UN experts concerned by disappearance of Lao human rights defender

OHCHR: 01 October 2019

…the Government of Lao PDR has yet to take meaningful action to resolve the case of civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who was disappeared in 2012, despite repeated commitments to do so.

GENEVA (1 October 2019) – UN human rights experts* have expressed serious concerns about the disappearance of a prominent Lao human rights defender, Od Sayavong, who went missing in Thailand just months after meeting a UN special rapporteur.

They urged the Thai Government to clarify the steps taken to locate Od, who had been recognized as a refugee by the UN refugee agency, and to ensure the security of other vulnerable Lao human rights defenders in Bangkok.

Od was last seen at his home in Bangkok on 26 August 2019. On 2 September, a colleague reported his disappearance to the Thai police. Authorities have not provided information as to his whereabouts. Continue reading “UN experts concerned by disappearance of Lao human rights defender”

Asia’s Disappearing Activists

The Diplomat: 30 August 2019

“In Southeast Asia, the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone in 2012 continues to be an emblematic case.”

Since June 2019, over a million people have taken to the streets of Hong Kong on a weekly basis to demonstrate. Protesters have faced attacks and injuries as police used tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray to quell protests.

The original target of the protests was a proposed change to Hong Kong’s extradition law. Hong Kongers’ fear of the bill is justifiable. Amendments to the Fugitives Offenders Ordinance Bill would allow individuals, including human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society activists, to be sent to mainland China to face trial, even if the person was outside the mainland when the crime was committed. China’s justice system is notorious for its lack of independence from the government, and the Chinese Communist Party has a record of arbitrary detention, torture, and fabricating legal cases against activists and journalists. Continue reading “Asia’s Disappearing Activists”

Wife, Rights Organizations Remember Missing Lao Activist on International Day of the Disappeared

Radio Free Asia: 30 August 2019

Artwork displayed at an event in Bangkok, Thailand to commemorate the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on August 30, 2019.

Sombath Somphone, a Lao activist who has been missing for seven years amid stonewalling by his country’s communist government, was commemorated in Bangkok on Friday, the International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

Sombath Somphone disappeared on Dec. 15, 2012, when police stopped him in his vehicle at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Vientiane. He was then transferred to another vehicle, according to a police surveillance video, and has not been heard from since.

Continue reading “Wife, Rights Organizations Remember Missing Lao Activist on International Day of the Disappeared”

Australia: Press Laos to Protect Rights

Human Rights Watch: 12 August 2019

The Lao government has never disclosed the fate or whereabouts of a prominent civil society leader, Sombath Somphone, who was forcibly disappeared in the capital, Vientiane, in December 2012.

Dialogue Should Address Enforced Disappearances, Free Speech

The Australian government should press the Lao government to take serious steps to remedy its poor human rights record at the 6th Australia-Laos human rights dialogue on August 12, 2019, in Canberra, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a June submission, Human Rights Watch urged the Australian government to use the dialogue to focus on enforced disappearances of Lao and Thai nationals, and to press the Lao government to end its systematic restrictions on the rights to freedom of speech, association, and assembly. Other key human rights concerns include abusive drug detention centers, repression of minority religious groups, and violence against women and girls.

“Australia is one of the few countries that has a human rights dialogue with Laos and so should make the most of this opportunity to press for change,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Laos has a horrific human rights record, which is often overlooked.”

Laos is a single-party state that bans opposition political parties and sharply curtails independent groups. The government strictly monitors and controls all television, radio, and publications. It has taken further legislative measures to strengthen censorship and government control.

The Lao government has never disclosed the fate or whereabouts of a prominent civil society leader, Sombath Somphone, who was forcibly disappeared in the capital, Vientiane, in December 2012.

Australia should also press the government to investigate the disappearance of three Thai political activists who were abducted in Vientiane in December 2018. DNA samples from mutilated bodies found in the Mekong River matched two of the missing activists, Kraidej Luelert and Chatchan Buphawan, raising grave concerns for the third activist, Surachai Danwattananusorn, who remains missing. The two bodies had been disemboweled and stuffed with concrete.

“Australia should break the silence that surrounds Laos’ suppression of fundamental human rights and play a key role in encouraging international concern and pressure for reform,” Robertson said.

Related Content: Submission to Australia Laos Human Right Dialogue, June 2019

Invitation: 2nd Sombath Somphone Public Lecture

Growing Prosperity with Organic Farming

Dr. Yang Saing Koma, Cambodia, agronomist,  founder of CEDAC, and recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award

    • Friday, 2nd August, 15.15 – 16.45 PM
    • 8th Floor, Chaloem Rajakumari 60 Building, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand


This is the second Sombath Somphone Public Lecture. The first lecture was held in 2018. It was presented by Seng Raw Lahpai, Myanmar, Founder of Metta Development Foundation and recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award.

The purpose of the annual lecture is to enliven our remembrance of Sombath Somphone not only as a victim of forced disappearance but primarily as a community leader who stood for an important mission in society. By inviting persons and organisations who are engaged in similar movements and aspirations in various countries and contexts, we express our solidarity and international recognition of the need to protect the freedom of change agents to fulfill their visionary vocations.

UN member states must continue to ask “Where is Sombath?” during human rights review

FIDH: 18 July 2019

(Paris) United Nations (UN) member states must use the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos to continue to demand the Lao government determine the fate or whereabouts of civil society leader Sombath Somphone, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) urged today.

