FIDH-LMHR submission to UN HR Council

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”

Australia promises continued pressure

Australia continues to raise concern with Laos about the disappearance of Mr Sombath Somphone, and the case continues to figure prominently in bilateral discussions with Laos.

…Australia further pressed Laos to conclude an urgent and credible investigation intoMr Sombath’s disappearance, emphasising pressure will remain on Laos unless the case is transparently and credibly solved.

From a letter regarding the 2015 Lao-Australia Human Rights Dialogue from Richard Andrews, Assistant First Secretary, Southeast Asia Mainland and Regional Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

The next such dialogue will take place in Vientiane on July 18th, and be led by the head of DFAT’s human rights division. The Lao government has not released any information on the case in in over four years: The need for continued pressure remains undiminished.

Those wishing to provide inputs for this dialogue may send them to Ms. Sophie Wilkinson, Second Secretary at the Australian Embassy in Vientiane: [email protected]

“NGOs generally exercised self-censorship…”

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.

“By 1980, he was home again”

SB & Woman-005bSombath Somphone’s early life took place amidst uncertainty and turbulence as Laos was swept into the Indochina War. He eventually escaped this by winning a scholarship to the University of Hawaii, where he earned degrees in education and agriculture. By 1980, he was home again. That same year Sombath helped launch the Rice-Based Integrated Farm System Project, to help Laotian farmers achieve food security. The ensuing years exposed him intimately to the world of rural Laos and to the complex obstacles awaiting development workers in its remote scattered villages.

From citation for the 2005 Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership

Limited Freedom of Expression

ACSC-APF 2016 LogoThe ACSC/APF 2016 will not take place in Lao PDR, due to concerns over possible restrictions and limited freedom of expression on key issues of concerns of ASEAN which are inconsistent with the agreed ACSC/APF’s modality of engagement.

From the CSO Statement of the 2016 ACSC/APF recently held in Timor Leste. Ironically, the forum’s Regional Steering Committee imposed their own restrictions and limitations by releasing the statement before participants at the forum could voice their concerns on its contents.

BertelsmannStiftung Foundation’s 2016 Report

BertelsmannStiftung Foundation: 2016

Bertelsmann Stiftung-logoParty leaders furthermore urged tighter control over civil society organizations in the face of alleged but unsubstantiated efforts to undermine the party. In the wake of community leader Sombath Somphone’s unexplained disappearance in late 2012, the deplorable investigation of which attracted condemnation from around the world, increased pressure on civil society organizations produced levels of fear and self-censorship reminiscent of a more oppressive past. In this context, leaders’ ongoing claims to be strengthening the rule of law – another rhetorical theme in Laos – continued to fall flat.

From the 2016 BertelsmannStiflung Foundation’s Laos Country Report.  On its Political Transformation Indexthe foundation ranked the Lao PDR 120th out of 127 countries. Only North Korea ranked lower among Asian nations.

Amnesty’s new report on Laos

Amnesty International

Amnesty InternationalSombath Somphone, a prominent civil society member who was abducted outside a police post in the capital, Vientiane, in December 2012, remained disappeared with no progress in his case. In March, a former military general heading a non-profit organization – widely believed to be a government proxy – made a failed attempt to have Sombath Somphone’s name removed from the agenda of the ASEAN People’s Forum event. No progress was made in the case of Sompawn Khantisouk, an entrepreneur who was active on conservation issues. He remained disappeared since being abducted by men believed to be police in 2007.

From Amnesty International’s 2015/2016 report. The full report, which also raises concerns about the freedoms of expression and association, is available here.