Lao PDR: government must tackle enforced disappearance case

International Commission of Jurists: 16 June 2014

icj_logoThe ICJ today called on the Lao PDR government to carry out a thorough and impartial investigation into the ‘disappearance’ of prominent development activist Sombath Somphone to clarify his fate or whereabouts.

It also demanded that authorities ensure that the perpetrators are held to account and that he or his family members are afforded redress.

On 15 June 2014, the ICJ filed a submission to the 21st session of the Working Group on Universal Periodic Review (UPR), raising Lao PDR’s failure to fulfill its obligations under international law in cases of alleged enforced disappearance.

The ICJ also highlighted Lao PDR’s failure to respect its commitment in its 2010 UPR to “enhance the level of cooperation with treaty bodies and special procedures mandate holders”.

“Despite the passage of more than 18 months since Sombath Somphone’s ‘disappearance,’ the authorities have yet to carry out an effective investigation,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia-Pacific Regional Director. “They have even declined to seek available international assistance with the examination of CCTV footage showing the abduction, which may lead to the identification of the perpetrators.”

CCTV footage records police stopping Sombath at a checkpoint on 15 December 2012, and unidentified men driving him away.

To date, Lao authorities have issued only three reports on the investigation, which revealed a complete lack of progress in locating Sombath or identifying the perpetrators of his abduction.

In accordance with international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel (CAT), treaties which Lao PDR has ratified, the government has a duty to  effectively investigate cases of alleged enforced disappearances and to keep family members of the victim informed.

It also is required to prosecute perpetrators in a competent, independent and impartial tribunal.

These principles are also echoed in the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), which the Lao government has signed and is committed to ratifying.

The ICCPR and CAT set out States’ duty to criminalize acts constituting serious crimes, including offences of torture, cruel inhuman and degrading treatment, summary and arbitrary killing as well as enforced disappearances.

At present, such acts have yet to be incorporated into the Laotian Penal Code or Criminal Procedure Code as punishable offences.


Some of the key recommendations highlighted in the submission include:

(a) implement the commitments made during the 2010 UPR, including by becoming a party to the ICPPED and incorporating all provisions of the various international human rights treaties to which Lao PDR is a party;

(b) amend domestic law to provide for criminal liability for all acts of enforced disappearance and to afford effective remedy and reparation in line with ICCPR, CAT and ICPPED;

(c) request the public prosecutor to launch a credible, prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigation into the fate and whereabouts of Sombath Somphone;

(d) cooperate with treaty bodies and human rights mechanisms by accepting visit requests of Special Rapporteurs and to provide without delay periodic reports under CAT, ICCPR, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.