As donors, diplomats and development partners gather for this year’s Roundtable Implementation Meeting in Pakse, will they take time to consider those who were arrested or disappeared in this same city in November 2000 and October 2001, simply for expressing their views?
Will they recall the students who met similar fates earlier in Vientiane in October, 1999?
Will they remember Sombath Somphone or Sompawn Khantisouk, who have been enforcibly disappeared, or their families, who continue to suffer without knowing the fate or alleged wrongdoing of their loved ones?
Will UNDP, a central host of the roundtable, remember their willingness to collaborate with Sombath in the lead-up to the 2012 AEPF, and moreover their total silence since his disappearance soon thereafter?
Will donors recall the more recent and extremely harsh sentences handed down to three Lao citizens in March simply for posting their opinions on social media? Will they take a moment to think of the Sekong farmers who were arrested in July for defending their traditional lands?
As they discuss GDP, SDGs and other abstract indicators, will the participants of this years’ roundtable take but a moment to more critically reflect on the concrete reality of those who are losing their land, livelihoods and liberty for reasons not independent from the development policies, practices and programmes they are actively supporting?
Development entails much more than quantitative targets and macro-level indicators. It demands genuine involvement from those most directly affected, freedom of expression and association, and adequate mechanisms to pursue authentic justice for those adversely affected.
We hope that this years’ gathering can advance the breadth and depth of dialogue to address these crucial issues.