EU Must Keep Human Rights at the Centre of the Regions’ Partnership At Asia – Europe Meeting

asem_logoMarking the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) currently underway, Amnesty International has issued a call on the European Union and its member states “to ensure that human rights remain at the centre of all bilateral and multilateral dialogue between Asia and the EU.”

The statement reads, in part:

This 10th ASEM marks almost two years since the disappearance of Sombath Somphone in Laos on 15 December 2012, shortly after organising a civil society event on development around the ASEM, work that may have made him a target of enforced disappearance. Amnesty_InternationalAmnesty International urges EU leaders to use the opportunity at the ASEM to call for his safe return. Leaders at the ASEM should also work to ensure all present ratify and implement the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

The full statement can be seen here.

Making the disappeared visible: the EU and the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone

New Europe: 31 August 2014

A Thai activist holds placard shows drawing portraits of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone during a demonstration of the anniversary of his disappearance outside Laos embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, 15 December 2013 – EPA/Rungroj Yongrit

by Nicolas Beger

The International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance was marked on 30 August. Many of us will have given special thought to Sombath Somphone, one of many such victims.

Sombath is known across Southeast Asia. But today, his whereabouts still remain shrouded in mystery. On 15 December 2012, Sombath was driving outside Vientiane, Laos, when, as video evidence shows, he was stopped at a police post. A truck with flashing lights arrived.

As police looked on, Sombath was bundled into it by men in civilian clothing. Police investigations have been far from thorough and failed to make full use of available video footage. Continue reading “Making the disappeared visible: the EU and the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone”

Amnesty Renews Call for Competent Investigation

Marking the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Amnesty International has sent another plea to Lao President Choummaly Sayasone seeking justice for Sombath:

Amnesty_InternationalThe Lao authorities have denied arresting Sombath Somphone and deny any responsibility for his enforced disappearance, saying that he may have been abducted as part of a private dispute after being stopped by police for a routine document check. Several statements issued by the police on the matter provide little information or detail.

There appears to have been a failure by your government to conduct a prompt, thorough, competent, and impartial investigation. In addition, other countries’ offers of external assistance, including analysis of the original CCTV footage, have been rejected.

…The case has been marked throughout by flawed investigations, a wilful refusal to adequately address key questions, inconsistencies and the rejection of international assistance – in short, by the Lao government’s failure to remedy a serious human rights violation and persistence in ignoring its international human rights obligations.

The full statement can be seen here.

Internationaler Tag der Opfer des Verschwindenlassens

Latina Press: 29 August 2014

Protestaktion gegen das Verschwindenlassen (Foto: Amnesty International)

Zum morgigen “Internationalen Tag der Opfer des Verschwindenlassens” fordert Amnesty International von der Bundesregierung dieses Verbrechen als eigenen Straftatbestand einzuführen. Gleichzeitig macht die Menschenrechtsorganisation heute mit einer Kunstaktion auf das weltweit verbreitete Verbrechen aufmerksam. “Staatliche Stellen lassen Menschen von einer Minute auf die andere von der Bildfläche verschwinden und entziehen sie so jedem gesetzlichen Schutz”, sagt Maria Scharlau, Amnesty-Expertin für internationales Recht. “Meist ist das Verschwindenlassen der erste Schritt zu Folter und Mord. Angehörige finden in der Ungewissheit um das Schicksal der Opfer oft lebenslang keine Ruhe.”

Deutschland hat die UN-Konvention gegen das Verschwindenlassen 2009 ratifiziert. Dennoch ist sie noch nicht vollständige umgesetzt: Im deutschen Recht fehlt ein Straftatbestand, der explizit das “Verschwindenlassen” unter Strafe stellt. Bestehende Straftatbestände erfassen die Schwere der Tat nur unzureichend. Eine angemessene Bestrafung wird so verhindert. “Die Verjährungsdauer des Verbrechens ist bisher zu kurz. Häufig werden relevante Beweise erst mit einem Regimewechsel nach langen Jahren an die Oberfläche gespült. Eine Strafverfolgung der Täter wird dadurch nahezu unmöglich”, sagt Scharlau. “Auch wenn hierzulande dieses Verbrechen nicht vorkommt, muss sich Deutschland am internationalen Kampf gegen diese besonders grausame Form staatlicher Willkür beteiligen.” Continue reading “Internationaler Tag der Opfer des Verschwindenlassens”

