Activists Pressure Lao Government on Missing Civil Society Leader

Voice of America: 15 December 2017

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.

“Today, Sombath is still missing,” she told VOA’s Lao Service. “I have no choice, I cannot remain silent. I cannot let the … work of Sombath and his dreams and hope for building a better society in Laos” be forgotten. Continue reading “Activists Pressure Lao Government on Missing Civil Society Leader”

5 years after disappearance of Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, 122 groups ask, ‘Where is Sombath?’

Interaksyon: 15 December 2017

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.

Sombath, a 2005 recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, often called “Asia’s Nobel Prize,” disappeared the night of December 15, 2012. Continue reading “5 years after disappearance of Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, 122 groups ask, ‘Where is Sombath?’”

Students, NGOs Hold Remembrance Service For Disappeared Lao Activist

Radio Free Asia: 15 December 2017

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.

Sombath went missing 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 police surveillance video, and has not been heard from again. Continue reading “Students, NGOs Hold Remembrance Service For Disappeared Lao Activist”

Laotian police likely involved in Sombath abduction, new details suggest

Asian Times: 15 December 2017

By SHAIVALINI PARMAR AND SHIWEI YE

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”

Lacking the grit to take up Sombath case

Bangkok Post: 14 December 2017

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”

New Guard, Old Problems: What Sombath Somphone’s Continued Disappearance Says About Rights in Laos

The Diplomat: 13 December 2017

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.

Continue reading “New Guard, Old Problems: What Sombath Somphone’s Continued Disappearance Says About Rights in Laos”

ครบรอบ 5 ปี การหายตัวไปของ ‘สมบัด สมพอน’

ประชาไท: 09 ธันวาคม 2017

5 ปีผ่านไปหลังจากคดีลักพาตัวอื้อฉาว ที่เจ้าหน้าที่ทางการลาวเป็นผู้ก่อเหตุลักพาสมบัด สมพอน นักกิจกรรมพัฒนาของลาวผู้มีชื่อเสียงระดับนานาชาติ ผู้เชี่ยวชาญกล่าวว่ารัฐบาลลาวแทบไม่มีปฏิบัติการค้นหาความจริง ขณะเดียวกันการบังคับให้สาบสูญในกรณีนี้ยังทำให้เกิดการอภิปรายถกเถียงกันเกี่ยวกับเรื่องความทะเยอทะยานของรัฐบาลลาวในการส่งเสริมเศรษฐกิจผ่านโครงการพัฒนาขณะที่กดขี่สิทธิพลเมืองในวันที่ 15 ธ.ค. 2560 จะเป็นวันครบรอบ 5 ปี นับตั้งแต่มีคนพบเจอสมบัดเป็นครั้งสุดท้ายกับครอบครัว ในวันที่ 15 ธ.ค. 2555 กล้องวงจรปิดของสถานีตำรวจที่กรุงเวียงจันทน์มีการบันทึกภาพเจ้าหน้าที่รัฐลักพาตัวสมบัดจากบนถนน มีการหยุดรถจี๊ปของเขาก่อนที่จะพาตัวเขาส่งขึ้นรถบรรทุก ซุยเม็งเอ็ง ภรรยาชาวสิงคโปร์ของสมบัดเปิดเผยว่ามีพยานพบเห็นสมบัดและรถจี๊ปของเขาในที่กักขังของตำรวจ Continue reading “ครบรอบ 5 ปี การหายตัวไปของ ‘สมบัด สมพอน’”

Sombath Somphone’s Wife Calls Again on Laos to Explain His Disappearance

RFA: 08 December 2017

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.

Video footage shows Sombath’s Jeep being stopped at a police checkpoint on the evening of Dec. 15, 2012. In the video, Sombath is shown being forced into a white truck and taken away a short time after a man dressed in white arrives and drives off in his Jeep. Continue reading “Sombath Somphone’s Wife Calls Again on Laos to Explain His Disappearance”

5th anniversary of Sombath Somphone disappearance

Prachathai: 07 December 2017

Five years after the abduction of the prominent, internationally acclaimed Lao development worker Sombath Somphone by Lao state agents, the Lao government has done very little to find the truth, experts said. Meanwhile, the enforced disappearance of Sombath has raised debates about the Lao government’s ambition to boost its economy through development projects, while it continues to suppress civil rights.

15 December 2017 marks five years since Sombath was last seen by his family. On 15 December 2012, CCTV at a police checkpoint in Vientiane recorded footage that shows that state agents abducted Sombath from the street. His jeep was stopped and then he was escorted into a truck. According to Shui Meng Ng, Sombath’s Singaporean wife, a witness later saw Sombath and his jeep in a police holding centre.

