EU silent on human rights

Focus on the Global South: 25 April 2018

The European Union (EU) is one of the largest international donors to the Lao PDR, with a budget of over 200 million Euros for the 2014-2020 period.

On 15 March 2018, the EU and the Lao PDR held the eighth session of their annual Human Rights Dialogue in Brussels.  Ahead of the Dialogue, many organisations concerned by the deteriorating situation regarding civil liberties and peoples’ rights in the Lao PDR made submissions to the EU, presenting examples of persisting and deepening rights violations.

Below is a letter that was submitted to the EU by nine organisations, asking that the EU link its aid to actual betterment of basic freedoms and human rights of the targeted beneficiaries of aid.  The letter also asked the EU to publicise a detailed account of the proceedings of the Dialogue.

Such an account has yet to be made available to the public.

8 March 2018

HE Mr. Léon Paul Faber, Ambassador

Europe House

Unit19, Hom 2, Setthathirath Road, Haisok Village, Chanthabouly District

P.O. Box: 9325; Vientiane, Lao PDR

cc: Mr. François Pravongviengkham, Policy Officer

Re: EU-Lao Human Rights Dialogue

Dear Sir,

As is well known, the European Union is one of the largest international donors to the Lao PDR, with a budget of over 200 million Euros for the 2014-2020 period. Many of your diplomatic initiatives as well as assistance programmes (particularly those through the EIDHR mechanism) focus on the promotion of human rights, the development of civil society, and the empowerment of local communities.

Yet, while your assistance has nearly doubled over the previous period, the actual situation in these sectors has deteriorated considerably:

  • In early 2016, Soukan Chaithad, Somphone Phimmasone and Lodkham Thammavong were arrested, held incommunicado, allegedly beaten, tried in secret, and given extremely harsh sentences of up to 20 years. While the specific charges are not known, it appears their ‘crimes’ were to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights of free expression and assembly. The three had criticized the Lao Government on Facebook for corruption, deforestation and human rights violations, and protested outside the Lao Embassy in Bangkok.

Indeed, the European Parliament raised concern about these cases, along with several other issues in a Resolution on 14 September 2017. It is noteworthy that your delegation failed to share this important resolution on your web or Facebook pages.

  • In July 2017, 14 villagers from Ban Yeub in Sekong Province were arrested for protesting a rubber plantation that had taken their previous lands, and for demanding adequate compensation. Several were beaten, and one, Mr. Somsavanh, recently died in custody. While authorities claim it was suicide, relatives state it was a result of harsh conditions and torture. It has also come to light that the detainees are facing health problems possibly because of lack of food, and that their families have to pay the police in order to visit them. One of the detainees, Mr. Vihanh, was released on February 16. However, another 12 are still in jail including two people under 18 years of age. They are: Mr. Suvanh, Mr. Vikham, Mr. Bounleang, Mr. Bounpoke, Mr. Nak (under 18 years), Mr. Bountia, Mr. Bountean, Mr. Po, Mr. Nai, Mr. Sonh, Mr. Bounsod and Miss Ny (15-years old).
  • In August 2017, the Lao government issued an updated decree (No. PM/238) which substantially increases the already suffocating restrictions on Non-Profit Associations. A number of international organisations have spoken out against the law, asserting it contravenes both the Lao constitution and the country’s international human rights treaty obligations. Over the past years the Lao government has also severely restricted the ability of non-profit associations to access funds and operate autonomously.

Please also note that cases of enforced disappearance, including those of Sombath Somphone in 2012 and Sompawn Khantisouk in 2007, remain not only unresolved, but almost wholly unaddressed by the responsible authorities. Additionally, the Lao government has yet to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, claiming it is still studying the agreement which it signed a decade ago.

During its 2015 Universal Periodic Review, the Lao government accepted 119 of the 203 recommendations made. However, over half-way through the five-year cycle, no follow-up plan for the implementation of these recommendations, or for civil society’s inclusion in this process, has been released, despite numerous donor efforts to support that involvement.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is currently preparing a report on the criminalisation of indigenous human rights defenders. A call has been made for documentation of concrete cases, which require the consent of the affected people or families.

But how is this possible in the current political context? While the EU and other international donors spend millions on programmes to promote human rights, build civil society, and empower local communities, the unfortunate reality is that those who actually raise their voice or assert their rights are often brutally suppressed.

While it is common for submissions such as this to provide information, we suggest ample information already exists; the need is for greater will toward authentic action.

In closing, we call on the EU, and specifically its Delegation to the Lao PDR, to:

  • In the spirit of good governance, more directly link aid to authentic performance, particularly with regard to basic freedoms and the human rights of targeted beneficiaries.
  • In the spirit of inclusiveness, expand the human rights dialogue to enable wider inputs and an ongoing process that can raise specific cases as they occur.
  • In the spirit of transparency, publicise a detailed account of the upcoming proceedings, including specific issues or cases raised, and commitments made.

With kind regards

Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN)

FIAN International

Focus on the Global South

International Forestry Resources and Institutions (IFRI), University of Michigan

Monitoring Sustainability of Globalisation

Network for Transformative Social Protection

Stiftung Asienhaus

The Corner House

Transnational Institute

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