Wife of Sombath Somphone Calls Again on Laos for Answers to His Disappearance

Radio Free Asia: 12 December 2018

Six years after his disappearance at a Lao police checkpoint, the wife of rural development activist Sombath Somphone called again on the Lao government to account for his fate, saying she has been kept in the dark despite government promises to investigate his case.

“I am very sad that after six long years, I still have no news about Sombath,” Ng Shui Meng, a resident of Singapore, told RFA’s Lao Service in a phone call on Dec. 12.

“It’s the same situation,” Ng said.

“They keep saying that they cannot find Sombath, that they are still investigating,” she said. Continue reading “Wife of Sombath Somphone Calls Again on Laos for Answers to His Disappearance”

Six years on, wife of disappeared Laos activist ‘can’t move on’

Channel New Asia: 12 December 2018

Six years of searching have brought no answers and little solace to Sombath’s 72-year-old wife, Shui-Meng Ng AFP/CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT

BANGKOK: The wife of a prominent Laos activist who vanished after being stopped at a checkpoint on the streets of Vientiane said Wednesday (Dec 12) she “can’t move on” as the mystery over his fate remains unsolved almost six years later.

The disappearance of Sombath Somphone, an award-winning environmental campaigner, drew rare international attention to the poor rights record of Laos, an authoritarian one-party state where activists work under state scrutiny.

Sombath was last seen on the night of Dec 15, 2012, with CCTV cameras capturing the moment when police pulled him over at a checkpoint in the Laos capital. He was shown entering a separate truck with two other men and driven off.

His case cast a dark cloud over civil society in Laos and highlighted dangers faced by activists, journalists and human rights defenders in Southeast Asia who risk being targeted with impunity. Continue reading “Six years on, wife of disappeared Laos activist ‘can’t move on’”

The Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone

Filmvorführung und Podiumsdiskussion

Englisch mit deutschen Untertiteln, Filmvorführung (50’) mit anschliessender Podiumsdiskussion; Apéro

  • Dienstag, 2. Oktober
  • 19:00 bis 21:00
  • Uhr Volkshaus Zürich, Blauer Saal
  • Eintritt 10.– CHF

Anmeldung erforderlich unter helvetas.org/sombath

Ende 2012 wurde der laotische NGO-Aktivist Sombath Somphone von der Polizei verhaftet – seither fehlt jede Spur von ihm. Trotz erdrückender Beweislast lehnt die Regierung von Laos jede Verantwortung ab und verweigert jegliche Unterstützung bei der Aufklärung des Falles. Entsprechend scheiterten alle bisherigen Bemühungen von Angehörigen, Freunden und Partner- organisationen, Sombaths Schicksal aufzuklären.

Am Dienstag, 2. Oktober weilt Shui Meng, die Frau von Sombath Somphone, auf die Einladung von Helvetas hin in der Schweiz, um einen neuen, bereitspreisgekrönten Dokumentarfilm über Sombath und sein langjähriges Engagement für ein offenes und tolerantes Laos zu zeigen. Der Film ist sehr bewegend und vermittelt auch die jüngere Geschichte Laos’ auf eindrückliche Art und Weise. Helvetas nimmt den Film zum Anlass, um mit Shui Meng und weiteren Gästen über die Menschenrechtslage in Laos und die Rolle der Schweiz zu diskutieren:

  • Shui Meng, Frau von Sombath Somphone
  • Barbara Dietrich, Programmverantwortliche Laosbei Helvetas
  • Guido Käppeli, Honorarkonsul von Laos in der Schweiz
  • Sandra Lendenmann Winterberg, Chefin der Sektion Menschenrechtspolitik der Abteilung Menschliche Sicherheit, Eidgenössisches Depar- tement für auswärtige Angelegenheiten (EDA)
  • Moderation: Daniel Hitzig, Alliance Sud

“Paucity of Relevant Information”

[The UN Human Rights Committee] …regrets the paucity of relevant information provided by the State party regarding the measures taken, and the progress achieved, in investigating the enforced disappearance of civil society leader Sombath Somphone…

[The Lao PDR should] Step up efforts to conduct a thorough, credible, impartial and transparent investigation into the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, and in all other cases of alleged enforced disappearances…

From UN Human Rights Committee Concluding observations on the initial report of Lao People’s Democratic Republic,” 26 July 2018.

Lao Delegation Ducks Questions at UN Rights Review

Radio Free Asia: 16 July 2018

Lao delegate Phoukhong Sisoulath addresses the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, July 11, 2018. Screen grab from UN Web TV

Lao government representatives evaded tough questioning at a U.N. review of the country’s rights record last week, speaking to points that had not been raised and saying that villagers arrested for refusing to leave confiscated land had sought to block the country’s development.

Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, from July 11 to 12, the U.N. Human Rights Committee (CCPR) examined for the first time the state of civil and political rights in communist Laos. The committee tracks the compliance of state signatories to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Laos became a state party to the Covenant in 2009.

