Sombath Somphone, EU aid, LDC status and human rights

At the UK Foreign Office, Andy Rutherford of the AEPF-IOC is asking…

In 2018, Lao PDR will be reviewed against markers for graduation from LDC status as a beginning of the process of assessing Lao PDR’s aspiration to graduate from LDC status by the 2020s.

…European development partners have committed approximately USD 550 million in support of the implementation of the Government’s 8th NSEDP (2016-2020). This represents over 30 percent of all the ODA received by the Lao Government to date. Nearly all of the European ODA is provided in grants.

 

International Human Rights organisations and the Asia Europe People’s Forum are of the opinion that the Lao Government is in breach of its human rights commitments, due to the enforced nature of Sombath’s disappearance and its failure to ensure the safe return of Sombath. There are also significant concerns about the restrictions on civil society.

 

Notwithstanding the clear statement of the European Union quoted above, it would appear that the ODA support given by the EU and other donors continues and that formally there have not been moves to suspend or change the flow of ODA in spite of human rights abuses by the Lao PDR.

 

…It is the view of many organisations that Lao PDR graduation from LDC status is not acceptable given its consistent record of human rights violations , including the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone.

Excerpts from letter to the Rt. Hon. Mark Field, Member of UK Parliament, from Andy Rutherford, member of International Organising Committee, Asia Europe People’s Forum

Final Declaration 9th Asia-Europe People’s Forum

This event is without a doubt the largest civil society event ever organized in the Lao PDR and regarded as the most successful AEPF to date. On that note, we Lao NPAs and iNGO civil society organizing partners of the AEPF9 are proud to share the AEPF9 Final Statement and look forward to cooperating with you in related follow up actions.

From the Final Declaration 9th Asia-Europe People’s Forum held in Vientiane, Lao PDR on 16-19 October, 2012.

Five years of silence…

Five years ago, Sombath Somphone gave the following keynote speech at the Asia-Europe Peoples’ Forum.

How many donors, diplomats or civil society organisations in Laos will dare to share his words today?

 

Challenges for Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development – A View from Laos

Sombath Somphone Founder and Advisor to PADETC

Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF9) 16-19 October, 21012, Vientiane, Laos

Excellency Dr. Thongloun SISOULATH, Deputy Prime Minister of the Lao PDR; Respected friends and colleagues from Laos, Asia, and Europe;

Ladies and gentlemen…

What an honor and what a pleasure it is for me to be welcoming you all to our small country, a land of gentle people but with big hearts. I am especially honored to represent Laos at this Asia-Europe People’s Forum to address you today and to share with you some thoughts on how we can together work towards reducing poverty and building a more sustainable future for ourselves and for our children. Continue reading “Five years of silence…”

AEPF11 Final Declaration

AEPF11-LogoAEPF: 06 July 2016

11th Asia- Europe People’s Forum – AEPF11

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
6th July 2016

We, over 750 participants, representing social movements, people’s organisations and citizens from 42 countries across Asia and Europe joined together from the 4th to 6th July 2016 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia at the 11th Asia Europe People’s Forum under the title “Building New Solidarities: Working for Inclusive, Just, and Equal Alternatives in Asia and Europe”.

Urgent Concerns

Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone

On 15th December 2016, it will be four years since the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone.  Sombath was one of the main organisers of AEPF9 held in Vientiane just before ASEM9.  Sombath’s abduction on 15th December 2012 was captured by a police CCTV camera. Since then, the Lao Government has provided no meaningful information to Sombath’s family, friends and the public about his abduction and continuing disappearance. Instead, successive statements and actions by the Lao Government indicate a continuing denial of its basic responsibility and obligations.

We should be reminded that while concerns continue to be raised in the confines of the Universal Periodic Review and similar human rights dialogues, the policies and programmes of governments, donors, and development agencies remain largely unaltered. While Laos is the chair of ASEAN this year, for the first time in its history the parallel ASEAN People’s Forum must be held in another country.

We remind all ASEM member states of their human rights obligations, both domestically and internationally. We sincerely demand that the Lao Government complete their investigation into Sombath’s disappearance, make public the investigation report, and take forward appropriate legal processes against the perpetrators of the crime.  We urge ASEM member states to monitor the fulfilment of these demands and ensure that Sombath and his family receive the justice that is surely their right and that he is returned safely to his family.

(The full declaration can be seen here.)

An open letter to the 2016 Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)

AEPF-2016-06On the occasion of the eleventh Asia-Europe People’s Forum in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, we are reminded of the ninth AEPF held in Vientiane, the capital of the Lao PDR, in 2012.

As the first international civil society forum held in the country, and building on widespread public consultations in every province, AEPF9 was hailed as a milestone for Lao civil society.

But there have been no more such events in the Lao PDR in the subsequent four years.

Soon after AEPF9, Sombath Somphone, the forum’s co-chairperson, was following up on intimidation of participants by authorities both during and after the forum. On December 15, he was stopped at a police check post and then taken away in full view of CCTV cameras.
Continue reading “An open letter to the 2016 Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)”

Disappearance Casts a Pall Over Laos as ASEAN Conference Looms

Radio Free Asia: 07 July 2016

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A 2005 photo of Sombath Somphone in the Philippines. AFP/Somphone family

Sombath Somphone’s shadow continues to hang over Laos, with the rural development expert’s disappearance in 2012 still haunting the country as it prepares to host the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Sombath’s abduction remains unsolved even though there is video footage of Sombath’s Jeep being stopped at a police checkpoint that also shows Sombath being herded into a white truck and taken away. In the video, a man dressed in white returns and drives off in his Jeep.

