A look at a worrying aspect of the country’s deteriorating human rights situation.
If you were to survey articles that focus on the human rights situation in Laos, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that does not reference the “disappearance” of Sombath Somphone, an internationally acclaimed civil society leader who was kidnapped from the streets of Vientiane in late 2012. Leaked CCTV footage shows him being stopped by the police before being taken to a police outpost nearby. Then, a jeep pulls up and two men kidnap him, and someone else drives his car away. He hasn’t been seen since.
The ruling Communist Party claims it launched an investigation, but has released few convincing details about its progress. The government has also refused to admit any responsibility. Based on the evidence we have so far, few serious observers would deny that the most likely scenario is that Sombath was abducted, rather than simply disappearing, despite the fact that the latter continues to be the characterization used. Continue reading “Beware the Destruction of Civil Society in Laos”
A recently introduced law regulating civil society organizations (CSOs) in Laos has further restricted their work, according to sources in the sector, who said groups now face lengthy delays in funding, while others are being forced to operate as small businesses or shut down completely.
Five years ago, Shui-Meng Ng and her husband, Sombath Somphone, were driving their car through Vientiane. It was on that day that he disappeared.
Security camera footage at a checkpoint showed police officers stopping his Jeep. Sombath, a well-known civil society leader, is shown getting out of his vehicle. Moments later, a lone motorcyclist arrives, parks his bike, and drives away in the Jeep. Then an unmarked white pickup pulls up and Sombath gets in the truck, which drives away.
Activists say the police closed-circuit television shows Sombath being arrested at the police checkpoint. Shui-Meng has not heard from her husband since.
MANILA, Philippines — More than a hundred civil society organizations have slammed the government of Laos for its “failure to independently, impartially, effectively, and transparently investigate” the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a social activist who worked to promote sustainable development for the rural poor, and return him to his family.
“The Lao government’s continued silence and obfuscation of the facts around Sombath’s enforced disappearance have subjected his family to five years of fear and uncertainty over his fate and whereabouts, which remain unknown to this day,” the groups said in a statement released Saturday, December 16.
Students, NGO officials, and diplomats held a remembrance service in Vientiane on Friday to commemorate a prominent civil society leader who vanished five years ago at a police checkpoint outside the Lao capital, while rights groups worldwide demanded to know his whereabouts.
The group gathered at the Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC) to mark the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, who founded the nonprofit center devoted to sustainable social, economic, and environmental development.
Sombath’s widow, Ng Shui Meng, who has repeatedly called on the Lao government to answer questions surrounding the fate of her husband, thanked the center for continuing to believe in Sombath’s vision and ideas.
Five years ago on the Friday before Christmas, distraught colleagues and friends of Sombath Somphone gathered at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand after his disappearance in Laos’ capital, Vientiane. Last week, after another press conference at the FCCT on his case, we are nowhere closer to the truth than we were in 2012, but a new revelation adds weight to the widely held belief that the Laotian government was behind his disappearance.
A respected advocate for sustainable development and community empowerment, Sombath was driving home when he was stopped at a police checkpoint in Vientiane on the evening of December 15, 2012 – five years to the day before the publication of this article. Video footage showed him, moments after he got out of his car, being escorted by a group of unidentified individuals into a white van and driven away. An unidentified person then drove Sombath’s car away.
Last week, it was revealed that witnesses, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, saw Sombath in a police holding facility in Vientiane later that same evening, with his car parked nearby. In 2015, Ng Shui-Meng, Sombath’s wife, also obtained and publicly released additional closed-circuit TV footage showing Sombath’s car being driven toward the city center by an unknown individual. This suggests that the vehicle’s whereabouts could likely be traced. Continue reading “Laotian police likely involved in Sombath abduction, new details suggest”
The year-end period is supposed to be the time for celebrations with loved ones. But for Ng Shui Meng, wife of the missing rural community developer in Laos, Sombath Somphone, this time of year is traumatic.
On the evening of Dec 15, 2012, her husband disappeared mysteriously. He was last seen in CCTV footage. Grainy video footage showed Sombath’s Jeep being stopped at a police checkpoint that evening.
His disappearance received wide attention that goes beyond the landlocked country or even the region. There are reports that global personalities such as Desmond Tutu and US senator Hillary Clinton asked the Lao government to launch an investigation. Known for his non-violent nature, Sombath was a high-profile social worker and a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the equivalent of Asia’s Nobel Prize.
Before his suspected abduction, Sombath had challenged land deals negotiated by the Lao government that would have resulted in the mass relocation of villagers. At first, the Lao police pledged to look into the case. Yet the investigation went nowhere and the authorities claimed they could not verify the identity of the man shown in the video and refused offers of outside expert to help analyse the footage. Continue reading “Lacking the grit to take up Sombath case”
The development suggests that more of the same is at work in this realm in the Southeast Asian state.
Five years after Lao activist Sombath Somphone disappeared after being snatched off the streets of Vientiane by police, rights concerns in the tiny, landlocked Southeast Asian state still remain significant and unresolved.
Last year’s change in government, with a new prime minister in charge of the one-party state, had also raised hopes that this type of atrocious and anachronistic behavior might finally have come to an end with Thongloun Sisoulith touted as a more moderate leader.
But those hopes are proving about as realistic as finding Somphone alive.
Perhaps even more disappointing, as noted by Human Rights Watch, is that while donor support for the development of Lao civil society organizations has increased significantly, so too have government restrictions.
The wife of disappeared Lao rural development activist Sombath Somphone called on the government of Laos on Thursday to answer questions surrounding the fate of her husband, who vanished five years ago at a police checkpoint outside the Lao capital Vientiane.
Joined by a Malaysian parliamentarian and by rights group members at a press conference held in Bangkok, Ng Shui Meng said that repeated promises made by Lao authorities to investigate Sombath’s disappearance have led nowhere.
“I am asking the Lao government again to tell the truth,” Ng, a resident of Singapore, said a week before the fifth anniversary of Sombath’s forced disappearance, apparently at the hands of state-linked figures.
“I need to know whether he is alive or dead,” Ng said.
“It has been five years now since Sombath disappeared. I need answers, and I will keep asking these same questions until I get them,” she said.