On December 15, 2012, Laotian activist Sombath Somphone was abducted in the capital Vientiane. He has not been seen since. After leaving the then-communist country in the 1970s, he later returned and became an internationally acclaimed development worker. Despite his peaceful methods, he apparently made some enemies on the way. His wife Shui-Meng recalls the events of her husband’s disappearance.
More than six years after her husband’s disappearance at a Lao police checkpoint, the wife of rural development advocate Sombath Somphone says her search for answers to her husband’s fate has now reached a dead end.
“In talking about pushing the case forward, I have come to a real dead end,” Ng Shui Meng told RFA’s Lao Service, speaking in an interview during this year’s International Week of the Disappeared.
“I have heard from the EU ambassador, the U.K. ambassador, and other ambassadors of Western countries that when they raise the case of Sombath with the Lao government, they are told that they are still investigating,” Ng said.
Now, Lao authorities say they are also investigating unspecified “assets” reportedly held by Sombath, Ng said.
“But instead of talking to me to get any kind of answers about what assets Sombath has, they say they are investigating. And they are talking to the ambassadors based in Vientiane rather than talking to me,” she said.
“The police don’t talk to me. The Lao government and the authorities don’t talk to me,” Ng said.
Sombath Somphone disappeared on Dec. 15, 2012, when police stopped him in his vehicle at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Vientiane. He was then transferred to another vehicle, according to a police surveillance video, and has not been heard from since.
Before his abduction, Sombath had challenged massive land deals negotiated by the government that had left thousands of rural Lao villagers homeless with little paid in compensation. The deals sparked rare popular protests in Laos, where political speech is tightly controlled.
His decades of work on behalf of farmers and sustainable agricultural practices helped him win the U.N.’s Human Resource Development Award for empowering the rural poor in Laos, and later the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.
Though authorities have denied any responsibility, Sombath’s abduction is widely acknowledged to be an enforced disappearance—the arrest or detention of an individual by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the person or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty.
In a July 11-12 meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Committee held in Geneva, Switzerland, Lao government representatives evaded tough questioning in the case, drawing attention instead to what delegate Bounkeut Sangsomsak called previously unreported assets held by Sombath, including parcels of land and property in the Lao capital Vientiane worth from 1 to 2 million U.S. dollars.
“Where did all this money come from?” Bounkeut asked.
In a statement, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson said the Lao government is “still engaged in a systematic cover-up of their direct responsibility for the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone.”
“At every step of the way, powerful people in Vientiane have sought to frustrate the efforts of Sombath’s family, and by the international community, to find out what the government did to Sombath.”
“These authorities have also played games with Sombath’s property, denying official documents to the family that would allow them to take care of Sombath’s personal and financial arrangements,” Robertson added.
“The way Laos has treated this whole situation is despicable, and the Lao government deserves utter condemnation for their actions.”
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.
UN Special Rapporteur on poverty and human rights plans to refer the reclusive authoritarian nation to the UN Human Rights Council for a host of abuses and failings
Communist-run Laos has had a relative knack for staying out of the news for its human rights abuses, endemic corruption and sub-par performance in providing services to its citizens. But now finally someone of prominence is speaking out.
Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, visited the land-locked nation from March 18-28, winding up his trip with an unusually forthright 23-page statement on the bleak situation in Laos that will be submitted in June to the UN Human Rights Council.
We may not be familiar with enforced disappearances in Singapore but in recent years, several disappearances of people in ASEAN countries has brought this subject to our attention.
Seven years ago, in December 2012 Sombath Somphone, disappeared in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. His Singaporean wife, Ng Shui Meng is still struggling to cope with his disappearance.
WHAT IS ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE?
The crime of enforced disappearance dates back to Nazi Germany when Adolf Hitler issued the Nacht und Nebel Erlass Decree (Night and Fog Decree) on 7 December 1941. Its aim was and still is to spread terror and insecurity in society. Victims were spirited away by State agents or groups/individuals who act on behalf of the State. They literally disappeared into “the night and fog”. Continue reading “Enforced Disappearance – Into the Night and Fog”
Six years after his disappearance at a Lao police checkpoint, the wife of rural development activist Sombath Somphone called again on the Lao government to account for his fate, saying she has been kept in the dark despite government promises to investigate his case.
“I am very sad that after six long years, I still have no news about Sombath,” Ng Shui Meng, a resident of Singapore, told RFA’s Lao Service in a phone call on Dec. 12.
BANGKOK: The wife of a prominent Laos activist who vanished after being stopped at a checkpoint on the streets of Vientiane said Wednesday (Dec 12) she “can’t move on” as the mystery over his fate remains unsolved almost six years later.
The disappearance of Sombath Somphone, an award-winning environmental campaigner, drew rare international attention to the poor rights record of Laos, an authoritarian one-party state where activists work under state scrutiny.
Sombath was last seen on the night of Dec 15, 2012, with CCTV cameras capturing the moment when police pulled him over at a checkpoint in the Laos capital. He was shown entering a separate truck with two other men and driven off.
The unsolved case of disappeared Laotian development worker Sombath Somphone is brought to light in a documentary that is screening at this year’s FreedomFilmFest in Malaysia
Sombath Somphone was an internationally renowned development worker who disappeared nearly six years ago on the streets of Vientiane, Laos. CCTV footage suggests that the police snatched him. The case is still unsolved and the Lao police and government have continued to maintain their innocence in the matter.
The 2017 documentary film The Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone, directed by Rann Penn, will be screened at this year’s FreedomFilmFest, taking place in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.
Separated by a generation, Jonas Burgos was abducted at 37 years old, Sombath Somphone a few months before turning 56
Filipino human rights activists call on the Lao government to surface Sombath Somphone, who went missing in Vientiane, Laos, in 2012. (Photo by Joe Torres/ucanews.com)
When we were invited to Europe to seek support for our search for my missing son, Jonas Burgos, my other son, who accompanied me, and I were greeted with welcome posters of Jonas with the caption “Jonas is mijn broer,” “Jonas ist mein Bruder,” “Jonas is my brother.”
The impact was such that now we have our own posters reading “Jonas is my brother.”
A few years back, I met Shui Meng Ng, a Singaporean whose husband, Sombath Somphone, is a victim of enforced disappearance. For three days, I learned about Sombath.
A harsh review by the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) of Laos’ rights record should prompt the international community to press the one-party state to make major political and legal reforms, human rights groups said on Thursday.
The Geneva-based UNHRC held talks with Laos on July 11-12 in that Swiss city and on July 26 issued a tough review of the Southeast Asian country’s compliance with its legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It was the first review since Laos became a state party to the Covenant in 2009.
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”