This October marks the 4th anniversary of the founding of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission of Human Rights (AICHR). Since AICHR was formed ASEAN has had a mixed track record with human rights. Although there have been some impressive political reforms across the region, particularly in Burma, some states appear to have grown increasingly confident in their ability to commit human rights abuses against their citizens. Nowhere has this been more so than in Laos.
Often presented as an idyllic Buddhist nation, the poor track record of human rights abuses in Laos has largely slipped under the radar of the international media. All this suddenly changed, however, following the enforced disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone in late 2012. A recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership – one of the most prestigious awards for human development in Asia, and the founder of the Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC) in Laos, Sombath Somphone (61) amongst the most widely respected development workers in East Asia. In October 2012 Sombath play a key role in coordinating the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (APF), the largest civil society event ever held in Laos. Continue reading “The Case of Sombath Somphone”
In those days…most Laotians left the country, if they could. But Sombath decided to return to his country, and I think he is a wonderful person, very brave. He want to serve his country, and he had been doing so ever since. Bravely, skillfully, humbly, and I have known him all through this years, with much admiration…
…we respect the Lao government and we hope the Lao government will do everything they can to make sure that Sombath is a free person soon, because that will give Lao great credit, since we are now all very serious about ASEAN, but people think of ASEAN in terms of money and economics, but the essence of ASEAN is human dignity, human rights, and deep down, Lao has that…
…and I think Lao would have much reputation sharing with their neighbors that they care for human rights…
…It would be a great pity if he disappeared. It would be too much damage to the Lao government.
If Australia wants to show leadership within Asia, drawing attention to the disappearance of activist Sombath Somphone is a good place to start, write Kearrin Sims and James Arvanitakis
In February 2013, there was much fanfare when Laos became the 158th member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This was a big step for the country, and the free trade model of economic development was again celebrated as providing a pathway to membership in the global community, improved living standards and a general decline in poverty. However, amidst these celebrations many both within and outside the country were pre-occupied with the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, an internationally recognised Laotian community rights activist. Just who Sombath was and why his disappearance is so important, both as an individual and as a representative of his country, goes to the core of the failings of neoliberalism as a model for development. It highlights that without a conscious effort to improve human rights and equality, economic development will make some very rich while leaving the majority of the population behind. This is not a model for long-term stability. Continue reading “Why a Missing Lao Activist Should Concern Us All”
The state is a Janus-faced creature. On the one hand, there is its “soft face.” This is the set of institutions that provide representation and justice. Then there is the “hard face” of the state, the most important institutions of which are the executive, the internal security forces, and the armed forces.
This “deep state” is a highly contradictory institutional complex. On the one hand, it provides security and order. On the other, it poses the greatest threat to the human, political, and civil rights of citizens. For it is so easy to cross the very thin line separating the provision of public order and the violation of the rights of citizens in the name of order.
This is why it is important to hem in and envelop the security institutions with laws and rules that severely limit or prevent the use of force against citizens. This is the reason laws like Republic Act 10353, the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012, are extremely important, for they restrain the constant institutional temptation of Leviathan to cross the line between the legitimate provision of public security and the illegitimate use of the power of the deep state to repress citizens. Republic Act 10353 was one of the historic triad of human rights bills passed by the 15th Congress. The other two were the Marcos Compensation Bill and the Bill on the Rights of Internally Displaced People. (Unfortunately, the last was vetoed by President Aquino on very specious grounds.) Continue reading “Restraining Leviathan”
For the past four years, AICHR has completely ignored violation of human rights in member countries. During the first year of AICHR, attempts were made by individual AICHR member to take up right violations such as the Maguindanao massacre. But it was a non-starter.
Disappearance of Lao activist, Sombath Somphone, in December last year was another case in point showing the AICHR’s lack of moral courage. After all, it came after the announcement of ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights one month before his kidnapping.
The entire article can be read by clicking on the blue links above.
Six months after the abduction of activist Sombath Somphone, the nation appears to be falling behind its neighbours and stuck in the grip of a self-serving regime ruling on fear
Six months after the disappearance in Vientiane of Sombath Somphone, the founder of an NGO set up to help rural youth, the Lao government is looking increasingly like the black sheep among its Asean.
As Myanmar progressively distances itself from its dictatorial past by liberalising the press and opening political space for the opposition, the Lao regime is sinking into an obscurantist authoritarianism which seems out of touch with the regional context.
The last sign of this anachronism came at the end of May when Lao authorities sent back to North Korea nine youths who had fled their Stalinist mother country and, with the help of South Korean Christian, had crossed from China into Laos.
