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.
Next month marks Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith’s second year in power, a role few Communist Party apparatchiks have grasped with so much aplomb.
The ex-foreign affairs minister has cut an almost progressive profile, at least by Lao standards, in his battles against corruption, pollution and Party extravagance. Now, it appears he wants to make the hermetic Lao People’s Revolutionary Party more transparent, too. Continue reading “Is hermetic Laos poised for more openness?”
(Paris) The European Union (EU) must demand Laos release all government critics and create an environment in which civil society can freely and safely operate, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today.
FIDH and LMHR made the call ahead of the 8th EU-Laos human rights dialogue, which is scheduled to be held in Brussels on 15 March 2018. In conjunction with their call, the two organizations released a briefing paper that provides an update on the human rights situation in Laos since the previous dialogue, held in February 2017.
“Recent developments in Laos show that the government has tightened its chokehold on civil society. The EU should not be cowed into silence by Vientiane in the same manner that Vientiane has constrained Lao civil society. Its voice in support of human rights and civil society should be heard loud and clear during this dialogue.”Debbie Stothard., FIDH Secretary-General
In two sub-indexes of Political Rights and Civil Liberties, Laos is given rankings of 7/7 and 6/7 respectively. It has held these same rankings since 2010.
This places the Lao PDR very near the bottom of the index, at 151st of 165 countries, and the lowest in Southeast Asia. Scores (and ranks) for other regional neighbours include:
China: 15 (143rd)
Vietnam: 20 (137th)
Cambodia 31 (118th)
Thailand 32: (116th)
Myanmar 32: (114th)
Singapore: 51 (90th)
Philippines: 63 (72nd)
Indonesia: 65 (63rd)
Excerpts from Freedom House’s overview of the Lao PDR include:
Laos is a one-party state in which the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) dominates all aspects of politics and government and harshly restricts civil liberties. There is no organized opposition and no truly independent civil society. News coverage of the country is limited by the remoteness of some areas, repression of domestic media, and the opaque nature of the regime. Economic development has led to a rising tide of disputes over land and environmental issues, as well as corruption and the growth of an illegal economy. Such disputes frequently lead to violence, including by the security forces.
The Laotian government continued to tighten its control over domestic dissent in 2016, partly by monitoring citizens’ activity on social media. In at least three cases, individuals were apparently arrested for comments they posted while working abroad. The authorities also suppressed independent civil society activity. Although Laos hosted the annual ASEAN summit in September, it would not host the parallel ASEAN People’s Forum, a gathering of regional civil society groups. The forum was held in Timor-Leste instead, and participants reported that the Laotian delegation was hand-picked and pressured by the Laotian government to minimize criticism of its record.
Southeast Asia’s performance is especially disheartening. The “disappearance” of Sombath Somphone, an internationally acclaimed civil society leader who was kidnapped from the streets of Vientiane in late 2012, is a glaring example of a worsening of the human rights situation in Laos.
Today, 17 February, is your birthday. Today in celebration of your birthday I and a small group of family and friends went to Na Khoun Noi Forest temple to offer food to the monks and nuns, and also offer blessings for you – blessings that wherever you are – you will be healthy, happy, and well.
Sombath, the monks and nuns of Na Khoun Noi temple remember you well, especially Mae Kao Keo and Phra Arjahn Sithone. They remembered that you have been a strong proponent of the concept of Socially Engaged Buddhism and you have been the one who introduced this concept to the temple and through the temple to many other communities in Laos.
Today, Na Khoun Noi temple continues to be the space to train young monks and nuns in the principles and practice of Socially Engaged Buddhism. Many of the monks and nuns trained are now using their spiritual leadership to help build and improve the spiritual well-being, physical, and economic wellbeing of the community. The monks and nuns have led the education of young people and guided them to internalize Buddhist teachings into daily life, such as respect for all living things, starting with the elders in the family and their teachers, to everybody around them, including all living beings. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (15)”
A look at a worrying aspect of the country’s deteriorating human rights situation.
If you were to survey articles that focus on the human rights situation in Laos, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that does not reference the “disappearance” of Sombath Somphone, an internationally acclaimed civil society leader who was kidnapped from the streets of Vientiane in late 2012. Leaked CCTV footage shows him being stopped by the police before being taken to a police outpost nearby. Then, a jeep pulls up and two men kidnap him, and someone else drives his car away. He hasn’t been seen since.
The ruling Communist Party claims it launched an investigation, but has released few convincing details about its progress. The government has also refused to admit any responsibility. Based on the evidence we have so far, few serious observers would deny that the most likely scenario is that Sombath was abducted, rather than simply disappearing, despite the fact that the latter continues to be the characterization used. Continue reading “Beware the Destruction of Civil Society in Laos”
A recently introduced law regulating civil society organizations (CSOs) in Laos has further restricted their work, according to sources in the sector, who said groups now face lengthy delays in funding, while others are being forced to operate as small businesses or shut down completely.
We’ve never met, but that is unimportant, for we know each other well enough. I see you in all good people, and the truth of it is that we are all one. We have the same aims, and we always see family in strangers. We work together for the community, both locally and on a wider level. Sadly, not everyone works with us in this way, and you will be more aware of this than most, but we must continually remind ourselves that those who abuse others are invariably deeply damaged in one way or another and cannot help but behave the way they do. All such damaged people are in need of help, and we must keep searching for ways to reach out to them.
Since you disappeared, your work has not stopped. If anything, the result of you being stolen away from us is that your work has spread more widely. Your name has become a word of power, passed from person to person as inspiration to keep up the fight to improve life for the poor and to spread education to multiply that power. It is ironic that so much of this great power comes from the very people who took you away from us, and it only grows in strength with every passing day so long as they fail to return you to us. Do not fear that you have been removed from the action and that your work has halted, because you are still right at the centre of it driving things along: the more absent you are, the more strongly you are with us and the harder we work. Your name is known now around the entire planet, and it provides motivation and hope to all those who are struggling in darkness, searching for the light. “Sombat,” we say to each other to remind ourselves that we have important work to do (your work), and that we will win out in the end. Yes – we are all Sombat now.
I hope to meet you some day, but you are already with me in spirit, and I hope I am likewise with you. I wish you all the best,