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.
(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
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.
If this is simply an oversight, it should be rectified as quickly as possible.
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;
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)”
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.
FIDH: Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) – Tel: +66886117722 (Bangkok)
European 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.
Lao and European Union officials met on Friday in the Laotian capital Vientiane to discuss human rights issues at a time when the number of such abuses and restrictions on various freedoms are increasing rapidly.
The objective of the sixth annual EU-Laos human rights dialogue was to support the implementation of Laos’ international human rights obligations and commitments. Attendees exchanged views on governance and the rule of law, democratic freedoms and people’s participation, as well as human rights, socioeconomic development, and international cooperation.
The meeting comes as the communist, one-party state continues to score poorly on its human rights record, with rights groups continuing to pressure the government for details of activists, students and others who have been detained or disappeared.
“The situation in Laos during this time is getting worse because social organizations are restricted to working only with communities that suffer from a lack of development projects,” said a source who declined to be named.
Last month, Lao authorities decided not to host a meeting of civil society organizations (CSO) in Southeast Asia on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit next year, fearing potential criticism by participants against governments in the region and inadequate resources for the decision.
Human Rights Watch makes this submission on the occasion of the European Union – Laos Human Rights Dialogue, scheduled to take place on November 6, 2015, in Vientiane. Laos recently appeared for its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the United Nations Human Rights Council on January 20, 2015, in which its human rights record and future commitments to improve respect for rights were discussed. Numerous EU member states spoke at this session, and raised concerns about increasing restrictions on civil and political rights in Laos. Several mentioned the case of prominent civil society leader and Magsaysay Prize award winner Sombath Somphone and the need for a credible investigation into his enforced disappearance on December 15, 2012. This is especially important for the EU given concerns that the Lao government may have targeted Sombath in connection with his leadership of the 9th ASEM People’s Forum in Vientiane on November 5-6, 2012.
The EU-Laos dialogue represents a crucial opportunity to further raise pressing human rights concerns and to improve the efficacy of the dialogue by setting clear benchmarks for improvements and ensuring the outcome of discussions are public. As Laos prepares to take chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the second time in 2016, it will have the opportunity to play a greater role in promoting compliance with international human rights standards across the ASEAN region. However, the recent decision by the Lao civil society groups, working closely with the Lao government, to refuse to organize the annual ASEAN People’s Forum/ASEAN Civil Society Conference in Vientiane in 2016 raises fundamental questions about how open or participatory Laos’ ASEAN chairmanship will actually be. Continue reading “Human Rights Watch Concerns on Laos”
(Paris) The EU must ensure that the Lao government makes firm commitments during upcoming bilateral human rights talks, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today. The two organizations made the call ahead of the 6th EU-Laos human rights dialogue, which will be held on 6 November in Vientiane.
In conjunction with the human rights dialogue, FIDH and LMHR published a joint briefing paper that details ongoing human rights violations that have occurred in the country since the previous round of talks in May 2014.
“It is imperative that the EU negotiates clear, measurable, and time-bound commitments with the Lao government and ensures their implementation. Otherwise, the human rights dialogue risks being a meaningless process that does not deliver any concrete results”FIDH President Karim Lahidji
Since May 2014, the Lao government has enacted additional draconian legislation, such as Decree 327, to augment its existing arsenal of repressive laws. Authorities have arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned individuals who have criticized the government or exposed instances of corruption. Authorities have continued to crack down on religious minorities, arresting numerous members of various Christian groups.
The government has failed to provide any updates on the investigation of the enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, whose fate and whereabouts remain unknown. In addition, it has outrageously labeled allegations of other unresolved enforced disappearances as “not true.” Continue reading “EU human rights talks must be backed by action”