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

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (23)

My dearest Sombath,

It has been awhile since I last wrote you. Even though I have not been writing to you much, I have not forgotten you, nor have I given up on the struggle to get truth and justice for you.

Since March 2020, our world has been turned upside down by the global Covid-19 pandemic. Many countries have closed their borders to travel and many countries have also mandated lockdowns to control the spread of the virus.

Many human rights organizations and activists across the world have seen their international and regional meetings and conferences, and advocacy and mobilization activities greatly reduced or even halted.  This has caused a great blow to the continued momentum and growth of human rights movements and activities nationally, regionally and globally.

Following the cessation of most international face-to-face events, my participation in many of these human rights and enforced disappearances activities have also become largely reduced to only a few zoom meetings and webinars. Hence, I have become less active, and my voice has not been heard much at regional and international human rights meetings and conferences.  But this does not mean I have given up seeking truth and justice for you and for other victims of enforced disappearance.

I need to find ways to keep up my struggle and I know that one way is to keep reminding people that you are still missing and the facts of your unjust disappearance is still hidden by a wall of denial and lies.

My dearest Sombath, let me reassure you once more that as long as I still draw breathe, you will not be forgotten. Recently, I spoke at opening of the 13th AEPF Meeting through Zoom. I told those who attended the meeting that despite my disappointment of the lack of progress, and my anger at the injustice done to you, I also know that to give up on fighting for truth and justice is not an option. To give up is to give in to what the perpetrators most want; and to lose hope is to lose part of my dignity, my humanity, and my love for you.

So, my dearest Sombath, I promise you that I will soldier on against all odds and to continue my fight for truth and justice for you and to continue my plea for solidarity and support for the resolution of this inhuman and unjust crime.

The last week of May each year is dedicated as the International Week of the Disappeared to remind everyone that there are hundreds of thousands of people who have been unjustly disappeared and whose families are still waiting for their return. So I too want to use my letter to you to remind people who remember and love you that we too will not forget you. We too want you to come home to us.

Dearest Sombath, words cannot express how much I continue to miss you and pine for your return. Be well and stay healthy til the day we meet again.

Love you so much

Shui Meng

Remarks by Shui Meng Ng at 13th Asia-Europe People’s Forum

17 May 2021

Good day to all. We are gathered together again for another AEPF, the 13th AEPF. This is the 4th time I have been asked to speak at the opening of an AEPF Meeting. While I am grateful that the organizing committee has once more given me the space and time to speak at such an important forum for development activists and practitioners, I must admit, it does not give me much pleasure to give another commemoration talk about my husband, Sombath Somphone, who was disappeared on 15 December 2012, two months after he co-charied the 9th AEPF in Vientiane.

Nine years have passed since Sombath was abducted right in front of a police post in Vientiane, and with evidence of his abduction by uniformed police recorded on CCTV. Yet the Lao government has kept up the charade and denied any knowledge of what happened to Sombath, while at the same time refusing to conduct any thorough and transparent investigation. Over the past 9 years, I have travelled the globe giving countless talks about Sombath – who he is, his life and his work, and his enforced disappearance. I have knocked on the doors of world leaders, representatives of United Nations organizations, and appealed to almost all human rights agencies to take up Sombath’s case and pressure the Lao government and officialdom to give me answers as to what happened to Sombath and to return him safely to me and my family. After 9 years of struggle and campaign to get truth and justice, I still have gotten no answers of Sombath’s whereabouts or his fate. All I get from the Lao officialdom is a wall of silence and lies.

In fact with the passing of time the official smear campaign against Sombath has become more viscious. Whenever confronted with demand for answers of Sombath’s disappearance at international and UN meetings, the Lao officials regularly mouthed the official line of their continued investigations, while at the same time casting aspersions of Sombath’s character by accusing him of amassing wealth though dubious means. Even though such baseless lies gained little credibility among people who know Sombath and are aware of the background and circumstances of the case, these lies nonetheless cause me great pain and anger.

