AEPF Calls on EU and UK for action, not just words

The Lao government’s continued silence and obfuscation of the facts around Sombath’s enforced disappearance have subjected his family to six years of fear and uncertainty over his fate and whereabouts, which remain unknown to this day.

European development partners have committed approximately USD 550 million in support of the implementation of the Government’s 8th NSEDP (2016-2020). This represents over 30 percent of all the ODA received by the Lao Government to date. Nearly all of the European ODA is provided in grants.

…it would appear that the ODA support given by the EU and other donors continues and that formally there have not been moves to suspend or change the flow of ODA in spite of human rights abuses by the Lao PDR.

…as a member of the multi-lateral institutions, including The European Union, that are donors to Laos, The United Kingdom should actively engage in, and if necessary initiate, discussions to suspend the flow of ODA to the Lao PDR.

Excerpts from letter to the Rt. Hon. Mark Field, Member of UK Parliament, from Andy Rutherford, member of International Organising Committee, Asia Europe People’s Forum

Laos: EU must demand government address key issues during human rights dialogue

FIDH: 07 March 2019

(Paris) The European Union (EU) must demand the Lao government release detained government critics, investigate all cases of enforced disappearances, and provide adequate compensation to victims of land confiscation and survivors of a recent dam disaster, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today. FIDH and LMHR made the call on the occasion of the 9th EU-Laos human rights dialogue, which is held in Vientiane today. In conjunction with their call, the two organizations released a briefing paper that provides an update on the human rights situation in Laos since the previous dialogue, held in March 2018 in Vientiane, Laos. The briefing paper documents developments on the following issues: 1) arbitrary detentions; 2) enforced disappearances; 3) violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief; 4) the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam disaster; and 5) land rights

The consistent lack of progress on human rights in Laos should compel Brussels to be more vocal in its interactions with the government. The EU should obtain concrete commitments from the Lao government, such as the immediate and unconditional release of all those subjected to politically-motivated detentions. The EU should not fall into the trap of allowing the Lao government to downgrade the dialogue into an empty ritual.” Debbie Stothard, FIDH Secretary-General

At least 14 political prisoners remain incarcerated across the country. They include: Somphone Phimmasone, Soukan Chaithad, and Lodkham Thammavong, who are serving prison sentences of up to 20 years for their peaceful criticism of the government in relation to alleged corruption, deforestation, and human rights violations; pro-democracy activist Bounthanh Thammavong, a Laos-born Polish citizen, who is serving a four-year-and-nine-month prison sentence for a Facebook post in which he criticized the government’s policies and actions; and 10 villagers in Ban Yeup, Thateng District, Sekong Province, detained without trial since July 2017 for cutting down rubber trees to protest land confiscation. With regard to enforced disappearances, the fate or whereabouts of at least 14 individuals remain unknown. The 14 include: civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who disappeared in Vientiane in December 2012; two women, Kingkeo Phongsely and Somchit, and seven men, Soubinh, Souane, Sinpasong, Khamsone, Nou, Somkhit, and Sourigna, who were detained by security forces In November 2009; Somphone Khantisouk, the owner of an eco-tourism business, who was abducted in Luang Namtha Province in January 2017; and Ittiphon Sukpaen, Wuthipong Kachathamakul, and Surachai Danwattananusorn, three Thai monarchy critics living in exile in Laos who disappeared in June 2016, July 2017, and December 2018 respectively. Lao authorities have failed to conduct effective and impartial investigations into all of these cases.

The collapse of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam in Attapeu Province in July 2018 exposed the government’s slow, inadequate, and non-transparent response to the disaster. Despite the apparent severity and magnitude of the disaster, the government immediately sought to downplay the death toll and tried to block independent reporting about the disaster. In late January 2019, authorities eventually revealed that 49 people had been confirmed dead and 22 were still missing. However, activists and local villagers believe the death toll could be significantly higher, as the fate of hundreds of residents remains undetermined. Compensation and assistance awarded to survivors and families of the victims of the dam collapse has been thoroughly inadequate. In addition, despite the formation of two government-appointed investigation committees, no accountability for the disaster has yet been established. Reports also emerged of a lack of transparency and potential corruption on the part of the authorities in connection with the relief effort, particularly in relation to the procurement and construction of ‘temporary houses’ for survivors.

“The Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam collapse shows that investment and infrastructure projects in Laos can often have disastrous consequences for local communities because of the government’s lack of transparency and accountability. Until Vientiane takes bold steps towards key institutional and legal reforms, the EU and its member states should carefully reconsider their economic involvement in Laos.” Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR President

Concerns also remain over the ongoing lack of compensation for communities whose land has been confiscated by the authorities to make way for the construction of the 417km high-speed railway connecting the Laos-China border town of Boten to Vientiane. In November 2018, it was reported that 94% of the land required for the railway had been acquired and that the project was more than 40% complete. However, as of January 2019 – more than two years after the start of the project – many of the 4,400 families affected by the railway construction had not received compensation for their loss of land, livelihood, and income.

