Missed Opportunities: Recommendations for Investigating the Disappearance of Sombath Somphone

International Commission of Jurists: 11 December 2014

Lao PDR: properly investigate Sombath’s “disappearance”, ICJ report says

ICJTwo years after prominent Laotian activist Sombath Somphone was last seen at a police checkpoint, the Laotian government must do more to investigate his suspected enforced disappearance, said the ICJ in a new report released today.

In the report, Missed Opportunities: Recommendations for Investigating the Disappearance of Sombath Somphone, which was co-authored by Michael Taylor QPM, a leading international investigator, the ICJ noted that despite the passage of two years since Sombath Somphone’s apparent enforced disappearance on December 15, 2012, very little information about the progress of investigation has been released to the public or his family.

“The fact that the Lao PDR government’s last report on the progress of the investigation was released over 18 months ago raises serious concerns as to whether the Laotian authorities are in fact carrying out an effective investigation into this case as they are required to do under international law,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

“It is not enough for the Laotian government simply to assert it is investigating this case. International law obliges Lao PDR authorities to conduct an investigation that is credible and effective, along the lines suggested in ICJ’s report.” Continue reading “Missed Opportunities: Recommendations for Investigating the Disappearance of Sombath Somphone”

ລຸງສົມບັດຫາຍຕົວໄປ… Uncle Sombath disappears…

ລຸງສົມບັດຫາຍຕົວໄປ… Uncle Sombath disappears…

Computer Monitorຈື່ໄດ້ວ່າ… ຕັ້ງແຕ່ຫົວຄ່ຳຈົນຮອດຕອນກາງຄືນວັນທີ 15/12/2012 ພວກເຮົາໂທຫາລຸງສົມບັດບໍ່ໄດ້.. ພວກເຮົານອນບໍ່ຫຼັບເພາະລຸງສົມບັດບໍ່ເຄີຍໄປໃສໂດຍບໍ່ບອກຈັກເທື່ອ ມັນປະຫຼາດອີ່ຫຼີ.. ພວກເຮົາຂັບລົດອ້ອມ ຕົວເມືອງວຽງຈັນ ໄປໂຮງໝໍມະໂຫສົດ ໂຮງໝໍ 103 ໂຮງໝໍ 150 ຕຽງຈົນຮອດ 2 ໂມງເຊົ້າເພາະຄິດວ່າອາດຈະ ເກີດອຸປະຕິເຫດກັບລຸງສົມບັດ ພວກເຮົາຖ້າຈົນເຊົ້າວັນທີ 16/12/2012 ແລ້ວໄປແຈ້ງຄວາມກັບຕຳຫຼວດເພາະ ເຄີຍໄດ້ຍິນວ່າຖ້າຄົນຫາຍເກີນ 24 ຊົ່ວໂມງແມ່ນໃຫ້ໄປແຈ້ງຕຳຫຼວດ ລົງບັນທຶກໄວ້ກັບປກສ ນະຄອນຫຼວງ ໃນໃຈກໍຮູ້ສຶກອຸ່ນໃຈວ່າຕຳຫຼວດຈະຊ່ວຍເຮົາໄດ້ແນ່ນອນ

Remembering… From early in the evening of 15 December 2012 until the middle of the night we couldn’t get through to Uncle Sombath’s phone… We could not sleep because Uncle never went anywhere without telling us… We drove around Vientiane, to hospitals–Mahosot, 103 and 150–until two AM because we thought he might have had an accident. We waited until the morning of 16 December, and then reported to the police, because we had heard that if someone was missing for more than 24 hours, it should be reported to the Vientiane police. Our hearts were somewhat warmed because we felt the police would certainly help.

ຫຼັງຈາກນັ້ນ… ຄິດໄດ້ວ່າມີກ້ອງວົງຈອນປິດຢູ່ບ່ອນທີ່ເມຍລາວເຫັນລາວຄັ້ງສຸດທ້າຍ ກໍຄື ຢູ່ປ້ອມຕຳຫຼວດຫຼັກ 3. ໃນວັນທີ 17/12/2012 ຕອນເຊົ້າ ພວກເຮົາກໍເຮັດເອກະສານຂໍອະນຸຍາດເຂົ້າເບິ່ງ ແລະ ໄດ້ຮັບການຮ່ວມມືເປັນ ຢ່າງດີ..ເຖິງວ່າຫົວໜ້າໃຫຍ່ບໍ່ຢູ່ຜູ້ເພິ່ນເປັນຮອງກໍເຊັນອະນຸຍາດໃຫ້… ພວກເຮົາກໍຮູ້ສຶກອຸ່ນໃຈວ່າຈະໄດ້ຕົວ ລຸງສົມບັດກັບມາແນ່ນອນ ແລະ ພວກເຮົາກໍພົບລຸງສົມບັດໃນພາບບັນທຶກກ້ອງວົງຈອນປິດ ພວກເຮົາຂໍບັນທຶກໄວ້ ທາງຕຳຫຼວດກໍອະນຸຍາດ ແຕ່ບອກວ່າຄອມສຽບ USB ບໍ່ໄດ້ ໃຫ້ທາງຄອບຄົວເອົາກ້ອງມາຖ່າຍເອົາ… ພວກເຮົາກໍເຮັດຕາມນັ້ນ…

