Laos is a country that is usually described in accordance with one of two narratives.
The first portrays a Buddhist Shangri-La — the ‘real,’ ‘hidden,’ and ‘untouched’ Indochina dreamed of in Western backpacker fantasies — while the second depicts a highly impoverished country in desperate need of foreign aid and technical assistance.
Both depictions have some merit. Laos is rich in Buddhist history and it is predominantly an agrarian-based society where the average life expectancy is just 66 years and Gross National Income per capita is under $5,000. But there is much more to Laos than Buddhism and poverty.
In 2007, Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted the ASEAN Charter. Article 14 of the Charter provided that ASEAN shall establish a “human rights body”.
In July 2009, the ASEAN Foreign Minister Meeting adopted the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). During the 15th ASEAN Summit in Thailand, in October 2009, ten AICHR Representatives were appointed, one from each Member State. The AICHR was then formally inaugurated.
The AICHR is the body that has an overall responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights in the ASEAN. As the overarching human rights body in the region, it is required to coordinate and cooperate closely with all other ASEAN sectoral bodies that deal with human rights. It is characterized as a “consultative inter-governmental body”. Continue reading “What is…the AICHR?”
The ASEAN Charter provides that all Member States shall take turns in acting as Chair of the ASEAN. The chairmanship of ASEAN rotates annually, based on the alphabetical order of the English names of Member States.
There were instances in the past, however, when Member States switched turns or did not take a turn in the rotation. For instance, Myanmar did not take a turn as ASEAN Chair from 2006 to 2014. It was reported that Myanmar feared Western countries could boycott meetings held there and cause the country to gain bad publicity. In 2011, Indonesia switched places with Brunei because it did not want to be swamped with organizing too many meetings in 2013 as they were scheduled to also host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in the same year.
In 2016 it will be 20 years since the Government of Laos (GoL) first announced its goal to graduate from Least Developed Country (LDC) status by 2020.1 During this time, much has changed. With the exception of a few years following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, economic growth has remained strong and in 2011 the World Bank raised Laos’ income categorization from a low-income economy to a lower-middle income economy.2 Foreign Direct Investment has also growing rapidly and strong progress has been made on a number of the country’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets. This has led the UNDP to categorize Laos as the 6th most successful country for improved human development over the past 40 years.3
Yet alongside these markers of progress, there is another story to be told about ‘development’ in Laos. This is a story of widening inequality, severe environmental degradation, human rights abuses, state and private sector corruption, persistently high maternal mortality and malnutrition rates, land grabbing and forced resettlement as well as tensions with fellow ASEAN countries over controversial Mekong hydropower projects.4 These widespread and often interrelated challenges have led to new forms of poverty and damaged the country’s international reputation. Continue reading “Laos in 2016: Sustainable Development and the Work of Sombath Somphone”
We, the youths of Mekong, has come together for Sombath Somphone and Beyond Project since 2013 after the tragedy that occurred to our uncle Sombath Somphone on the fifteenth of December 2013 in Vientiane, Laos. From what we have heard, seen, and witnessed, we come to realize that the lifetime commitment and dedication either in the fields of education or development uncle Sombath has been doing is for nothing but peace in this region.
We, too, believe in peace. This is why we have come together and organized various activities in the past three years from Concert for Peace, Tea Talks, Finding Sombath Around the World, Peace Talks under the title “Liberty, Freedom, Same Same but Different”, a peace journey “Two Years, I remember” from Bangkok all the way to Mekong in Nhong – Khai province, with academic forums to raise awareness for every activity that we held. We have a dream to make peace come true. Peace that allows freedom of expression. Peace that protects one another person. Peace that permits the state and law to fairly govern us. As small action as this might seem to be, we hope this rock we cast will create many ripples across the water. Continue reading “Message from Thai Youth to Lao Friends”
The Diplomat talks with Ng Shui Meng, the wife of disappeared Lao activist Sombath Somphone.
Today marks the third year anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, an internationally-renowned civil society leader in Laos.
Despite the availability of CCTV footage showing Sombath’s abduction in the early evening of December 15, 2012 at a police checkpoint in Vientiane, no progress has been made in locating him and returning him to his family. Rights groups say the fact that the police officers who witnessed the abduction failed to intervene suggests some level of complicity by Lao authorities.
Ng Shui Meng, Sombath’s wife, continues to campaign for his release. Ahead of the third anniversary and Laos prepares to officially take over as chair of ASEAN in 2016, she spoke with John Quinley III. An edited version of that interview follows.
Can you tell us your personal feelings on the third anniversary of the disappearance of your husband Sombath?
Today marks the third anniversary of the enforced disappearance of prominent Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone.
Sombath was last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street in the Lao capital, Vientiane, on the evening of Dec 15, 2012. Sombath’s disappearance was captured on a CCTV camera placed near the police checkpoint. CCTV footage showed that police stopped Sombath’s car and, within minutes, individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove away. The CCTV footage clearly shows that Sombath was taken away in the presence of police officers.
After three years, there is little evidence that Lao authorities have undertaken a serious and competent investigation of Sombath’s disappearance. Instead, there has been near total silence, insinuations,and contradictory declarations regarding Sombath’s fate or whereabouts.
Lao authorities’ recent claim that authorities were still conducting and investigation and “trying their utmost efforts” is belied by the fact that last police report on the probe was issued on June 8, 2013. Continue reading “Laos must come clean on Sombath”
December 17th, 2015
DIPAK C.JAIN room, SASA International House, Chulalongkorn University
2016 will be an important year for ASEAN, as it promises to turn its “vision” into a “reality”. Its chairmanship will be with the Lao PDR, where civil society organizations in the recent ACSC/APF agreed they will not hold their 2016 gathering. This forum aims to draw attention and give different perspectives to this so-called ASEAN “Reality” and “Vision” of a “Dynamic Community”.
Angkhana Neelapaijit, National Human Rights Commission of Thailand
Kraisak Choonhavan, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch
Supalak Ganjanakhundee, the Nation
Moderator: Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South
For more information: Hamdee, 0890044117, [email protected]
In Laos, which will chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next year, the government refused to allow a meeting of Southeast Asian civil society groups on the sideline of an upcoming ASEAN summit, and has provided no new information on the whereabouts of Sombath Somphone. He was probably Laos’s best-known civil society activist when he vanished in 2012, shortly after being seen at a police checkpoint in Vientiane.