I am enraged by the fact that the perpetrators of such a heinous crime and violation of Sombath’s and my rights could continue to get away with such impunity. I am enraged at the futility of international laws and pressure, against authoritarian governments who could disregard international standards and the rule of law.

Yet, despite my disappointment of the lack of progress on Sombath’s case, and my anger at the injustice caused to my husband and my family, I also know that to give up on fighting for truth and justice is not an option. To give up is to give in to what the perpetrators most want; and to lose hope is to lose part of my dignity, my humanity, and my love for Sombath. So I soldier on against all odds and continue my fight for truth and justice for Sombath and continue my plea for solidarity and support for the satisfactory resolution of Sombath’s case.

This is why I have overcome my despondency and agree to address you at this 13th Asia-Europe People’s Forum. I believe that is also what Sombath wants.

Many of the AEPF participants and development activists already know of Sombath and his work, and many of you, especially those in the Asia region, have also worked with him to promote a more equitable, just, and sustainable development that places people, and not profits, at the center of the development agenda.

Sombath’s development vision and aspiration did not come from theory but are learned from direct experience of growing up in a poor rural family and working in communities all over Laos.  His ideas and approaches are not shaped by any political or development imperatives from outside or from above; they have been learned from consultative partnerships and practical experimentation with communities and families, and especially with young people with whom he placed the greatest hope for real change. Sombath always urged the young people to remain mindful of their traditional values and wisdom even as global forces grow stronger. Development is good, he used to say, but for development to be healthy, it “must come from within.” That was what made Sombath’s work so authentic and so trusted by those he worked with.

Now, even though Sombath’s vision and voice has been silenced for more than 9 years, I am struck at how relevant and important they still are. He had warned that past and ongoing development and political mistakes are the root causes of many of the current political, social, economic, and religious fissures across many of our societies, and why we are now living in such a destabilized world where the social fabric of our communities have become torn by hate and distrust.

Nine years ago, at the 9th AEPF Opening speech, he said, “our development model is not balanced, not connected, and definitely not holistic. We focus too much on economic growth and ignore its negative impacts on the social, environmental, and spiritual dimensions. This unbalanced development model is the chief cause of inequality, injustice, financial meltdown, global warming, climate change, loss of bio-diversity, and even loss of our humanity and spirituality. …We are blinded by the power of money and let the corporations rule the world and even over-ride the power of the state. Ordinary people, and civil society, have very little say in all this”

What Sombath believed and worked for to change all his life is becoming even more urgent today, as we face the global crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic. As we are now forced to work-from-home, meet through zoom, have our children learn online, close our businesses, and lose our jobs, we need to think about how we can survive this crisis as families, as communities, as societies, and as a globalized world.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has made it more convenient for authoritarian regimes to use the pandemic as an opportunity to disregard people’s democratic rights and escalate political and physical repressions and violence against their opponents.  These autocrats know well that with the domestic challenges posed by the pandemic, international attention is less focused on their violations and they can get away, just as we are witnessing happening in Myanmar, in Palestine, and in Kashmir.

What should we do under such circumstances? As Sombath would often say, “we must think outside the box”. Indeed the old strategies may not be enough for the challenges we face today. Sombath may not be here to brainstorm or share his ideas with you, but he always believe in the collective wisdom and experience of sincere and committed people who havespent their lives working on the ground and know the kinds of challenges people face.

This 13th AEFP will provide opportunities for policy makers, dedicated practitioners, and ordinary people to share and debate and put forth new strategies to address and overcome thechallenges we face today.  Indeed through strategic networking, and solidarity of purpose between the people of Asia and Europe, we will strengthen our collective resistance against the trampling of our rights, and the political, social, economic, environmental, and public health injustice we face today.

I close by once more by thanking the organizers of the 13th AEPF and I wishing you great success in your deliberations.

Thank you.

New Joint Allegation Letter on Sombath Somphone

Four UN Special Rapporteurs had sent a new Joint Allegation Letter to the Government of the Lao PDR on 05 February 2021. Having received no response in 60 days, the letter has now been made public:

Mandates of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

REFERENCE:
AL LAO 1/2021

5 February 2021

Excellency,

We have the honour to address you in our capacities as Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions 45/3, 43/4, 41/12 and 43/16.

