As families and rights groups prepare to mark the seventh anniversary Sunday of prominent Lao activist Sombath Somphone’s disappearance, the families of two other missing activists are lamenting the lack of answers from the communist government on their loved ones.
Komende zondag is het precies zeven jaar geleden dat daar in het Aziatische staatje Laos de activist Sombáth Somphòne spoorloos verdween. Sombáth verliet zijn land in de jaren zeventig, toen de communistische partij er de macht overnam, maar keerde er weer terug om aan de slag te gaan als maatschappelijk werker en zich in te zetten voor duurzaamheid. Blijkbaar heeft hij daarbij vijanden gemaakt. Sombáth werd voor het laatst gezien vlakbij een politiepost in de hoofdstad. Zuidoost-Azië correspondent Kris Janssens zocht zijn vrouw op, die al zeven jaar leeft tussen hoop en wanhoop.
15 December 2019: On the seventh anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, urge the Lao and Thai governments to investigate enforced disappearances, and demand Vientiane finally reveal Sombath’s whereabouts and ensure justice for him and his family.
Considering the Lao police’s protracted failure to effectively investigate Sombath’s enforced disappearance, a new independent and impartial investigative body tasked with determining Sombath’s fate and whereabouts should be established without delay. The new body should have the authority to seek and receive international technical assistance in order to conduct a professional, independent, impartial, and effective investigation in accordance with international standards.
Sombath was last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street of the Lao capital, Vientiane, on the evening of 15 December 2012. Footage from a CCTV camera showed that Sombath’s vehicle was stopped at the police checkpoint and that, within minutes, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove him away in the presence of police officers. CCTV footage also showed an unknown individual driving Sombath’s vehicle away from the city center. The presence of police officers at Sombath’s abduction and their failure to intervene strongly indicates state agents’ participation in Sombath’s enforced disappearance. Continue reading “Civil society groups urge Laos, Thailand to investigate enforced disappearances, reveal fate of Sombath Somphone and Od Sayavong”
…the Government of Lao PDR has yet to take meaningful action to resolve the case of civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who was disappeared in 2012, despite repeated commitments to do so.
GENEVA (1 October 2019) – UN human rights experts* have expressed serious concerns about the disappearance of a prominent Lao human rights defender, Od Sayavong, who went missing in Thailand just months after meeting a UN special rapporteur.
They urged the Thai Government to clarify the steps taken to locate Od, who had been recognized as a refugee by the UN refugee agency, and to ensure the security of other vulnerable Lao human rights defenders in Bangkok.
“In Southeast Asia, the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone in 2012 continues to be an emblematic case.”
Since June 2019, over a million people have taken to the streets of Hong Kong on a weekly basis to demonstrate. Protesters have faced attacks and injuries as police used tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray to quell protests.
The original target of the protests was a proposed change to Hong Kong’s extradition law. Hong Kongers’ fear of the bill is justifiable. Amendments to the Fugitives Offenders Ordinance Bill would allow individuals, including human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society activists, to be sent to mainland China to face trial, even if the person was outside the mainland when the crime was committed. China’s justice system is notorious for its lack of independence from the government, and the Chinese Communist Party has a record of arbitrary detention, torture, and fabricating legal cases against activists and journalists. Continue reading “Asia’s Disappearing Activists”
Sombath Somphone, a Lao activist who has been missing for seven years amid stonewalling by his country’s communist government, was commemorated in Bangkok on Friday, the International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
Sombath Somphone disappeared on Dec. 15, 2012, when police stopped him in his vehicle at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Vientiane. He was then transferred to another vehicle, according to a police surveillance video, and has not been heard from since.
We may not be familiar with enforced disappearances in Singapore but in recent years, several disappearances of people in ASEAN countries has brought this subject to our attention.
Seven years ago, in December 2012 Sombath Somphone, disappeared in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. His Singaporean wife, Ng Shui Meng is still struggling to cope with his disappearance.
WHAT IS ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE?
The crime of enforced disappearance dates back to Nazi Germany when Adolf Hitler issued the Nacht und Nebel Erlass Decree (Night and Fog Decree) on 7 December 1941. Its aim was and still is to spread terror and insecurity in society. Victims were spirited away by State agents or groups/individuals who act on behalf of the State. They literally disappeared into “the night and fog”. Continue reading “Enforced Disappearance – Into the Night and Fog”
The second issue is the situation of civil society, again which I take as illustrative. In general, the government assumes that civil society is an extension of itself. In other words, it is there to implement its own policies. It is not there to provide any independent analysis. It is not there to stimulate reflection, discussion, consultation, participation.
And the result is that there is actually an extraordinary amount of fear throughout the society, in terms of free expression.
But this is something of a paradox that I want to mention. It is true from what I know that large numbers of people are not prosecuted for political crimes. They are not imprisoned, they are not tortured, and this is impressive.
What explains it, however, as far as I can tell, is that the government builds upon the particularities of the Lao personality, the Lao culture, and uses very particular examples to send a message that resonates widely through the society.
So you pick on a particular civil society leader, and you disappear him, and you say no more. The message is loud and clear. This man, Somphone, was preaching a very, I shouldn’t say it…now because he was clearly a very inspirational character, but a revolutionary, he certainly wasn’t. An anti-government man, he wasn’t, but a man who wanted to encourage consultations in accordance with Buddhist and other local traditions, he was.
So the message was, if he can disappear, you can too. Keep quiet.
From the press conference of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Phillip Alston, in Vientiane, 28 March 2019. Video of the full conference can be seen here, and the report and other materials are available here.