Addressing the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, an agricultural expert who vanished at a police checkpoint outside the Lao capital Vientiane in 2012, Lao delegate Bounkeut Sangsomsak refused to answer detailed questions from the Committee concerning government efforts to find the missing civil society leader. Continue reading “Lao Delegation Ducks Questions at UN Rights Review”

“They have taken little or no action”

Enforced disappearances continue to be reported and there has been no progress in investigations or prosecutions. While the Lao PDR has accepted recommendations to investigate the enforced disappearance of leading civil society member Sombath Somphone, who was not been seen since being stopped by traffic police and taken away in a pick-up truck in Laos in December 20127, they have taken little to no action. No steps have been taken to review new evidence in the form of video footage provided by his family. The Government has also failed to establish the fate or whereabouts of other alleged enforced disappearances, including that of Kha Yang, a Lao ethnic Hmong arrested after his forced return from Thailand in 2011, and of Sompawn Khantisouk, an entrepreneur who was active on conservation issues and abducted in 2007 by men believed to be police.

From Amnesty International’s submission to the UN Human Rights Committee for consideration in its 123rd session.

“The Lao Government…is still seriously conducting the investigation”

31. The missing of Sombath Somphone is an unexpected incident for the Lao government as it happened after the Lao PDR successfully hosted the 9th ASEM in Vientiane in November 2012.

32. His missing is of concern to the Lao Government like the missing of any Lao citizen. Immediately after the missing happened the Lao Government established an investigation committee within the Ministry of Public Security to conduct investigation into the missing incident. From day one of its work the committee sent notice to all police headquarters across the county to find any clue which may be related to the incident. Furthermore, the investigation committee sent out notice to Interpol and ASEANAPOL for them to have looks for any information which may be related to the case. The Investigation Committee has always been open to views or suggestions to help the investigation and Committee is ready to receive suggestions from any interested parties with regard to the investigation which is still ongoing to the present time. It is the duty of the Lao government to find out the truth and bring perpetrators to justice in accordance with the law of the Lao PDR which has signed the Convention on Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

33. The Lao Government would like to reaffirm that the investigation committee is still seriously conducting the investigation. The investigation committee in the past made briefing to the Medias and all interested parties on the progress of the investigation and most recently the chief of the investigation committee met with foreign ambassadors and his wife whom the committee informed of the investigation. In addition, the Lao PDR accepted a number of recommendations under the UPR which are relating to the missing case.

From Lao Government’s response to Letter of Issues submitted by the UN Human Rights Council (CCPR). The full letter and response can be download here.

Dear Sombath…from Kurram Parvez

Dear Sombath,

Far away from Laos is a small but beautiful land of Kashmir.  Despite the distance from Laos, we heard loud and clear appeals for your resurfacing from the last few years, but sadly it seems that those at the helm of affairs in Laos are unable to hear the demand for justice and your safe return.  They aren’t deaf or blind, their conscience has died long ago.  It is due to the death of their morality, that people like you who work for justice and truth are subjected to enforced disappearances.  We promise you that we won’t let your legacy of fighting for justice to die. You will live within us always.

Shui Meng has a bigger family now, struggling for reunion with you and with all those who have disappeared around the world.

We are committed to work for a world without desaprecidos.

Khurram Parvez (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)

Laos: 5 Years Since Civil Society Leader’s ‘Disappearance’

Human Rights Watch: 15 December 2017

Disclose Sombath Somphone’s Fate or Whereabouts

The government of Laos should immediately disclose the fate or whereabouts of the prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone who was forcibly disappeared in the capital, Vientiane, in December 2012, Human Rights Watch said today.

Sombath Somphone is still missing five years after he was forcibly disappeared in Vientiane, Laos. “Five years on, Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ highlights the glaring problems of enforced disappearance, widespread rights violations, and the culture of impunity protecting government officials in Laos,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government needs to end its cover-up and explain what happened to Sombath.”

Sombath, the founder and former director of the Participatory Development Training Centre, received Southeast Asia’s prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005. Security camera footage shows police stopping Sombath’s jeep at 6:03 p.m. on December 15, 2012, and police taking him into the Thadeua police post. Shortly afterward, an unidentified motorcyclist stopped at the police post and drove off with Sombath’s jeep, leaving his own motorcycle by the roadside. A few minutes later, a truck with flashing lights stopped at the police post. Two people got out of the truck, took Sombath into the vehicle, then drove off. The authorities later denied any knowledge of Sombath being taken into custody. He has not been seen since.

Five years on, Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ highlights the glaring problems of enforced disappearance, widespread rights violations, and the culture of impunity protecting government officials in Laos. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director

At a news conference in Bangkok on December 7, 2017, Shui-Meng Ng, Sombath’s wife, publicly revealed that people she declined to name had seen Sombath at a police holding facility in Vientiane on the night of December 15, a number of hours after he was publicly seen at the police checkpoint. She said that his jeep was seen at the parking lot of that facility on the same evening.

This newly public information demonstrates the inadequacy of the official investigations into Sombath’s disappearance and the contours of a cover-up by Lao authorities. The authorities have repeatedly dismissed concerns raised by Sombath’s family, foreign governments, and human rights groups about whether the government investigation was serious.

Shui-Meng Ng told Human Rights Watch:

Five years on, we are sadly no closer to finding Sombath than we were in the week after he was taken from us. The only thing that has progressed over that time is the Lao government’s cover-up, and the wall of denial and delays it has constructed to buy time. While disheartened, the friends of Sombath all around the world will never give up demanding answers.

Laos has signed, but not ratified, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under international law, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution. Disappearances are a continuing offense that cause anguish and suffering for the victim’s family members.

“Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ will be a stain on the Lao government’s reputation until his fate is explained and those responsible are fairly prosecuted and punished,” Robertson said. “Donor governments, UN agencies, and multilateral organizations should keep raising concerns with Lao leaders until there are credible answers about Sombath’s fate.”