Today marks the fifth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a staunch Lao civil society leader and community development activist who advocated for rural community-based development, especially among the youth. On the fateful evening of December 15, 2012, Sombath was abducted by policemen in Vientiane. Evidence obtained of Sombath’s abduction was caught on CCTV, where it showed that he was stopped and taken away on a pickup truck in front of the police station. Laotian authorities immediately denied any involvement in his abduction, which speaks volumes of the palpable culture of impunity in the country that is felt significantly to this day.
The government of Laos should immediately disclose the fate or whereabouts of the prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone who was forcibly disappeared in the capital, Vientiane, in December 2012, Human Rights Watch said today.
Sombath Somphone is still missing five years after he was forcibly disappeared in Vientiane, Laos. “Five years on, Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ highlights the glaring problems of enforced disappearance, widespread rights violations, and the culture of impunity protecting government officials in Laos,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government needs to end its cover-up and explain what happened to Sombath.”
Sombath, the founder and former director of the Participatory Development Training Centre, received Southeast Asia’s prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005. Security camera footage shows police stopping Sombath’s jeep at 6:03 p.m. on December 15, 2012, and police taking him into the Thadeua police post. Shortly afterward, an unidentified motorcyclist stopped at the police post and drove off with Sombath’s jeep, leaving his own motorcycle by the roadside. A few minutes later, a truck with flashing lights stopped at the police post. Two people got out of the truck, took Sombath into the vehicle, then drove off. The authorities later denied any knowledge of Sombath being taken into custody. He has not been seen since.
Five years on, Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ highlights the glaring problems of enforced disappearance, widespread rights violations, and the culture of impunity protecting government officials in Laos. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director
At a news conference in Bangkok on December 7, 2017, Shui-Meng Ng, Sombath’s wife, publicly revealed that people she declined to name had seen Sombath at a police holding facility in Vientiane on the night of December 15, a number of hours after he was publicly seen at the police checkpoint. She said that his jeep was seen at the parking lot of that facility on the same evening.
This newly public information demonstrates the inadequacy of the official investigations into Sombath’s disappearance and the contours of a cover-up by Lao authorities. The authorities have repeatedly dismissed concerns raised by Sombath’s family, foreign governments, and human rights groups about whether the government investigation was serious.
Shui-Meng Ng told Human Rights Watch:
Five years on, we are sadly no closer to finding Sombath than we were in the week after he was taken from us. The only thing that has progressed over that time is the Lao government’s cover-up, and the wall of denial and delays it has constructed to buy time. While disheartened, the friends of Sombath all around the world will never give up demanding answers.
Laos has signed, but not ratified, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under international law, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution. Disappearances are a continuing offense that cause anguish and suffering for the victim’s family members.
“Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ will be a stain on the Lao government’s reputation until his fate is explained and those responsible are fairly prosecuted and punished,” Robertson said. “Donor governments, UN agencies, and multilateral organizations should keep raising concerns with Lao leaders until there are credible answers about Sombath’s fate.”
On the fifth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, express outrage at the Lao government’s failure to independently, impartially, effectively, and transparently investigate Sombath’s disappearance, reveal his whereabouts, 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.
Sombath was last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street of the Lao capital, Vientiane, on the evening of 15 December 2012. His abduction was captured on a CCTV camera near the police checkpoint. The footage strongly suggests that police stopped Sombath’s vehicle and, within minutes, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove him away in the presence of police officers. CCTV footage also appears to show an unknown individual driving Sombath’s vehicle away from the city center before returning sometime later. Continue reading “Five years on, 122 organizations worldwide demand to know: “Where is Sombath?””
