What is…Enforced Disappearance in Lao PDR?

Logo-What isBriefing paper prepared by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)

Introduction

“The phenomenon of enforced disappearances […] is the worst of all violations of human rights. It is certainly a challenge to the very concept of human rights, denial of the right for humans to have an existence, an identity. Enforced disappearance transforms humans into non-beings. It is the ultimate corruption, abuse of power that allows those responsible to transform law and order into something ridiculous and to commit heinous crimes.” Niall MacDermot, Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists (1970-1990) (1)

ICJThe International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) defines “enforced disappearance” as:

The arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared.

Between 1994 and 2012, eight cases of reported enforced disappearance in Lao PDR were referred to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) (2):

Year of alleged ED

Year WGEID transmitted case to Government

Names

Status

1993

1994

A leader of repatriation group

Discontinued by WGEID in 2006

1999

2001

5 members of Lao student movement for democracy

Clarified in 2005/2006

2009

2010

Ms. Kingkeo Phongsely (3)

Outstanding

2012

2012

Mr. Sombath Somphone

Outstanding

While eight cases have been referred to the WGEID, the actual number of enforced disappearances may be higher. There are many reasons why cases may not be reported to the WGEID, including fear of approaching the authorities and/or lack of knowledge of, or access to, the UN mechanisms.

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What is…Civil Society in Laos?

Logo-What isBriefing paper prepared by the Sombath Initiative

  • Historically, the Lao PDR is a country of remarkable ethnic, linguistic and geographic diversity. Until recently, most communities, particularly in rural areas, were largely self- sustaining and locally-governed. A strong, traditional civil society still exists.
  • Substantially supported through development aid, state-building is quickly replacing these traditional codes and customs. Most often, local populations have less understanding of, and reduced access to the newer, more centralised laws and mechanisms.
  • Logo-Sombath InitiativeMass organisations, including the National Front for Reconstruction, the Federation of Trade Unions, and the Women’s and Youth Unions, are often portrayed by the Lao government as civil society organisations, although they exist primarily to represent the state to the population. Non-Profit Associations (NPAs) are seen in a similar vein, as mechanisms to extend governmental agenda, policies and programmes.

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What is…Freedom of Expression in the Lao PDR?

Logo-What isBriefing paper prepared by International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Freedom of expression severely repressed

Lao authorities impose severe restrictions on the right to freedom of expression in the country. The state controls almost all media in Laos. Repressive laws prevent free expression and the circulation of opinions and information. In the rare instances where people have tried to express their opinions, authorities have cracked down on the public expression of government criticism.

FIDH-LogoSince 1997, Freedom House has rated Laos as ‘Not Free’ with regard to its press freedom. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has consistently ranked Laos among the bottom 15 countries surveyed since the creation of its Press Freedom Index in 2002. (more…)

What are…Laos’ International Human Rights Obligations & Commitments?

Logo-What isBriefing paper prepared by Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) has participated in the first two rounds of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights records, but its compliance and engagement with other UN human rights mechanisms has been very limited, despite its treaty obligations and UPR commitments. This low level of cooperation is particularly worrying given the lack of meaningful access to domestic remedies for human rights violations, which continue to take place with impunity.

CRD-logoHuman Rights Treaties

Laos is state party to seven core international human rights treaties (and two optional protocols): (1)

  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) (accession in 1974)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (accession in 1981)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its two Optional Protocols (CRC-OP-AC & CRC-OP-SC) (accession in 1991 & ratification in 2006)
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (accession in 2007)
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) (accession in 2009)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (accession in 2009)
  • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) (accession in 2012)

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What is…Enforced Disappearance?

Definition

Logo-What isEnforced disappearance is when a person is secretly taken by the government, or by others with the knowledge and support of state authorities. The government then denies any role in the abduction, as well as knowledge about what happened, or where the person might be. The result is that the person is denied all legal rights and protection.

Enforced disappearance is often considered one of the most serious and brutal crimes for several reasons:

  • The family and colleagues of the victim often have very few legal options. There is usually little evidence, or the authorities refuse to investigate or seek evidence, because they do not acknowledge that a crime was committed.
  • Not only does the victim’s family have no knowledge of what happened to their loved one, they are often afraid to speak out or pursue the case because they fear it may have further negative effects. Because of this, the family is also a victim of the crime.
  • Enforced disappearance also creates significant fear among friends, colleagues and peer groups. Because they usually do not know the specific reason the person was abducted, they become afraid to act. In this way, enforced disappearance can also be a means of repression against wider society.
  • At the same time, enforced disappearance can result in both complicity and complacency among the broader population. Because there is little evidence and no legal case, others can pretend the crime did not occur and that the situation is normal.

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What are—a state’s key obligations under the CPED?

“The phenomenon of enforced disappearances […] is the worst of all violations of human rights. It is certainly a challenge to the very concept of human rights, denial of the right for humans to have an existence, an identity. Enforced disappearance transforms humans into non-beings. It is the ultimate corruption, abuse of power that allows those responsible to transform law and order into something ridiculous and to commit heinous crimes.”

Niall MacDermot, Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists (1970-1990)

Logo-What isIntroduction

“Enforced disappearance” is one of the worst violations of human rights.  A “disappeared” person is entirely at the mercy of his or her captors, with no access to legal protection.

The family and friends of a disappeared person endure tremendous suffering not knowing whether the disappeared person is alive or deceased, or whether they will ever know their fate or whereabouts.

Usually victims are apprehended at home or ‘grabbed’ from the street, sometimes in broad daylight, and taken to an unknown location. They are frequently tortured and face the constant fear of being killed. (more…)