Declaration of AEPF 12

We should be reminded that while concerns [regarding Sombath’s dissappearance) continue to be raised in the confines of the Universal Periodic Review and similar human rights dialogues, the policies and programmes of governments, donors, regional development banks and development agencies remain largely unaltered.

People’s Agenda for ASEM Parliamentarians

Final Declaration from The Asia Europe People’s Forum 12, Ghent, Belgium 1st October 2018

https://www.aepf.info/aepf-12-statement

The People’s Agenda for ASEM Parliamentarians is an expression of the visions and demands of over 425 women and men who are citizens from diverse backgrounds, representing people’sorganisations from over 48 countries across Asia and Europe joined together to work for a Just, Equal and Inclusive Asia and Europe. We met in the Asia Europe People’s Forum12 in Ghent, Belgium between 29th September and 1st October 2018 ahead of ASEM12.

We are linked and brought together through the Asia Europe People’s Forum (AEPF). The AEPF is a strategic civil society gathering of Asian and European social movements, non-governmental organisations and campaign networks that are confronting poverty and inequality and working for social, economic and climate justice.

We are committed to promoting, consolidating and strengthening engagement with ASEM governments’ leaders, parliamentarians and related regional bodies and enabling people’svoices to be shared and heard.

We are committed to working in constructive ways with the governments who are members of ASEM to implement people-centred responses to the current crises in an effective and responsible manner.

We believe that priority must be given to poor, excluded and marginalised people and more democratic and accountable institutions must be in place to assure that processes and measures will lead to a just, equal, inclusive and sustainable Asia and Europe based on respect for gender equality and the promotion and protection of human, economic and socio-cultural rights, environmental security and the protection of our Commons.

Continue reading “Declaration of AEPF 12”

EU silent on human rights

Focus on the Global South: 25 April 2018

The European Union (EU) is one of the largest international donors to the Lao PDR, with a budget of over 200 million Euros for the 2014-2020 period.

On 15 March 2018, the EU and the Lao PDR held the eighth session of their annual Human Rights Dialogue in Brussels.  Ahead of the Dialogue, many organisations concerned by the deteriorating situation regarding civil liberties and peoples’ rights in the Lao PDR made submissions to the EU, presenting examples of persisting and deepening rights violations.

Below is a letter that was submitted to the EU by nine organisations, asking that the EU link its aid to actual betterment of basic freedoms and human rights of the targeted beneficiaries of aid.  The letter also asked the EU to publicise a detailed account of the proceedings of the Dialogue.

Such an account has yet to be made available to the public. Continue reading “EU silent on human rights”

EU must demand end of oppression of civil society and release of government critics

FIDH: 14 March 2018

(Paris) The European Union (EU) must demand Laos release all government critics and create an environment in which civil society can freely and safely operate, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today.

FIDH and LMHR made the call ahead of the 8th EU-Laos human rights dialogue, which is scheduled to be held in Brussels on 15 March 2018. In conjunction with their call, the two organizations released a briefing paper that provides an update on the human rights situation in Laos since the previous dialogue, held in February 2017.

“Recent developments in Laos show that the government has tightened its chokehold on civil society. The EU should not be cowed into silence by Vientiane in the same manner that Vientiane has constrained Lao civil society. Its voice in support of human rights and civil society should be heard loud and clear during this dialogue.” Debbie Stothard., FIDH Secretary-General

Continue reading “EU must demand end of oppression of civil society and release of government critics”

Sombath Somphone, EU aid, LDC status and human rights

At the UK Foreign Office, Andy Rutherford of the AEPF-IOC is asking…

In 2018, Lao PDR will be reviewed against markers for graduation from LDC status as a beginning of the process of assessing Lao PDR’s aspiration to graduate from LDC status by the 2020s.

…European development partners have committed approximately USD 550 million in support of the implementation of the Government’s 8th NSEDP (2016-2020). This represents over 30 percent of all the ODA received by the Lao Government to date. Nearly all of the European ODA is provided in grants.

 

International Human Rights organisations and the Asia Europe People’s Forum are of the opinion that the Lao Government is in breach of its human rights commitments, due to the enforced nature of Sombath’s disappearance and its failure to ensure the safe return of Sombath. There are also significant concerns about the restrictions on civil society.

 

Notwithstanding the clear statement of the European Union quoted above, it would appear that the ODA support given by the EU and other donors continues and that formally there have not been moves to suspend or change the flow of ODA in spite of human rights abuses by the Lao PDR.

 

…It is the view of many organisations that Lao PDR graduation from LDC status is not acceptable given its consistent record of human rights violations , including the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone.

Excerpts from letter to the Rt. Hon. Mark Field, Member of UK Parliament, from Andy Rutherford, member of International Organising Committee, Asia Europe People’s Forum

The EU Delegation to the Lao PDR…

…has not yet shared the European Parliament Resolution on Laos, either on their Facebook page or website.

If this is simply an oversight, it should be rectified as quickly as possible.

