Five Months On, Demand for Accountability and Action

5mth statement bannerLaos: Five Months On, Demand for Accountability and Action in Sombath Somphone’s Disappearance Intensifies

Bangkok/Manila/Jakarta (15 May 2013) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Focus on the Global South, The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) reiterated their call on the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and ASEAN governments to break the silence and take action on the disappearance of Laotian development worker, educator and Magsaysay award winner Sombath Somphone. The appeal was made as civil society organizations, respected world leaders and the diplomatic community, friends and family marked the fifth month of Sombath Somphone’s disappearance today.

Despite the recent conclusion of the 22nd ASEAN Summit (25-26 April) and the 12th AICHR Meeting (6-10 May), no concrete headway has been made in addressing or tackling Sombath’s disappearance and human rights abuses in the region. During the 12th AICHR Meeting, the regional human rights body reportedly discussed the implementation of the recently-adopted ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD), but fell short of taking a position on Sombath’s case, as well as the issue of enforced disappearances in the region. This was despite a recent open letter by the Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy – Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights (SAPA TFAHR), among the many calls from numerous groups and individuals, urging the regional body to do so.

“We deplore the AICHR’s continued silence on the case of Sombath. We understand that the AICHR discussed the AHRD in its latest meeting, but even the AHRD, a document which is below international human rights standards, provides guarantees to the rights to personal liberty and security and prohibits arbitrary deprivation of that right. In this regard, Sombath’s disappearance is an opportunity for the AICHR to act,” said Haris Azhar, Coordinator, KontraS. Continue reading “Five Months On, Demand for Accountability and Action”

Call for AICHR to Show Relevance

The Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights (SAPA TFAHR) has issued a plea to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AIHCR) to break its silence:

It is high time that AICHR responds to questions of its relevance for human rights in the region. Staying silent on Sombath’s disappearance is a convenient but short-sighted approach because human rights violations related to land, natural resources and the environment are likely to increase as the region embarks on a zealous pursuit of economic development and integration towards 2015. The AICHR must stress to individual ASEAN member states on the urgent need for an enabling environment and democratic space for all human rights defenders, including development workers and civil society organizations, to do their legitimate work without fear of reprisals.

The full statement can be read here.

Archbishop Tutu Speaks out for Sombath

Sombath with Archbishop Desmond Tutu

On behalf of Archbishop Tutu’s office we confirm that Archbishop Tutu addressed a letter, dated 25 February 2013, to H.E. Mr Thongsing Thammavong, Prime Minister of Laos, and H.E. Mr. Choummaly Sayasone, Secretary General of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and President of the Lao PDR. The Archbishop’s office has received no acknowledgement of receipt of the letter.

The letter regarded the “disappearance” of human rights campaigner Mr Sombath Somphone, in Laos.

The Archbishop wrote that Mr Somphone’s commitment to poverty alleviation and sustainable development at home and in the region had been nothing short of inspirational. He had worked extensively with Buddhist monks and elders to set up youth meditation camps and this care for the spiritual core of the Laotian people had touched many in the region and beyond.

The Archbishop wrote that Mr Somphone’s participation and ability to speak freely at the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) in Vientiane, last November, marked an enriching moment for free speech in Laos and allowed an inclusive conversation to take place between all levels of Laotian society.

“It is a tragedy that someone with such a deep love for his people could disappear,” the Archbishop wrote. Continue reading “Archbishop Tutu Speaks out for Sombath”

Magsaysay Award Foundation joins calls to ‘Surface Sombath’

header_logoPRESS RELEASE
April 17, 2013

Neon green paper with a face drawing and the text “Surface Sombath Somphone.”

This was the symbol adopted by civil society groups that participated in the cultural and solidarity event titled “Public Action to Call on the Philippines and the ASEAN: Surface Sombath Somphone and all Desaparecidos.” The gathering was held last April 12 in front of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs offices in Pasay, Metro Manila.

Sombath Somphone, 60, a community worker and green activist from Laos, is the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Community Leadership. The event marked the 120th day of his disappearance and protested the seeming inaction of the Laos government.

The participants also sought the Philippine government’s support in ensuring that Sombath’s case is included on the agenda of bilateral meetings of leaders of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Sombath went missing on December 15, 2012. He was last seen in Vientiane, Cambodia, where a CCTV footage showed police stopping his jeep as he drove on the way home.  Two plainclothes men then hauled him onto another vehicle.

It has been four months, and there has since been no information on his whereabouts. The Laos authorities deny involvement.

Sombath’s wife, Ng Shui Meng, is concerned, especially since her husband suffers from prostate cancer. She has received no word on her husband’s fate, but has told media, “I believe he is still alive.”

