Urgent Appeal of Parliamentarians across Asia and Europe

Urgent Appeal of Parliamentarians across Asia and Europe for Mr. Sombath Somphone

 February 5, 2013

His Excellency
Thongsing Thammavong
Prime Minister
People’s Democratic Republic of Laos

Dear Excellency,

Re: Request urgent investigation into the disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone

We, members of parliament across  Asia and Europe, write to you deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of Mr. Sombath Somphone one of the most prominent Lao co-organizers of the Asia Europe People’s Forum 9, the founder and former Director of PADETC and one of the most respected and influential voices for sustainable people-centred and just economic and social development in Laos as well as in Asia.

Mr. Sombath Somphone has been missing since about 5 pm on Saturday December 15th 2012. His wife and colleagues last saw Mr. Sombath Somphone on December 15 at 5 pm when he left the PADETC office in Vientiane to go home.  He left the office in his own car; his wife was in another car.  He did not reach home and his family has had no news from or about him since then.

We are concerned about his safety, his state of health and his well-being.

We are aware that the International Organising Committee of the Asia Europe People’s Forum has worked intensively with Mr. Sombath Somphone over the last year. His contribution to the successful Asia Europe People’s Forum 9 in Vientiane on the 16-19 October was extremely significant, widely recognized and deeply respected.  In addition he is a highly respected educationalist, inspiration for sustainable development and a recipient of the prestigious international Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005.  He has dedicated his life to sustainable development and poverty reduction in the Lao PDR, and has contributed positively to numerous international processes, including the AEPF9. Mr. Sombath is an inspiration to development practitioners all over the world.

We are deeply concerned for Mr. Sombath’s safety and well-being and his disappearance is cause for great alarm.

We urge the Lao Government to immediately and urgently initiate an investigation into Mr. Sombath’s disappearance.  And, we call on the government to undertake all actions necessary to ensure his immediate safe return to his family.

Yours sincerely,

SIGNATURES Continue reading “Urgent Appeal of Parliamentarians across Asia and Europe”

Australians call on Bob Carr to act

Senator, the Hon Bob Carr
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Level 10, Bligh House
4 – 6 Bligh Street, Sydney NSW 2000

Fax 02 9228 3655

Monday 4 February 2013

Dear Sir,

We are writing to express our profound concern about the disappearance of respected Lao development leader, Mr. Sombath Somphone.

Sombath is the founder and former director of the Participatory Development Training Centre, a winner of the Magsaysay award and a tireless worker for sustainable development and improving the livelihoods of people in rural Laos.

Sombath was last seen by his wife who was driving ahead of him, on the evening of December 15th in the Lao capital Vientiane, as the couple returned home in separate cars. CCTV footage released by the Lao police shows Sombath stopping at a police post and leaving his vehicle. The footage then shows his jeep being taken away by someone else. He was next seen getting into a pick up truck with two other men and being driven away.

His family has had no contact from him since.

The only official comment on the matter made by the Lao Government so far has been to deny Sombath is in police custody and any knowledge of his whereabouts, and to speculate he could have been the target of a kidnapping. Continue reading “Australians call on Bob Carr to act”

Third letter from Sombath’s wife

Third Appeal to the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic 

Ng Shui Meng, Wife of Sombath Somphone, 30 January 2013

This is my third appeal to the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to release information or results of investigation of the disappearance of my husband, Sombath Somphone, on the evening of 15 December 2012.

Today is the 45th day since my husband’s disappearance and I have done all I can to cooperate with the police and provided information to assist the investigation and find my husband as quickly as possible.  I have also met with the National Assembly Vice-President and his staff to appeal to the National Assembly, as the representatives of the people, to urge the police to expedite the investigation.  But all these efforts have not yielded any concrete information related to the progress of the investigation, other than statements that “the police are still investigating”.

There are still no answers to my queries regarding:

  1. What did the police manning the police post the evening of Sombath’s disappearance on 15 December 2012 said what happened that night, and what did they see?
  2. Whether the motorcyclist who drove away Sombath’s jeep has been identified?
  3. Has Sombath’s jeep (License plate No.: 2624) been found?
  4. Whether the white truck with flashing lights that stopped at the police post and took my husband away been identified?
  5. Has the driver of the white truck who drove away with my husband been questioned?
  6. If the footages were too blurry, as claimed by the police, has the Ministry of Public Security sought technical assistance from any other government or international security agencies? Are they too blurry for the entire Tha Deua Road CCTV cameras?
  7. Has the Lao police issued an Interpol Yellow Notification to inform colleagues in the region about Sombath’s disappearance and sought their assistance?

