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.
. Continue reading “Menyelesaikan Permasalahan Pelanggaran HAM di Laos”

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

Continue reading “HRF to President Obama: Inquire into Disappearance of Activist in Laos”

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។
Continue reading “ដំណោះស្រាយចំពោះបញ្ហារំលោភសិទ្ធិមនុស្សនៅក្នុងប្រទេសឡាវ”

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. Continue reading “Can Laos stand the spotlight?”

ラオスの人権問題に取り組みを

アセアン首脳会談で、社会活動家ソムバット氏の失踪事件や自由のはく奪問題を焦点に

(2016年8月31日、バンコク発) 東南アジア諸国連合(アセアン)がラオス人民民主共和 国の首都ビエンチャンで年次首脳会談を開催するに先立ち、人権団体をはじめ複数の NGO は、 ラオス政府に対して、国内で多発する強制失踪や不当逮捕などの人権問題に真剣に取り組むよ う呼びかけた。9 月 6 日から 8 日、ビエンチャンで開催されるアセアン首脳会談は、世界の指 導者たちが公式の場で人権問題への関心を表明する絶好の機会である。世界の指導者たちは、 権利の尊重、報道の自由、民主主義、信教の自由、財政の透明性といった人権・開発指標で常 に下位にランクされるラオスに対して、その元凶である人権侵害を根絶するよう働きかけるべ きである

Logo-Sombath Initiative8 月 31 日、バンコクのタイ外国人記者クラブで主催した会見の席で、ソムバット・イニシアテ ィブのメンバーは、社会活動家ソムバット・ソムポーン氏の強制失踪事件をはじめ、ラオスに おける民主主義と人権の制限、表現の自由への介入、人権擁護義務の不履行、海外からの開発 援助や投資の影響をまとめたブリーフィング・ペーパーを公表した。

Continue reading “ラオスの人権問題に取り組みを”

Where’s Sombath? Activist’s mysterious abduction a human rights thorn for Laos as it hosts major summit

South China Morning Post: 05 September 2016

Sombath Somphone (d.) en compagnie de l'archevêque sud-africain Desmund Tutu en 2006. Wikimedia Commons / Shui-Meng Ng

The disappearance of an award-winning activist nearly four years ago is a reminder of the dismal human rights record of the authoritarian government of the tiny landlocked nation.

The light was fading over Vientiane on a cool December evening when a Jeep was stopped at a traffic light. CCTV video later showed the occupant of the car being pulled out and taken away in a pickup truck, never to be seen again.

The disappearance of Sombath Somphone nearly four years ago is a reminder of the dismal human rights record of the authoritarian government of Laos, which prepares to host Asian leaders and US President Barack Obama at a regional summit starting Tuesday. Continue reading “Where’s Sombath? Activist’s mysterious abduction a human rights thorn for Laos as it hosts major summit”

ASEAN in Laos: Challenges of Leadership, Human Rights & Democracy

Press conference held at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand on 31 August, 2016, Bangkok 

RFA-FCCT-2016

Panelists included (click on link for their presentation):

  • Shui Meng Ng, Spouse of Sombath Somphone
  • Walden Bello, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
  • Laurent Meillan, Acting Regional Representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

With moderation by Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.

Video of the press conference is available in three segments: One, two & three.

The following press briefings were also distributed:

လာအိုုႏိုုင္ငံရွိလူ႔အခြင့္အေရးခ်ိဳးေဖာက္မွဳမ်ားကိုု ကိုုင္တြယ္ေျဖရွင္းျခင္း

အာဆီယံထိပ္သီးေခါင္းေဆာင္မ်ားအစည္းအေ၀းတြင္ ေပ်ာက္ကြယ္လ်က္ရွိေသာ  ေခါင္းေဆာင္ Sombath Somphone အေျကာင္းကိုု အေလးထားေဆြးေႏြးသင့္,လြတ္လပ္မွဳကိုု ျငင္းဆိုုျခင္း

