UN slams violations of civil and political rights after landmark review

FIDH: 02 August 2018

(Paris) The outcome of the United Nations’ (UN) assessment of the human rights situation in Laos highlighted the country’s highly repressive environment and the government’s failure to respect virtually all civil and political rights, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today.

“The outcome of the UN review should be an eye-opener for foreign governments, which have too often looked the other way whenever human rights violations were committed in Laos. There are no more excuses for the international community to refuse to pressure the Lao government to address key human rights issues.” Debbie Stothard, FIDH Secretary-General

On 26 July 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) issued its Concluding Observations regarding the situation of civil and political rights in Laos. In the Concluding Observations, the CCPR expressed its concern over numerous human rights violations and made recommendations to the government. The CCPR monitors state parties’ compliance with their legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Laos became a state party to the ICCPR in 2009. FIDH and LMHR welcome the CCPR’s recommendations and urge the government to take concrete steps towards their implementation without undue delay.

By 27 July 2020, the Lao government will need to provide information on the implementation of the recommendations made by the CCPR on three priority issues: 1) Enforced disappearances; 2) Participation in public affairs and the right to vote; and 3) Rights of persons belonging to minorities.

“Encouraged by the growing financial assistance received from the international community, the Lao government has repeatedly showed its lack of political will to respect human rights. It’s time for foreign governments to tell Vientiane that without the urgent implementation of necessary legislative and political reforms, their support will no longer be guaranteed.” Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR President

The CCPR’s Concluding Observations echoed information jointly submitted by FIDH and LMHR for the adoption of the List of Issues (LoI) and in their shadow report to the CCPR ahead of the dialogue between the committee and the Lao government. The dialogue was held on 11-12 July 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland, and was attended by FIDH and LMHR. Both documents detailed the Lao government’s violations of civil and political rights and its failure to comply with its obligations under the ICCPR’s provisions.

Below is a summary of the CCPR’s key concerns over selected human rights issues and the UN body’s main recommendations to the government.

Enforced disappearances

The CCPR noted the lack of a legal framework that criminalized enforced disappearances and voiced concern over the “prevalent pattern of impunity” for such acts. The CCPR regretted the “paucity of relevant information” provided by the government regarding the progress achieved in the investigation into the enforced disappearance of civil society leader Sombath Somphone. During the dialogue, instead of addressing the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, the government embarked on a vicious attack against Sombath and his family members.

The CCPR expressed concern over the government’s failure to provide relevant information about investigations into the fate or whereabouts of other victims of enforced disappearances. The committee also expressed concern at the government delegation’s “sweeping denial” of allegations of enforced disappearances and its criticism of the sources of such allegations during the dialogue with the committee. The CCPR called on the government to: 1) Effectively criminalize enforced disappearance in accordance with international standards; 2) “Step up” efforts to conduct thorough, credible, impartial, and transparent investigations into the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone and into all other cases of enforced disappearance; 3) Ensure the victims and their families are regularly informed of the progress and results of the investigations; and 4) Become a state party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED).

Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly

The CCPR regretted the existence of severe restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly. The committee said these restrictions, which included repressive laws inconsistent with the ICCPR as well as state control over the media, hindered the development of a “civic space in which individuals can meaningfully exercise their human rights and promote human rights without fear of sanctions and reprisals.” The CPPR cited Bounthanh Thammavong, Somphone Phimmasone, Lodkham Thammavong, and Soukan Chaithad as examples of individuals who had been subjected to arbitrary arrests, detention, trial without due process, and lengthy prison terms for their peaceful criticism – including through the internet – of the government.

The CCPR urged the government to promote plurality of opinions in the media and ensure that their operations are free from “undue state interference.” The committee also demanded the government: 1) Ensure the full enjoyment of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly; 2) Amend or repeal “vague and broadly defined” laws; and 3) Ensure that restrictions on the exercise of the rights freedom of expression and peaceful assembly comply with the ICCPR’s “strict requirements.”

Arbitrary arrests

The CCPR said it received reports of arbitrary arrests, detention without charges, pre-trial detention for periods exceeding the statutory limits, and lack of access to counsel by detained individuals for significant periods of time. The committee recommended to bring under judicial control the detention of those arrested on a criminal charge and to effectively address the use of excessively lengthy periods of pre-trial detention.

Conditions of detention

The CCPR said it was concerned about consistent reports of punishment in prisons amounting to torture and ill-treatment. The CCPR recommended that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment and deaths in custody be promptly and thoroughly investigated by an independent and impartial body and that perpetrators be held accountable.

The committee also expressed concern over harsh prison conditions due to severe overcrowding, inadequate food supply and medical care, and the use of prolonged solitary confinement. The UN body called on the government to improve conditions of detention in accordance with the ICCPR and other relevant international standards and to establish “a fully independent and effective mechanism” mandated to regularly monitor and inspect all places of detention, and “allow and facilitate” monitoring visits by independent organizations.

Participation in public affairs and the right to vote

The CCPR found that the right of citizens to genuinely take part in the conduct of public affairs, to vote, and to be elected was not ensured as a result of several factors, including the leading role of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party in the nomination of candidates for elections and the restrictions on the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association. The committee recommended the government take all necessary measures to give full effect to the right of citizens to genuinely take part in the conduct of public affairs, to vote, and to be elected, in accordance with Article 25 of the ICCPR.

Rights of persons belonging to minorities

The CCPR voiced concern over the forced relocation of a number of ethnic minority communities as a result of land grabbing and land concessions to make way for the development of hydropower projects, extractive activities, or the establishment of Special Economic Zones. The committee also raised the issue of reports of arbitrary arrest and detention of farmers and villagers protesting against land leases and concessions. The CCPR urged the government to take all steps necessary to ensure that meaningful consultations are held with communities to obtain their free, prior, and informed consent for projects that impact on their livelihood, lifestyle, and culture. The committee also demanded the government ensure that relocations of communities are carried out in accordance with relevant international standards and that adequate compensation be provided when relocation is not possible.

Death penalty

The CCPR said it remained concerned that domestic laws prescribed capital punishment – and courts continued to impose death sentences – mostly for drug-related offenses that did not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” within the meaning of Article 6 of the ICCPR. During the dialogue with the CCPR, the government delegation revealed that 99% of prisoners on death row (311 of 315) had been convicted of drug-related offenses. The CCPR urged the government to give due consideration to the abolition of capital punishment and to ensure that the death penalty is imposed only for the “most serious crimes.”

Press contacts

  • FIDH: Ms. Maryna Chebat (French, English) – Tel: +33648059157 (Paris)
  • FIDH: Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) – Tel: +66886117722 (Bangkok)
  • LMHR: Ms. Vanida Thephsouvanh (French, English, Lao) – Tel: +33160065706 (Paris)

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