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”
My dearest Sombath, today is 17 February, your birthday. This year is also the Year of the Tiger. Since you are also born in the Year of the Tiger, it means that you have reached your 6th cycle according to the Lunar calendar, therefore marking your 72nd year on earth.
Reaching the 6th cycle of your life is an especially auspicious occasion. If you are with us today, we would be celebrating this day with all your friends and family. Unfortunately you are not with us.
I know that you do not care much about celebrating birthdays or any other day in the calendar. But today is special. So I know you will allow us to fuss over you a bit. Unfortunately, you are not with us and we still don’t know where you are. However, regardless of where you are, I together with everyone in the family would be sending you our special wishes and prayers on this auspicious day. We are all praying and wishing that you will remain strong and healthy physically and emotionally, and wherever you are, you will be surrounded by people who would take good care of you. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (26)”
Sombath Somphone has devoted his entire life working to promote education and sustainable development among young people in Laos PDR. His enforced disappearance in 2012 unfortunately cut short his work. His wife Ng Shui Meng has written a book entitled Silencing of a Laotian Son – the Life, Work and Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone. The book was launched in Bangkok, Siam (Thailand) on 14 December 2021. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go towards the Sombath Somphone Education Fund to continue Sombath’s work.
The Sombath Somphone Education Fund will provide scholarships to children, especially girls, ages 7-17 to receive primary and secondary education, and to young school drop-outs or graduates, ages 14-20 to attend vocational training schools where they can learn some life-skills.
The Sombath Family will match each donation to the fund dollar for dollar.
Donations to the Sombath Education Fund can be made through clicking on this link: https://www.inebnetwork.org/donation/ When making the donation, please specifically note that it is for the Sombath Somphone Education Fund.