“If he can disappear, you can too. Keep quiet.”

The second issue is the situation of civil society, again which I take as illustrative. In general, the government assumes that civil society is an extension of itself. In other words, it is there to implement its own policies. It is not there to provide any independent analysis. It is not there to stimulate reflection, discussion, consultation, participation.

And the result is that there is actually an extraordinary amount of fear throughout the society, in terms of free expression.

But this is something of a paradox that I want to mention. It is true from what I know that large numbers of people are not prosecuted for political crimes. They are not imprisoned, they are not tortured, and this is impressive.

What explains it, however, as far as I can tell, is that the government builds upon the particularities of the Lao personality, the Lao culture, and uses very particular examples to send a message that resonates widely through the society.

So you pick on a particular civil society leader, and you disappear him, and you say no more. The message is loud and clear. This man, Somphone, was preaching a very, I shouldn’t say it…now because he was clearly a very inspirational character, but a revolutionary, he certainly wasn’t. An anti-government man, he wasn’t, but a man who wanted to encourage consultations in accordance with Buddhist and other local traditions, he was.

So the message was, if he can disappear, you can too. Keep quiet.

From the press conference of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Phillip Alston, in Vientiane, 28 March 2019. Video of the full conference can be seen here, and the report and other materials are available here.

Statement of Solidarity

15th Anniversary of the Disappearance of Dr Somchai Neelapaijit

Statement of Solidarity by Shui Meng Ng (wife of Sombath Somphone, Lao PDR)

Bangkok, Thailand, 12 March 2019

Today at the 15thAnniversary of the Disappearance of Dr Somchai Neelapaijit, I stand in solidarity and in unity with Khun Angkhana Neelapijit and her family.  I stand in solidarity with you, Khun Angkhana, for your relentless and untiring struggle with the Thai court systems to get truth and justice for Somchai.  I also stand in unity with your pain; a pain that no wife, or daughter or son, should ever have to bear to have their loved one torn away from them in such an ignoble manner.  I also stand in unity with your anger against the impunity of the system of injustice that despite the evidence that was repeatedly presented, your case was dismissed based on legal loopholes designed to protect the guilty and deny justice to the victim.

As the wife of another victim of Enforced Disappearance, Sombath Somphone, of Laos, I understand what you and your family have gone through these past 15 years, for I too have to bear the same pain and indignity as you.

However, Khun Angkhana, despite all the pain and suffering you have borne over the last 15 years, you have shown the Thai people, that you will never give up.  You have over the last 15 years become a symbol of the struggle against the injustice of Enforced Disappearance, and you have become the voice for other victims of Enforced Disappearances. Not only have you extended your hand of support to Thai victims, but you have also extended your hand to me.

When Sombath Somphone disappeared on 15 December 2012, nearly 7 years ago, you reached out to me when I was in the depths of my despair and helplessness; not knowing what to do, where to turn, or even to understand what was happening, and why.  You extended your hand to me and you gave me comfort – just by sitting with me and holding my hands. I think nobody can really understand what that means unless you are also a victim of such a heinous crime.

When I look around me and see the other family members of Enforced Disappearance, I am once more enraged by the lack of justice for the victims and families of Enforced Disappearance.  I am angry that state impunity against such crimes can continue unabated in our countries in such a callous manner.  We ordinary citizens expect our governments and institutions to protect us, not act against us.  And yet we are made to feel that we are the “criminals”, or our disappeared loved ones are on the wrong side of the law.

Let’s see what our disappeared loved ones have done, and what laws have they broken?  Who is Somchai Neelapaijit? Who is Sombath Somphone? Who is Billy and the others here today?

Somchai Neelapaijit is a well-known muslim lawyer and human rights defender; he was defending the legal rights of the muslims in Southern Thailand, and he was actively advocating the Thai state agencies to end torture when he was disappeared.

Sombath Somphone is a respected community development worker and a vocal advocate for environmental protection, and land rights for the poor in Laos.

And Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, is a prominent Karen rights activist, fighting for the rights of the Karen minority to have access and protection of their ancestral forestlands and resources.

