Renewed Focus on Lao Activist on International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances

RFA: 30 August 2017

A display to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances in the Thai capital Bangkok, Dec. 30, 2017 (Note: The event was about enforced disappearance in Thailand, and did not address Sombath or Laos specifically.)

Supporters of Sombath Somphone renewed their focus on the missing rural development activist on Wednesday, using the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances to press Laos to solve the nearly five-year-old mystery of his disappearance.

Video footage show’s Sombath’s Jeep being stopped at a police checkpoint on the evening of Dec. 15, 2012. In the video Sombath is herded into a white truck and taken away, and a man dressed in white returns and drives off in his Jeep.

Soon after he was kidnapped, police promised to investigate, but Lao authorities soon backtracked, saying they could no longer confirm whether the man in the video footage was actually Sombath. (more…)

ASEAN MPs Ask Australia to Pressurize Laos on Human Rights

Latin America Herald Tribune: 18 July 2017

BANGKOK – Lawmakers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) urged Australia to pressurize Laos to respect human rights on Monday.

Representatives of the two countries are set to meet for a human rights dialogue on Tuesday and Wednesday in Vientiane, the Laotian capital.

“The human rights situation in Laos continues to be abysmal. Since Sombath’s disappearance, the space for independent civil society in the country – already one of the most repressive in the region – has narrowed considerably. Meanwhile, the public as a whole remains deeply fearful of raising sensitive issues,” Charles Santiago, Malaysian MP and president of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said in a statement.

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Australia must tackle ‘dire’ situation in human rights talks with Laos – NGOs

Asia Correspondent: 17 July 2017

SET to enter the fifth round of human rights talks with Laos on Tuesday, civil society groups have called upon the Australian government to criticise a lack of progress regarding basic rights and freedoms in the one-party Southeast Asian nation.

The Australia-Laos Human Rights Dialogue is set to be held in the Laotian capital of Vientiane on July 18 and 19, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) reports to have received numerous submissions from local civil society organisations.

Australia is one of only two countries which have regular bilateral dialogue on human rights issues with the tiny communist state of Laos. Coincidentally, this year the two countries mark 65 years of diplomatic relations. The most recent Dialogue was held in Canberra in 2015.

A statement from the Australian embassy in Vientiane earlier this year highlighted “Laos’ relationship with Australia is the country’s longest unbroken diplomatic relationship at ambassador level.” Australia is also home to a sizeable Laotian community, many of whom came as refugees. (more…)

See Who’s Asia’s No. 2 Police State After North Korea, And It’s Not China

Forbes: 27 December 2016

We know about North Korea as Asia’s most hardcore police state. The government enslaves and kills people who dispute the policies of leader Kim Jong-un.

Laos looks free and happy by contrast. Travelers can walk across the quiet, uncluttered capital Vientiane’s commercial-tourist district in an hour if that. A string of cafes near the riverside make French coffee. Slow-moving, smiling vendors are more likely to miscount change in your favor than cheat. The warm orange hues of Buddhist monks and temples radiate from streetsides. Westerners can get visas on arrival at the Vientiane airport. The idea of a police state would seldom occur to the interloper in Laos, though it’s a one-party Communist country.

Now try being a Laotian citizen with gripes about how things are run. Authorities in the country with a population of 7 million make some of Asia’s most chilling grabs of dissenters. Laos is better known for “disappearances” compared to putting people on trial after detention periods as practiced in communist China and Vietnam. And you never know when you might say something that disappears you, a deterrent to speaking out. (more…)

Missing activists’ wives call for justice

Bangkok Post: 20 December 2016

Human rights activists whose husbands are still missing years after they mysteriously vanished have urged the government to pass a law on preventing enforced disappearances, to address human rights violations.

Prominent human rights campaigner Angkhana Neelapaijit urged Thai authorities to enact the Torture and Enforced Disappearance Prevention and Suppression bill as quickly as possible, regardless of the fact that no missing persons case has been resolved.

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