On Thursday, activists gathered in front of the Lao Embassy in Bangkok to mark the 10th year of the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, the award-winning Lao social activist. Every year, activists have launched campaigns to keep the memory of his mysterious vanishing alive.
On Dec 15, 2012, Sombath, recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay award (known as Asia’s Nobel Prize), vanished from a busy street in Vientiane, the capital of Lao PDR.
Grainy footage from a police CCTV camera showed Sombath’s vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint before individuals whisked him into another vehicle and drove him away. CCTV footage also showed an individual arriving at the scene and driving Sombath’s vehicle away from the city centre.
Despite a decade of calls from U.N. officials and human rights groups, there is still no word as to the ultimate fate of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the disappearance of the Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone. As in most of the past ten years, the occasion has been marked by commemorations and calls for answers about his disappearance – and an emanation of silence from the government in Vientiane.
On the evening of December 15, 2021, Sombath, the leader of Laos’ first and most prominent civil society organization, was stopped at a checkpoint on the outskirts of the capital Vientiane. The 60-year-old was then transferred to another vehicle, according to a grainy police surveillance video that emerged later, and was never seen again. After Sombath’s disappearance, the United States and other Western governments called for an investigation. The Lao government promised to do so but has never done much toward fulfilling it.
Sombath Somphone, a prominent development worker in Laos, was on his way home from work when he disappeared at a police checkpoint on 15 December 2012. His wife, who’s still working to find out what happened to him, believes it was a warning to others.
“It’s been 10 years now and it’s still very fresh in my mind,” Shui Meng Ng tells the BBC.
The drive home that day was supposed to be routine. Her husband met her at the handicraft shop she owned in the capital Vientiane and as usual the couple drove home together in convoy – she was ahead, and he followed behind.
I am deeply aware that 15 December 2022 marks the tenth year since any of us have heard from you. Your enforced disappearance 10 days before Christmas – a season for peace and joy – deepens the hurt caused by your absence from the development community. During the past decade; our respect for your work, which is driven by your noble principles, innovative ideas and selfless objectives, has grown.
Many of us have read the splendid book, “Silencing of a Laotian Son,” by Dr. Ng Shui Meng and discovered personal aspects of your life we had not known previously. We did not know that your commitment to Laos began early in your youth. You were offered a Green Card which would have allowed you to stay on in Hawaii after your graduation to enjoy the ease of a career in the USA – however, you turned it down and chose to return to serve your country and fellow Laotians. You were the only student to make this choice among your classmates.
As Christmas 2022 approaches followed by the New Year of 2023, we are acutely aware that December has long ceased to be peaceful or joyous for your family and colleagues.
Your name, good work and well-being continue to be discussed within the development community. The past decade has not faded nor silenced this discussion.
BANGKOK, THAILAND — The wife of a missing Laos activist said Tuesday that a decade on she was still no closer to finding answers over his disappearance as more than 60 human rights groups condemned Vientiane’s inaction.
Sombath Somphone, an award-winning campaigner for sustainable development, vanished on 15 December 2012 after police pulled over his vehicle at a checkpoint in the capital.
The Sombath Symposium is part of a series of events under the umbrella theme of “We Shall Not Forget” from December 2 to December 15, the day that will mark ten years since Sombath was disappeared. The events seek to commemorate Sombath’s legacy, to demand justice for Sombath and his family, and to call for an end to enforced disappearance and persecution of people and communities who advocate for justice, sustainability, human rights and peace.
Ahead of the 10-year anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned civil society organizations and individuals, renew calls on the Lao government to determine his fate and whereabouts and deliver justice, truth, and reparation to his family. We deplore the Lao authorities’ repeated failure to act on their human rights obligations to thoroughly investigate Sombath’s disappearance and provide adequate, effective, and prompt reparation for Sombath and his family over the past decade.
Since Sombath, a pioneer in community-based development and youth empowerment, was abducted from a busy street in Vientiane on 15 December 2012, numerous United Nations (UN) member states and human rights monitoring mechanisms have repeatedly expressed their concern over his enforced disappearance and urged the Lao government to conduct a prompt and effective investigation into this grave human rights violation and crime under international law. Continue reading “After 10 years, civil society worldwide is still asking: “Where is Sombath?””
The European Union (EU) must raise its concerns with the Lao government over the lack of progress in addressing long-standing human rights violations in Laos and urge authorities to comply with the country’s human rights obligations, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today. The two organizations made the call ahead of the 11th EU-Laos Human Rights Dialogue, which will be held on 13 July 2022 in Brussels.
“The human rights dialogue is one of the few opportunities for the EU to raise its concerns with Vientiane. It must not be another opportunity that allows the government to engage in dishonest statements and avoid any pledges to make concrete and measurable human rights commitments.” Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General
In conjunction with their call, the two organizations released a briefing paper that provides a summary of human rights developments in Laos since the previous human rights dialogue, which was held remotely on 16 June 2021. The briefing paper documents key developments on the following issues: 1) political prisoners; 2) failure to cooperate with United Nations (UN) human rights mechanisms; 3) enforced disappearances; 4) violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief; 5) human rights impacts of infrastructure and investment projects; 6) minimum wage increase; and 7) the COVID-19 response.
“As the 10-year anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone approaches, it is crucial that the EU keeps pressing the Lao government for answers about his fate and whereabouts. The chilling effect of Sombath’s disappearance haunts Lao civil society to this day and, until truth and justice are established, fear and oppression will prevail.” Elise Lyfoung, LMHR President
Silencing of a Laotian son: the life, work, and enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, by Ng Shui Meng, Spirit in Education Movement & International Network of Engaged Buddhists, 2022, US$10.00 (paperback), US$5.00 (eBook)
On 15 December 2012, Sombath Somphone was abducted at a police checkpoint in the Lao capital of Vientiane. The victim of an enforced disappearance, his whereabouts remains unknown.
In Silencing of a Laotian Son, Ng Shui Meng provides a moving memoir of Sombath’s life, work and disappearance. Beginning by detailing the circumstances of his abduction, the book then shifts back to Sombath’s childhood to provide a chronological biography that charts his life experiences across Laos, the United States and Singapore. Later chapters discuss many of the efforts that have been made to locate Sombath since 2012, as well as the unrelenting stonewalling of these efforts by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). Continue reading “Book Review: Silencing of a Laotian Son”
Civic space remains ‘closed’ in Laos in ratings published by the CIVICUS Monitor in December 2021. The rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly remained severely restricted, and the state exercised strict control over media and civil society.
In recent months the government has continued to repress its people, both inside the country and outside its borders. An exiled Lao dissident has sought refuge in Canada after he was arrested in Thailand and threatened with deportation. The Hmong community continued to face state-sponsored discrimination, amidst an increased push for foreign investments in the Xaysomboun region. December 2021 marked nine years since human rights defender Sombath Somphone was forcibly disappeared. Continue reading “Political Dissident From Laos Finds Refuge as Ethnic Hmong Indigenous People Remain at Risk”