Today is Christmas Eve and I am in Singapore where I will be celebrating Christmas with my family. In the past, you and I also often came back to Singapore to celebrate Christmas and New Year with my family. But now it’s only me!
Sombath, to mark the ninth anniversary of your disappearance, I went to Bangkok to launch a book I wrote about you. It is called, “Silencing of a Laotian Son –the Life, Work and Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone”. The book launch took place on 14 December at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) and it was very well attended. Many people are still concerned about you and they are still outraged that after 9 years the Lao authorities still did not provide any information of the investigation of your abduction. It was clear to all that such withholding of information of your whereabouts is a cover-up. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (25)”
Another year has passed. We do not forget. We do not need an anniversary to remember.
I think of you and Sombath every single day. Let me tell you why.
When I first met Sombath, I was impressed by his calm and wisdom. His talk was soft and powerful. Then I got to know Sombath on his farm. I realised that not only was he practising sustainable living, but that his strength was rooted into his love for nature. A bright intellectual and a passionate farmer. He had built a coherent vision and developed concrete actions. He has been sharing his knowledge consistently, investing in young generations. At the time, I did not know how deep his imprint would be.
Today, I know that I would not have had the courage to make certain decisions, would I not have met Sombath. From a role model I admired at first in a diffuse way, Sombath guided our steps when setting-up an organic farm here in Indonesia, and he gave me the confidence to engage in a more sustainable way of living. Sombath and his beautiful thinking now continue clearly to inspire our engagement with the community and our willingness to operate as an open learning space. To me, Sombath is more present than ever, through the daily practice of what I have learnt from him. And his vision about a harmonised cohabitation with a generous nature proves increasingly relevant in our world, threatened by greed and destruction.
Another year has passed. Sombath is being remembered, not just for this sad anniversary. Sombath is remembered every day, and will continue to be, by the many people he has inspired and continues to inspire for the better.
Dear Shui-Meng, you and Somath are in our hearts. Today and every day to come.
Letter to Sombath Somphone 30 August 2021 to mark International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances
My dearest Sombath
Today is August 30 again, a day when the world is once more reminded that it is the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances (IDD); a day where we are reminded that there are many thousands of victims who have been abducted and snatched from the bosom of their loved ones. People around the world are urged to spare a moment to remember them and their families, and especially to remember that their families are still waiting desperately for answers of where their disappeared loved ones are, and for their safe return.
For me, my desperate wait for news of your whereabouts and your situation has already spanned nine years – nine long years of wait, and nine long years of unrelenting pain. Each year when August 30 comes around, my pain and despair heightens and the unhealed wound is reopened once more. For many others, the wait has been even longer – 15 years, 20 years…
Each year, the UN and Human Rights Organizations and Victims Organizations that work on the issue of Enforced Disappearance use the IDD to reiterate that Enforced Disappearance is a heinous crime, a violation of human dignity, and it is the worst form of human rights violations. In so doing, they hope to once again remind state-governments of their obligations under international human rights law to stop Enforced Disappearance and to render truth and justice to the victims and their families.
If not for the global Covid-19 pandemic, I would probably be spending IDD at various meetings and workshops. I would be with many other victims from across the region to bear testament to our plight, to provide solace and show solidarity with one another, and to pledge that we would continue our mutual struggle without fear or retreat until we have truth and justice. More importantly we would use the day to commemorate our loved ones and tell the world that their lives and deeds are not going to be so easily wiped out by the cowardly act of enforced disappearance.
However, the on-going Covid-19 has restricted travel and cancelled many face-to-face meetings. Despite such restrictions, we have not been silenced. We have continued to use various social network platforms and webinars to mark the IDD and to continue our advocacy and struggle against Enforced Disappearances. We do this to bear witness to the memory of all the disappeared.
Sombath, your memory and the memories of all other victims can be never be erased now or in the future. In fact with each passing day and year that the disappeared are not found or returned, their memories will echo even louder and stronger and their unjust abduction will spread further and further through their families, friends, their community and beyond. It is in this collective memory that your lives will not be lived in vain, and your legacies will be passed on.
Sombath, I take some small comfort that in being part of the movement against Enforced Disappearances, I will, together with other victims, stand up strong and bold against such violations and against those who want us to give up or to forget. We cannot forget and shall never forget, not only as long as we are alive, but even after we pass on. Your memory will be etched in the memory of the present and future generations. This is because Enforced Disappearance is a continuing crime and it is recorded in the UN as an ongoing crime until we know the truth about what happened to you.