So are people like Somchi, Sombath, and Billy criminals?  Or are they just people with a social conscience standing up for and defending the rights of those who have no voice in their own communities?

That is the crime of injustice of Enforced Disappearance, and that is why we the family members of the Disappeared must continue to speak up, to get truth and justice for our loved ones as well as for all other victims of Enforced Disppearances in our own countries and beyond.

Today we are here to remind everyone it has been 15 years since Somchai Neelapaijit has been disappeared, and it has been 15 years that Khun Ankhana Neelapaijit has been fighting for truth and justice for him.  It is time to give truth and justice to Somchai Neelapaijit; and it is time to give closure to Khun Angkhana and her family.

We urge you all here today to stand with us the victims; don’t stand with the perpetrators. Help bring our loved ones back to our families”

Laos: EU must demand government address key issues during human rights dialogue

FIDH: 07 March 2019

(Paris) The European Union (EU) must demand the Lao government release detained government critics, investigate all cases of enforced disappearances, and provide adequate compensation to victims of land confiscation and survivors of a recent dam disaster, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today. FIDH and LMHR made the call on the occasion of the 9th EU-Laos human rights dialogue, which is held in Vientiane today. In conjunction with their call, the two organizations released a briefing paper that provides an update on the human rights situation in Laos since the previous dialogue, held in March 2018 in Vientiane, Laos. The briefing paper documents developments on the following issues: 1) arbitrary detentions; 2) enforced disappearances; 3) violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief; 4) the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam disaster; and 5) land rights

The consistent lack of progress on human rights in Laos should compel Brussels to be more vocal in its interactions with the government. The EU should obtain concrete commitments from the Lao government, such as the immediate and unconditional release of all those subjected to politically-motivated detentions. The EU should not fall into the trap of allowing the Lao government to downgrade the dialogue into an empty ritual.” Debbie Stothard, FIDH Secretary-General

At least 14 political prisoners remain incarcerated across the country. They include: Somphone Phimmasone, Soukan Chaithad, and Lodkham Thammavong, who are serving prison sentences of up to 20 years for their peaceful criticism of the government in relation to alleged corruption, deforestation, and human rights violations; pro-democracy activist Bounthanh Thammavong, a Laos-born Polish citizen, who is serving a four-year-and-nine-month prison sentence for a Facebook post in which he criticized the government’s policies and actions; and 10 villagers in Ban Yeup, Thateng District, Sekong Province, detained without trial since July 2017 for cutting down rubber trees to protest land confiscation. With regard to enforced disappearances, the fate or whereabouts of at least 14 individuals remain unknown. The 14 include: civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who disappeared in Vientiane in December 2012; two women, Kingkeo Phongsely and Somchit, and seven men, Soubinh, Souane, Sinpasong, Khamsone, Nou, Somkhit, and Sourigna, who were detained by security forces In November 2009; Somphone Khantisouk, the owner of an eco-tourism business, who was abducted in Luang Namtha Province in January 2017; and Ittiphon Sukpaen, Wuthipong Kachathamakul, and Surachai Danwattananusorn, three Thai monarchy critics living in exile in Laos who disappeared in June 2016, July 2017, and December 2018 respectively. Lao authorities have failed to conduct effective and impartial investigations into all of these cases.

The collapse of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam in Attapeu Province in July 2018 exposed the government’s slow, inadequate, and non-transparent response to the disaster. Despite the apparent severity and magnitude of the disaster, the government immediately sought to downplay the death toll and tried to block independent reporting about the disaster. In late January 2019, authorities eventually revealed that 49 people had been confirmed dead and 22 were still missing. However, activists and local villagers believe the death toll could be significantly higher, as the fate of hundreds of residents remains undetermined. Compensation and assistance awarded to survivors and families of the victims of the dam collapse has been thoroughly inadequate. In addition, despite the formation of two government-appointed investigation committees, no accountability for the disaster has yet been established. Reports also emerged of a lack of transparency and potential corruption on the part of the authorities in connection with the relief effort, particularly in relation to the procurement and construction of ‘temporary houses’ for survivors.

