GENEVA (16 December 2013) – A group of United Nations human rights experts today urged the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) to increase its efforts in the investigations into the enforced disappearance on 15 December 2012, of Sombath Somphone, a prominent human right activist working on issues of land confiscation and assisting victims in denouncing such practices.
“Mr. Somphone has been disappeared for one year. We are deeply concerned about his safety and security”, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said. “We urge the Government of Lao PDR to do its utmost to locate Mr. Somphone, to establish his fate and whereabouts, and to hold the perpetrators accountable.”
The human rights experts noted that Mr. Somphone was held in police custody following his reported disappearance, according to additional information received that sheds new light on the case. A few days after his disappearance, he was seen inside a police detention centre with his car parked in the police compound.
Two days later, he was reportedly moved to a military camp outside Vientiane, and then transferred again to an unknown location one week later. It was further reported that, a few days following his disappearance, relevant Government officials said that Mr. Somphone would be released.
It has also been reported, the experts pointed out, that the closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage, which recorded the incident of the abduction of Mr. Somphone on 15 December 2012, has not been analysed by any independent body. “We call on the Government of Lao PDR to accept external technical assistance to analyse the original CCTV footage of the incident,” they said.
“Defenders play a key role in promoting human rights and their legitimate work should be fully respected,” the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, said. “Mr. Somphone’s disappearance might have a chilling effect on human rights defenders operating in the country, owing to his high profile at the national and international levels.”
The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, called on the Government of Lao PDR “to fully cooperate with the Human Rights Council and its Special Procedures, particularly as it seeks election to the Human Rights Council for 2016.”
Mr. Maina Kiai expressed deep regret over the lack of response of the Lao PDR to his letters dated 12 December 2011 and 30 October 2013 requesting an invitation to visit the country.