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”
Ministry of Justice, Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic\
13 December 2017
Dear H.E. Mr. Thongloun Sisoulith, H.E. Mr. Bounnhang Vorachith and H.E. Mr. Xaysi Santivong,
RE: REPEAL OF DECREE ON ASSOCIATIONS No. 238 of 2017
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia), ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), The Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR-Centre) and World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) express deep alarm about the issuing and coming into force of the Decree on Associations (No. 238 of 2017) (‘the Decree’) in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). Continue reading “Open letter on repeal of decree on associations No. 238”
(Paris) International donors must urge the Lao government to scrap new legislation that imposes severe restrictions on civil society, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today. The new Decree on Associations, signed by Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith on 11 August 2017, came into effect on 15 November 2017. The decree replaces a previous Decree on Associations enacted in 2009 and applies to all domestic associations, commonly known as Non-Profit Associations (NPAs).
FIDH and LMHR made their call ahead of the Round Table Implementation Meeting (RTIM), an annual conference attended by Lao government officials and representatives from development partners. The RTIM is scheduled to be held in Pakse, Laos, on 22-23 November 2017.
“By imposing pervasive controls and restrictions on local associations in an already repressive environment, the new decree is the last nail in the coffin for Lao civil society. Aid agencies and international donors must demand Vientiane repeal the decree and replace it with legislation that respects the rights to freedom of expression and association in accordance with international standards.” Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President
As donors, diplomats and development partners gather for this year’s Roundtable Implementation Meeting in Pakse, will they take time to consider those who were arrested or disappeared in this same city in November 2000 and October 2001, simply for expressing their views?
Will they recall the students who met similar fates earlier in Vientiane in October, 1999?
Will they remember Sombath Somphone or Sompawn Khantisouk, who have been enforcibly disappeared, or their families, who continue to suffer without knowing the fate or alleged wrongdoing of their loved ones? Continue reading “Will Donors Remember?”
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”
If this is simply an oversight, it should be rectified as quickly as possible.
The European Parliament:
Strongly condemns the prison sentences against Somphone Phimmasone, Soukane Chaithad and Lod Thammavong, and calls for their immediate release;
Notes with concern that these verdicts add to a list of arrests and forced disappearances of activists and protesters who have expressed critical views on issues ranging from land disputes to allegations of corruption and abuse of power;
Reiterates its call on the Government of Laos to stop the harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders, independent journalists and social activists, and to respect the rights of free expression and association and the rights of minorities; reminds Laos of its international obligations under the human rights treaties it has ratified;
Urges the Laotian Government to respect its international commitments and protect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance which Laos signed in 2008;
Is gravely concerned at the widespread human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances and absence of fair trial; calls on the Lao authorities to meet their international human rights obligations by immediately accounting for the whereabouts of at least 10 missing individuals, including Sombath Somphone and Sompawn Khantisouk, and providing details of the charges brought and evidence produced against imprisoned activists;
Laos, notably the cases of Somphone Phimmasone, Lod Thammavong and Soukane Chaithad
European Parliament resolution of 14 September 2017 on Laos, notably the cases of Somphone Phimmasone, Lod Thammavong and Soukane Chaithad (2017/2831(RSP))
The European Parliament,
having regard to its previous resolutions on Laos,
having regard to the outcome of the 8th meeting of the European Union-Lao PDR Joint Committee held in Vientiane on 17 February 2017,
having regard to the statement by the Delegation of the European Union to the Lao PDR made in Vientiane on the World Freedom of the Press Day, 3 May 2017,
having regard to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of 1998,
having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948,
having regard to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966,
having regard to the Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic of 1 December 1997,
having regard to the ASEAN Charter,
having regard to Rules 135(5) and 123(4) of its Rules of Procedure,
A. whereas in March 2017 three Lao workers, Mr Somphone Phimmasone, Mr Soukane Chaithad and Ms Lod Thammavong, were sentenced to prison terms of between 12 and 20 years and the equivalent of tens of thousands of euros in fines for criticising the government on social media in relation to alleged corruption, deforestation, and human rights violations, while working in Thailand; whereas the three also stood accused of participating in an anti-government demonstration outside the Lao Embassy in Thailand in December 2015; Continue reading “Resolution of the European Parliament (2)”