In this connection, we would like to bring to the attention of your Excellency’s Government new information we have received concerning the alleged enforced disappearance of human rights defender Mr. Sombath Somphone since 2012.

Mr. Sombath Somphone is a human rights defender who has advocated against land-grabbing and defended the rights of those whose land has been illegally seized. Mr. Somphone is also the founder of the first indigenous non-profit association established in Laos PDR, the Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC), which focuses on education and capacity building for communities to achieve social and economic development with a focus on environmental issues. The work of PADETC has received both national and international recognition and in 2001, Mr. Somphone was awarded the Human Resource Development Award for his contribution to empowering communities in rural Laos from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

Ms. Shui Meng Ng is a woman human rights defender and the wife of Mr. Somphone. Since his disappearance, she has advocated for the government to thoroughly investigate his disappearance and other cases of enforced disappearance, and has spoken on the affects felt by the families of the disappeared and the lack of effective redress.

Mr. Somphone’s disappearance has been the subject of two previous urgent appeals sent by a number of Special Procedures mandate holders to your Excellency’s Government, sent on 20 December 2012 (LAO 3/2012) and 9 December 2013 (LAO 2/2013) respectively. We thank your Excellency’s Governments for its replies to LAO 3/2012 dated 3 January 2013, 25 March 2013 and 10 June 2013, and its response to LAO 2/2013 dated 7 January 2014. However, we remain concerned that no further updates regarding the investigation into Mr. Somphone’s disappearance have either been publicly disclosed or shared with his family.

The disappearance of a human rights defender and Lao PDR national in Thailand is also an issue that a number of Special Procedures mandate holders previously raised with your Excellency’s Government in a communication sent on 11 December 2020 (LAO 4/2020).

We would also like to recall that the case of Mr. Sombath Somphone has been considered by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance, through its humanitarian individual case procedure, and remains outstanding since it was first transmitted to your Excellency’s Government on 11 September 2013.

According to the information received:

On the evening of 15 December 2012, Mr. Somphone was stopped at a police checkpoint in Vientiane whilst driving home. The police escorted Mr. Somphone to a police building on the roadside. Some time later, a man in civilian clothing on a motorcycle parked outside the police building and drove Mr. Somphone’s vehicle away, leaving the motorcycle on the roadside. Shortly following this, a truck with flashing lights parked outside the police building. Two men dressed in civilian clothing reportedly pushed Mr Somphone into the back of the vehicle, where there were other persons sitting, and drove away.

The following day, Ms. Shui Meng Ng went to a police station to report her husband missing. Whilst there, Ms. Ng Shui Meng was shown CCTV footage of her husband’s abduction, which she took a video of on her mobile phone. In the days following his reported disappearance, Mr Somphone’s family repeatedly visited hospitals in the local area, and on 20 December 2012, the Government announced that it had launched an investigation into the disappearance of Mr Somphone.

However, a few days after his alleged disappearance, Mr. Somphone was reportedly sighted inside a police compound, and his vehicle parked on the compound’s premises. Two days following this sighting, Mr. Somphone was then reportedly transferred to a military camp outside Vientiane and then seven days later it is reported that he was moved once again to an unknown location.

Prior to his disappearance, Mr. Somphone participated in and helped with the organisation of the Asia Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) in November 2012, a biennial conference aimed at promoting dialogue and collaboration between civil society organisations in Asia and Europe. Mr. Somphone was co-chair of the National Organizing Committee for the Forum, which was the first international civil society event to be held in Lao PDR, and attended by delegates from over 40 countries. Mr. Somphone delivered a speech during the Forum, in which he emphasised the importance of cooperation and open dialogue between civil society organisations and actors, the Government, and corporations involved in large-scale development projects. During the Forum, delegates from different regions of Lao PDR gave testimonies on the illegal seizure of their land. Following the event, a number of the individuals who spoke on this topic during the Forum reportedly received threats from officials. At the time of his disappearance, Mr. Somphone was allegedly involved in addressing these threats and calling for an investigation into them.