After that…we remembered a closed-circuit camera at the place his spouse last saw him, at the kilometre three police post. On the morning of 17 December 2012, we wrote a request for permission to view the recording, and received good cooperation…even though the main supervisor was not in, the deputy signed the request… We again felt encouraged, that we would get uncle Sombath back for sure. When we saw Uncle Sombath in the closed-circuit recording, we asked to record it and the police agreed. We couldn’t plug a USB into the computer, but the family could use a camera, so that is what we did.

ຫຼັງຈາກນັ້ນ…ໃນຕອນຕອນສວາຍຂອງມື້ດັ່ງກ່າວພວກເຮົາຂໍເຂົ້າໄປເບິ່ງກ້ອງວົງຈອນປິດອີກ ປາກົດວ່າເພິ່ນບໍ່ ໃຫ້ເບິ່ງອີກແລ້ວ ເພາະວ່າຫົວໜ້າສັງຫ້າມບໍ່ໃຫ້ເບິ່ງ…

Then…around noon on the same day, we asked to view the closed-circuit recording again, but were not allowed to. The supervisor had forbidden it.

ແນວໃດກໍຕາມ ພວກເຮົາໄດ້ຂອບໃຈຕຳຫຼວດທີ່ຢ່າງໜ້ອຍກໍໃຫ້ຄອບຄົວເຮົາໄດ້ເຂົ້າເບິ່ງ ແລະກໍມີຄວາມຫວັງວ່າພາບດັ່ງກ່າວຈະຊ່ວຍໃຫ້ເຮົາສືບຫາຫາລຸງສົມບັດ…

In any case, we thank the police that let the family view the recording, and hope that it helps us to find Uncle Sombath…

A Consummate Failure

LOGO_APHRAsean Parliamentarians for Human Rights has submitted a report to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to be used in the upcoming Universal Periodic Review of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in early 2105. Excerpts include:

The members of APHR would like to express their deep dismay at the lack of political will to conduct a serious investigation into the disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone.

… The Lao investigation has so far been a consummate failure.  APHR questions the sincerity of the current investigation and calls for the government of the Lao PDR to give full support as necessary and as requested for the establishment of an international and/or regional investigation into Sombath’s disappearance;

…APHR calls on the Lao Government to provide meaningful, detailed information about the progress of the investigations to Sombath’s family, lawyers and others with a legitimate interest, including the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the UN Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearance.

… APHR calls on UN member states to vote against Lao PDR’s bid to sit on the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 pending its acceptance and implementation of the above recommendations;

The full statement can be seen here. Similar reports have also been submitted by;

Clarification from US Embassy

Screen Shot 2013-05-26 at 15.22.48 PMIn response to speculation that Sombath may carry a US passport, the US Embassy in Laos has issued a letter to his wife stating the embassy has…

“…conducted an extensive search of our U.S. passport database and have found no record that Mr. Sombath Somphone has ever applied for or been issued a U.S. passport.”

The letter can be seen here.

Still no listing on Interpol

As shown in the screenshot below, Sombath Somphone is still not included in Interpol’s register of missing persons, even though Lao government authorities reported on March 2nd that they had notified the agency.


Third letter from Sombath’s wife

Third Appeal to the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic 

Ng Shui Meng, Wife of Sombath Somphone, 30 January 2013

This is my third appeal to the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to release information or results of investigation of the disappearance of my husband, Sombath Somphone, on the evening of 15 December 2012.

Today is the 45th day since my husband’s disappearance and I have done all I can to cooperate with the police and provided information to assist the investigation and find my husband as quickly as possible.  I have also met with the National Assembly Vice-President and his staff to appeal to the National Assembly, as the representatives of the people, to urge the police to expedite the investigation.  But all these efforts have not yielded any concrete information related to the progress of the investigation, other than statements that “the police are still investigating”.

