Lao Delegation Ducks Questions at UN Rights Review

Radio Free Asia: 16 July 2018

Lao delegate Phoukhong Sisoulath addresses the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, July 11, 2018. Screen grab from UN Web TV

Lao government representatives evaded tough questioning at a U.N. review of the country’s rights record last week, speaking to points that had not been raised and saying that villagers arrested for refusing to leave confiscated land had sought to block the country’s development.

Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, from July 11 to 12, the U.N. Human Rights Committee (CCPR) examined for the first time the state of civil and political rights in communist Laos. The committee tracks the compliance of state signatories to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Laos became a state party to the Covenant in 2009.

Addressing the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, an agricultural expert who vanished at a police checkpoint outside the Lao capital Vientiane in 2012, Lao delegate Bounkeut Sangsomsak refused to answer detailed questions from the Committee concerning government efforts to find the missing civil society leader. Continue reading “Lao Delegation Ducks Questions at UN Rights Review”

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (16)

My dearest Sombath,

This letter is one of the most difficult letters I have to write to you.  It’s difficult because I have been so emotionally drained over the last two days following the live broadcast of the Lao Government’s initial report to the UN Committee for Human Rights in Geneva on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Of most interest to me is of course to hear answers to the questions posed by the expert panel of the UN Human Rights Committee on your enforced disappearance 66 months ago on 15 December 2012. Sixty-six long months have passed and I am still waiting for information about what happened to you on that fateful night.  Not one day has passed that I did not hope and pray that you will come back to me safely. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (16)”

“The Lao Government…is still seriously conducting the investigation”

31. The missing of Sombath Somphone is an unexpected incident for the Lao government as it happened after the Lao PDR successfully hosted the 9th ASEM in Vientiane in November 2012.

32. His missing is of concern to the Lao Government like the missing of any Lao citizen. Immediately after the missing happened the Lao Government established an investigation committee within the Ministry of Public Security to conduct investigation into the missing incident. From day one of its work the committee sent notice to all police headquarters across the county to find any clue which may be related to the incident. Furthermore, the investigation committee sent out notice to Interpol and ASEANAPOL for them to have looks for any information which may be related to the case. The Investigation Committee has always been open to views or suggestions to help the investigation and Committee is ready to receive suggestions from any interested parties with regard to the investigation which is still ongoing to the present time. It is the duty of the Lao government to find out the truth and bring perpetrators to justice in accordance with the law of the Lao PDR which has signed the Convention on Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

33. The Lao Government would like to reaffirm that the investigation committee is still seriously conducting the investigation. The investigation committee in the past made briefing to the Medias and all interested parties on the progress of the investigation and most recently the chief of the investigation committee met with foreign ambassadors and his wife whom the committee informed of the investigation. In addition, the Lao PDR accepted a number of recommendations under the UPR which are relating to the missing case.

From Lao Government’s response to Letter of Issues submitted by the UN Human Rights Council (CCPR). The full letter and response can be download here.

We need time…

Thongphane SavanphetOn the missing Case of Mr. Sombath Somphone… Today, I would like to reassure that the concerned authorities of the Lao PDR have conducted and are still seriously conducting the investigation and will continue to do so to find out the truth and to bring perpetrators to justice in accordance with the law of the Lao PDR. A missing case is complex and difficult to solve quickly. We need time and our concerned authorities are trying their utmost efforts under the law of the Lao PDR.

Mr. Thongphane Savanhphet, Permanent Representative of the Lao PDR to the United Nations in Geneva, to the 29th Session of the Human Rights Council on 25 June 2015.

Facts & Fictions

Logo-Speak Out-Points to PonderSince Sombath Somphone’s abduction on December 15, 2012, many inferences have been made, both in public and in private, about why he was taken.

Just days after he disappeared, government officials speculated it may have been due to a personal or business conflict.

Variations on this theory have been repeated many times, both by diplomats and those purported to be responsible for the official investigation.

Even at the Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council in January, 2015, it was suggested it may have been a conflict with a criminal group.

Yet after more than two years of what is claimed to be a serious and thorough investigation, there has been no information or evidence given to support such allegations. None.

The Lao PDR is a People's Democratic State

The Lao PDR is a people’s democratic state. All powers belong to the people, and are exercised by the people and for the interests of the multi-ethnic people. The State protects the freedoms and democratic rights of the people. All acts of bureaucratism and harassment detrimental to the people’s honor, physical well-being, lives, consciences and property are prohibited.

From the Lao National Report submitted for the Universal Periodic Review held in Geneva on 20 January 2015.