To all these questions I have not had any satisfactory answers. Continue reading “Third letter from Sombath’s wife”

AFSC staff issue plea to Lao government

1 February 2013

H.E. Mr. Choummaly Sayasone
Secretary General of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and President of the Lao PDR
Presidential Palace, Thannon Sethathirat, Muang Chanthabuli Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic

H.E. Mr. Thongsing Thammavong
Prime Minister
Prime Minister’s Office
Ban Nahai Dio, Muang Chanthabuli Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic Fax: +856 21 213653

Your Excellencies:

Since the founding of the Lao PDR in 1975, we, the undersigned former staff of the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), have had the privilege to live and work in your country. We know well the severe post-war difficulties your people faced after the US secret war. We celebrate the country’s steady progress in education, health and food production.

Speaking as long-standing friends of Lao people, we are seeking information about the welfare of our colleague and friend, Sombath Somphone. His disappearance on 15 December deeply concerns us. We are confident that if the party, government, military, and public security worked together on this matter, Sombath could be returned to his family.

Sombath has gained worldwide admiration for his people-centered, practical and non-violent approach to development. His philosophy inspires elementary students and their teachers to practice recycling, farmers to produce and eat healthy organic foods and rural families to use fuel-efficient cooking stoves. Continue reading “AFSC staff issue plea to Lao government”

EU steps up pressure

EU steps up pressure on Laos over activist’s disappearance

Straits Times, 01 Feb 2013

BANGKOK – The European Union has piled more pressure on Laos with a strong expression of concern over the disappearance in December last year of prominent Magsaysay Award winner Sombath Somphone.

Screen Shot 2013-02-01 at 22.53.08 PMIn a one-hour meeting on Friday morning in Vientiane, senior European diplomats raised the issue with Laos’ Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith. “They also spoke for other like-minded countries – the United States, Switzerland, Japan and Singapore,” said a diplomatic source familiar with the meeting, known in diplomatic jargon as a démarche.

The 62-year-old Mr Sombath, who is married to a Singaporean national, is one of Laos’ most prominent civil society figures. His Participatory Development Training Centre was active in education, health and food security issues. He won the Magsaysay Award – Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize – for Community Service in 2005. He is no firebrand, however; instead, he is known for his mild manner and his nuanced approach to sensitive issues.

He vanished on the evening of Dec 15. CCTV footage of the incident showed him pulling over in his jeep at a busy intersection in Vientiane and getting out to speak with police. Minutes later, a man on a motorbike pulled up and drove away in his jeep. Next, a big car with hazard lights flashing pulled up and Mr Sombath got in. He has not been heard from since.

Laos: community leader Sombath Somphone must be found

icj_logoInternational Commission of Jurists: 17 January 2013

The ICJ calls on the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to take an active role in determining the fate and whereabouts of Sombath Somphone, a community leader in Laos.

The ICJ also calls on the AICHR to fulfill its mandate under Article 4, paragraph 1.11 of its Terms of Reference, and develop a common position and strategy for tackling the serious problem of enforced and involuntary disappearances in the ASEAN region.

This position must aim towards hastening the resolution of cases of enforced and involuntary disappearances in the region, as well as effectively preventing these violations in the future.

Sombath Somphone is the founder and former director of the Participatory Development Training Center (PDTC) and 2005 recipient of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.

He also led Laos’ civil society groups in participating at the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) held in October 2012.

He was last seen being stopped by local police at the Thadeau police station on 15 December 2012, at around 5:00pm.

His family has no information on his fate or whereabouts to this day.

“It should be an urgent concern for the AICHR to give sustained priority to this case and it should vigorously encourage the government of Laos to make every effort to locate him,” said Sam Zarifi, Regional Director of the ICJ for Asia and the Pacific. Continue reading “Laos: community leader Sombath Somphone must be found”

Statement by Hillary Clinton

Press Statement:  Disappearance of Lao Civil Society Leader Sombath Somphone

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
January 16, 2013

We are deeply concerned about the well-being of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who disappeared one month ago. Reports indicate that Mr. Sombath went missing on December 15, 2012 after being stopped at a police checkpoint in the capital city of Vientiane. We call upon the Lao government to pursue a transparent investigation of this incident and to do everything in its power to bring about an immediate and safe return home to his family.