Officers and staff of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF), led by Awardee Relations Manager Ma. Carmencita Toledo, joined the solidarity event.  Toledo reiterated the support of the Magsaysay Award community and the call to the Lao government to act toward Sombath’s deliverance. Continue reading “Magsaysay Award Foundation joins calls to ‘Surface Sombath’”

The world is waiting for Sombath's return

If Lao officials think the issue of Sombath’s disappearance will go away, they are wrong.

Those were the words of Tuur Elzinga, a Dutch Senator who led the European Delegation to Vientiane last month.  And there is plenty of evidence to support Tuur Elzinga’s statement at the website created to raise awareness of the disappearance of Sombath Somphone.

The website at has now been viewed more than 100,000 times. Citizens from more than 140 countries have visited the site since it was launched in January this year, less than a month after Sombath was abducted outside a police post in Vientiane.

Screen Shot 2013-04-13 at 16.53.16 PMThe site has attracted a strong interest from the Lao community at home and abroad, with approximately 25% of visitors living in Laos and another 25% in the United States. Other countries in the top 10 are: Thailand, Australia, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore and Switzerland.

The plight of the most prominent figure in Lao civil society has also attracted attention from dozens of other countries, from India to Iceland, Japan to Jamaica, and Vietnam to Venezuela.

The content of the site continues to expand and now has links to more than 100 news articles and statements of concern. Also on the rise is the number of subscribers, with more than 1,400 people currently receiving updates by email or through Facebook and Twitter.

One of the recent additions to the site was a Statement from John Kerry, US
Secretary of State:

Regrettably, the continuing, unexplained disappearance of Mr. Sombath, a widely respected and inspiring Lao citizen who has worked for the greater benefit of all of his countrymen, raises questions about the Lao government’s commitment to the rule of law and to engage responsibly with the world.

The world is waiting.

Solidarity Event for Sombath Somphone in Manila

The Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy (SAPA) working group for ASEAN released a message during an event held in front of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on April 12th. The statement calls on the leaders of ASEAN to put enforced disappearances on the agenda of their upcoming summit:


On April 24 and 25, these ASEAN leaders will gather in Brunei under the theme of “Our People, Our Future Together.” But how can we invest our future in an ASEAN where peoples’ basic rights are continuously ignored and violated, a community where people are abducted and forced to disappear? We cannot be part of this. If ASEAN wants us to be part of this community then they should put the interests of the people above everything else. They should respect and uphold basic human rights.

The entire statement can be read here. A related letter from the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs can be read here. A video of the event can be seen here.

The event was organized by Focus on the Global South, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), and Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND).

Where is Sombath Somphone?

by Focus on the Global South

main_8306943360_e098710387Those who assert there is little civil society in the Lao PDR (Laos) have apparently never attended a celebration or festival in the country. Nor have they given due consideration to the staggering diversity of ethnicity and cultures, and the myriad and dynamic ways Lao communities have for centuries dealt with food shortages, natural disasters, and management and sharing of natural resources. Inside Laos, the current elite also seems to have forgotten that it was this same ability to organise and cope in the face of diverse, changing conditions that fed and sheltered the revolutionary struggle.

But if one were to put a face to those aspects of Lao civil society more recognized at the national and international levels, it would be that of Sombath Somphone.

Sombath grew up in rural Laos as the eldest child of a farming family. Passion, determination and a keen intellect led him through education at local, national and international institutions to obtain a BA in Education and an MA in Agriculture. While thousands of others were still fleeing Laos after the country gained independence in 1975, Sombath returned to work with the new government and his compatriots. Over the next three decades Sombath worked with remarkable persistence and humility to promote sustainable agriculture, participatory development and learner-centred education.

In 2005, he received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership for “…his hopeful efforts to promote sustainable development in Laos by training and motivating its young people to become a generation of leaders.” Sombath is one of only two Lao citizens to receive this award, often called Asia’s Nobel Prize, in its 55-year history. A practicing Buddhist, Sombath advocates a holistic approach to living, guided by respect for nature, compassion and honesty.

On the evening of December 15, 2012, Sombath Somphone was abducted at a major street in Vientiane after being stopped by the police. Recorded by a CCTV camera, the abduction shocked people inside the country and across the world. The abduction itself as well as the government’s responses, continue to raise many troubling questions and paint the Lao government in very poor light. Continue reading “Where is Sombath Somphone?”

Sombath – 100 Days: Statement from the International Organising Committee of the Asia Europe People’s Forum

Alternative Regionalisms: Transnational Institute: 26 March 2013

Please-return-SombathOn December 15th 2012 Sombath Somphone disappeared, taken away in a truck by unknown persons after being stopped by police in the Lao capital, Vientiane. Nobody has seen or heard from him since.Today, March 25th 2013, is the 100th day since Sombath’s disappearance.