Abe's 'values diplomacy' fails to address human rights issue in Laos

The Asahi Shimbun: 25 March 2014

Hideki Wakabayashi, Secretary General, Amnesty International, Japan

On Dec. 15, 2012, in the Laotian capital of Vientiane, 62-year-old citizen activist Sombath Somphone was stopped by police at a checkpoint and taken away by unidentified abductors.

The kidnapping was recorded on video, but the Laotian authorities denied any involvement in the incident. Despite pleas from the international community, the authorities today still have not taken any concrete measures to solve the case, and there are even suspicions of a cover-up.

Members of Amnesty International Japan and Human Rights Watch protest at the Laos Embassy in Tokyo in December 2013. (Hideki Yakabayashi)
Members of Amnesty International Japan and Human Rights Watch protest at the Laos Embassy in Tokyo in December 2013. (Hideki Yakabayashi)

Sombath had worked on poverty issues in Laos and had been long involved in advising farmers and in environmental education. For this meritorious service, in 2005 he was the recipient of the Magsaysay Award, an honor that is called the Nobel Prize of Asia.

On Dec. 15, 2013, exactly one year after the kidnapping, Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong of Laos, who was visiting Japan for the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit Meeting, held a top-level meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Continue reading “Abe's 'values diplomacy' fails to address human rights issue in Laos”

Action in front of the Lao embassy in Tokyo


Independent Web Journal: 13 December 2013

(Please click on link above for article in Japanese, as well as a video.)

Tokyo EmbassyIn response to a call from Japanese rights groups, Human Rights Watch and the Amnesty International Japan, around 20 citizens gathered in front of the Laos Embassy in Tokyo on Friday, December 13, 2013. They called out “Return Sombath!” and read out a letter addressed to Lao’s Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, urging his government’s prompt, transparent, and thorough investigation on the abduction and disappearance of Sombath Somphone. The action was to anticipate the Japan-ASEAN Summit held in Tokyo on December 13-15, to which the Lao government had also been invited. Despite the prior notice of the action and bell rings at the door, there was no response from the embassy side. Hence, the letter was put in their mail box.

The same groups also sent a letter to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, asking him to urge the Lao government to take an immediate action on the matter.

Amnesty calls for Urgent Action

Amnesty_InternationalAmnesty International has issued a further Urgent Action, calling on its global membership to:

…write immediately in Lao, English or your own language calling on the Lao authorities to:

  • Immediately establish a new, independent commission to undertake a thorough and impartial investigation into the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, and ensure that all steps are taken to locate and return him safely to his family as soon as possible, in accordance with Laos’ obligations under international law;
  • Ensure that this new commission seeks technical assistance for its investigations, including established experts to carry out a forensics analysis of the CCTV footage of the disappearance;
  • Frequently provide detailed information about the progress of the investigations to Sombath’s family, lawyers and others with a legitimate interest.

The full appeal with contact details can be found here.  Deutsch Sprache

Release Sombath Somphone

When: Monday December 16 2013 10:00 AMAmnesty_International
Where: 1 Dalman Crescent, O’Malley, ACT, 2606

Join Amnesty International to take action for Sombath Somphone, a victim of an enforced disappearance at the hands of the Laos authorities.

The demonstration, held at 1 Dalman Crescent, aims to show the Laos Government that there is global awareness of Sombath’s abduction and disappearance.

Sombath is an agricultural specialist. He established an environmental NGO and has supported village communities who have been displaced by development activity.

He was abducted on 15 December 2012 from a Laos police road block. He has not been heard of since.

The Laos Government must act now to ensure the safe return of civil society leader Sombath.

Come along to this demonstration and stand in support for the freedom of Sombath.