The government have reportedly denied Ms. Shui Meng Ng’s repeated requests since 2012 to provide information or updates on its investigation into her husband’s disappearance, or his possible fate. The government has denied any involvement in the abduction, despite the CCTV footage of the abduction, which shows that police officers were present. Ms. Shui Meng Ng has also not received any official documentation from the government regarding her husband’s disappearance. Despite alleged assurances from government officials that they would meet with her and provide regular updates on the investigation into his disappearance, Ms. Shui Meng Ng last met with the Lao PDR authorities in December 2017 and has not been provided with any updates since.

Without prejudging the accuracy of these allegations, we wish to express our deepest concern with regard to the alleged enforced disappearance of Mr. Somphone eight years ago, and the absence of evidence to indicate that efforts have been made to further the search for his fate and whereabouts, and progress the investigation into his disappearance and bringing the perpetrators to justice. We reiterate that enforced disappearance is a serious violation of human rights and is unequivocally prohibited under international law. We also wish to express our utmost concern regarding the information which would indicate that police officers were allegedly present during the abduction and that the abduction took place at a police checkpoint.

The timing of Mr. Somphone’s alleged abduction in 2012, shortly preceded by his organization of and participation in an emblematic international conference of civil society organisations, the first of its kind to be held in the country, is particularly concerning as it appears to be an attempt to incite fear amongst other human rights defenders for carrying out their legitimate work, and also preclude similar civil society events from taking place due to fear of the possible consequences. Whilst we are aware that some factions of your Excellency’s Government were involved in the planning of this conference, we remain concerned that this does not eliminate the possibility that other government factions or government officials may have been involved or complicit in his alleged enforced disappearance. We are further concerned that Mr. Somphone’s enforced disappearance, as a nationally and internationally recognised human rights defender and development worker, is an attempt to deter other human rights defenders in Lao PDR from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association, and their fundamental freedoms.

We remain seriously concerned by the alleged inaction of your Excellency’s Government to meet with Ms. Shui Meng Ng, despite her repeated requests, and provide her with information and relevant documentation regarding the enforced disappearance of her husband and the status of the investigation into his disappearance in the eight years since he was abducted. We are concerned that as a result of such inaction on the part of your Excellency’s Government, Ms. Shui Meng Ng and her family have been denied adequate redress and compensation.

Finally, we wish to reiterate our concern in relation to reports of repeated cases of alleged enforced disappearances of human rights defenders, in Laos PDR and in neighbouring countries. We are concerned that such alleged abductions and enforced disappearances, in violation of international human rights law, are being carried out in response to their legitimate and peaceful efforts to further human rights and fundamental freedoms in Laos PDR. We reiterate that enforced disappearance is a serious violation of human rights which may amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and unequivocally prohibited under international law.

In connection with the above alleged facts and concerns, please refer to the Annex on Reference to international human rights law attached to this letter, which cites international human rights instruments and standards relevant to these allegations.

As it is our responsibility, under the mandates provided to us by the Human Rights Council, to seek to clarify all cases brought to our attention, we would be grateful for the observations of your Excellency’s Government on the following matters:

1.     Please provide any additional information and any comment you may have on the above-mentioned allegations.

2.     Please provide the details, and where available the results, of any investigation and judicial or other inquiries carried out in relation to the alleged enforced disappearance of Mr. Somphone. If no such investigation or inquiries have been carried out, please provide an explanation.

3.     In your response to a communication sent by a number of Special Procedures mandate holders to your Excellency’s Government, dated 30 December 2013, reference is made to findings of an investigation, which were shared with the media. Please provide the details of these findings, and any relevant findings related to Mr. Somphone’s disappearance since.

4.     Please provide information as to the reasoning for allegedly denying Ms. Shui Meng Ng access to relevant documentation relating to the alleged enforced disappearance of her husband, and updates as to the progress of any investigation into his abduction.

