5th anniversary of Sombath Somphone disappearance

Prachathai: 07 December 2017

Five years after the abduction of the prominent, internationally acclaimed Lao development worker Sombath Somphone by Lao state agents, the Lao government has done very little to find the truth, experts said. Meanwhile, the enforced disappearance of Sombath has raised debates about the Lao government’s ambition to boost its economy through development projects, while it continues to suppress civil rights.

15 December 2017 marks five years since Sombath was last seen by his family. On 15 December 2012, CCTV at a police checkpoint in Vientiane recorded footage that shows that state agents abducted Sombath from the street. His jeep was stopped and then he was escorted into a truck. According to Shui Meng Ng, Sombath’s Singaporean wife, a witness later saw Sombath and his jeep in a police holding centre.

“Although five years have passed, every day I’m still haunted by the images of what happened to him,” said Shui Meng at a conference ‘Sombath Somphone 5 Years On’ held in Bangkok on 7 December 2017.

Shui Meng, who was the Deputy Representative for UNICEF in Laos between 2000 to 2004, said the Lao authorities have always denied responsibility and refused to give her any information. “For me, it’s almost like the response is one of denial, denial, denial until people are tired of the case. Then the case will be literally disappeared, and Sombath will be forever disappeared. But I keep saying I don’t care how long it will take. I will continue to ask, to struggle and to campaign for the return of Sombath. I see this as the need to have truth and justice. I cannot not have the truth.”

She added that the Lao police have summoned her through the Singaporean embassy several times.

“This signal is very clear; if somebody like Sombath can be disappeared, anyone can be disappeared,” said Sombath’s spouse. She said the enforced disappearance of Sombath created a climate of fear among civil society workers when even a non-violent, non-confrontational high-profile civil society worker like Sombath, who never intended to enter politics, can be disappeared, adding that the climate of fear among Lao civil society is still strong even after five years have passed.

Charles Santiago, a Malaysian MP and Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), said the enforced disappearance of Sombath is clearly a state-sanctioned action. As an APHR member, Santiago has made multiple visits to Laos since 2012 to inquire about Sombath’s disappearance, as well as the broader situation for civil society, but has never received a satisfactory answer from the Lao authorities.

Santiago said Sombath is one of the leaders of ASEAN — a leading civil society worker of ASEAN. However, ASEAN failed to speak out for Sombath and has always avoided the issue, claiming its non-interference principle. “In this way, our dictators get away with murders with no accountability.”

In 2005, Sombath was awarded the Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership because of “his hopeful efforts to promote sustainable development in Laos by training and motivating its young people to become a generation of leaders”.

Son of a poor farmer family, Sombath received a scholarship to study at the University of Hawaii where he received a bachelor’s degree in Education and a master’s degree in Agriculture.

Sombath returned to Lao after the establishment of the one-party socialist regime and the end of the Vietnam War. Sombath’s work is mainly in the field of sustainable agriculture and development and education.

A lower-middle income economy, Laos is one of the fastest growing economies in Asia Pacific, with GDP growth averaging 7.8 percent over the last decade, through the exploitation of the country’s natural resources, mostly water, minerals and forests, according to the World Bank. In 2011, Laos announced its ambition to be the battery of a power-hungry Southeast Asia. Currently, the landlocked country has 16 hydroelectric dams. The construction of dams has led to environmental problems and forced resettlement which has affected the livelihood of local people. Without an independent media and freedom of expression, campaigns and discussions related to developmental problems are highly restricted. But Sombath challenged the government narrative of development.

“It strikes me that indeed Sombath was putting forward a different narrative. He was putting forward the people’s narratives–an alternative narrative, a narrative of hope, a narrative of empowerment, a narrative of sustainability and challenging Laotians, especially the young people, that it’s their country and it’s their land and they have to take control of their lands and environment,” said the Malaysian MP.

Anne-Sophie Gindroz, former Lao Country Director of Helvetas and author of “Laos, the Silent Repression” said she decided to author the book after the disappearance of Sombath to tell the dark side of the country to the world, especially to donor countries and aid agencies.

“I believe the aid agencies can do more than engaging in developmental projects. They have to also promote changes in democracy. It’s also important that Lao civil society is also empowered,” said Gindroz, “I think there is a fine line between cooperation and complicity.

Menyelesaikan Permasalahan Pelanggaran HAM di Laos

Pertemuan ASEAN Harus Mengangkat Kasus Hilangnya Pemimpin Sombath Somphone, Penyangkalan Terhadap Kebebasan

BANGKOK, 31 Agustus 2016 – Pada malam pertemuan tahunan pimpinan negara ASEAN di Vientiane, kelompok-kelompok advokasi dan HAM memberikan seruan kepada Pemerintah Laos untuk menangani kasus pelanggaran HAM yang meluas di negara Laos, termasuk kasus penghilangan paksa dan penahanan yang sewenang-wenang. Para pemimpin negara yang hadir memiliki kesempatan unik untuk mengangkat kepedulian mereka terhadap pelanggaran HAM selama pertemuan tersebut di Vientiane dari tanggal 6 sampai 8 September. Mereka harus menekan pemerintah Laos untuk menghentikan pelanggaran HAM yang secara konsisten telah meletakkan Laos pada posisi terendah dalam indeks HAM dan pembangunan yang diukur berdasarkan hak asasi warga negara, kebebasan pres, demokrasi, kebebasan beragama, dan transparansi ekonomi.