Despite sustained appeals from many hundreds of individuals and organizations and widespread, ongoing media coverage, the Lao government has yet to conduct a satisfactory investigation into Sombath’s disappearance or provided any explanation for his abduction. There have been repeated enquiries through diplomatic channels and two delegations of parliamentarians to Laos, one from ASEAN and one from Europe.

On the 6th February 2013 the European Parliament unanimously passed a resolution on ‘Laos: the case of Sombath Somphone’. The resolution formally calls on the EU to include Laos and the case of Sombath Somphone in its priorities for forthcoming sessions of the UN Human Rights Council.

In the absence of the safe return of Sombath to his family, many organisations and institutions and bodies outside Laos, are committed to beginning a new phase of international activity. The members of the International Organising Committee of the Asia Europe People’s Forum are committed to this new phase of activity. There is a deep commitment that from today until Sombath is safely returned to his family that the continuing disappearance of Sombath would begin to preface or even dominate bi-lateral, multi-lateral and international discussions with and about Laos.

This could happen with discussion at the WTO, with the Asia Development Bank, at the UN Human Rights Council to name but a few instances. Even, if it is still necessary, in due course it could influence discussions about Lao PDR’s graduation from LDC status.

Whilst Sombath has not returned safely to his family, there will be a growing negative effect on foreign engagement and foreign investment in Laos at a time where Laos is deeply committed to developing stronger ties and links. In 2013 there is now a very real possibility that the credibility of Laos will be deeply tarnished with significant negative effects whilst Sombath is not returned safely to his family.

In addition to Sombath’s disappearance there are also concerns that there is an increasing perception that the ‘spaces’ for dialogue, discussion and debate on how to achieve more sustainable economic and social development in Laos are becoming constricted. The climate of positive and constructive dialogue that was a part of AEPF9 is felt to have dissipated. This is of great concern and there is a call for positive measures and actions to be taken by the Lao Government to enable a secure environment that encourages learning and reflection and provides space for open, respectful, diverse and constructive debate for people committed to Sustainable Development in Laos.

International Organising Committee,

Asia Europe People’s Forum

Statement by John Kerry, US Secretary of State, on Sombath Somphone

US State Department
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
March 24, 2013      2013/0338

100 Days since the Disappearance of Lao Civil Society Leader Sombath Somphone

Today marks the 100th day since the disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, a respected individual known for his work with non-governmental organizations, the government, and the international community.  Video footage suggests that Mr. Sombath may have been abducted from a police checkpoint in the capital city of Vientiane.  The United States shares the international community’s serious concerns about Mr. Sombath’s safety and well-being.  We call on the Lao government to do everything in its power to account for his disappearance without further delay.  We are concerned at the lack of significant information we have received from the Lao government about Mr. Sombath’s case, despite our offers to assist with the investigation and numerous expressions of concern about Mr. Sombath’s welfare.

Mr. Sombath’s disappearance resurrects memories of an earlier era when unexplained disappearances were common.  We note that Laos has taken steps in recent years to become a responsible partner in the community of nations, including its accession to the World Trade Organization and its hosting of the Asia-Europe Summit Meeting last November.  Regrettably, the continuing, unexplained disappearance of Mr. Sombath, a widely respected and inspiring Lao citizen who has worked for the greater benefit of all of his countrymen, raises questions about the Lao government’s commitment to the rule of law and to engage responsibly with the world.

We join with countless organizations, governments, journalists and concerned citizens around the world in demanding answers to Mr. Sombath’s disappearance and urging his immediate return home.

ร้อยยี่สิบห้าองค์กร แปดสิบราษฏรไทยร้องนายกไทยร่วมนานาประเทศถามหาสมบัด สมพอน

วันนี้ (25 มีนาคม 2556) ภาคประชาชนและภาคประชาสังคมไทย 125 องค์กรพร้อมทั้งประชาชนอีกแปดสิบรายชื่อ ส่งจดหมายเรียกร้องต่อนางสาวยิ่งลักษณ์ ชินวัตร นายกรัฐมนตรีไทย ในโอกาสที่สมบัด สมพอน นักพัฒนาอาวุโสชาวลาว ถูกอุ้มหาย ทั้งนี้ แม้มีหลักฐานจากกล้องวงจรปิด แสดงให้เห็นว่าสมบัดโดนเรียกให้หยุดรถโดยเจ้าหน้าที่ตำรวจจราจรก่อนถูกกลุ่มชายฉกรรจ์มานำตัวไป ทางรัฐบาลลาวยังไม่มีคำตอบที่ชัดเจนให้กับประชาคมโลก ที่เฝ้าติดตามASEAN Watchและทวงถามถึงชะตากรรมของสมบัดแต่อย่างใด