”I would characterise the Laotian regime as a plutocracy that is auctioning the natural resources of the country for the benefit of a small group under the guise of communism,” said a Western observer in Vientiane.
Laos: Five Months On, Demand for Accountability and Action in Sombath Somphone’s Disappearance Intensifies
Bangkok/Manila/Jakarta (15 May 2013) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Focus on the Global South, The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) reiterated their call on the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and ASEAN governments to break the silence and take action on the disappearance of Laotian development worker, educator and Magsaysay award winner Sombath Somphone. The appeal was made as civil society organizations, respected world leaders and the diplomatic community, friends and family marked the fifth month of Sombath Somphone’s disappearance today.
Despite the recent conclusion of the 22nd ASEAN Summit (25-26 April) and the 12th AICHR Meeting (6-10 May), no concrete headway has been made in addressing or tackling Sombath’s disappearance and human rights abuses in the region. During the 12th AICHR Meeting, the regional human rights body reportedly discussed the implementation of the recently-adopted ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD), but fell short of taking a position on Sombath’s case, as well as the issue of enforced disappearances in the region. This was despite a recent open letter by the Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy – Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights (SAPA TFAHR), among the many calls from numerous groups and individuals, urging the regional body to do so.
“We deplore the AICHR’s continued silence on the case of Sombath. We understand that the AICHR discussed the AHRD in its latest meeting, but even the AHRD, a document which is below international human rights standards, provides guarantees to the rights to personal liberty and security and prohibits arbitrary deprivation of that right. In this regard, Sombath’s disappearance is an opportunity for the AICHR to act,” said Haris Azhar, Coordinator, KontraS. Continue reading “Five Months On, Demand for Accountability and Action”
REPUBLIKA.CO.ID, JAKARTA — Forum Hak Asasi Manusia dan Pembangunan untuk Asia mendesak para perwakilan ASEAN di Komisi Antarpemerintah untuk HAM (AICHR) agar memberikan bantuan dan advokasi dalam pencarian aktivis Laos Sombath Somphone yang hilang sejak Desember 2012.
“Masyarakat sipil Asia Tenggara pekan ini melakukan berbagai kampanye untuk kasus ini dan mendesak Komisi HAM ASEAN yang saat ini sedang mengadakan pertemuan reguler di ASEAN Sekretariat, Jakarta, untuk dapat membantu,” kata Manajer Program Forum Hak Asasi Manusia dan Pembangunan Asia (FORUM-ASIA) untuk ASEAN, Atnike Sigiro di Jakarta, Rabu (8/5).
Sombath Somphone merupakan aktivis terkemuka Laos yang banyak menyumbang pemikirannya dalam bidang pembangunan, kepemimpinan, dan kesejahteraan masyarakat. Atas karyanya, Somphone beberapa kali mendapat penghargaan, seperti Magsaysay Award pada tahun 2005 karena kepemimpinnya.
Dia juga pernah menyumbangkan pemikirannya dalam diskusi bertema interkonekvitas pada Forum Intelektual Asia di Chiang Mai, Thailand pada tahun 2011. Makanya, menurut Atnike, karya Somphone sangat berpengaruh di kawasan Asia Tenggara. Hal tersebut, menurut dia, dapat menjadi pertimbangan untuk AICHR agar dapat berperan aktif dalam mengusut kasus Somphone.
AICHR memiliki prinsip untuk tidak mengintervensi kebijakan negara tertentu. “Saya kira dia tidak hanya aktivis Laos, tetapi juga pemikirannya berkembang ke Asia Tenggara. Maka dari itu ini menjadi bahan yang harus dipertimbangkan oleh Komisi HAM ASEAN,” ujarnya.
Somphone hilang pada tanggal 15 Desember 2012 ketika sedang dalam perjalanan ke Vientiane. Banyak pihak menduga keterlibatan aparat kepolisian dan pemerintah Laos dalam insiden tersebut. Hal itu berdasarkan pada video yang merekam aktivitas Somphone sesaat sebelum dia diduga diculik.
The Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy (SAPA) working group for ASEAN released a message during an event held in front of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on April 12th. The statement calls on the leaders of ASEAN to put enforced disappearances on the agenda of their upcoming summit:
On April 24 and 25, these ASEAN leaders will gather in Brunei under the theme of “Our People, Our Future Together.” But how can we invest our future in an ASEAN where peoples’ basic rights are continuously ignored and violated, a community where people are abducted and forced to disappear? We cannot be part of this. If ASEAN wants us to be part of this community then they should put the interests of the people above everything else. They should respect and uphold basic human rights.
The entire statement can be read here. A related letter from the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs can be read here. A video of the event can be seen here.
The event was organized by Focus on the Global South, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), and Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND).