FIDH/LMHR: 22 January 2016
John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520 US
22 January 2016
Dear Mr. Secretary,
FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) respectfully request that you use your upcoming official visit to Vientiane on 25 January as an opportunity to raise important human rights issues that the Lao government has left unaddressed for far too long.
Laos is ruled by one of the most repressive regimes of Southeast Asia. Authorities in the one-party state continue to severely restrict the right to freedom of information, association, and peaceful assembly within its borders. Authorities have also continued to crack down on religious minorities and arrested numerous members of various Christian groups in 2015.
Impunity continues to reign for enforced disappearances. Authorities have repeatedly refused to disclose any information concerning all victims of enforced disappearances in the country. To this day, the fate or whereabouts of at least 13 individuals remain unknown. Among them is civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who was abducted at a police checkpoint in Vientiane on the evening of 15 December 2012. The government has failed to conduct a competent, thorough, and transparent investigation into his enforced disappearance. We call upon you to urge the Lao authorities to accept international assistance to help determine Sombath’s fate or whereabouts.
Dissidents remain incarcerated in jails across the country. They include former student leaders Thongpaseuth Keuakoun and Sengaloun Phengphanh, who are in Vientiane’s Samkhe prison. They were arrested in Vientiane in October 1999 for planning peaceful demonstrations that called for democracy, social justice, and respect for human rights. Also imprisoned is pro-democracy activist Bounthanh Khammavong, a Polish citizen of Lao origin who was sentenced in September 2015 to four years and nine months in prison for criticizing the Lao government on Facebook. The US has consistently called for the release of dissidents in other Southeast Asian countries. We urge you to demand the Lao government immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners.
Finally, the space for Lao civil society to conduct human rights activities remains non-existent. The chilling effect stemming from the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone has been compounded by a new wave of repression. In 2015, authorities began to target individuals who used the internet to criticize the government or expose instances of corruption.
We trust that during your visit you will send a strong message to the Lao leaders that healthy and mutually beneficial bilateral relations are contingent on Vientiane’s respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
We thank you for your attention on this important matter.
Karim Lahidji, FIDH President
Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR President