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.
Remarks by Ng Shui-Meng, read at the opening of the Asian-Europe People’s forum in Ulaanbataar:
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.
Now, 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”
As 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?
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”
A pre-session for the Universal Periodic Review of the Lao PDR (scheduled for January, 2015) was held on 03 December in Geneva. While many international human rights organisations did not attend the session, a briefing paper summarising UPR submissions from some groups was compiled.
The summary includes the following recommendations:
Immediately undertake a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation, consistent with international standards, into the apparent enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, publicly release original images of the closed circuit television (CCTV) video of Sombath’s disappearance, and accept offers from foreign experts to assist in examining evidence, including the CCTV footage.
Implement the commitments made during the 2010 UPR, including by becoming a party to the ICPPED and incorporating all provisions of the various international human rights treaties to which the Lao PDR is a party.
Amend its Penal Law to provide for criminal liability for all acts of enforced disappearance and corresponding penalties accounting for the extreme seriousness of these acts.
Allow Ng Shui Meng, Sombath Somphone’s wife, to have access to files and findings of the investigation and other information to which she is entitled.
Provide Ng Shui Meng with access to an effective remedy and reparation for the enforced disappearance of her husband.
Undertake a thorough, impartial, and effective investigation into all allegations of enforced disappearances, including those related to the nine activists arrested on 2 November 2009 in connection with planned peaceful demonstrations calling for democracy, justice, and respect of their land rights.
119 participants at the 10th Asia-Europe People’s forum signed a petition to the ASEM heads of states and government:
Enforced disappearance is never an internal matter in any country. It is a contravention of international law and widely held to be a crime against humanity. Sombath’s family and friends and the people of Laos have the right to the truth, to know what happened to Sombath. Sombath and his family have the right to justice.
We remind all ASEM member states of their human rights obligations, both domestically and internationally. We sincerely demand that the Lao Government to complete their invesrigation on Sombath’s disappearance, make public the investigation report, and take forward legal process 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.
The full statement and list of signatories can be seen here.
One week before the official Asia-Europe government meeting (ASEM) gathers in Milan, over 400 people from 42 countries in Europe and Asia gathered at the 10th Asia-Europe Peoples forum (AEPF) to present their demands and recommendations.
More than 400 people, representing social movements, organisations and citizens from 42 countries, met from October 10– 12 2014 to discuss five thematic areas that concern citizens across Europe and Asia. As an outcome of the forum,that takes place every two years in Asia or Europe, recommendations will be presented to the governments at the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) on climate change, trade and investment policies, social protection, food sovereignty, migration, peace and security.
“Sombath was optimistic that many of the challenges and crises in Laos, as well as in Asia and Europe, could be tackled through open and frank dialogue and concrete actions between ordinary citizens in partnership with civil society groups and the government. “said Shui Meng Ng.
Paul Emile Dupret, member of the GUE group in the European Parliament, who went to Laos after Sombath’s disappearance on a mission with the EP, talked about the difficult environment they faced when talking to the Lao government and stated that the European left party rejects “….fake socialism – promoting landgrabbing and corruption”.
The final declaration of the 10th Asia-Europe People’s Forum, held in Milan, Italy on the 10th to 12th of October, has been released. Below is an except about Sombath. The full statement can be read here, or on the website of the Transnational Institute.
On December 15 2014, it will be two years since the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone. Sombath was one of the main organisers of AEPF9 held in Vientiane just before ASEM10. Sombath, a Magsaysay Award winner, is one of the most respected people in ASEAN working for sustainable development. Sombath’s abduction on December 12, 2012 was captured by a CCTV camera. The footage shows that his jeep was stopped in front of a police booth. After he voluntarily went to the booth, a third person came and drove the jeep away. He was seen next being taken away in a pickup truck. 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.
The Lao PDR depends heavily on international aid and in the lead up to its annual Roundtable scheduled for November 2014, the Lao Government is requesting even more financial support from the international community.
Enforced disappearance is never an internal matter in any country. It is a contravention of international law and widely recognised to be a crime against humanity. Sombath’s family and friends and the people of Laos have the right to the truth, to know what happened to Sombath. Sombath and his family have the right to justice.
We remind all ASEM member states of their human rights obligations, both domestically and internationally. We sincerely demand the Lao Government to complete their investigation into Sombath’s disappearance, make public the investigation report, and take forward the legal process 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.
Il caso del leader desaparecido. Dagli anni ’80 dava sostegno alle piccole conduzioni contadine. Sotto accusa il governo laotiano
Che l’attività dei movimenti e delle associazioni che fanno capo al Forum dei popoli europei e asiatici non sia indolore, che non si tratti di sole parole ma di una dura lotta per cambiare e imporre una democrazia sostanziale, lo prova il caso drammatico di Sumbath Somphone, la cui immagine ha colorato le mura di tutte le sale dove si sono svolti i lavori della conferenza.
La vicenda ce la racconta nell’articolo che segue la moglie, Shii Meng Ng, che, con il suo discorso, ha aperto i lavori della Aepf. Sumbath, come racconta, guidava la sua vecchia jeep nel centro di Vientiane, lei lo precedeva verso casa sul suo veicolo, quando si è accorta che il marito era stato fermato a un posto di blocco della polizia. Non ci ha fatto molto caso, pensando ad una infrazione stradale, normale nel caotico traffico della capitale laotiana. L’allarme è scattato quando non l’ha più visto arrivare a casa e inutili sono state le ricerche presso gli ospedali e la polizia. Continue reading “Sumbath Somphone, scomparso due anni fa nelle strade di Vientiane”
“Towards a Just and Inclusive Asia and Europe-Building States of Citizens for Citizens”
Two years ago, at the 9th AEPF, my husband, Sombath Somphone, as the Co-Chair of the National Organizing Committee, gave the keynote speech at the opening session of the Forum in Vientiane, Laos. He was at the time both happy and excited that after months of intensive preparation, the AEPF9 was officially declared open by no less than Laos’ Deputy Prime Minister. More than 1,000 people representing civil society groups and organizations from across Asia and Europe participated. As a Lao, Sombath was proud that his country could play host to such a major civil society forum.
Over the next few days between October 16-19, the forum participants passionately discussed, debated, shared, and exchanged lessons on common challenges and issues of poverty, social polarization, inequalities, indebtedness, and unemployment faced by ordinary folks in the countries of Asia and Europe. The energy level was high, and the panel discussions were animated, inclusive, and constructive. The participants eagerly presented their ideas and experiences, and worked hard to present the “People’s Vision” of shared hopes and aspirations which became incorporated as the final statement from the AEPF9 to the leaders of the ASEM countries for their deliberation and consideration for action in the follow-up ASEM Meeting.
By all estimation, and publicly acknowledged by the International Organizing Committee, the AEPF9 was considered one of the most successful People’s Forum ever. Then on 15 December 2012, two months after the close of AEPF9, Sombath Somphone was disappeared. He was last seen stopped at a police post in Vientiane and taken away by a white truck. The entire sequence of Sombath’s abduction was recorded by the state-installed traffic-control camera, and the footages of the abduction have since been shared on You-tube. Continue reading “Keep Sombath’s Vision Alive”