Where is Sombath?

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Sombath SomphoneSombath Somphone is a friend, colleague and visionary who has spent his life working for his people and country.

He was last seen on the evening 15 December 2012, while driving home in his jeep.

CCTV footage shows Sombath being stopped by police and then taken away.

While authorities continue to deny responsibility, Sombath’s abduction is widely acknowledged to be an enforced disappearance.

This website hopes to facilitate justice for Sombath and his family, and bring voice to his ideas and ideals.

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Enforced Disappearances – Lessons for Korea

Seoul-AFADOn July 29-31, the Citizen’s Alliance on North Korean Human Rights organised a seminar “Enforced Disappearances – Lessons for Korea” in Seoul. Shuimeng Ng gave a presentation on the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, and the challenges faced by families in finding answers in the Lao context. Other presentations included perspectives from Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Guatemala, and many others.

The seminar also focussed on pressuring governments to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED).

Finally, participants joined the growing number of people from around the world who are asking “Where is Sombath?”

Kommaly Chanthavong receives Magsaysay Award

Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation: 29 July 2015

Magsaysay-LogoIn electing Kommaly Chanthavong to receive the 2015 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes her fearless, indomitable spirit to revive and develop the ancient Laotian art of silk weaving, creating livelihoods for thousands of poor, war-displaced Laotians, and thus preserving the dignity of women and her nation’s priceless silken cultural treasure.

Kommaly is the third Lao citizen to receive the prestigious Magsaysay Award, along with Keo Viphakone and Sombath Sompone.

CURLS participants learn about Sombath

CURLS-2015On Monday, July 27th, participants of the 2015 Chulalongkorn University Right Livelihood Summer School (CURLS) had an opportunity to learn about Sombath, his work, and his enforced disappearance.

The film Happy Laos was shown, along with presentations and discussion about Right Livelihoods, Buen Vivr, and Gross National Happiness. The course includes 25 participants from across the globe and will run until August 7th.

The Magsaysay Award in Laos

ILogo-Speak Out-Points to Pondern its 58 year history, the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award has been given to over 300 distinguished persons from across Asia.

Two of these have been Lao.

The first was Keo Viphakone, who was given the prize for Government Service in 1967.

Keo recently passed away.

The second is Sombath Somphone, who received the award for Community Leadership in 2005.

Sombath was stopped by police and then abducted in December 2012.

He has not been seen since.

Further information on these outstanding Lao citizens can be found at http://www.rmaf.org.ph/newrmaf/main/awardees/filter/all/all/all/LA/1

Dear Sombath….from Amelia Merrick

Dear Sombath,

This is the second or third letter I’ve written to you. I was too afraid to send you the other ones, but now that I’m in Canada I am less fearful. Sombath, there is so much I would like to tell you about how you impacted my work.

Do you remember back in December 2012 when we had that dinner party at my house? It was a warm, starry evening. We had a lot of food and a few bottles of good wine. I was still new in my role and I shared with you that I felt discouraged because of the heavy reliance on an infrastructure-driven approach to development in Laos. To me, it felt like there was very little space for community members, let alone children to be part of their own development journey and I didn’t see that change could be possible.

But by the time that the food was eaten, the clattering of forks stilled and the last drops of wine were drunk, you changed my opinion and gave me hope. You told me that change was possible and you encouraged me that children and youth must be part of the story. Honestly, I was skeptical… but you were right!

There are no words to describe the trauma and loss we felt when just ten days after our dinner party you were disappeared.   I remain thankful to God that I had that beautiful dinner with you. At the time I didn’t realize it, but that dinner changed my life and changed the way I would approach my work in Laos. Continue reading

NGO Approach to Shifting Cultivation

SB-Water JarWe put a lot of emphasis on social preparation. It is done through training activities, both formal and non-formal. We normally start with participatory problem identification, followed by an analysis of causes and effects before we discuss strategies on how to go about solving those problems communally. It is important that villagers understand that there is no long term effective remedy to their problems without them taking an active role.

From “Summary of NGO Approach to Shifting Cultivation,” by Sombath Somphone, 1993.

Laos : Le Gouvernement se moque de l’examen des droits de l’homme de l’ONU

FIDH-MLDH: 03 Juillet 2015

MLDH LMHR-LogoParis, 30 Juin 2015 : Le refus du Gouvernement Lao d’accepter les recommandations clé formulées lors de son dernier Examen Périodique Universel (EPU) a tourné en farce le processus de révision des Nations Unies, ont déclaré aujourd’hui la FIDH et son organisation membre, le Mouvement Lao des Droits de l’Homme (MLDH).

“L’attitude défensive du gouvernement lao et ses refus généralisés ont fait de son EPU une mascarade. Le dernier EPU du Laos a clairement montré l’absence de volonté de Vientiane à résoudre les sujets importants en matière des droits de l’Homme » , a souligné le Président de la FIDH M.Karim Lahidji.

