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”

EU silent on human rights

Focus on the Global South: 25 April 2018

The European Union (EU) is one of the largest international donors to the Lao PDR, with a budget of over 200 million Euros for the 2014-2020 period.

On 15 March 2018, the EU and the Lao PDR held the eighth session of their annual Human Rights Dialogue in Brussels.  Ahead of the Dialogue, many organisations concerned by the deteriorating situation regarding civil liberties and peoples’ rights in the Lao PDR made submissions to the EU, presenting examples of persisting and deepening rights violations.

Below is a letter that was submitted to the EU by nine organisations, asking that the EU link its aid to actual betterment of basic freedoms and human rights of the targeted beneficiaries of aid.  The letter also asked the EU to publicise a detailed account of the proceedings of the Dialogue.

Such an account has yet to be made available to the public. Continue reading “EU silent on human rights”

EU must demand end of oppression of civil society and release of government critics

FIDH: 14 March 2018

(Paris) The European Union (EU) must demand Laos release all government critics and create an environment in which civil society can freely and safely operate, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today.

FIDH and LMHR made the call ahead of the 8th EU-Laos human rights dialogue, which is scheduled to be held in Brussels on 15 March 2018. 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 February 2017.

“Recent developments in Laos show that the government has tightened its chokehold on civil society. The EU should not be cowed into silence by Vientiane in the same manner that Vientiane has constrained Lao civil society. Its voice in support of human rights and civil society should be heard loud and clear during this dialogue.” Debbie Stothard., FIDH Secretary-General

Continue reading “EU must demand end of oppression of civil society and release of government critics”