ဘန္ေကာက၊္ ၃၁ ရက္ေန႔၊ ျသဂုုတ္လ၊ ၂၀၁၆။ ဗီယန္က်င္းျမိဳ့တြင္ က်င္းပမည့္ အာဆီယံေခါင္းေဆာင္မ်ား အစည္းအေ၀းမတိုင္မီညေနတြင္ တရားမ၀င္ထိန္းသိမ္းအက်ဥ္းခ်ျခင္း၊ ဖမ္းဆီးခ်ဳပ္ေႏွာင္ျခင္းျဖစ္စဥ္မ်ား အပါအ၀င္ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရး ခ်ိဳးေဖာက္အျကမ္းဖက္မွဳမ်ားကို ေဆြးေႏြးအေျဖရွာရန္ လာအိုႏိုင္ငံအစိုးရအား လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးဆိုင္ရာအဖြဲ႔မ်ားက ေတာင္းဆိုလိုက္ပါသည္။ စက္တင္ဘာလ ၆ ရက္ေန႔မွ ၈ ရက္ေန႔ အထိျပဳလုပ္မည့္ အာဆီယံအစည္းအေ၀းတြင္ ကမၻာႏိုင္ငံေခါင္းေဆာင္မ်ားသည္ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးဆိုင္ရာ ျပသာနာမ်ားကို ေဆြးေႏြးအေျဖရွာႏိုင္ျကမည္ ျဖစ္ပါသည္။ ႏိုင္ငံ့ေခါင္းေဆာင္မ်ားအေနျဖင့္ လူ႔အခြင့္ အေရးႏွင့္ရပိုင္ခြင့္မ်ား၊ မီဒီယာလြတ္လပ္ခြင့္၊ ဒီမိုကေရစီ၊ ဘာသာေရးလြတ္လပ္ခြင့္ႏွင့္ စီးပြားေရး ပြင့္လင္း ျမင္သာမွဳ တိုင္းတာေရးစံႏွဳန္းအဆင့္မ်ားတြင္ လာအိုႏိုင္ငံအား ေအာက္ဆံုးအဆင့္ေရာက္ေစသည့္ ညွဥ္းပန္းႏွိပ္စက္မတရားျပဳမွဳမ်ားကို မျပဳလုပ္ရန္ လာအိုအစိုးရအား ဖိအားေပးသင့္သည္။

Logo-Sombath Initiative

ထိုင္းႏိုင္ငံ၊ ဘန္ေကာက္ျမိဳ႔ရွိ ႏိုင္ငံျခားသတင္းေထာက္မ်ားကလပ္တြင္ The Sombath Initiative က ဦးစီးျပီး ယေန႔က်င္းပျပဳလုပ္သည့္ သတင္းစာရွင္းလင္းပြဲတြင္ အရပ္ဘက္အဖြဲ႔အစည္းေခါင္းေဆာင္ Sombath Somphone ရုတ္တရက္ေပ်ာက္ကြယ္သြားမွဳ၊ လာအိုႏိုင္ငံ၏ဒီမိုကေရစီႏွင့္ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရး ဆိုင္ရာတားျမစ္ခ်က္မ်ား၊ လြတ္လပ္စြာ ဆနၵထုတ္ေဖာ္ခြင့္အားနည္းျခင္း၊ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးဆုိင္ရာ ကတိက၀တ္မ်ားကို ေဖာ္ေဆာင္ရန္ပ်က္ကြက္ျခင္းႏွင့္ ႏိုင္ငံတကာအေထာက္အပံ့မ်ားနွင့္ ရင္းႏွီး ျမွဳပ္ႏွံမွဳအက်ိဳးသက္ေရာက္မွဳမ်ား ပါ၀င္သည့္စာတမ္းမ်ားကို ထုတ္ျပန္ခဲ့ျကသည္။
Continue reading “လာအိုုႏိုုင္ငံရွိလူ႔အခြင့္အေရးခ်ိဳးေဖာက္မွဳမ်ားကိုု ကိုုင္တြယ္ေျဖရွင္းျခင္း”

Obama urged to press Laos on human rights at regional summit

Reuters: 31 August 2016

Activists have called on U.S. President Barack Obama to press Laos on its human rights record on issues such as illegal land concessions and forced evictions, when he visits the Communist country next week.

Obama is due to attend a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the capital Vientiane, becoming the first U.S. president to visit Laos.

Campaigners urged Obama to use a bilateral meeting with Laos President Bounnhang Vorachith to discuss issues ranging from environmental contamination to the fate of prominent Lao human rights activist Sombath Somphone, who disappeared in 2012.

“We see this visit to Laos as a human rights test for President Obama and his administration,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

“Are they prepared to come to Southeast Asia and speak publicly about the disappearance of such a prominent person as Sombath Somphone and talk about the ongoing rights violations that are taking place in Laos?” Robertson asked.

Sombath, a U.S.-educated activist focusing on rural development, went missing in Vientiane on Dec. 15, 2012. A video previously released by the authorities shows him being stopped at a police checkpoint before being led into a pickup truck.

Laos maintains the state is not involved in Sombath’s disappearance and police are still investigating, said Sombath’s wife Shui Meng Ng, adding that she has not had an update from police in more than two years.

Sombath’s disappearance and harassment of civil society members has had a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression, with many self-censoring over fears they will be punished, said Laurent Meillan, the acting regional representative of the U.N. Office for the High Commission of Human Rights.

Meillan also expressed concern about large scale development projects and land concessions impacting the rights of local communities.

According to HRW’s Robertson, the Lao government told civil society groups ahead of the ASEAN meeting that it would not permit various subjects to be discussed.

These include Sombath’s disappearance, hydropower projects, land issues or the rights of indigenous and LGBT people, he said.