Since receiving his education in the United States, Clinton-statementMr. Sombath has worked tirelessly to promote sustainable development in Laos and he inspired a new generation of young leaders. He founded the Participatory Development Training Center, which trains Lao youth and local government leaders in community development and poverty reduction. His disappearance has generated a tremendous amount of concern from his family, friends and colleagues around the world. We urge his immediate return home and send our thoughts and prayers to his family and loved ones.

Statement of ASEAN delegation

Statement of Rep. Walden Bello on the Preliminary findings of ASEAN Parliamentary Delegation to the Lao PDR on the disappearance of Sombath Somphone

We are members of a delegation of ASEAN parliamentarians that visited the Lao Peoples’ Democratic Republic to investigate the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, the prominent Lao leader of civil society from January 13 to 15.  We went at the request of the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF)

The delegation was assembled in 10 days’ time owing to the urgency of the matter.  Despite the short notice, high officials of the Lao PDR met with us, and we are very grateful for this.  We had a very frank exchange of views in a cordial atmosphere.

We told the officials we met with that the disappearance of Sombath is an ASEAN concern because Sombath is an ASEAN figure whose work has touched the lives of many people in Lao and other countries in ASEAN.  His work on rural development was a model emulated throughout the region.  Moreover, at a time when ASEAN is coming together as a real community in the eyes of the world, his disappearance reflects badly not only on Laos but on the whole ASEAN community.

The officials we met acknowledged that the disappearance of Sombath is a blow to the reputation of the Lao PDR and that it could not have come at a worse time, coming on the heels of the country’s joining the World Trade Organization and hosting the Asia-Europe Leaders Meeting (ASEM).  They also all acknowledged that Sombat was an important civil society leader who has contributed much to Laos’ development working alongside government, with many of them saying they knew him personally.  They also noted the special responsibility of the government to solve Mr. Sombath’s disappearance since the Lao PDR has just signed the Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, being the fourth country in Asia to do so.

One of the Lao leaders we met, Mr. Phoungsavath Boupha, President of the National Committee for Human Rights in the Office of the President, acknowledged that Sombath’s disappearance is not the first case of disappearance in Laos.  He cited the case of the sister of the wife of the former ambassador of the Lao PDR to Indonesia who vanished five years ago and has not yet been found.  We stressed to the officials we met that this case shows the importance of acting swiftly to find the disappeared, for the longer he or she is not located, the greater the chances that he will no longer surface.  Continue reading “Statement of ASEAN delegation”

An Open Letter to Sombath’s Well-­Wishers

From Ng Shui Meng, wife of Sombath Somphone

Since Sombath disappearance on the evening of 15 December 2012, my family and I have been touched by the great love, concern and support shown by friends, colleagues, international and regional agencies, civil society groups, government spokespersons, and Sombath with Tutu (cropped)the media who have joined hands to urge the Government of the Lao PDR to invest all their resources and capacities in their ongoing investigation of Sombath’s whereabouts, and to return him safely to me and to my family. We are most grateful and deeply touched by such show of solidarity for Sombath’s well-­‐ being.

While many articles and statements written about Sombath’s disappearance and urging his safe return have been helpful, some of the reports and comments also contain some factual errors or speculations. My greatest wish is the personal safety and well-­‐being of my husband, Sombath, wherever he is. For this reason, I urge all well-‐wishers not to stray away from the facts or to misrepresent Sombath or the nature of his work.

The facts as I know them

  1. Sombath was last seen on 15 December 2012 driving in his jeep behind my vehicle. We were both going home to dinner. The last time I saw him from my rear view mirror was around 6:00 p.m. near the police post on KM 3 on Thadeua Road.
  2. When he did not return home that night, we searched for Sombath’s whereabouts around the area where he was last seen and also searched the city’s hospital in the hope of finding Sombath, but to no avail.
  3. On 16 December, we reported Sombath missing to the village, district and police authorities. Family searches were once more carried out in all the city’s hospitals, but there was no sign of Sombath.
  4. On 17 December 2012, a request was made to the Vientiane Municipality Police Station to view the close circuit TV footages recorded by CCTV cameras near the police post where Sombath was last seen. The police officers on duty were very cooperative and allowed us to view the CCTV footages. From the TV footages, we saw Sombath stopped by the police at the police post. We saw Sombath get out of his jeep and enter into the police post.
  5. Later a motorcyclist came by, parked the motorcycle near the jeep, running into the police post and later emerged and drove Sombath’s jeep away.
  6. After a few minutes, a white truck with flashing lights stopped by the police post and two or three people were seen getting into the vehicle which drove off in a hurry. Continue reading “An Open Letter to Sombath’s Well-­Wishers”