There are still no answers to my queries regarding:

  1. What did the police manning the police post the evening of Sombath’s disappearance on 15 December 2012 said what happened that night, and what did they see?
  2. Whether the motorcyclist who drove away Sombath’s jeep has been identified?
  3. Has Sombath’s jeep (License plate No.: 2624) been found?
  4. Whether the white truck with flashing lights that stopped at the police post and took my husband away been identified?
  5. Has the driver of the white truck who drove away with my husband been questioned?
  6. If the footages were too blurry, as claimed by the police, has the Ministry of Public Security sought technical assistance from any other government or international security agencies? Are they too blurry for the entire Tha Deua Road CCTV cameras?
  7. Has the Lao police issued an Interpol Yellow Notification to inform colleagues in the region about Sombath’s disappearance and sought their assistance?

To all these questions I have not had any satisfactory answers. Continue reading “Third letter from Sombath’s wife”

An Open Letter to all Lao Groups

By Ng Shui Meng (Wife of Sombath Somphone)

25 January 2013

Since the disappearance of Sombath Somphone on 15 December 2012 in front of a police check-point at KM 3 Thadeua Road, many Lao people living inside and outside the country have expressed openly or in private their shock and sympathy to me and my family and have sent wishes for Sombath’s safe return.  To you all, I want to say a “BIG THANK YOU”.

Sombat at Ramon Magsasay Award CeremonyHowever, there are also some Lao groups or individuals who have used the very sad event of Sombath’s disappearance to spread harmful rumors or outright lies about Sombath for their own political or private purposes.

I would like to once and for all put to rest many of these lies and harmful rumors:

  1. Sombath is not affiliated with any political groups in-country or outside the country as implied by some comments or assertions on some websites.  Sombath loves Laos and the Lao people, and he fully supports the development vision of the Lao Government as expressed in the Lao National Economic and Social Development Plan.  As a private Lao citizen, he sees his role as supporting the Lao Government to implement its development plan, especially at the community level.  He has done so for the past 30 years, and he has worked tirelessly to try to improve the lives of Lao people, especially those living in rural areas, by contributing his knowledge and skills, and always working in consultation and in collaboration with the people and the government.
  2. Sombath is a Lao citizen and has no dual nationality.  He only holds a Lao passport.
  3. Sombath has not misused any funds in connection with any project or program.  He has not absconded any money from any project or program as has been rumored as the reason for his disappearance.

Dear Fellow Lao, please remember


An Open Letter to Sombath’s Well-­Wishers

From Ng Shui Meng, wife of Sombath Somphone

Since Sombath disappearance on the evening of 15 December 2012, my family and I have been touched by the great love, concern and support shown by friends, colleagues, international and regional agencies, civil society groups, government spokespersons, and Sombath with Tutu (cropped)the media who have joined hands to urge the Government of the Lao PDR to invest all their resources and capacities in their ongoing investigation of Sombath’s whereabouts, and to return him safely to me and to my family. We are most grateful and deeply touched by such show of solidarity for Sombath’s well-­‐ being.

While many articles and statements written about Sombath’s disappearance and urging his safe return have been helpful, some of the reports and comments also contain some factual errors or speculations. My greatest wish is the personal safety and well-­‐being of my husband, Sombath, wherever he is. For this reason, I urge all well-‐wishers not to stray away from the facts or to misrepresent Sombath or the nature of his work.

The facts as I know them

  1. Sombath was last seen on 15 December 2012 driving in his jeep behind my vehicle. We were both going home to dinner. The last time I saw him from my rear view mirror was around 6:00 p.m. near the police post on KM 3 on Thadeua Road.
  2. When he did not return home that night, we searched for Sombath’s whereabouts around the area where he was last seen and also searched the city’s hospital in the hope of finding Sombath, but to no avail.
  3. On 16 December, we reported Sombath missing to the village, district and police authorities. Family searches were once more carried out in all the city’s hospitals, but there was no sign of Sombath.
  4. On 17 December 2012, a request was made to the Vientiane Municipality Police Station to view the close circuit TV footages recorded by CCTV cameras near the police post where Sombath was last seen. The police officers on duty were very cooperative and allowed us to view the CCTV footages. From the TV footages, we saw Sombath stopped by the police at the police post. We saw Sombath get out of his jeep and enter into the police post.
  5. Later a motorcyclist came by, parked the motorcycle near the jeep, running into the police post and later emerged and drove Sombath’s jeep away.
  6. After a few minutes, a white truck with flashing lights stopped by the police post and two or three people were seen getting into the vehicle which drove off in a hurry. Continue reading “An Open Letter to Sombath’s Well-­Wishers”