We would also seek to draw your attention to the dangers facing human rights defenders and civil society actors all across Southeast Asia, highlighted by the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone in December 2012, and the subsequent failure of the Lao PDR to properly investigate it…
We, as current and former elected representatives in ASEAN member states would like to convey our input to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, contributing our suggestions for agenda setting for 2015 and warning of the dangers of overlooking the importance of ensuring the growth of a genuine regional human rights mechanism.
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat is taking place in Sabah, Malaysia, 27-28 January 2015.
Firstly, we wish to call to attention the need for immediate and urgent action on one of the gravest human rights concerns facing our region and the world today: the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar which is becoming a strain and a stain on the entire region.
We would also seek to draw your attention to the dangers facing human rights defenders and civil society actors all across Southeast Asia, highlighted by the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone in December 2012, and the subsequent failure of the Lao PDR to properly investigate it, as well as the serious regional implications of ASEAN’s failure to stand up to the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Thailand and subsequent assault on human rights by the military regime there. At minimum, these issues, and potential solutions to them, should be discussed during the ASEAN Foreign Minister’s Retreat in Sabah. Continue reading “Open Letter to ASEAN Foreign Ministers on the importance of establishing a genuine regional human rights mechanism”
Rights groups on Monday urged Southeast Asian nations to turn up the pressure on Laos over the disappearance of prominent activist Sombath Somphone who vanished from the streets of Vientiane two years ago.
Sombath, an award-winning campaigner for sustainable development, disappeared after he was pulled over at a police checkpoint in the Laos capital on the evening of December 15, 2012.
His case has cast a dark cloud over civil society in Laos, an impoverished tightly-controlled communist country, and raised the issue of impunity for powerful state and business interests held responsible for routinely killing or “disappearing” activists across the region.
A group of around 80 regional rights groups said the Laos government’s silence on Sombath was part of a strategy of “consigning to oblivion” crimes of enforced disappearance.
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.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised a consultation meeting on the draft National Report of the Lao PDR under the UPR [Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council] for representatives of stakeholders including social, professional, academic and non-profit organisations in Vientiane recently.
The meeting participants exchanged views and provided input on the draft report of the Lao PDR for the second cycle which has been prepared following a series of consultations among government agencies and relevant stakeholders.
Director General of the Department of Treaties and Law, Secretary General to the Lao National Steering Committee of Human Rights Mr Phoukhong Sisoulath chaired the meeting.
Mr Phoukhong stressed the importance of consultations with representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs) as part of meaningful participation in the UPR process…
APHR understands that the United Nations Resident Coordinator of the Lao PDR was asked to remove any mention of Sombath’s disappearance from its Universal Periodic Review Submission. The UN Resident Coordinator did not acquiesce to the government’s request.
Non-governmental workers and civil society actors are also held under a strict code of self-enforced silence, fearful of repercussions if they raise what has become one of the most sensitive issues for the Lao regime.
“The script that the Lao authorities are reading from has become progressively tighter over the past 18 months: there appears to be a concerted effort to undermine now even the most fundamental, seemingly incontestable aspects of the investigation,” Mr. Santiago said.
“Individuals requesting honest answers to very basic questions are being treated like agitators and enemies. This is an unacceptable distortion of the reality of the situation.”
If the Lao government really wants to solve this case and is as concerned as the rest of us, then why is it blocking all possible avenues for the investigation? asked APHR.
BANGKOK — The Lao government should share all information on the investigation into the abduction of Sombath Somphone with family members and independent parties, ending its deceptive game of hiding behind national sovereignty to excuse it from engaging in a sincere conversation regarding the investigation into his disappearance, Southeast Asian lawmakers said today.
“The Lao authorities have erected a brick wall of silence on this investigation, so much so that the only intelligent conclusion is that there is in fact no investigation taking place at all and that the obstinacy is part of a cover up for state officials implicated in his abduction,” said Mr. Charles Santiago, Malaysian MP and Vice-President of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
“We regard Sombath as a citizen of ASEAN, not just of Laos, and therefore have the right and duty to help find out what has happened to him. The blatant game playing, refusal of assistance and deceptive and at times belligerent answers provided by the Lao authorities when asked for information on the investigation is growing tiresome and reflects badly not just on Lao PDR, but on all of ASEAN.” Continue reading “Lao government’s deceptive game on Sombath investigation must end”
The members of APHR would like to express their deep dismay at the lack of political will to conduct a serious investigation into the disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone.
… The Lao investigation has so far been a consummate failure. APHR questions the sincerity of the current investigation and calls for the government of the Lao PDR to give full support as necessary and as requested for the establishment of an international and/or regional investigation into Sombath’s disappearance;
…APHR calls on the Lao Government to provide meaningful, detailed information about the progress of the investigations to Sombath’s family, lawyers and others with a legitimate interest, including the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the UN Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearance.
… APHR calls on UN member states to vote against Lao PDR’s bid to sit on the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 pending its acceptance and implementation of the above recommendations;
The full statement can be seen here. Similar reports have also been submitted by;
BANGKOK – ASEAN Parliamentarians today praised Singapore for its consistent efforts to urge the Lao government to expedite its inquiry into the disappearance of civil society actor Sombath Somphone and urged other ASEAN nations to take a firm, united stand against the shortcomings of the Lao authorities’ investigation to date.
The Singapore government this week reiterated its concern regarding the stalled investigation into Sombath’s whereabouts after he was disappeared from a street in Vientiane in December 2012.
In written remarks to the Singapore Parliament, Singaporean Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said his government had made its misgivings known to the Lao government and that it has also offered assistance to Sombath’s wife, Dr. Ng Shui Meng, a Singaporean citizen resident in Vientiane.
“[The Singapore government has] consistently raised our concern to the Lao PDR government over Mr Sombath’s disappearance at the highest levels, including with the Lao PDR President, Prime Minister, President of the National Assembly and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs,” K Shanmugam said.
BANGKOK (October 28) — ASEAN Parliamentarians today called on a European Parliament delegation to Vientiane to persevere with collective efforts to secure the safe return of Lao civil society activist Sombath Somphone, the victim of an enforced disappearance last year.
CCTV footage shows Sombath was last seen with local police in the Lao capital Vientiane on December 15, 2012. He has not been seen since and ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) has expressed both publicly and privately over the past 10 months the perceived failure of the Lao authorities in their sincerity to properly investigate his disappearance.