My dearest Sombath, I must tell you, that even here in Laos, where the perpetrators of this crime want us to forget what happened to you, you have not been forgotten. Even now people in the international community and organizations and networks continue to ask “Where is Sombath?” They keep asking for your whereabouts to show they still care about your case, and to remind the Lao authorities, that despite the deliberate wall of silence erected around your disappearance, you will not be forgotten until you are safely returned.
So Sombath, my love, stay strong and be well. My love, know that I am not alone in my search for you. I am joined in solidarity and unity with all freedom and justice loving people from across the globe, especially on this International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, that you and other victims are very much in our memory. We will never forget and we will not stop our search until we find you and have you returned safely.
It has been awhile since I last wrote you. Even though I have not been writing to you much, I have not forgotten you, nor have I given up on the struggle to get truth and justice for you.
Since March 2020, our world has been turned upside down by the global Covid-19 pandemic. Many countries have closed their borders to travel and many countries have also mandated lockdowns to control the spread of the virus.
Many human rights organizations and activists across the world have seen their international and regional meetings and conferences, and advocacy and mobilization activities greatly reduced or even halted. This has caused a great blow to the continued momentum and growth of human rights movements and activities nationally, regionally and globally.
Following the cessation of most international face-to-face events, my participation in many of these human rights and enforced disappearances activities have also become largely reduced to only a few zoom meetings and webinars. Hence, I have become less active, and my voice has not been heard much at regional and international human rights meetings and conferences. But this does not mean I have given up seeking truth and justice for you and for other victims of enforced disappearance.
I need to find ways to keep up my struggle and I know that one way is to keep reminding people that you are still missing and the facts of your unjust disappearance is still hidden by a wall of denial and lies.
My dearest Sombath, let me reassure you once more that as long as I still draw breathe, you will not be forgotten. Recently, I spoke at opening of the 13th AEPF Meeting through Zoom. I told those who attended the meeting that despite my disappointment of the lack of progress, and my anger at the injustice done to you, I also know that to give up on fighting for truth and justice is not an option. To give up is to give in to what the perpetrators most want; and to lose hope is to lose part of my dignity, my humanity, and my love for you.
So, my dearest Sombath, I promise you that I will soldier on against all odds and to continue my fight for truth and justice for you and to continue my plea for solidarity and support for the resolution of this inhuman and unjust crime.
The last week of May each year is dedicated as the International Week of the Disappeared to remind everyone that there are hundreds of thousands of people who have been unjustly disappeared and whose families are still waiting for their return. So I too want to use my letter to you to remind people who remember and love you that we too will not forget you. We too want you to come home to us.
Dearest Sombath, words cannot express how much I continue to miss you and pine for your return. Be well and stay healthy til the day we meet again.
Today is again 15 December 2020. Every year as this date approaches, my heart aches even more than normally. Today, eight years ago, you were abruptly and so cruelly taken away from me. The images of how you were taken away flashed across my mind just as vividly now as eight years ago when I first saw the footages of your abduction from the police CCTV camera.
Eight years is a long time to wait for some news of what happened to you and your whereabouts. Are you well? Are you healthy? Are your living conditions okay? And invariably the question that comes to my head everyday, which I inevitably tries to push away as soon as it arises is “Are you still alive?” Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (22)”
Today I write to tell you that PADETC, the organization you started since 1996, is officially deregistered. It has been a difficult decision for me to request to deregister PADETC, an organization you had worked so hard to establish and lead for so many years.
However, over the past 7 years since you disappeared, the authorities have denied renewal of PADETC’s license of operation. In fact some people in government do not even want to hear the name of PADETC mentioned. For this reason, most of the PADETC staff have left the organization.
Even though the passing of PADETC is sad, I am sure you would support my decision to deregister the organization. I remember you telling me back in 2008, that you had to prepare for PADETC to evolve to meet the changing times.
In 2008, you had already started to pave the way for PADETC to devolve from being just a development/training organization dependent on external donor funds to become self-sustaining independent entities. To prepare for this process, you had started mentoring and coaching your staff, based on their capacities and interests, to branch out and develop their own operation units that would be initially affiliated with PADETC, but over time these would become their own independent organizations or enterprises. PADETC itself would downsize and be transformed into a small mentoring and coaching center, and would eventually be dissolved.
So between 2009 to 2012, some of your more enterprising staff were already running their own affiliated units, providing consultancy services in the following areas: media training and audio/visual production; community forestry management; community services; organic farming training and operations; finance and management operations; and small business enterprises.
