Lao Govt response to ASEAN delegation

Lao authorities continue to investigate Mr Sombath Somphone’s disappearance

Vientiane Times, 17 January 2013

Parliamentarians from the three Asean nations of the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia visited Laos recently to meet with the relevant sectors on the issue relating to the disappearance of Mr Sombath Somphone last month.

The delegation of parliamentarians was led by Chairperson of the Philippine Parliamentary Committee on Overseas Workers’ Affairs Mr Walden Bello. They met with Minister and Head of the Presidential Office Mr Phongsavath Boupha, who is also chairman of the National Steering Committee on Human Rights in Vientiane on Monday.

The main aim of the visit was to meet with the relevant sectors on the issue regarding the disappearance of Mr Sombath Somphone, with the delegation calling for the Lao government to speed up the investigation process to ensure safety and justice for him and his family.

200px-Coat_of_arms_of_Laos.svgMr Phongsavath expressed his appreciation of the concerns of the delegation, but said that the Lao government was even more concerned about the issue because Mr So mbath is a Lao citizen, according to a press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He said Mr Sombath used to study in America but decided to return to Laos in 1980s and played an important role in agricultural development in rural areas of Laos, contributing to the socio-economic development of the country.

Mr Phongsavath further clarified the concerns of the delegation, confirming that the Lao government was not involved in the disappearance of Mr Sombath.

He said it was not a way for Laos to treat its own citizens, although he may have had different opinions in terms of national development. On the contrary, differing opinions can be solved through meetings and discussions based on the principles of centralised democracy, Mr Phongsavath said.

Follow the disappearance of Mr Sombath on December 15, the Lao government has advised the relevant authorities to be vigilant in investigating the incidence, based on the evidence recorded on the CCTV footage that day.

Later, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement to clarify the matter. Following that, the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Lao PDR to the UN in Geneva, sent a letter clarifying the issue of the disappearance of Mr Sombath, in response to queries raised by UN Special Procedures.

Last week, the relevant authorities informed the media about the progress of their investigation, saying that although they have not found Mr Sombath as yet, their investigation is ongoing.

During the meeting, Mr Phongsavath also informed the delegation of parliamentarians about Lao policy to promote and protect human rights, saying that the Lao PDR is State Party to seven core UN Human Rights Conventions and two Optional Protocols.

In addition, the Lao PDR is also a signatory to the Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Being the 4th nation in Asia to sign this important Convention reflected the government’s policy to protect al l persons from enforced disappearance, according to the press release.

Mr Phongsavath said that Laos has seen a lot of achievements in promoting and protecting human rights, enabling the multi-ethnic Lao people to enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms based on the constitution and laws. He added that Laos is also active in cooperating with Asean when it comes to human rights issues.

Laos is a country that is full of political stability, security, safety and continued economic growth, which upholds human rights successfully, he said.

The disappearance of Mr Sombath is not the first case, Mr Phongsavath said. In the past years, there have been previous disappearances such as the case of the missing of family members who took four or five years to locate while others are still yet to be found.

In some cases, disappearances might be related to various crimes that involved the use of drugs, human trafficking, business disputes and other issues, the press release stated.

In the past, Laos has always adhered to its humanitarian policy, not only for its own citizens but also the citizens of other countries.

These included Laos’ joint efforts to search for the remains of US soldiers who went missing in action in Laos three decades ago, Mr Phongsavath observed.

He said that disappearances happen in many countries in the world including some Asean member countries, but Laos has never interfered because Laos regards such matters as the internal affairs of those countries which should be addressed by their own governments.

During the visit, the delegation of parliamentarians also visited Vice President of Lao Na tional Assembly Dr Xaysomphone Phomvihane and other government officials to hear more about the disappearance of Mr Sombath.