“Although five years have passed, every day I’m still haunted by the images of what happened to him,” said Shui Meng at a conference ‘Sombath Somphone 5 Years On’ held in Bangkok on 7 December 2017.

Shui Meng, who was the Deputy Representative for UNICEF in Laos between 2000 to 2004, said the Lao authorities have always denied responsibility and refused to give her any information. “For me, it’s almost like the response is one of denial, denial, denial until people are tired of the case. Then the case will be literally disappeared, and Sombath will be forever disappeared. But I keep saying I don’t care how long it will take. I will continue to ask, to struggle and to campaign for the return of Sombath. I see this as the need to have truth and justice. I cannot not have the truth.”

She added that the Lao police have summoned her through the Singaporean embassy several times.

“This signal is very clear; if somebody like Sombath can be disappeared, anyone can be disappeared,” said Sombath’s spouse. She said the enforced disappearance of Sombath created a climate of fear among civil society workers when even a non-violent, non-confrontational high-profile civil society worker like Sombath, who never intended to enter politics, can be disappeared, adding that the climate of fear among Lao civil society is still strong even after five years have passed.

Charles Santiago, a Malaysian MP and Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), said the enforced disappearance of Sombath is clearly a state-sanctioned action. As an APHR member, Santiago has made multiple visits to Laos since 2012 to inquire about Sombath’s disappearance, as well as the broader situation for civil society, but has never received a satisfactory answer from the Lao authorities.

Santiago said Sombath is one of the leaders of ASEAN — a leading civil society worker of ASEAN. However, ASEAN failed to speak out for Sombath and has always avoided the issue, claiming its non-interference principle. “In this way, our dictators get away with murders with no accountability.”

In 2005, Sombath was awarded the Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership because of “his hopeful efforts to promote sustainable development in Laos by training and motivating its young people to become a generation of leaders”.

Son of a poor farmer family, Sombath received a scholarship to study at the University of Hawaii where he received a bachelor’s degree in Education and a master’s degree in Agriculture.

Sombath returned to Lao after the establishment of the one-party socialist regime and the end of the Vietnam War. Sombath’s work is mainly in the field of sustainable agriculture and development and education.

A lower-middle income economy, Laos is one of the fastest growing economies in Asia Pacific, with GDP growth averaging 7.8 percent over the last decade, through the exploitation of the country’s natural resources, mostly water, minerals and forests, according to the World Bank. In 2011, Laos announced its ambition to be the battery of a power-hungry Southeast Asia. Currently, the landlocked country has 16 hydroelectric dams. The construction of dams has led to environmental problems and forced resettlement which has affected the livelihood of local people. Without an independent media and freedom of expression, campaigns and discussions related to developmental problems are highly restricted. But Sombath challenged the government narrative of development.

“It strikes me that indeed Sombath was putting forward a different narrative. He was putting forward the people’s narratives–an alternative narrative, a narrative of hope, a narrative of empowerment, a narrative of sustainability and challenging Laotians, especially the young people, that it’s their country and it’s their land and they have to take control of their lands and environment,” said the Malaysian MP.

Anne-Sophie Gindroz, former Lao Country Director of Helvetas and author of “Laos, the Silent Repression” said she decided to author the book after the disappearance of Sombath to tell the dark side of the country to the world, especially to donor countries and aid agencies.

“I believe the aid agencies can do more than engaging in developmental projects. They have to also promote changes in democracy. It’s also important that Lao civil society is also empowered,” said Gindroz, “I think there is a fine line between cooperation and complicity.

A book on “Silent Repression in Laos”, five years after activist disappeared

Justiceinfo.net: 16 November 2017

Sombath Somphone, Laotian activist disappeared in 2012, with Desomond Tutu ©Prachatai

Download the complete book: “Laos, the Silent Repression” in pdf

Anne-Sophie Gindroz, an aid worker who was expelled by the Communist government of Laos in late 2012, has just written a book on her experience in that country. “Laos, the silent repression” (see attachment download above) comes five years after the disappearance of Laotian activist Sombath Somphone. The Laotian government has still not provided any information on his fate, despite international pressure.

Gindroz worked for the Swiss NGO Helvetas in Laos for three years. Shortly before her expulsion, she had been a member of the organizing committee of the Asia-Europe People Forum, a forum of civil society organizations which took place in the Laotian capital Vientiane to coincide with an Asia-Europe summit of heads of State and government. A week after her expulsion, Sombath Somphone was arrested by the Laotian police. He was founder of the Laotian NGO Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC), which works for education in rural areas, and was also on the organizing committee of the People Forum. He has not been heard of since. Author Anne-Sophie Gindroz spoke to Justice Info. Continue reading “A book on “Silent Repression in Laos”, five years after activist disappeared”