“The Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam collapse shows that investment and infrastructure projects in Laos can often have disastrous consequences for local communities because of the government’s lack of transparency and accountability. Until Vientiane takes bold steps towards key institutional and legal reforms, the EU and its member states should carefully reconsider their economic involvement in Laos.” Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR President

Concerns also remain over the ongoing lack of compensation for communities whose land has been confiscated by the authorities to make way for the construction of the 417km high-speed railway connecting the Laos-China border town of Boten to Vientiane. In November 2018, it was reported that 94% of the land required for the railway had been acquired and that the project was more than 40% complete. However, as of January 2019 – more than two years after the start of the project – many of the 4,400 families affected by the railway construction had not received compensation for their loss of land, livelihood, and income.

Enforced Disappearance, Injustice and Silence:  We Have Not Forgotten Sombath Somphone

We can’t believe it has been 6 years already since the day Sombath Somphone was enforced disappeared. The days have gone by so quickly yet the pain and wait remain the same for the family and friends as if the days have not gone by.

Memories and CCTV footages of the day Sombath Somphone was enforced disappeared 6 years ago showed the authority and the police were clearly involved in the incident. Six years later, the Lao government has shown no progress in the investigation and brought no one to be responsible.

We can’t believe that Sombath Somphone, who once contributed so much to the Lao society and development for over 30 years, would be the name the Lao government tries to forget.

Uncle Bath, a prominent senior development worker, is renowned and respected by the civil society and development workers across Lao, ASEAN and the globe. Uncle Bath’s humble leadership was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005 and many others by international organizations. His fruitful contribution to PADETC was recognized by the ESCAP Human Resources Development Award, given by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) in 2001. Anyone who has worked with Uncle Bath would recognize his charisma.

For what Sombath Somphone has done all his life, it will not be that easy for the world to forget Sombath Somphone regardless of the the prolonged enforced disappearance and the Lao government’s silence and attempt to erase Sombath Somphone’s name. As time passes, his name slowly becomes a symbol of the Lao government’s mistake and failure.

We, the young adults and youth of the Mekong Region, demand the Lao government to promptly resolved this issue for the Lao people and youth. It is time to free us from fear and doubts on the Lao government’s involvement in the enforced disappearance of our beloved uncle Sombath Somphone 6 years ago.

We hope Uncle Bath is still alive and will soon return to his family. We hope he will spend the rest of his life with those he loves and love him. Uncle Bath shall be the symbol of integrity and happiness for the Lao people, towards a path of development based on the Gross National Happiness (GNH).

End enforced disappearance for peace in the Mekong Region
Sombath Somphone & Beyond Project

Six years on, civil society worldwide demands answers to the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone

FIDH: 14 December 2018

14 December 2018: On the eve of the sixth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, reiterate our calls for the Lao government to conduct an independent, impartial and effective investigation to reveal his fate and whereabouts. Continue reading “Six years on, civil society worldwide demands answers to the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone”

Declaration of AEPF 12

We should be reminded that while concerns [regarding Sombath’s dissappearance) continue to be raised in the confines of the Universal Periodic Review and similar human rights dialogues, the policies and programmes of governments, donors, regional development banks and development agencies remain largely unaltered.

People’s Agenda for ASEM Parliamentarians

Final Declaration from The Asia Europe People’s Forum 12, Ghent, Belgium 1st October 2018

https://www.aepf.info/aepf-12-statement

The People’s Agenda for ASEM Parliamentarians is an expression of the visions and demands of over 425 women and men who are citizens from diverse backgrounds, representing people’sorganisations from over 48 countries across Asia and Europe joined together to work for a Just, Equal and Inclusive Asia and Europe. We met in the Asia Europe People’s Forum12 in Ghent, Belgium between 29th September and 1st October 2018 ahead of ASEM12.

We are linked and brought together through the Asia Europe People’s Forum (AEPF). The AEPF is a strategic civil society gathering of Asian and European social movements, non-governmental organisations and campaign networks that are confronting poverty and inequality and working for social, economic and climate justice.