Logo-Sombath InitiativePada konferensi pers yang diadakan oleh The Sombath Initiative di Foreign Correspondents Club, Bangkok, Thailand, kelompok-kelompok tersebut mempublikasikan satu set dokumen terkait dengan penghilangan paksa pemimpin masyarakat sipil, Sombath Somphone, pembatasan demokrasi dan HAM oleh pemerintah Laos, kurangnya kebebasan berpendapat, kegagalan pemerintah dalam menjalankan kewajiban HAM, dan dampaknya pada bantuan dan investasi asing.
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HRF to President Obama: Inquire into Disappearance of Activist in Laos

Human Rights Foundation: 06 September 2016

Human Rights Foundation (HRF) urges President Barack Obama to demand a renewed investigation into the disappearance of civil society leader Sombath Somphone during his visit to Laos to attend the U.S.-ASEAN Summit. The first sitting U.S. president to visit Laos, President Obama arrived in Vientiane on Tuesday morning and met with Laotian President Bounnhang Vorachit. On August 25, HRF, along with 44 organizations and individuals, addressed a letter to President Obama asking that he pressure the government of Laos to investigate into Sombath’s disappearance and create a safe public domain for non-profit organizations and independent media. Sombath was abducted from a police checkpoint on December 15, 2012. Family members were later allowed access to CCTV footage that showed Sombath being abducted, but the government of Laos has maintained its lack of involvement in the abduction. Sombath & Shuimeng

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ដំណោះស្រាយចំពោះបញ្ហារំលោភសិទ្ធិមនុស្សនៅក្នុងប្រទេសឡាវ

កិច្ចប្រជុំអាស៊ានគួរសង្កត់ធ្ងន់លើការបាត់ខ្លួនមេដឹកនាំ Sambath Somphone ការបដិសេធសេរីភាព

ទីក្រុងបាងកក ថ្ងៃទី៣១ ខែសីហា ឆ្នាំ២០១៦ – នៅមុនពេលនៃកិច្ចជំនួបកំពូលប្រចាំឆ្នាំនៃមេដឹកនាំអាស៊ាននៅក្នុងទីក្រុងវៀងច័ន្ទ ក្រុមការពារសិទ្ធិមនុស្សបានស្នើសុំឲ្យរដ្ឋាភិបាលនៃសាធារណរដ្ឋប្រជាមានិតឡាវ ធ្វើការប្តេជ្ញាចិត្តក្នុងការដោះស្រាយបញ្ហានៃការរំលោភសិទ្ធិមនុស្សយ៉ាងធំធេងដោយរដ្ឋាភិបាល ជាក់ស្តែងរួមមាន បញ្ហាបាត់ខ្លួនដោយបង្ខំ និងការឃុំខ្លួនតាមទំនើងចិត្ត។ មេដឹកនាំពិភពលោកដែលនឹងចូលរួម មានឱកាសពិសេស ដើម្បីលើកឡើងអំពីបញ្ហាសិទ្ធិមនុស្សនៅក្នុងអំឡុងពេលនៃកិច្ចជំនួបកំពូលអាស៊ាន នៅក្នុងទីក្រុងវៀងច័ន្ទ ចាប់ពីថ្ងៃទី០៦ ដល់ថ្ងៃទី០៨ ខែកញ្ញាខាងមុខនេះ។ ពួកគេគួរគាបសង្កត់ឲ្យរដ្ឋាភិបាលឡាវ បញ្ឈប់ការរំលោភបំពានដែលបានធ្វើឲ្យប្រទេសឡាវស្ថិតនៅចំណាត់ថ្នាក់ទាបក្រោមគេ ក្នុងសន្ទស្សន៍ស្តីពីសិទ្ធិ និងការអភិវឌ្ឍន៍ ដែលធ្វើការវាស់ស្ទង់អំពីសិទ្ធិ សេរីភាពសារព័ត៌មាន លទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ សេរីភាពសាសនា និងតម្លាភាពសេដ្ឋកិច្ច។

Logo-Sombath Initiative

នៅឯសន្និសីទសារកាសែត ដែលរៀបចំដោយក្រុមអង្គការឯករាជ្យ The Sombath Initiative នៅក្លឹបអ្នកកាសែតបរទេសនៃប្រទេសថៃ ក្នុងទីក្រុងបាងកក ក្រុមអង្គការនេះបានចេញផ្សាយនូវសំណុំឯកសារពិស្តា ស្តីពីបញ្ហាបាត់ខ្លួនដោយការបង្ខំនូវរូបលោក Sombath Somphone មេដឹកនាំសង្គមស៊ីវិល, ការរឹតបន្តឹងរបស់ប្រទេសឡាវចំពោះលទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ និងសិទ្ធិមនុស្ស, ភាពខ្វះខាតនៃសេរីភាពបញ្ចេញមតិ, បរាជ័យក្នុងបំពេញកាតព្វកិច្ចសិទ្ធិមនុស្ស, ផលប៉ះពាល់នៃការវិនិយោគទុន និងជំនួយបរទេស។
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Can Laos stand the spotlight?

Manila Times: 06 September 2016

Laos has adopted the efficient practice of hosting two Asean summits at one go. Why bother organising two events months apart? We already have a lot of domestic homework and who wants to meet world leaders that often, especially if all they’re going to do is nag us about democracy and human rights?

Photo-ops and friendly handshakes are what many Asean leaders prefer — either to silence noisy critics at home or to confer legitimacy if, for instance, they took power after a coup.

So bravo to Malaysia, the 2015 host which lived up to the gentlemen’s agreement for more talking-shops. The dual summits made their debut during Thailand’s chairmanship of Asean in 2009. A decade earlier, leaders were content to meet every two or three years. (more…)