Though police promised to investigate, Lao authorities soon backtracked saying they could no longer confirm whether the man in the video footage was actually Sombath.

And that’s the way the case has remained despite international calls to solve it. Continue reading “Disappearance Casts a Pall Over Laos as ASEAN Conference Looms”

Surface missing devt worker Sombath: Asia-Europe People’s Forum to Lao govt

Interaksyon: 05 July 2016

AEPF-2016-01
ULAAN BAATAR – Sombath Somphone, the missing development worker who won the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize, has been a focal point of the 11th Asia-Europe People’s Forum here.

The estimated 500 participants from the two continents and the host country Mongolia were asked by Somphone’s wife Shui Meng Ng to sign a petition asking the Lao government to surface him now.

Ng’s message, read by Evelyn Balais-Serrano of the Bangkok-based Forum Asia, also asked the Lao government to conclude its four-year investigation into what the international community, including the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States, has already dubbed as a case of enforced disappearance.

Her assumption that “AEPF was a safe, inclusive space for civil society engagement was misplaced” when Somphone disappeared right in front of a police outpost in the Lao capital of Vientiane in December 2012, Ng said. Continue reading “Surface missing devt worker Sombath: Asia-Europe People’s Forum to Lao govt”

Shui-Meng’s remarks at AEPF11

Remarks by Ng Shui-Meng, read at the opening of the Asian-Europe People’s forum in Ulaanbataar:

AEPF-2016-02

Greetings to all participants gathered together at this 11th AEPF in Ulaan Baatar. Once more representatives from civil society groups across Asia and Europe are gathered together for another Asia-Europe People’s Forum. Two years ago I was in Milan at the 10th AEPF recalling Sombath Somphone’s role and engagement in the 9th AEPF in Vientiane and his optimism and vision of seeing civil society groups, working alongside governments and businesses to support the fostering of more inclusive and sustainable societies across Asia and Europe, and especially for Laos. Unfortunately, Sombath’s aspirations and expectations of a safe and inclusive space for civil society engagement and debate were misplaced.  Two months after the 9th AEPF Sombath was disappeared right in front of a police post in Vientiane, with his abduction clearly recorded by the Lao police surveillance camera.

AEPF11-LogoNow, nearly four years later, Sombath is still missing. His abduction has been acknowledged world-wide as an “Enforced Disappearance”, and his case remains open at the UN Working Group for Enforced Disappearances, as well as at the UN Universal Periodic Review. To all the questions and calls for accountability of Sombath’s abduction, the Lao Government has stubbornly maintained the position that the state is not involved, and the police are still investigating.  Continue reading “Shui-Meng’s remarks at AEPF11”

Is Sombath Being Forgotten?

Logo-Speak Out-Points to PonderAs Laos celebrates its traditional new year, a few points to ponder:

  • While the Lao government claims it is continuing to investigate Sombath’s disappearance, no results have been released in nearly three years. But is anybody still asking?
  • Within days of his disappearance, Sombath’s family filed an appeal with the Supreme People’s Prosecutor. Authorities later claimed the document had been lost. But were attempts made to replace it?
  • Sombath co-chaired the Asia-Europe People’s Forum in 2012, and was abducted soon thereafter. Will AEPF be raising Sombath’s case at their meeting in Mongolia this July?
  • Will Sombath, other human rights issues, or the challenges facing Lao civil society be addressed at this year’s Lao Studies Conference in July?
  • Lao NPAs (and/or the Lao government) declined to host the Asia People’s Forum in Laos this year, in part because of issues surrounding Sombath. Will his plight be discussed at the ACSC/APF in East Timor?
  • The EU and other donors are providing significant support for INGOs and NPAs to follow-up on the Universal Periodic Review, which includes ten recommendations to more seriously investigate Sombath’s disappearance. Is Sombath’s name mentioned in any of this work?
  • Will world leaders attending this year’s ASEAN summit speak of Sombath or the worsening human rights situation in Laos, or will wider geopolitical issues prevail?
  • Will donors accept even more restriction, non-transparency and self-censorship at this year’s High-Level Donor Roundtable meeting?

Statement from AEPF

Asia Europe People’s Forum: 15 December 2015

aepf10logo

Lao People’s Democratic Republic – Sombath Somphone’s enforced disappearance and demands for his safe return

The Asia Europe People’s Forum International Organizing Committee remains deeply concerned about the safety and wellbeing of Mr. Sombath Somphone. It is now three years today since his enforced disappearance.

Sombath is one of the most respected and influential voices for sustainable people‐centred and just economic and social development in Laos. He is the founder and former Director of the Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC), and the winner of the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership. He was the most prominent Lao co‐organizer of the Asia Europe People’s Forum 9 (AEPF9), which was held in October 2012 in the Lao capital Vientiane, before the Asia‐Europe Meeting, ASEM9.

On 15th December 2012 Sombath Somphone disappeared, taken away in a truck by unknown persons after being stopped by police in Vientiane. Nobody has seen or heard from him since. Continue reading “Statement from AEPF”