Sombath Somphone, EU aid, LDC status and human rights

At the UK Foreign Office, Andy Rutherford of the AEPF-IOC is asking…

In 2018, Lao PDR will be reviewed against markers for graduation from LDC status as a beginning of the process of assessing Lao PDR’s aspiration to graduate from LDC status by the 2020s.

…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.

 

International Human Rights organisations and the Asia Europe People’s Forum are of the opinion that the Lao Government is in breach of its human rights commitments, due to the enforced nature of Sombath’s disappearance and its failure to ensure the safe return of Sombath. There are also significant concerns about the restrictions on civil society.

 

Notwithstanding the clear statement of the European Union quoted above, 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.

 

…It is the view of many organisations that Lao PDR graduation from LDC status is not acceptable given its consistent record of human rights violations , including the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone.

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

Leaving No Stone Unturned: The Continuing Search for Truth and Justice for Sombath Somphone

AFAD: 17 December 2017

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a staunch Lao civil society leader and community development activist who advocated for rural community-based development, especially among the youth. On the fateful evening of December 15, 2012, Sombath was abducted by policemen in Vientiane. Evidence obtained of Sombath’s abduction was caught on CCTV, where it showed that he was stopped and taken away on a pickup truck in front of the police station. Laotian authorities immediately denied any involvement in his abduction, which speaks volumes of the palpable culture of impunity in the country that is felt significantly to this day.

Since Sombath’s disappearance, there has been massive support all over the world for the campaign to resurface him safely. The movement “The Sombath Initiative,” led and represented by his wife Shui Meng Ng, has struggled indefatigably to find truth and justice not only in the case of Sombath, but also in the myriad human rights violations committed by other repressive states. (more…)

Laos: 5 Years Since Civil Society Leader’s ‘Disappearance’

Human Rights Watch: 15 December 2017

Disclose Sombath Somphone’s Fate or Whereabouts

The government of Laos should immediately disclose the fate or whereabouts of the prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone who was forcibly disappeared in the capital, Vientiane, in December 2012, Human Rights Watch said today.

Sombath Somphone is still missing five years after he was forcibly disappeared in Vientiane, Laos. “Five years on, Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ highlights the glaring problems of enforced disappearance, widespread rights violations, and the culture of impunity protecting government officials in Laos,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government needs to end its cover-up and explain what happened to Sombath.”

Sombath, the founder and former director of the Participatory Development Training Centre, received Southeast Asia’s prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005. Security camera footage shows police stopping Sombath’s jeep at 6:03 p.m. on December 15, 2012, and police taking him into the Thadeua police post. Shortly afterward, an unidentified motorcyclist stopped at the police post and drove off with Sombath’s jeep, leaving his own motorcycle by the roadside. A few minutes later, a truck with flashing lights stopped at the police post. Two people got out of the truck, took Sombath into the vehicle, then drove off. The authorities later denied any knowledge of Sombath being taken into custody. He has not been seen since.

Five years on, Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ highlights the glaring problems of enforced disappearance, widespread rights violations, and the culture of impunity protecting government officials in Laos. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director

At a news conference in Bangkok on December 7, 2017, Shui-Meng Ng, Sombath’s wife, publicly revealed that people she declined to name had seen Sombath at a police holding facility in Vientiane on the night of December 15, a number of hours after he was publicly seen at the police checkpoint. She said that his jeep was seen at the parking lot of that facility on the same evening.

This newly public information demonstrates the inadequacy of the official investigations into Sombath’s disappearance and the contours of a cover-up by Lao authorities. The authorities have repeatedly dismissed concerns raised by Sombath’s family, foreign governments, and human rights groups about whether the government investigation was serious.

Shui-Meng Ng told Human Rights Watch:

Five years on, we are sadly no closer to finding Sombath than we were in the week after he was taken from us. The only thing that has progressed over that time is the Lao government’s cover-up, and the wall of denial and delays it has constructed to buy time. While disheartened, the friends of Sombath all around the world will never give up demanding answers.

Laos has signed, but not ratified, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under international law, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution. Disappearances are a continuing offense that cause anguish and suffering for the victim’s family members.

“Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ will be a stain on the Lao government’s reputation until his fate is explained and those responsible are fairly prosecuted and punished,” Robertson said. “Donor governments, UN agencies, and multilateral organizations should keep raising concerns with Lao leaders until there are credible answers about Sombath’s fate.”

Five years on, 122 organizations worldwide demand to know: “Where is Sombath?”

FIDH: 15 December 2017

On the fifth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, express outrage at the Lao government’s failure to independently, impartially, effectively, and transparently investigate Sombath’s disappearance, reveal his whereabouts, and return him to his family.

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

Sombath was last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street of the Lao capital, Vientiane, on the evening of 15 December 2012. His abduction was captured on a CCTV camera near the police checkpoint. The footage strongly suggests that police stopped Sombath’s vehicle and, within minutes, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove him away in the presence of police officers. CCTV footage also appears to show an unknown individual driving Sombath’s vehicle away from the city center before returning sometime later. (more…)

Lacking the grit to take up Sombath case

Bangkok Post: 14 December 2017

The year-end period is supposed to be the time for celebrations with loved ones. But for Ng Shui Meng, wife of the missing rural community developer in Laos, Sombath Somphone, this time of year is traumatic.

On the evening of Dec 15, 2012, her husband disappeared mysteriously. He was last seen in CCTV footage. Grainy video footage showed Sombath’s Jeep being stopped at a police checkpoint that evening.

His disappearance received wide attention that goes beyond the landlocked country or even the region. There are reports that global personalities such as Desmond Tutu and US senator Hillary Clinton asked the Lao government to launch an investigation. Known for his non-violent nature, Sombath was a high-profile social worker and a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the equivalent of Asia’s Nobel Prize.

Before his suspected abduction, Sombath had challenged land deals negotiated by the Lao government that would have resulted in the mass relocation of villagers. At first, the Lao police pledged to look into the case. Yet the investigation went nowhere and the authorities claimed they could not verify the identity of the man shown in the video and refused offers of outside expert to help analyse the footage. (more…)

Will Donors Remember?

As donors, diplomats and development partners gather for this year’s Roundtable Implementation Meeting in Pakse, will they take time to consider those who were arrested or disappeared in this same city in November 2000 and October 2001, simply for expressing their views?

Will they recall the students who met similar fates earlier in Vientiane in October, 1999?

Will they remember Sombath Somphone or Sompawn Khantisouk, who have been enforcibly disappeared, or their families, who continue to suffer without knowing the fate or alleged wrongdoing of their loved ones? (more…)