Excerpts include:

The European Parliament:

Strongly condemns the prison sentences against Somphone Phimmasone, Soukane Chaithad and Lod Thammavong, and calls for their immediate release;

Notes with concern that these verdicts add to a list of arrests and forced disappearances of activists and protesters who have expressed critical views on issues ranging from land disputes to allegations of corruption and abuse of power;

Reiterates its call on the Government of Laos to stop the harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders, independent journalists and social activists, and to respect the rights of free expression and association and the rights of minorities; reminds Laos of its international obligations under the human rights treaties it has ratified;

Urges the Laotian Government to respect its international commitments and protect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance which Laos signed in 2008;

Is gravely concerned at the widespread human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances and absence of fair trial; calls on the Lao authorities to meet their international human rights obligations by immediately accounting for the whereabouts of at least 10 missing individuals, including Sombath Somphone and Sompawn Khantisouk, and providing details of the charges brought and evidence produced against imprisoned activists;

The full resolution can be seen here.

Resolution of the European Parliament (2)

European Parliament: 14 September 2017

P8_TA-PROV(2017)0350

Laos, notably the cases of Somphone Phimmasone, Lod Thammavong and Soukane Chaithad

European Parliament resolution of 14 September 2017 on Laos, notably the cases of Somphone Phimmasone, Lod Thammavong and Soukane Chaithad (2017/2831(RSP))

The European Parliament,

  • having regard to its previous resolutions on Laos,
  • having regard to the outcome of the 8th meeting of the European Union-Lao PDR Joint Committee held in Vientiane on 17 February 2017,
  • having regard to the statement by the Delegation of the European Union to the Lao PDR made in Vientiane on the World Freedom of the Press Day, 3 May 2017,
  • having regard to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of 1998,
  • having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948,
  • having regard to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966,
  • having regard to the Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic of 1 December 1997,
  • having regard to the ASEAN Charter,
  • having regard to Rules 135(5) and 123(4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas in March 2017 three Lao workers, Mr Somphone Phimmasone, Mr Soukane Chaithad and Ms Lod Thammavong, were sentenced to prison terms of between 12 and 20 years and the equivalent of tens of thousands of euros in fines for criticising the government on social media in relation to alleged corruption, deforestation, and human rights violations, while working in Thailand; whereas the three also stood accused of participating in an anti-government demonstration outside the Lao Embassy in Thailand in December 2015; Continue reading “Resolution of the European Parliament (2)”

EU must demand release ofdissidents, resolution of enforced disappearances

FIDH: 13 February 2017

The European Union (EU) must demand the Lao government release all political prisoners and make real progress towards solving all cases of enforced disappearances, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today.

FIDH and LMHR made the call ahead of the 7th EU-Laos human rights dialogue, which is scheduled to be held in Vientiane on 16-17 February 2017. In conjunction with their call, the two organizations released a briefing paper that provides an update on the human rights situation in Laos since the previous dialogue, held in November 2015.

“After many fruitless rounds of human rights dialogues, the EU can no longer tolerate the Lao government’s deceptive tactics and its failure to uphold its human rights obligations. The EU must make it clear that the release of all dissidents and the transparent and thorough investigation of all cases of enforced disappearances, including Sombath Somphone’s, are conditions for the continuation of constructive bilateral relations, said FIDH President Dimitris Christopoulos.

In a break with previous years, in November 2016, the EU failed to raise the issue of the enforced disappearance of prominent Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone in its statement released on the occasion of the annual round table meeting between the Lao government and development partners. In addition, Sombath’s name was not mentioned in the joint statement issued at the conclusion of the 6th dialogue on 6 November 2015. His case was vaguely referred to as “the disappearance.”

“The EU’s failure to even mention Sombath Somphone’s name in its interaction with the Lao government plays into Vientiane’s strategy of seeking to relegate Sombath’s case to oblivion. If the human rights dialogue is not accompanied by any strong message it will remain a hopeless exercise,” said LMHR President Vanida Thephsouvanh.

In their joint briefing paper, FIDH and LMHR make specific recommendations to the EU to demand Laos show tangible progress with regard to: the right to freedom of opinion and expression; arbitrary detentions; enforced disappearances; the death penalty; and electoral reform.

Since its first human rights dialogue with the EU in 2005, Laos has consistently ranked near the bottom of many international indexes and rankings compiled by independent organizations that measure respect for democratic principles and key civil and political rights.

Press contacts:

  • FIDH: Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) – Tel: +66886117722 (Bangkok)
  • FIDH: Ms. Audrey Couprie (French, English) – Tel: +33143551412 (Paris)
  • LMHR: Ms. Vanida Thephsouvanh (French, English, Lao) – Tel: +33160065706 (Paris)

EU speaks up for Sombath & human rights of Lao citizens

European UnionEuropean Development Partners reiterate their strong commitment to promote better lives and the exercise of constitutional human rights for all Lao citizens. We welcome Laos’ acceptance of some of the recommendations of the most recent Universal Periodic Review and we are open to the dialogue on how concerted measures by the government could address its recommendations. In particular, we welcome the government’s reassurance to thoroughly investigate, and report on, the 2012 disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone, consistent with international practices and standards. Mr. Sombath has now been missing for over 1,000 days. His disappearance remains an issue of great concern for us. His family is desperately seeking for answers.

From European Development Partners’ Statement at Lao PDR’s 12th High Level Round Table Meeting, Vientiane, 27th November 2015.