanguard for model behavior in a difficult part of the world during the 1990s and first decade of this century despite political dabbling by the communists in China and a fetish for pleasing Beijing among the ruling powers in the territory.

If allegations of kidnapping prove correct, then Beijing has failed in its obligation to ensure the security of its citizens and resentment among Hong Kongers will only build. And Xi will thoroughly deserve comparisons with the nastier leaders of Southeast Asia and those dictatorships of the 1980s in South America.

Accidental Heroine

Bangkok Post: 05 January 2016

Angkhana-2016Not prepared to play the victim even after the recent ruling on the disappearance of her lawyer husband, Angkhana Neelapaijit is dedicating her life to helping others who suffer abuse of rights…

Angkhana was known in security quarters as a daring, stubborn and outspoken widow who has always reminded the world about Thailand’s chronic impunity. She strongly supported the wife of the missing Karen land rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen on her quest for justice. Angkhana is also a key member of The Sombath Initiative that is looking into the disappearance of Laos’ senior community development figure Sombath Somphone.

EU speaks up for Sombath & human rights of Lao citizens

European UnionEuropean Development Partners reiterate their strong commitment to promote better lives and the exercise of constitutional human rights for all Lao citizens. We welcome Laos’ acceptance of some of the recommendations of the most recent Universal Periodic Review and we are open to the dialogue on how concerted measures by the government could address its recommendations. In particular, we welcome the government’s reassurance to thoroughly investigate, and report on, the 2012 disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone, consistent with international practices and standards. Mr. Sombath has now been missing for over 1,000 days. His disappearance remains an issue of great concern for us. His family is desperately seeking for answers.

From European Development Partners’ Statement at Lao PDR’s 12th High Level Round Table Meeting, Vientiane, 27th November 2015.