We are committed to promoting, consolidating and strengthening engagement with ASEM governments’ leaders, parliamentarians and related regional bodies and enabling people’svoices to be shared and heard.

We are committed to working in constructive ways with the governments who are members of ASEM to implement people-centred responses to the current crises in an effective and responsible manner.

We believe that priority must be given to poor, excluded and marginalised people and more democratic and accountable institutions must be in place to assure that processes and measures will lead to a just, equal, inclusive and sustainable Asia and Europe based on respect for gender equality and the promotion and protection of human, economic and socio-cultural rights, environmental security and the protection of our Commons.

Continue reading “Declaration of AEPF 12”

UN slams violations of civil and political rights after landmark review

FIDH: 02 August 2018

(Paris) The outcome of the United Nations’ (UN) assessment of the human rights situation in Laos highlighted the country’s highly repressive environment and the government’s failure to respect virtually all civil and political rights, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today.

“The outcome of the UN review should be an eye-opener for foreign governments, which have too often looked the other way whenever human rights violations were committed in Laos. There are no more excuses for the international community to refuse to pressure the Lao government to address key human rights issues.” Debbie Stothard, FIDH Secretary-General

On 26 July 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) issued its Concluding Observations regarding the situation of civil and political rights in Laos. In the Concluding Observations, the CCPR expressed its concern over numerous human rights violations and made recommendations to the government. The CCPR monitors state parties’ compliance with their legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Laos became a state party to the ICCPR in 2009. FIDH and LMHR welcome the CCPR’s recommendations and urge the government to take concrete steps towards their implementation without undue delay. Continue reading “UN slams violations of civil and political rights after landmark review”

Government slanders Sombath Somphone, issues “blanket denials” on enforced disappearances during rights review

FIDH: 18 July 2018

(Paris) During a review by a United Nations (UN) body, the Lao government slandered disappeared civil society leader Sombath Somphone and failed to provide any details concerning its purported investigation into his enforced disappearance, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today.

On 11-12 July 2018, FIDH and LMHR attended the first-ever examination of the situation of civil and political rights in Laos by the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) in Geneva, Switzerland. Continue reading “Government slanders Sombath Somphone, issues “blanket denials” on enforced disappearances during rights review”

“They have taken little or no action”

Enforced disappearances continue to be reported and there has been no progress in investigations or prosecutions. While the Lao PDR has accepted recommendations to investigate the enforced disappearance of leading civil society member Sombath Somphone, who was not been seen since being stopped by traffic police and taken away in a pick-up truck in Laos in December 20127, they have taken little to no action. No steps have been taken to review new evidence in the form of video footage provided by his family. The Government has also failed to establish the fate or whereabouts of other alleged enforced disappearances, including that of Kha Yang, a Lao ethnic Hmong arrested after his forced return from Thailand in 2011, and of Sompawn Khantisouk, an entrepreneur who was active on conservation issues and abducted in 2007 by men believed to be police.

From Amnesty International’s submission to the UN Human Rights Committee for consideration in its 123rd session.

Serious human rights violations under scrutiny in landmark UN review

FIDH & LMHR: 11 June 2018

(Paris)The situation of civil and political rights in Laos remains dire, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today, ahead of a landmark review by a United Nations (UN) body. FIDH and LMHR also released a ‘shadow report’ that documents the numerous and serious violations of civil and political rights committed by the authorities in the one-party state.

“The upcoming review of the disastrous state of civil and political rights in Laos is a rare opportunity to put the spotlight on the repressive actions of the authoritarian government in Vientiane. It’s critical that the international community pays close attention to this review and uses its key outcomes to recalibrate its policies vis-à-vis Laos,” said FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard.

The situation of civil and political rights in Laos will be examined by the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) for the first time on 11-12 July 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland. The CCPR monitors state parties’ compliance with their legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Laos became a state party to the ICCPR in 2009. Continue reading “Serious human rights violations under scrutiny in landmark UN review”