5.     Please also indicate what measures have been taken to ensure that human rights defenders, journalists, activists and other civil society actors are able to carry out their legitimate work in a safe and enabling environment in Lao PDR, without fear of threats or acts of intimidation and harassment of any sort.

We would appreciate receiving a response within 60 days. Passed this delay, this communication and any response received from your Excellency’s Government will be made public via the communications reporting website. They will also subsequently be made available in the usual report to be presented to the Human Rights Council.

While awaiting a reply, we urge that all necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence and in the event that the investigations support or suggest the allegations to be correct, to ensure the accountability of any person(s) responsible for the alleged violations.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration.

Tae-Ung Baik
Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

Irene Khan
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Clement Nyaletsossi Voule
Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Mary Lawlor
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

The Forced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone

The Wrath-Bearing Tree:  by J. Malcolm Garcia

Ng Shui Meng speaks of her husband Sombath Somphone in the present tense, with a firm matter-of-fact tone about his disappearance, a way, I presume, for her to maintain control in a situation where she has none and knows nothing but heartbreak. Yet I hear the deep sentiment behind the words. To her, Sombath is much more than the internationally acclaimed, award-winning development worker who vanished one night years ago. He is her partner, companion and mentor, a man with a quiet presence whom she relies on even in his absence. Although short and thin, he stood out in a crowd partly because of his shock of silver white hair. Most older Lao men dye their hair, she explains. Government officials all have black hair but Sombath has this head of white hair, and he always wears a cotton peasant jacket and yet there is something about him that makes everyone feel deferential toward him. That may have been a contributing factor to his disappearance, Shui Meng muses, this deference, the tranquil influence he has. He would never call himself an activist. He is not confrontational. Sombath believes in cooperation and works with Lao officials. In private he can be critical of the government but never in public. He’s a pragmatist and strategic about what he does. Although he is not political, he inspires people. Perhaps that is what led to his undoing.

On December 15, 2012, Somphone was stopped at a police checkpoint in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and was never seen or heard from again. Lao officials denied any involvement. Officials with human rights organizations believe Somphone was the victim of a forced disappearance by the government. Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded answers and the European Parliament expressed its concern but to no avail. The Lao government insisted it knew nothing. Almost nine years later, his fate and his whereabouts remain a mystery. His friends can only speculate on why he was taken. Continue reading “The Forced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone”

Eight Years, and Still No Answers on Lao Activist’s Disappearance

The Diplomat: 16 December 2020

Sombath Somphone’s 2012 abduction heralded an alarming trend of “disappearances” in mainland Southeast Asian countries.

Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone with Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu in 2006.

Eight years ago this week, the Lao civil society organizer Sombath Somphone was driving home in his rusty jeep when he was stopped by police on the outskirts of the country’s capital Vientiane. He was never seen again.

The Lao government has denied any responsibility for Sombath’s disappearance, then and now. But his abduction, captured by surveillance cameras and later posted on YouTube, bore all the signs of a forced disappearance. Continue reading “Eight Years, and Still No Answers on Lao Activist’s Disappearance”

Laos Snubs Wife of Missing Rural Expert in ‘Unconvincing’ Stance on Disappearance

Radio Free Asia: 15 December 2020

The wife of missing Lao development expert Sombath Somphone on Tuesday marked eight years since his disappearance with no information on the case from the communist government in Vientiane whose agents are believed to have taken him away.

“December 15th  is the eighth anniversary of my husband Sombath’s disappearance, and throughout these eight years I have still missed him and want him to return to his family,” Sombath’s wife Ng Shui Meng said, speaking to RFA’s Lao Service on Dec. 9.

“So far, I have received no updates from Lao officials on their investigation into Sombath’s disappearance, and I still don’t know where he is,” she said.

Sombath Somphone disappeared on the evening of Dec. 15, 2012, after his jeep was stopped outside a police checkpoint outside the capital Vientiane, with video footage showing him later being forced into a white truck and taken away.

Though police promised at first to investigate, Lao authorities soon backtracked, saying they could not confirm the identity of a man shown in the video driving off in Sombath’s jeep, and refusing offers of outside help to analyze the footage.

