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?

Universal Periodic Review: Accepted recommendations from the first cycle

UN LogoBelow are some of the recommendations made during the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in 2010 that were accepted:

  • Continue its recent efforts in the area of the ratification of important human rights conventions, and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and accede to the Convention against Torture
  • Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
  • Involve civil society, including human rights non-governmental organizations, in the follow-up to this review
  • Allow media and civil society organizations to undertake education, advocacy, monitoring and reporting on human rights issues
  • Develop a national human rights plan of action to improve awareness of the conventions to which the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a party, and encourage civil society engagement on human rights issues
  • Remove all Internet monitoring and control facilities restricting the use of the Internet
  • Allow privately owned media outlets to be established

A full listing of the recommendations is available here.

Universal Periodic Review: Lao human rights under scrutiny

UN LogoThe Lao PDR is scheduled for the second Universal Periodic Review of its human rights record on 20 January 2015. In preparation for this event, many organisations from civil society, the United Nations and the Lao government have submitted reports.

Nearly all of the submissions from stakeholders not subject to Lao government control raise the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, many emphatically. These include:

The United Nations, and specifically the UN Lao Country Report, also raise concerns about Sombath’s disappearance, despite reported pressure from the Lao government to exclude any such reference.

In its report, the Lao government, which has repeatedly claimed it is more concerned than anybody else, ignores the issue entirely.

Will donors demand accountability?

With regard to the disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone, The Government of Lao PDR has concerns more than any nation. The Government has investigated and exchanged information with his family and ASEAN nations to find the person. Indeed, the Government of Lao PDR will continue the investigation process in accordance with its legal procedures and bring those involved into the justice.

Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from Report of the 11th High Level Round Table Meeting, held 19-21 November 2013.

  • Logo-Speak OutGovernments, agencies and organisations from across the globe continue to call for a more serious investigation, but no one has expressed satisfaction with efforts to date. No one.
  • No meaningful information has been provided to Sombath’s family. None.
  • There has been no indication of any investigation for well over one year. None.

Will donors continue to support this status quo, or demand accountability?

Consultation or Censorship?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised a consultation meeting on the draft National Report of the Lao PDR under the UPR [Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council] for representatives of stakeholders including social, professional, academic and non-profit organisations in Vientiane recently.

The meeting participants exchanged views and provided input on the draft report of the Lao PDR for the second cycle which has been prepared following a series of consultations among government agencies and relevant stakeholders.

Phoukhong SisoulathDirector General of the Department of Treaties and Law, Secretary General to the Lao National Steering Committee of Human Rights Mr Phoukhong Sisoulath chaired the meeting.

Mr Phoukhong stressed the importance of consultations with representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs) as part of meaningful participation in the UPR process…

Vientiane Times, “PDR Prepares for Regular Rights Review,” 11 October 2014

APHR understands that the United Nations Resident Coordinator of the Lao PDR was asked to remove any mention of Sombath’s disappearance from its Universal Periodic Review Submission. The UN Resident Coordinator did not acquiesce to the government’s request.

Non-governmental workers and civil society actors are also held under a strict code of self-enforced silence, fearful of repercussions if they raise what has become one of the most sensitive issues for the Lao regime.

LOGO_APHR“The script that the Lao authorities are reading from has become progressively tighter over the past 18 months: there appears to be a concerted effort to undermine now even the most fundamental, seemingly incontestable aspects of the investigation,” Mr. Santiago said.

“Individuals requesting honest answers to very basic questions are being treated like agitators and enemies. This is an unacceptable distortion of the reality of the situation.”

If the Lao government really wants to solve this case and is as concerned as the rest of us, then why is it blocking all possible avenues for the investigation? asked APHR.

Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, “Lao Government’s Deceptive Game on Sombath must End,” 23 September 2014


Concern or Censorship?

Screen Shot 2013-02-01 at 22.53.08 PMWhile the Lao government has repeatedly expressed its concern about Sombath’s disappearance, it appears to also be censoring any mention of his name.

Following the fifth annual EU-Lao “Working Group on Human Rights and Governance” held on 19 May 2014, an EU press release stated:

The EU also raised a number of individual cases of concern, in particular the case of the disappearance of Mr Sombath Somphone, a prominent civil society activist. Mr Sombath’s disappearance is seen by the EU with grave concern and remains unexplained.

But while a Vientiane Times article released soon thereafter copies much of the EU statement exactly, it omits any mention of Sombath. Not surprisingly, the Vientiane Times also fails to report:

…the EU expressed concern regarding the limitation of freedom of expression, particularly the freedom of the media.

Chronology of Complacency

Question MarkIn the over 600 days since Sombath’s abduction, there have been virtually no results from the official investigation.

Almost immediately, authorities concluded they were not responsible.

Since that time, reports have consisted largely of irrelevant details, denials, and claims that efforts continue with the utmost seriousness and urgency.

A draft chronology of major events to date is available here. Updates will be added when they become available.

Concerned friends, colleagues and organisations from across the world continue to hope for more results, and less rhetoric.


Investigation Update: Yet more Backtracking

sombath-somphone-response-to-senate-20140616-1-1In a 21 May 2014 letter to the Honorable John Hogg, President of the Australian Senate, and in response to a motion passed by the Australian Senate, Phoumma Khammanichanh, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, states:

…since the incident unfolded the authorities concerned have conducted a series of thorough investigation and collected some information that may be relevant to the missing Mr. Sombath Somphone. …At present, the authorities concerned are continuing to seriously carry on the investigation. (Emphasis added)

The letter also asserts:

The CCTV footage obtained from the police and widely posted on the internet by Mr. Sombath’s wife, as a matter of fact, did not give any clear picture of who or what is what therein. Consequently, no one could confirm what really happened for all the persons and vehicles seen in the footage were unclear at all. 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. (Emphasis added)

This is not, however, what was reported to a group of Asean Parliamentarians during their visit to Vientiane on 16 January 2013.

We noted discrepancies in our hosts’ accounts of the circumstances of the abduction. Most of the officials we met said that there was no evidence that Sombath got into the pickup truck that appeared in the CCTV footage after his jeep was stopped. Yet Mr. Sakayane Sisouvong, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Sombath voluntarily boarded that vehicle. (Emphasis added) 

Continue reading “Investigation Update: Yet more Backtracking”

Lao Ambassador clarifies alleged new information concerning Mr Sombath Somphone

Vientiane Times: 02 January 2014

The Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Lao PDR to the UN Office in Geneva Mr Thongphane Savanphet has provided clarifications on new alleged information concerning the disappearance of Mr Sombath Somphone, which was raised by UN Special Rapporteurs.

The clarification was made on December 31, 2013, submitted to the UN office in Geneva.

The following is the full text of his clarification, precisely as received by Lao media. It reads as follows: Continue reading “Lao Ambassador clarifies alleged new information concerning Mr Sombath Somphone”