The Mystery of Sombath Somphone Still Resonates in Laos

The Mystery of Sombath Somphone Still Resonates in Laos

Radio Free Asia: 15 December 2016

A 2005 photo of Sombath Somphone in the Philippines. AFP/Somphone family

The disappearance of Sombath Somphone remains one of the most enduring and heartbreaking mysteries of modern Laos as the abduction of the world-recognized rural development activist at a police checkpoint four years ago remains unsolved.

“As the fourth anniversary of Sombath’s disappearance approaches, my heart becomes heavier by the day,” his wife Shui Meng Ng told RFA’s Lao Service on Tuesday. “I never expected that I would still have no news of Sombath after so long.”

Video footage show’s Sombath’s Jeep being stopped at a police checkpoint on the evening of Dec. 15, 2012. In the video Sombath is herded into a white truck and taken away, and a man dressed in white returns and drives off in his Jeep. (more…)

Asean summit must address Vientiane’s shortcomings

Asean summit must address Vientiane’s shortcomings

Bangkok Post: 07 September 2016

Lao Embassy-Bangkok-2013-04

The Laos government has refused even to discuss the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, who was last seen at a government checkpoint nearly four years ago. (File photo)

As world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, the heads of state of Asean countries, as well as the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, gather in Laos, they should ask their hosts: “Where is Sombath?”

My husband, Sombath Somphone, a leading community development advocate, “disappeared” in Laos on Dec 15, 2012.

Even though nearly four years have passed since he was last seen on closed-circuit television footage being driven away from a police checkpoint in Vientiane, the Lao government has continued to stonewall any queries as to his whereabouts and simply maintain “the state is not involved and the police are still investigating”. (more…)

Is the Upcoming ACSC/APF a Safe Space for Independent Lao CSOs?

Is the Upcoming ACSC/APF a Safe Space for Independent Lao CSOs?

Focus on the Global South: 30 June 2016

ACSC-APF 2016 Logo“Laos’ CSOs have lost face because of Sombath Somphone. We have lost the financial sources from donors because of him,” said Mr. Cher Her, vice chair of Laos’ ASCS/APF NOC.

Chrek Sophea blogs on current issues confronting the ACSC/APF, reflecting on what have transpired in recent preparatory meetings and on the challenges that affect the future of this regional civil society formation, including Sombath Somphone’s enforced disappearance which continues to be a major issue.

In the two recently held preparatory meetings of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) in March and May respectively, there have been no indications that the upcoming ACSC/APF, to be held in Dili, Timor-Leste in August 2016, can provide a safe space for Laos’ progressive and independent civil society organizations (CSOs)—a space where they can critique, raise concerns, and voice dissenting opinions on various issues, including human rights violations, enforced disappearance, and the negative impact of infrastructure development projects, agri-business, mega power investment projects, extractive industries, etc. on ordinary peoples’ lives. By safe, I mean that even in the presence of government-sponsored NGO representatives, the voices of these members of independent CSOs shall be heard. That they shall be allowed to organize and conduct their own panels and wouldn’t feel threatened or intimidated. (more…)

Three government critics arbitrarily arrested, detained incommunicado

Three government critics arbitrarily arrested, detained incommunicado

FIDH/LMHR: 06 June 2016
FIDH-LMHR-June 2016

(Paris) Lao authorities must immediately and unconditionally release three individuals who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained incommunicado for criticizing the government, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today.

“The government’s systematic repression of all forms of peaceful dissent underscores the immense gap between Vientiane’s promises to the international community and its abusive behavior at home. It’s time for foreign governments and donors to raise their voices about human rights violations in Laos and demand Vientiane change its ways.” Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

(more…)

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