Da oggi Milano è la casa dei popoli di tutto il mondo

Villagio Globale: 10 Ottobre 2014

forum-milanoLa tre giorni di convegni e workshop su Commercio internazionale, Protezione sociale, Sovranità alimentare, Cambiamento climatico, Pace e sicurezza. Un appello rivolto ai governi e alle istituzioni di tutto il mondo per far tornare a casa Sombath Somphone.

Una sedia vuota e un appello rivolto ai governi e alle istituzioni di tutto il mondo per far tornare a casa Sombath Somphone. È iniziato così il Forum dei popoli che ha preso avvio stamane a Milano, casa della decima edizione del Forum della società civile Asia-Europa, AEPF10.

A prendere la parola per prima dinanzi a oltre 400 delegati provenienti da tutto il mondo è stata Shui Meng Ng, moglie dell’attivista premio Nobel asiatico Sombath Somphone, vittima di una sparizione forzata il 15 dicembre 2012. La sua colpa, aver organizzato la nona edizione del Forum nel Laos, nel nome della lotta alla povertà, alle disuguaglianze, alle iniquità.

«Mi sono chiesta se Sombath abbia varcato qualche soglia sconosciuta, scontentando chi non vuole riconoscere alla società civile uno spazio maggiore», ha ragionato a voce alta Shui Meng Ng, che ha aggiunto: «Sombath non avrebbe mai rinnegato la sua vita e il suo impegno. Non si sarebbe mai pentito».

All’appello si è unito anche Basilio Rizzo, presidente del Consiglio comunale di Milano e simbolico padrone di casa nella cornice casalinga che ospita il Forum: la Fabbrica del Vapore. «Confermo l’impegno a tutti i livelli istituzionali affinché Sombath possa tornare a casa, perché oggi più che mai è impossibile alcuna politica priva dell’apporto determinante della società civile da voi ben rappresentata». Continue reading “Da oggi Milano è la casa dei popoli di tutto il mondo”

Milan becomes the home of peoples from around the world

Villagio Globale: 10 October 2014 (Unofficial translation)

forum-milanoThree days of seminars and workshops on international trade, social protection, food security, climate change, peace and security. An appeal to governments and institutions around the world for Sombath Somphone’s safe return.

An empty chair and an appeal to governments and institutions around the world for Sombath Somphone’s safe return. This is how the People’s Forum kicked off today in Milan, home of the tenth Asia-Europe People’s Forum, or AEPF10.

Shui Meng Ng, wife of activist Sombath Somphone, is a winner of the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize and became a victim of enforced disappearance on 15 December 2012, gave the keynote speech in front of the more than 400 delegates from all around the world. Sombath was one of the organizers of the ninth AEPF in Laos, under the slogan of struggle against poverty and inequality.

“I repeatedly asked myself whether Sombath crossed some unknown political line and annoyed those who refuse to allow for greater space for civil society,” Shui Meng Ng said. “Sombath would have never regretted his life-long work and commitment. He would have never regretted what he did,” she added.

Basilio Rizzo, President of Milan’s City Council and symbolic host of the event that is being held on the premises of the Steam Factory, joined Shui Meng’s appeal: “I confirm the authorities’ commitment at all levels to working for Sombath’s safe return home. Today, more than ever, it is impossible to think of any policy without the crucial contribution of civil society which you represent here so well.” Continue reading “Milan becomes the home of peoples from around the world”

AEPF9: Expectations and Realities

the-9th-asia-europe-peoples-forum-concludes-576353-aepf9The AEPF9 aims to enable a secure environment that encourages learning and reflection and provides space for open, respectful, diverse and constructive debate. We support harmony, compassion and understanding, whilst recognizing the strength of diversity and solidarity for peaceful and sustainable development.

From materials presented at the 9th Asia-Europe People’s Forum held in Vientiane on 16-19 October, 2012.

…due to these Post-AEPF9 events in Laos, the IOC of the AEPF is compelled to state that the legacy of the AEPF9 in Laos is in great jeopardy. The lived reality for many people in Laos today is in sharp contrast to the rhetoric of the Vientiane Declaration on Strengthening Partnership for Peace and Development agreed at the end of ASEM9.

There does not appear to be a secure environment that encourages learning and reflection, or one that provides space for open, respectful, diverse and constructive debate.

From AEPF9–Reflections and Lesson Learning, the International Organising Committee of the Asia-Europe People’s Forum.

aepf10logoThe 10th Asia-Europe People’s Forum begins today in Milan, Italy, with the theme: Towards a Just and Inclusive Asia and Europe – Building States of Citizens for Citizens

Two years ago: AEPF9 and UNDP

the-9th-asia-europe-peoples-forum-concludes-576353-aepf9Two years ago, Sombath worked closely with government authorities, the United Nations Development Program, and the UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Minh Pham, to organise nation-wide consultations in preparation for the 9th Asia-Europe People’s Forum.

One result of this process was the report “Listening to the People’s Voice,” released on October 8th.

The next day, Mr. Pham issued a statement disassociating himself from the report, asserting it was only a draft, but no alternatives were ever offered.

Minh PhamTwo months and one day later, Mr. Pham and UNDP joined in celebrating the 2012 International Human Rights Day. The theme was “Inclusion and the Right to Participate in Public Affairs.”

A UNDP press release highlighted the event. But when Sombath was abducted five days later, there was no such publicity, nor have there been any public expressions of concern since.

In May, 2014, Mr. Pham was awarded the Cross of Friendship for his service. The UNDP website also makes special note of this. The website does not, however, make any mention of Sombath or his continuing plight.