The two organizations made the call in their joint submission for the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, which is scheduled to be held in January-February 2020 in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Sombath’s case is emblematic of the pervasive culture of impunity for human rights violations in Laos and the climate of fear that has been gripping local civil society. The international community must continue to press the Lao government to deliver justice for Sombath and his family and hold those responsible for his enforced disappearance accountable.” Debbie Stothard., FIDH Secretary-General

In January 2015, 10 UN member states (Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK) recommended the Lao government conduct an adequate investigation into Sombath Somphone’s enforced disappearance.

In July 2018, the government said it had been “trying very hard” to investigate Sombath’s disappearance. However, this statement has been contradicted by the government’s ongoing refusal to accept international assistance in conducting the probe and to provide any details about the progress of its investigation.

Sombath Somphone was last seen on the evening of 15 December 2012 in Vientiane. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage showed that police stopped Sombath’s car at a police post. Within minutes after being stopped, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove away. Analysis of the CCTV footage showed that Sombath was taken away in the presence of police officers, a fact that supports a finding of government complicity.

“The UPR represents a rare opportunity for all UN member states to engage the Lao government on human rights issues. The international community should be relentless in its calls on the Lao government to address the serious and systematic human rights violations that continue to occur in the country.” Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR President

The joint FIDH-LMHR submission focuses on the following human rights issues in Laos since the second UPR cycle, which began in January 2015: freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of association; enforced disappearances; torture; prison conditions; freedom of religion or belief; the right to participate in the design and implementation of infrastructure and investment projects; and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs.

WorldLink: The disappearance of Sombath Somphone

Deutsche Welle:  28 June 2019


On December 15, 2012, Laotian activist Sombath Somphone was abducted in the capital Vientiane. He has not been seen since. After leaving the then-communist country in the 1970s, he later returned and became an internationally acclaimed development worker. Despite his peaceful methods, he apparently made some enemies on the way. His wife Shui-Meng recalls the events of her husband’s disappearance.

(Link for audio interview)

UN Special Rapporteur speaks out for Sombath

76. The Government should finally allow a meaningful investigation of the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a widely admired civil society leader, last seen getting into a vehicle after being stopped at a police checkpoint in 2012.

91. Allowing civil rights sores to fester is not in anyone’s interests. The Government should demonstrate good faith by inviting the Working Group on enforced disappearances to investigate cases including that of Sombath Somphone, and it should remedy the injustices suffered by the Sekong Province detainees.

From the final report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights .

Search For Husband Now at a ‘Dead End’

Radio Free Asia: 28 May 2019

More than six years after her husband’s disappearance at a Lao police checkpoint, the wife of rural development advocate Sombath Somphone says her search for answers to her husband’s fate has now reached a dead end.

“In talking about pushing the case forward, I have come to a real dead end,” Ng Shui Meng told RFA’s Lao Service, speaking in an interview during this year’s International Week of the Disappeared.

“I have heard from the EU ambassador, the U.K. ambassador, and other ambassadors of Western countries that when they raise the case of Sombath with the Lao government, they are told that they are still investigating,” Ng said.

Now, Lao authorities say they are also investigating unspecified “assets” reportedly held by Sombath, Ng said.

“But instead of talking to me to get any kind of answers about what assets Sombath has, they say they are investigating. And they are talking to the ambassadors based in Vientiane rather than talking to me,” she said.

“The police don’t talk to me. The Lao government and the authorities don’t talk to me,” Ng said.

Forced disappearance

Sombath Somphone disappeared on Dec. 15, 2012, when police stopped him in his vehicle at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Vientiane. He was then transferred to another vehicle, according to a police surveillance video, and has not been heard from since.

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 sparked rare popular protests in Laos, where political speech is tightly controlled.

His decades of work on behalf of farmers and sustainable agricultural practices helped him win 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.

Though authorities have denied any responsibility, Sombath’s abduction is widely acknowledged to be an enforced disappearance—the arrest or detention of an individual by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the person or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty.

Tough questioning

In a July 11-12 meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Committee held in Geneva, Switzerland, Lao government representatives evaded tough questioning in the case, drawing  attention instead to what delegate Bounkeut Sangsomsak called previously unreported assets held by Sombath, including parcels of land and property in the Lao capital Vientiane worth from 1 to 2 million U.S. dollars.

“Where did all this money come from?” Bounkeut asked.

In a statement, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson said the Lao government is “still engaged in a systematic cover-up of their direct responsibility for the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone.”

“At every step of the way, powerful people in Vientiane have sought to frustrate the efforts of Sombath’s family, and by the international community, to find out what the government did to Sombath.”

“These authorities have also played games with Sombath’s property, denying official documents to the family that would allow them to take care of Sombath’s personal and financial arrangements,” Robertson added.

“The way Laos has treated this whole situation is despicable, and the Lao government deserves utter condemnation for their actions.”

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.

AEPF Calls on EU and UK for action, not just words

The Lao government’s continued silence and obfuscation of the facts around Sombath’s enforced disappearance have subjected his family to six years of fear and uncertainty over his fate and whereabouts, which remain unknown to this day.

European development partners have committed approximately USD 550 million in support of the implementation of the Government’s 8th NSEDP (2016-2020). This represents over 30 percent of all the ODA received by the Lao Government to date. Nearly all of the European ODA is provided in grants.

…it would appear that the ODA support given by the EU and other donors continues and that formally there have not been moves to suspend or change the flow of ODA in spite of human rights abuses by the Lao PDR.

…as a member of the multi-lateral institutions, including The European Union, that are donors to Laos, The United Kingdom should actively engage in, and if necessary initiate, discussions to suspend the flow of ODA to the Lao PDR.

Excerpts from letter to the Rt. Hon. Mark Field, Member of UK Parliament, from Andy Rutherford, member of International Organising Committee, Asia Europe People’s Forum