The Nation: 28 October 2013
Human rights groups pressured visiting European parliamentarians in Laos Monday to demand answers about missing activist Sombath Somphone.
“The EU should use all its leverage to ensure Sombath’s safe return,” said a joint letter from Amnesty International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Federation Internationale des Ligues de droits de l’homme and Human Rights Watch.
The civil rights activist has not been seen since December 15, when he was detained at a police checkpoint in Vientiane, and CCTV footage captured images of him being forced into a truck and driven away.
The Communist regime has denied knowledge of the incident or Sombath’s whereabouts.
The EU group, led by Werner Langen of Germany, met Monday morning with its diplomatic mission to Laos and was scheduled for a full day of meetings with legislators and ministers including Phongsavath Boupha, head of Laos’ national steering committee on human rights, officials said in Vientiane.
The rights groups said the delegates should “urge the Laos government to answer the many outstanding questions around Sombath’s disappearance and to establish an independent commission, ideally with international involvement or support.” The EU is one of the leading aid donors to Laos, listed as one of the world’s least-developed countries. The bloc has expressed concern over Sombath’s disappearance and its implication for activists.
In August, Danish member of the European Parliament Soren Bo Sondergaard led a delegation to Vientiane to pursue the case.
Sondergaard concluded that the government was “still in a state of denial” over Sombath’s disappearance.
He called on the EU to put more pressure on Laos, such as threatening to block its bid to sit on the UN Human Rights Council or to graduate from its current status as a least-developed country.