Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (24)

Letter to Sombath Somphone 30 August 2021 to mark International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

My dearest Sombath

Today is August 30 again, a day when the world is once more reminded that it is the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances (IDD); a day where we are reminded that there are many thousands of victims who have been abducted and snatched from the bosom of their loved ones. People around the world are urged to spare a moment to remember them and their families, and especially to remember that their families are still waiting desperately for answers of where their disappeared loved ones are, and for their safe return.

For me, my desperate wait for news of your whereabouts and your situation has already spanned nine years – nine long years of wait, and nine long years of unrelenting pain. Each year when August 30 comes around, my pain and despair heightens and the unhealed wound is reopened once more.  For many others, the wait has been even longer – 15 years, 20 years…

Each year, the UN and Human Rights Organizations and Victims Organizations that work on the issue of Enforced Disappearance use the IDD to reiterate that Enforced Disappearance is a heinous crime, a violation of human dignity, and it is the worst form of human rights violations. In so doing, they hope to once again remind state-governments of their obligations under international human rights law to stop Enforced Disappearance and to render truth and justice to the victims and their families.

If not for the global Covid-19 pandemic, I would probably be spending IDD at various meetings and workshops. I would be with many other victims from across the region to bear testament to our plight, to provide solace and show solidarity with one another, and to pledge that we would continue our mutual struggle without fear or retreat until we have truth and justice. More importantly we would use the day to commemorate our loved ones and tell the world that their lives and deeds are not going to be so easily wiped out by the cowardly act of enforced disappearance.

However, the on-going Covid-19 has restricted travel and cancelled many face-to-face meetings.  Despite such restrictions, we have not been silenced. We have continued to use various social network platforms and webinars to mark the IDD and to continue our advocacy and struggle against Enforced Disappearances.  We do this to bear witness to the memory of all the disappeared.

Sombath, your memory and the memories of all other victims can be never be erased now or in the future.  In fact with each passing day and year that the disappeared are not found or returned, their memories will echo even louder and stronger and their unjust abduction will spread further and further through their families, friends, their community and beyond.  It is in this collective memory that your lives will not be lived in vain, and your legacies will be passed on.

Sombath, I take some small comfort that in being part of the movement against Enforced Disappearances, I will, together with other victims, stand up strong and bold against such violations and against those who want us to give up or to forget. We cannot forget and shall never forget, not only as long as we are alive, but even after we pass on. Your memory will be etched in the memory of the present and future generations.  This is because Enforced Disappearance is a continuing crime and it is recorded in the UN as an ongoing crime until we know the truth about what happened to you.

My dearest Sombath, I must tell you, that even here in Laos, where the perpetrators of this crime want us to forget what happened to you, you have not been forgotten.  Even now people in the international community and organizations and networks continue to ask “Where is Sombath?”  They keep asking for your whereabouts to show they still care about your case, and to remind the Lao authorities, that despite the deliberate wall of silence erected around your disappearance, you will not be forgotten until you are safely returned.

So Sombath, my love, stay strong and be well.  My love, know that I am not alone in my search for you. I am joined in solidarity and unity with all freedom and justice loving people from across the globe, especially on this International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, that you and other victims are very much in our memory.  We will never forget and we will not stop our search until we find you and have you returned safely.

Love you always, Shui Meng

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