31. The missing of Sombath Somphone is an unexpected incident for the Lao government as it happened after the Lao PDR successfully hosted the 9th ASEM in Vientiane in November 2012.
32. His missing is of concern to the Lao Government like the missing of any Lao citizen. Immediately after the missing happened the Lao Government established an investigation committee within the Ministry of Public Security to conduct investigation into the missing incident. From day one of its work the committee sent notice to all police headquarters across the county to find any clue which may be related to the incident. Furthermore, the investigation committee sent out notice to Interpol and ASEANAPOL for them to have looks for any information which may be related to the case. The Investigation Committee has always been open to views or suggestions to help the investigation and Committee is ready to receive suggestions from any interested parties with regard to the investigation which is still ongoing to the present time. It is the duty of the Lao government to find out the truth and bring perpetrators to justice in accordance with the law of the Lao PDR which has signed the Convention on Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
33. The Lao Government would like to reaffirm that the investigation committee is still seriously conducting the investigation. The investigation committee in the past made briefing to the Medias and all interested parties on the progress of the investigation and most recently the chief of the investigation committee met with foreign ambassadors and his wife whom the committee informed of the investigation. In addition, the Lao PDR accepted a number of recommendations under the UPR which are relating to the missing case.
From Lao Government’s response to Letter of Issues submitted by the UN Human Rights Council (CCPR). The full letter and response can be download here.
Southeast Asia’s performance is especially disheartening. The “disappearance” of Sombath Somphone, an internationally acclaimed civil society leader who was kidnapped from the streets of Vientiane in late 2012, is a glaring example of a worsening of the human rights situation in Laos.
From “They talk of war but it’s their own citizens these ‘strong’ men fear most,” in Euractiv, 21 February 2018
This event is without a doubt the largest civil society event ever organized in the Lao PDR and regarded as the most successful AEPF to date. On that note, we Lao NPAs and iNGO civil society organizing partners of the AEPF9 are proud to share the AEPF9 Final Statement and look forward to cooperating with you in related follow up actions.
From the Final Declaration 9th Asia-Europe People’s Forum held in Vientiane, Lao PDR on 16-19 October, 2012.
The decree [115/PM] reflects the view of the Lao government that civil society has a role to play in the country’s development, but civil society should play this role under the government’s control and in line with government policies and goals.
…The government accepts that CSOs have a role in service delivery in close collaboration with the state. The presence of CSOs on the ground is recognized, and the government expects efficient and inclusive service delivery, but also the downward accountability of CSOs.
…Donors (both INGOs and bilateral donors) expect Lao civil society to take up a broader and more diversified role beyond service delivery. Their general rationale for supporting civil society is the need for an improvement in governance and the promotion of a plurality of voices in Lao society.
…Cases of threat and harassment also happened to a number of other activists. People were put into insecurity and fear and Lao civil society in effect relapsed to an even worse state than prior to AEPF. The trust between government and civil society receded.
…In the past two years, the government has enforced more restriction and control on the participation of civil society in Round Table Meetings and other venues. The registration of non- profit associations (NPAs) has been more difficult with a very few new successful registrations since.
…Meanwhile, the AEPF incidents have left Lao civil society in trauma. Critical CSOs emerging during the period leading to the AEPF have either closed down or significantly diluted their work. Civil society workers now feel insecure when they speak of issues that differ from or critical of the government.
Excerpts from “Reflections on Lao Civil Society,” KEPA, March, 2015.
Monk’s chanting is not very interesting to the young people. But at the same time the young monks are very active and they want to do something. So I think linking these dynamic monks with young people is important so that the young people can learn about cultural and spiritual aspects though actually doing the work.
Sombath Somphone, Towards Global Transformation: Making Change Happen, at the 3rd International Conference on Gross National Happiness, November 2007, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.
The space for civil society to conduct human rights activities remains non-existent in the Lao PDR, in breach of Article 22 of the ICCPR. Political groups other than the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party-backed organizations are banned. The government has routinely used its influence to manipulate the membership of civil society organizations’ boards and has forced some organizations to change their names to remove certain words, such as “rights.”
…Lao authorities continue to arbitrarily arrest and detain government critics and charge them under provisions of the Criminal Code. In many cases, little or no information is provided to those arrested on the reason for the deprivation of their liberty or the charges they face. Lao activists have been detained incommunicado without access to legal assistance, and held in prolonged pre-trial detention. This amounts to a clear violation of Article 9 of the ICCPR [see also below, Article 14].
…The government has continued to refuse to adequately and effectively address the issue of enforced disappearance in the country. To this day, the fate and whereabouts of at least 13 activists remain unknown. In the most emblematic case, the government has failed to conduct a thorough, credible, and impartial investigation into the enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who disappeared after being last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street in Vientiane on 15 December 2012.
Excerpts from the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) submission to the List of Issues for the 121st session of the UN Human Rights Committee. The full submission is available here, and the Lao government report and other documentation here.
Continue reading “FIDH-LMHR submission to UN HR Council”
Vientiane has never adequately addressed the 2012 disappearance of prominent community activist Sombath Somphone, a globally recognised figure. His apparent abduction indelibly scarred Laos’ international reputation.
From “Nations lose every time rights are denied” The Nation 27 June 2017
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally exercised self-censorship, which civil society considered was a direct result of Sombath Somphone’s disappearance. The chilling effect of the disappearance of an internationally respected civil society advocate caused lesser-known local activists to believe they had little hope of avoiding a similar fate if they were too outspoken.
From US State Department 2016 Human Rights Report on Laos.
“Before the disappearance of Sombath, there was some optimism that civil society could be a force for change in Laos. Since his disappearance, such hopes have been virtually extinguished, since most people are now too scared to do anything that might rile the regime,”
Martin Steward-Fox in Laos: Reform or Revolution, The Diplomat, 28 September 2016