FIDH-LogoLe 23 juin, le Laos a accepté 116 des 196 recommandations préconisées lors de son second EPU en janvier 2015. Selon Thongphane Savanhphet, le représentant permanent du Laos, auprès de l’Office des Nations Unies à Genève, les autres 80 recommandations « n’ont pas recueilli le soutien total » du gouvernement.

La réponse du gouvernement a été particulièrement insuffisante sur le sujet des disparitions forcées. Le gouvernement a rejeté l’ensemble des huit recommandations qui appelaient à mener une enquête pour toutes les allégations de disparitions forcées dans le pays, considérant ces allégations comme « non conformes à la réalité ». Par un tour de passe- passe incongru, le gouvernement a reconnu la disparition du proéminent leader de la société civile Sombath Somphone, mais a accepté seulement quatre des dix recommandations appelant à enquêter sur sa disparition. Dans les explications évoquées pour le rejet des six recommandations relatives au cas de Sombath, le gouvernement a livré une propagande désuète et n’a pas fourni d’informations nouvelles concernant ses prétendues tentatives pour déterminer le sort de Sombath. Le gouvernement a déclaré que le Comité d’Investigation était « ouvert à tout avis ou toute suggestion des parties intéressées » et l’enquête menée par les autorités concernées était « toujours en cours ». Continue reading

Response to UPR: Rehashed Rhetoric & Continuing Contradictions

Logo-Sombath InitiativeThe Sombath Initiative: 02 July 2015

Rehashed Rhetoric & Continuing ContradictionsThe Lao Government Response to the 2nd Cycle UPR Recommendations

On June 24th, the Lao government gave its response to the 196 recommendations presented at its 2nd cycle Universal Periodic Review held in Geneva in January.[1]

They contain few surprises. Perhaps most notable is the repeated rhetoric and continuing contradictions.

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED)

The Lao government agreed to ratify the ICPPED convention during the 1st cycle UPR in 2010. Although it failed to do so, it again accepted recommendations to this effect from the Netherlands, Canada, Argentina and Spain (#20, 21 & 27).

It does not, however, accept the recommendation from Uruguay (#22) that it ratify the convention without reservation, claiming it “…will be able to do so only after a thorough study of the convention.”

Italy, Brazil, Germany and France (#23-26) also recommend ratifying the convention, along with thorough and impartial investigations into related cases.

These are also not accepted because “The alleged cases have been investigated by related authorities and found out that such allegations are not true.“

The ICPPED is 18 pages and 7,234 words. Five years is ample time for a thorough study, particularly given the prior commitment to do so.

Moreover, if all the allegations regarding this crime have been found to be false, why is it not possible to ratify the convention without reservation?

Sombath Somphone

In their recommendations, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Finland (#25, 94-101, 151) specifically call for a prompt and independent investigation into the disappearance of Sombath Somphone.

Some of these are accepted, while others are not because they “…partly contain the language or wording that do not reflect the reality in the Lao PDR.”

Despite the UPR recommendations of 20 nations, repeated calls from numerous other governments and world leaders, and the conclusions of the UN OHCHR, the WGEID, the European Union, and nearly every international human rights organisation, the Lao government steadfastly adheres to the claim it has conducted a serious investigation. Continue reading

Laos: Government mocks UN human rights review

MLDH LMHR-LogoFIDH-LMHR: 30 June 2015

Paris, 30 June 2015: The Lao government’s failure to accept key recommendations received during its latest Universal Periodic Review (UPR) has turned the UN-backed review process into a farce, FIDH and its member organization, the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR), said today.

“The Lao government’s defensive attitude and blanket denials have made its UPR a farce. The latest Laos UPR has clearly shown that Vientiane is unwilling to address important human rights issues,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

FIDH-LogoOn 23 June, Laos accepted 116 of the 196 recommendations it received at its second UPR in January 2015. [1] According to Thongphane Savanhphet, the Lao government’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, the remaining 80 recommendations “did not enjoy the full support” of the government.

The Lao government’s response was particularly inadequate with regard to the issue of enforced disappearances. The government rejected all eight recommendations that called for investigations into all allegations of enforced disappearance in the country and dismissed such allegations as “not true.” In an incongruous twist, the government acknowledged the disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, but accepted only four of the 10 recommendations that called for an investigation into his disappearance. In its explanation of the rejection of the six recommendations related to Sombath’s case, the government churned out stale propaganda and provided no new information regarding its purported attempts to determine Sombath’s fate or whereabouts. The government stated that its Investigation Committee was “opened to views or suggestions from all interested parties” and that concerned authorities were “still thoroughly conducting the investigation.” Continue reading