Lao delegation speaks on human rights

Vientiane Times: 31 January 2015 ພາສາລາວ

Government officials held a news briefing in Vientiane on Friday about the outcome of Laos’ participation in the second cycle of the UN Human Rights Council Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland, from January 20-23.

Boupha-UPR
Mr Phongsavath Boupha ( centre ) talks about the outcome of the UN Human Rights Council Periodic Review second cycle in Geneva.

Minister, Head of the President’s Office, Chairman of the Lao National Steering Committee on Human Rights, Mr Phongsavath Boupha, highlighted the Lao PDR’s achievements in advancing the promotion and protection of human rights in Laos since the first cycle of the review in 2010.

He also reiterated the progress made in the implementation of the country’s constitution and laws, policies, good governance, socio-economic development, poverty reduction, realisation of the MDGs, regional and international cooperation on human rights, and the implementation of human rights conventions to which Laos is a party.

Mr Phongsavath said the achievements made during the past five years enable the Lao multi-ethnic people to enjoy fundamental rights in accordance with the nation’s constitution and laws.

He noted that during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) meeting, some 74 countries made statements and recommendations, many of which commended the efforts and achievements of the Lao PDR in the promotion and protection of human rights.

During the meeting, the Lao delegation provided further information, explanations and clarification on certain questions and issues of interest that led to a better understanding of the human rights situation in Laos.

The Lao delegation provided information regarding the ongoing investigation into the missing of Mr Sombath Somphone, among other issues raised by some countries. Continue reading “Lao delegation speaks on human rights”

Investigation Update: Yet another Reversal

Yong ChanthalangsySoon after Sombath was taken from in front of a police post on 15 December 2012, government statements issued in the KPL Lao News Agency and by Yong Chanthlangsy, Permanent Representative of the Lao PDR to the UN in Geneva in the Vientiane Times, clearly indicate that it was Sombath in the CCTV footage.

Phengsavanh _ThiphavongxayHowever, subsequent reports on behalf of the investigating committee by Phengsavanh Thipphavongxay, Deputy Director General, General Police Department in the Vientiane Times, allege the persons in the recording could not be identified.

Phoumma KhammanichanhThis new interpretation was taken further by Phoumma Khammanichanh, the Lao Ambassador to Australia, in a letter to John Hogg, President of the Australian Senate, claiming the CCTV “…did not give any clear picture of who or what is what therein… Particularly Mr. Sombath himself could not be precisely identified. Therefore, many people can not but keep wondering if Mr. Sombath did actually disappear in the place captured by the CCTV.”

Boupha-UPRBut Phongsavath Boupha, Chairman for the Lao National Steering Committee on Human Rights, again changes course in his statement at the Universal Periodic Review about Sombath’s disappearance on January 20th. Addressing accusations the Lao government might have been involved, Mr. Boupha asserts:

“…these accusations can be refuted by referring to the mere fact that the incident happened in front of a police CCTV camera, and the police authorities, based on their duties under the law, cooperate sincerely with his wife and relatives, allowed them to view and record the CCTV footage.”

Sombath-exits-JeepIf the CCTV footage is not clear enough to identity Sombath or his disappearance (as claimed by the investigative committee and Ambassador Khammanichanh) how can that same footage refute accusations that authorities may have been involved in the incident?

Also, if the police were conducting “…their duties under the law…” when allowing relatives to view the CCTV, why have they denied any subsequent access, and are still refusing to release the original file?

Lao authorities ask for suggestions…while ignoring those made previously

In his recent remarks at the Universal Periodic Review, Phongsavath Boupha, the Chairman for the Lao National Steering Committee on Human Rights, said:

“…the investigation committee has always been open to views and suggestions, and is ready too receive suggestions from any interested parties…”

If authorities are sincerely seeking suggestions, they might begin with these from Canada, the European Union, the United States, and UN Special Rapporteurs made last month on the two-year mark since Sombath’s disappearance.

On this same occasion, suggestions were also made by Amnesty International, the Magsaysay Foundation, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and 82 International Rights Groups.

In addition, the International Commission of Jurists released a report with specific suggestions through which Lao authorities might “…fulfill their obligations under international law.”

More recently, a number of suggestions were offered by Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights.

Scores of additional appeals, statements and suggestions from the above and many other concerned governments, organisations  and individuals can be found here.

More comments and recommendations have been made during the Universal Periodic Review itself. If Lao authorities are truly “…ready too receive suggestions from any interested parties…”, will they work to ensure these are included in the Outcome Report?

Finally, Mr. Boupha suggests that Lao authorities “…cooperated sincerely with [Sombath’s] wife and relatives, allowed them to view and record the footage.”

What better way to demonstrate their sincerity and seriousness than to simply release the original recording, a suggestion that has been made dozens of times?