จดหมายภาษาไทยอยู่ที่นี่ และ ภาษาอังกฤษอยู่ที่นี่

การถูกอุ้มหายของสมบัด สมพอน นักพัฒนาผู้มีบทบาทยอมรับกันไปทั่วโลก และถือเป็นราษฏรอาวุโสผู้มีบทบาทสำคัญยิ่งในลาว เกิดขึ้นในช่วงเวลาที่สปป. ลาวกำลังเปิดตัวเองเข้าเป็นส่วนหนึ่งของประชาคมโลก และเรียกร้องความช่วยเหลือร่วมมือจากนานาประเทศ ก่อให้เกิดกระแสความเป็นห่วงและคำถามมากมายต่อรัฐบาลสปป.ลาวจากทั่วโลก จดหมายจากประชาชนและภาคประชาสังคมไทย เรียกร้องให้รัฐบาลไทยมีส่วนร่วมคุ้มครองสิทธิพื้นฐานของประชาชนในสปป.ลาว ในฐานะที่ไทยเป็นเพื่อนบ้านใกล้ชิดที่มีส่วนในการสนับสนุนสปป.ลาวให้เข้าร่วมกับตลาดโลก เพื่อให้พ้นจากสภาพประเทศที่พัฒนาน้อยที่สุด (LDC) โดยให้นายกรัฐมนตรี “แสดงจุดยืนและความสมานฉันท์ร่วมกับชุมชนประชาคมโลก ในการให้ความสำคัญกับสิทธิของประชาชน ซึ่งเป็นเป้าหมายหลักที่จะได้รับประโยชน์จากการพัฒนาในประเทศสปป.ลาว ด้วยการส่งเสริมการเติบโตของภาคประชาสังคม ในการเคารพและคุ้มครองสิทธิมนุษยชนของประชาชน โดยให้ความสำคัญกับกรณีการอุ้มหายท่านสมบัด สมพอน โดยตระหนักว่า เหตุการณ์ดังกล่าวมีความสำคัญเทียบเท่ากับความร่วมมือในการพัฒนาของทั้งสองประเทศ” ทั้งนี้ ในความเห็นของภาคประชาชน การพัฒนาระหว่างไทย-ลาวที่ผ่านมา รัฐบาลยังเน้นการค้าการลงทุน แต่ยังละเลยประเด็นการพัฒนาที่ยั่งยืนและสิทธิพื้นฐานของประชาชนลาว ที่การถูกอุ้มหายของสมบัด สมพอน นักพัฒนาอาวุโสเจ้าของรางวัลแม็กไซไซปี 2548 ผู้มีความเชื่อว่า การพัฒนาที่แท้จริง ย่อมวัดได้จากดัชนีความสุข ไม่ใช่ดัชนีการเติบโตทางเศรษฐกิจเพียงอย่างเดียว จึงสะท้อนให้เห็นปัญหาที่มีอยู่ในลาวที่ไม่ได้รับการพูดถึงที่ต้องการการแก้ไข

“การหายตัวไปโดยไม่ได้รับคำตอบของบุคคลอย่างท่านสมบัด เป็นความเงียบงันอันเป็นสิ่งบ่งชี้ว่ามีข้อเท็จจริงบางประการในสังคมลาวที่ก่อให้เกิดความรุนแรงต่อผู้คนในลาว ที่ถูกละเลยไม่พูดถึงมาเป็นเวลานาน“ จดหมายระบุ

ในวันนี้ซึ่งเป็นวันครบรอบ 100 วันของการหายตัวไปของสมบัด สมพอน มีองค์กรทั้งภาคประชาชนและภาครัฐนานาประเทศ ส่งจดหมายและแสดงพลังร่วมกันไปยังรัฐบาลในประเทศของตน รวมทั้งทวงถามถึงสมบัด สมพอนกับสถานทูตลาวในประเทศต่าง ๆ รวมทั้งประเทศไทย ฟิลลิปปินส์ สหรัฐอเมริกา ออสเตรเลีย และประเทศในสหภาพยุโรป รวมทั้งนายจอห์น แคร์รี รมว.กระทรวงการต่างประเทศสหรัฐที่มีสารแสดงความเป็นห่วงของสหรัฐอเมริกาในวันนี้ด้วย โดยมีข้อความตอนหนึ่งในสารว่า “(การถูกอุ้มหายของสมบัด) ทำให้เกิดคำถามต่อระบบกฏหมายและความพันธะสัญญาและความรับผิดชอบของลาวต่อประชาคมโลก” อันทำให้เป็นข่าวชิ้นใหญ่ในหนังสือพิมพ์ฉบับใหญ่ในสหรัฐอเมริกาเช่นนิวยอร์ค ไทมส์ในทันที

ข้อมูลเพิ่มเติม กรุณาติดต่อ:

สุนทรี หัตถึ เซ่งกิ่ง คณะกรรมการประสานงานองค์กรพัฒนาเอกชน (กป.อพช)/ASEAN Watch-Thailand โทร. 089-713-2070