Three 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”
The 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.
Two 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.
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.
Two 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.
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”
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).
If 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”
MANILA – 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”
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?”
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.
The International Organising Committee of the Asia Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) has released a letter written to top Lao leaders. In part, the letter reads:
Despite repeated appeals from his wife and many hundreds of individuals, numerous governments and organizations, and widespread media coverage, we conclude that the Lao government has yet to conduct an adequate investigation into Sombath’s disappearance or provide a satisfactory explanation for his abduction…
…We 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, as it fails to ensure the safe return of Sombath and as restrictions on civil society continue.
As long as Sombath has not been returned safely to his family, many organisations and individuals are committed to continuing international activity and ensuring that his disappearance will dominate bi-‐lateral, multi-‐lateral and international discussions with and about Laos.