Your enforced disappearance in December 2012, fast-forwarded your plans of pushing his staff out to the real world and establish their own organizations.
Over time most of your staff have left PADETC, some for fear of being associated with you, but a number went off to establish their own organizations, with many continuing to use your development concepts of sustainable development and guiding principles in their own work.
So, my dearest Sombath, despite your disappearance, and despite you not being here to guide and mentor many of the young people and younger staff you have trained, your vision and mission have continued and your concepts on sustainable development have spread far and wide.
As you so often said to me, “everything changes, the only unchangeable thing is change itself”. Once more your foresight has proven correct.
I am sure, wherever you are, you will also be relieved and pleased to know that despite the fact that PADETC is no more, your ideas and your vision of PADETC have lived on in many different forms. Like a strong steady tree, its seeds have spread far and wide.
I don’t know whether you know that the whole world is now facing a serious pandemic caused by a coronavirus named COVID-19. It’s a Sars-like virus, but appears to be much more contagious, and has so far infected more than a million people world-wide and caused more than 50,000 deaths.
So to slow the spread to the virus, many countries across the globe have declared a lockdown, meaning that people should stay at home and not go anywhere unless really necessary.
In Laos, the Prime Minister announced a lockdown from 01 -19 April. All schools, offices and businesses are closed with people asked to work from home. Pimai celebrations, parties, and gatherings involving large numbers of people are also forbidden.
So, over the last few days, I, like most residents in Vientiane, have stayed at home. Just 3 days into the lockdown, I begin to feel uneasy, with a sense that the house is like a prison. Yes, I can walk around in the garden, read, listen to music, watch TV, do everything I can normally do in the house, except go out.
Today, my thoughts suddenly wondered to you – thinking to myself, what it would have been for you these last eight years living a locked down (or more likely locked-up) existence somewhere. I asked myself, what is your situation – are you kept in isolation in a small room, or are you allowed some freedom of movement. How are you keeping yourself physically and mentally busy? Are you able to keep healthy; what kinds of food do you have; do you have access to reading and writing material; and how are you keeping mentally alert?
In the past I have also often thought about such things, and even though I know it would be very difficult for you, I could never quite understand how bad or terrible it could be. But now when my own freedom of movement has been somewhat restricted, the full force of what your deprivation of freedom actually meant, and the toll it would take on your physical and mental wellbeing came to me more vividly than ever. It hit me in the gut like nothing has ever hit me before, leaving me gasping for air.
My love, I can only hope that you, who I know is strong of mind and of spirit, would be able to draw on your inner strength to sustain you. I can also only hope and pray that the injustice you were made to suffer will quickly be righted, your freedom restored, and you will come home to us soon.
My dearest, I also hope that wherever you are, you will not be expose to the COVID-19 virus. I can only hope and pray for the best for you and for those people you are with. May you be well, may you be healthy. and may you be happy.
Today is Valentine’s Day. Lots of people are showing their love by sending red roses and candies to their loved ones.
I recalled one Valentine Day many years ago, I asked you why I did not get any roses from you. You smiled and said “Why would I just give you roses on one day to show my love for you. Don’t you see, I have planted ‘Star Flowers” for you and when it blooms you will see a constellation of stars like my love for you”.
Today, the Star Flowers you planted are again blooming, and it made me reflect once more on your wisdom and on what really counts. For you whatever you do, you do with intention which is never shallow or just to please. Very often in the past, I had wished your were not so bloody pragmatic and practical, but now that you are not here with me, I understand that all you did for me, for our family, and for others, you did them with thoughtful intention and loving kindness. Continue reading “Dear Sombath….from Shui Meng (19)”
Today is 15 December 2019. It’s already 7 years today that you were so ruthlessly taken away from me, your family, and friends. Who could have imaged that 7 years have gone by and there is still a wall of silence surrounding what happened to you. However, with each passing day, the silence from those who took you speaks louder than words, and shows clearly their guilt and lack of ability to admit the truth of the injustice done to you.
Never the less, my dearest Sombath, the passing of time does not mean that you are forgotten. In the days leading up to your 7th anniversary, I have received so many messages from friends, colleagues, and even people who have never met you, to express their solidarity, love and blessing for you, wishing you strength, good health and your safe return to us.
To mark your 7th anniversary, we held a prayer and blessing ceremony for you at Wat Na Khoun Noi Forest temple – the temple that you have had such a long and close affiliation with, and have helped initiate the Buddhist Development Program to train monks, nuns and novices to use the Buddhist teachings as the basis for development of the self, and their families and communities. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (18)”