Before his abduction, Sombath had challenged massive land deals negotiated by the government that had left thousands of rural Lao villagers homeless with little paid in compensation. The deals had sparked rare popular protests in Laos, where political speech is tightly controlled.

Sombath’s decades of work on behalf of farmers and sustainable agricultural practices helped in him the U.N.’s Human Resource Development Award for empowering the rural poor in Laos, and later the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.

“To date, Lao officials have given me no updates or answers about Sombath. They don’t meet with me, and they just say that they don’t have any information,” Ng Shui Meng, who lives in Singapore, told RFA. “And we have continued to suffer through all these years.”

Philip Alston, Former UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, told RFA last week that the Lao government’s “persistent refusal to undertake any meaningful investigation is a disgrace.”

He said “overwhelming” evidence of direct government responsibility for the disappearance of Sombath makes official denials “entirely unconvincing and disingenuous.”

Laos “has used the strategy of disappearing its opponents in order to instill deep fear and to deter any criticism,” said Alston.

Rights groups press for answers

Rights groups continue to press the Lao government for answers and information in the case.

“We will never forget Sombath even after eight years, and we’ll keep fighting and asking the Lao government [to explain] what happened to him,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said on Dec. 14.

“We have never received an answer to this question, so we continue to raise this matter with the governments of other countries and with the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. No one should forget what the Lao government did to Sombath,” Robertson said.

“I’m calling on the Lao government to do the right thing—to search for answers about Sombath Somphone for the sake of his family,” added Siriporn Saipetr, a member of the Sombath Somphone & Beyond Project., based in Thailand. “From the closed-circuit TV footage, the government must know what happened to him.”

Vanida Thepsouvanh, president of the Paris-based Lao Movement for Human Rights, said that for the last eight years, the Lao government “has never told the truth about Sombath Somphone.”

“Furthermore, the Lao [People’s Democratic Republic]] doesn’t seem to have any intention of ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance,” she said.

“I think the Lao government is not willing to reveal the truth about Sombath Somphone’s disappearance,” added Bounthone Chantalavong-Wiese, president of the Germany-based Alliance for Democracy in Laos. “They just say they don’t know anything and haven’t seen anything, and that’s concerning.”

“The Lao government should tell his family the truth,” he said.

On Dec. 13, relatives of Sombath Somphone conducted a Buddhist ceremony at the Nakhoun Noi Forest Temple outside Vientiane to mark the anniversary of his disappearance, one family member told RFA.

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (22)

My dearest Sombath,

Today is again 15 December 2020. Every year as this date approaches, my heart aches even more than normally. Today, eight years ago, you were abruptly and so cruelly taken away from me. The images of how you were taken away flashed across my mind just as vividly now as eight years ago when I first saw the footages of your abduction from the police CCTV camera.

Eight years is a long time to wait for some news of what happened to you and your whereabouts. Are you well? Are you healthy? Are your living conditions okay? And invariably the question that comes to my head everyday, which I inevitably tries to push away as soon as it arises is “Are you still alive?” Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (22)”

After eight years, civil society worldwide demands the government establish and reveal Sombath’s fate and whereabouts

FIDH: 15 December 2020

On the eighth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, reiterate our calls on the government of Laos to reveal his fate and whereabouts, and to investigate all allegations of enforced disappearances in the country to bring those responsible to justice in fair trials.

The government’s ongoing failure to thoroughly, independently, and impartially investigate the cases of Sombath and other alleged victims of enforced disappearance is compounded by its total lack of commitment to address this issue. Continue reading “After eight years, civil society worldwide demands the government establish and reveal Sombath’s fate and whereabouts”

Dear Sombath…from S.Y. Chin (4)

Dear Sombath,

My colleagues, authors and I remember you vividly.

We also remember clearly your inspiring dedication to your beautiful country and your love for the communities you dedicated your life’s work to.

It is fast approaching eight years since we last received an email from you.We look forward to resuming our collegial communication with you.

I wish you and Shui Meng the best as we end 2020 and embark on 2021 when I very much hope to hear from you.

S.Y. Chin, Publisher