Zeven jaar spoorloos in Laos

NPO Radio: 13 december 2019

(Klik op de link hierboven voor audio}

Komende zondag is het precies zeven jaar geleden dat daar in het Aziatische staatje Laos de activist Sombáth Somphòne spoorloos verdween. Sombáth verliet zijn land in de jaren zeventig, toen de communistische partij er de macht overnam, maar keerde er weer terug om aan de slag te gaan als maatschappelijk werker en zich in te zetten voor duurzaamheid. Blijkbaar heeft hij daarbij vijanden gemaakt. Sombáth werd voor het laatst gezien vlakbij een politiepost in de hoofdstad. Zuidoost-Azië correspondent Kris Janssens zocht zijn vrouw op, die al zeven jaar leeft tussen hoop en wanhoop.

Laos democrats fight a lonely losing struggle

Asia Times: 27 November 2019

Sombath Somphone, a well-known civil society organizer, is the most famous “forced disappearance” in Laos.

International community muted amid another anti-democratic clampdown in communist-run Laos

A small demonstration of a few dozen people advocating for human rights was set to take place in the Lao capital of Vientiane on November 11, in what would have been a rare protest in the repressive one-party state.

However, authorities swooped in and arrested eight would-be protesters before they could take to the streets. There are unconfirmed reports that dozens more associated with the thwarted demonstration may be missing.

Demonstrations are highly uncommon in Laos, which has been ruled by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, a repressive communist party, since 1975. Only a handful of pro-democracy protests have ever taken place under communist rule, most lasting only minutes before being broken up by authorities. Continue reading “Laos democrats fight a lonely losing struggle”

Asia’s Disappearing Activists

The Diplomat: 30 August 2019

“In Southeast Asia, the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone in 2012 continues to be an emblematic case.”

Since June 2019, over a million people have taken to the streets of Hong Kong on a weekly basis to demonstrate. Protesters have faced attacks and injuries as police used tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray to quell protests.

The original target of the protests was a proposed change to Hong Kong’s extradition law. Hong Kongers’ fear of the bill is justifiable. Amendments to the Fugitives Offenders Ordinance Bill would allow individuals, including human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society activists, to be sent to mainland China to face trial, even if the person was outside the mainland when the crime was committed. China’s justice system is notorious for its lack of independence from the government, and the Chinese Communist Party has a record of arbitrary detention, torture, and fabricating legal cases against activists and journalists. Continue reading “Asia’s Disappearing Activists”

Wife, Rights Organizations Remember Missing Lao Activist on International Day of the Disappeared

Radio Free Asia: 30 August 2019

Artwork displayed at an event in Bangkok, Thailand to commemorate the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on August 30, 2019.

Sombath Somphone, a Lao activist who has been missing for seven years amid stonewalling by his country’s communist government, was commemorated in Bangkok on Friday, the International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

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.

Continue reading “Wife, Rights Organizations Remember Missing Lao Activist on International Day of the Disappeared”

WorldLink: The disappearance of Sombath Somphone

Deutsche Welle:  28 June 2019


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.

(Link for audio interview)

Search For Husband Now at a ‘Dead End’

Radio Free Asia: 28 May 2019

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.

Forced disappearance

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.

Tough questioning

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 finally tells the truth about Laos

Asia Times: 01 April 2019

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.

Continue reading “UN finally tells the truth about Laos”

Enforced Disappearance – Into the Night and Fog

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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”

Wife of Sombath Somphone Calls Again on Laos for Answers to His Disappearance

Radio Free Asia: 12 December 2018

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.

“It’s the same situation,” Ng said.

“They keep saying that they cannot find Sombath, that they are still investigating,” she said. Continue reading “Wife of Sombath Somphone Calls Again on Laos for Answers to His Disappearance”

Six years on, wife of disappeared Laos activist ‘can’t move on’

Channel New Asia: 12 December 2018

Six years of searching have brought no answers and little solace to Sombath’s 72-year-old wife, Shui-Meng Ng AFP/CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT

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.

His case cast a dark cloud over civil society in Laos and highlighted dangers faced by activists, journalists and human rights defenders in Southeast Asia who risk being targeted with impunity. Continue reading “Six years on, wife of disappeared Laos activist ‘can’t move on’”