Dear Sombath…from Dorothy Guerrero

Dear Sombath,

I remember our meeting in early 2011 when we, from the International Organizing Committee of the Asia Europe People’s Forum (AEPF), first approached you about the possibility of PADTEC co-organizing the parallel event to the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) in 2012. You listened attentively and occasionally gave a meaningful smile as we described how it was held in previous host countries. We enumerated some highlights as well as challenges that we encountered in the previous countries. We also shared that many others had expressed their apprehension about the anticipated challenges of holding it in Vientiane.

We very frankly asked you if you thought that it was possible to organize it in Vientiane without censorship and threat, or whether some participants would be barred from Laos because of their political involvement in their home countries and the type of issues that they are working on (human rights, food sovereignty, climate change , environment, etc.). I also asked if it would be better to hold it in Thailand across from Vientiane so that it would be less problematic for civil society groups in Laos. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Dorothy Guerrero”

A More Balanced Development Model

To truly achieve the vision of our founding fathers of building a nation governed by the people and for the people and guided by the rule of law to bring about ‘peace, independence, solidarity, and prosperity for all Lao’, the Lao leaders and policy makers must shift away from the current predominantly western capitalist development model of economic growth and the ‘get rich quick’ mentality. Laos’ development policy and strategies need to become more holistic and balanced and take into consideration 4 dimensions of (1) economic or livelihood security; (2) cultural integrity and continuity; (3) environmental sustainability; and (4) good governance. It is only by adopting such a balanced development model that Laos can achieve longterm sustainable growth and poverty reduction, which is also the theme advocated by the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF).

From “Lao Vision Statement and Recommendation for Actions presented to AEPF9.”

Why a Missing Lao Activist Should Concern Us All

New Matilda: 11 September 2013

By Kearrin Sims and James Arvanitakis

S-somphoneIf Australia wants to show leadership within Asia, drawing attention to the disappearance of activist Sombath Somphone is a good place to start, write Kearrin Sims and James Arvanitakis

In February 2013, there was much fanfare when Laos became the 158th member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This was a big step for the  country, and the free trade model of economic development was again celebrated as providing a pathway to membership in the global community, improved living standards and a general decline in poverty. However, amidst these celebrations many both within and outside the country were pre-occupied with the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, an internationally recognised Laotian community rights activist. Just who Sombath was and why his disappearance is so important, both as an individual and as a representative of his country, goes to the core of the failings of neoliberalism as a model for development. It highlights that without a conscious effort to improve human rights and equality, economic development will make some very rich while leaving the majority of the population behind. This is not a model for long-term stability. Continue reading “Why a Missing Lao Activist Should Concern Us All”

261 Days and Counting

Lao govt asked to ‘enable safe return’ of Magsaysay awardee Sombath

Interaksyon: 03 September 2013

interphoto_1378173467MANILA – Members of an international civil society on Tuesday asked the Lao leadership to “use its extensive resources to enable the safe return of Sombath Somphone to his family.” A development worker, Sombath received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership in 2005.

Tina Ebro, co-coordinator of the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF), headed a small delegation to the Lao embassy in Makati to deliver a letter expressing the group’s “concern” over Sombath’s disappearance on December 2012. Aileen Bacalso, head of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, was part of the delegation.

“Sombath’s continuing disappearance is a matter of regional and international concern. We emphasize that an enforced disappearance constitutes a crime under international law. The Lao authorities’ handling of this case and their sincerity and success in ensuring the safe return of Sombath is the test by which their commitment to upholding human rights will be judged,” AEPF said in the letter. Continue reading “261 Days and Counting”

The World Wants to Know: Where is Sombath?

The Irrawady: 31 August 2013

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

Still of CCTV footage apparently showing Laotian civil society leader Sombath Somphone about to be detained by unknown men approaching in a white car. (Photo: Youtube)

BANGKOK — At a recent reception in Vientiane, a Western diplomat approached a senior Laotian government official with a query about Sombath Somphone, a respected civil society leader who was grabbed off the streets of the capital on a December evening and has not been seen since. The question elicited a rebuff.

“It is the standard official reaction,” a foreign guest at the reception recalled. “They get into denial mode even though there is CCTV footage of Sombath being forced into a vehicle near a police post in Vientiane.”

A similar wall of silence and denial was erected days later, when a delegation from the European Parliament landed in the Southeast Asian nation on a fact-finding mission over the whereabouts of the soft-spoken 61-year-old. “The Foreign Ministry [officials] presented ridiculous lies that the man abducted wasn’t Sombath,” said the visibly irate Danish lawmaker and head of the delegation, Soren Bo Sondergarrd, speaking to journalists in Bangkok on Wednesday. “They are unwilling to get deeper into this case.”

Sondergarrd’s delegation was the third made by foreign lawmakers, both from Europe and from Southeast Asia, since January this year. And a fourth from Europe is expected on Oct. 28—an indication of the increasing pressure the notoriously secretive communist government is under from the international community. Continue reading “The World Wants to Know: Where is Sombath?”

Plight of Sombath Somphone Back in Focus

The Diplomat: 30 August 2013

By  Luke Hunt

The inability of the Laos government to offer a credible explanation for the disappearance of prominent activist Sombath Somphone has again drawn unwanted headlines, with demands for donor nations to think twice before committing taxpayers dollars to the one-party Communist state.

The latest swipe comes from Amnesty International, which is raising Somphone’s plight on International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance. Somphone was last seen in police custody on December 15, but the authorities insist they have no knowledge of his whereabouts.

“The human rights group calls also on other countries to do more to demand that the civil society leader, a victim of enforced disappearance, is found and returned safely to his family,” Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, said.

Much to the embarrassment of officials in Vientiane, who have been preoccupied with organizing billions of dollars for the financing of ambitious infrastructure projects, Somphone’s disappearance was caught on CCTV, leading to repeated calls for the Laos government to act. Continue reading “Plight of Sombath Somphone Back in Focus”