Experts See Worsening Situation as Laos and EU Hold Human Rights Talks

Radio Free Asia: 06 November 2015

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A 2005 photo of Sombath Somphone in the Philippines.

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.

But another reason that the ASEAN forum will not be held in Laos is because the Lao government cannot guarantee the safety of Lao participants, the source said. He also pointed out that the country recently failed in a bid to win seat on the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council. Continue reading “Experts See Worsening Situation as Laos and EU Hold Human Rights Talks”

Human Rights Watch Concerns on Laos

Human Rights Watch: 05 October 2015

Human Rights Watch HRWHuman 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.

Related Content: HRW Submission to the EU-Laos Human Rights Dialogue

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”

EU human rights talks must be backed by action

FIDH: 03 November 2015

FIDH-Logo(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

lmhr-logoSince 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”

The EU, Enforced Disappearance and Lao Civil Society

European UnionNew opportunities await the new EU leaders to raise Sombath’s case and those of other enforced disappearance victims worldwide…

…we need to see strengthened EU and member state commitment to prevent and respond to enforced disappearances under the action plan on human rights. Until Sombath is safely returned, pervasive impunity will impact not only his family but all of Laos’ civil society.

From  “Making the disappeared visible: The EU and the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone,” in New Europe31 August 2014.

The first objective of the 1.8 million Euro project European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights currently being prepared is:

Support to Human Rights and Human Rights Defenders in situations where they are most at risk.

Will this important effort include significant action on enforced disappearance or Sombath Somphone?

Foreign Donors Slam Laos Over Lack of Progress on Missing Civil Society Leader

Radio Free Asia: 20 November 2014

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A 2005 photo of Sombath Somphone in the Philippines.

Donor countries to Laos have pressed the government of Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong on the whereabouts of the country’s most prominent civil society leader who disappeared nearly two years ago.

European and U.S. development partners mentioned the case of Sombath Somphone at a roundtable meeting with members of the Lao government last week in the capital Vientiane, during which they discussed the country’s progress and challenges in implementing various development goals.

The civil society leader went missing on Dec. 15, 2012, when police stopped him in his vehicle at a checkpoint in the capital. He was then transferred to another vehicle, according to police surveillance video, and has not been heard from since.

“Sombath’s case has been raised by several development partners such as the European Union … [and] the United States,” said a foreign representative at the meeting, speaking to RFA’s Lao Service on condition of anonymity. Continue reading “Foreign Donors Slam Laos Over Lack of Progress on Missing Civil Society Leader”

EU: No progress on investigation

European UnionAt last year’s RTM we raised the issue of the unexplained disappearance of Mr Sombath Somphone. We were re-assured by the government that it had taken all steps to continue the investigation and to bring the perpetrators to justice. One year later (and almost two years after the disappearance occurred), we note with grave concern that no progress has been made and Mr Sombath has still not returned to his family. Once again, we urge the government to resolve this case urgently.

From European Development Partners’ Statement at the 2014 Round Table Implementation Meeting. The statement further reads:

…we encourage the Lao government to consider shifting to a growth model that is more quality-based and in line with a sustainable management of natural resources, reducing the negative effects of climate change and ensuring food security. “Green growth” does have enormous potential in Laos if the right incentives and regularly frameworks are put in place. This would also support social inclusion including for the growing number of young people that enter the labour market.

…a more sustainable model of growth…better management of natural resources…more social inclusion, particularly for young people… Who had been advocating these things for years before being disappeared?

EU Must Keep Human Rights at the Centre of the Regions’ Partnership At Asia – Europe Meeting

asem_logoMarking the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) currently underway, Amnesty International has issued a call on the European Union and its member states “to ensure that human rights remain at the centre of all bilateral and multilateral dialogue between Asia and the EU.”

The statement reads, in part:

This 10th ASEM marks almost two years since the disappearance of Sombath Somphone in Laos on 15 December 2012, shortly after organising a civil society event on development around the ASEM, work that may have made him a target of enforced disappearance. Amnesty_InternationalAmnesty International urges EU leaders to use the opportunity at the ASEM to call for his safe return. Leaders at the ASEM should also work to ensure all present ratify and implement the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

The full statement can be seen here.

Recommendations to the ASEM summit

Transnational Institute: 16 October 2014

Hilde van der Pas

aepf10logoOne week before the official Asia-Europe government meeting (ASEM) gathers in Milan, over 400 people from 42 countries in Europe and Asia gathered at the 10th Asia-Europe Peoples forum (AEPF) to present their demands and recommendations.

More than 400 people, representing social movements, organisations and citizens from 42 countries, met from October 10– 12 2014 to discuss five thematic areas that concern citizens across Europe and Asia. As an outcome of the forum,that takes place every two years in Asia or Europe, recommendations will be presented to the governments at the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) on climate change, trade and investment policies, social protection, food sovereignty, migration, peace and security.

The forum started with a keynote speech from Shui Meng Ng, whose husband Sombath Somphone was abducted two years ago, shortly after he participated in the AEPF9 in Laos, as co-chair of the National Organizing Committee. Sombath was last seen when he was stopped by a police car and taken away, on September 15th 2012.

“Sombath was optimistic that many of the challenges and crises in Laos, as well as in Asia and Europe, could be tackled through open and frank dialogue and concrete actions between ordinary citizens in partnership with civil society groups and the government. “said Shui Meng Ng.

Paul Emile Dupret, member of the GUE group in the European Parliament, who went to Laos after Sombath’s disappearance on a mission with the EP, talked about the difficult environment they faced when talking to the Lao government and stated that the European left party rejects “….fake socialism – promoting landgrabbing and corruption”.

Malaysian MEP Charles Santiago put on a Sombath t-shirt to express his solidarity on behalf of all ASEAN parliamentarians. “Don’t tell us we have no business making you accountable,” he said. Continue reading “Recommendations to the ASEM summit”

Making the disappeared visible: the EU and the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone

New Europe: 31 August 2014

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A Thai activist holds placard shows drawing portraits of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone during a demonstration of the anniversary of his disappearance outside Laos embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, 15 December 2013 – EPA/Rungroj Yongrit

by Nicolas Beger

The International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance was marked on 30 August. Many of us will have given special thought to Sombath Somphone, one of many such victims.

Sombath is known across Southeast Asia. But today, his whereabouts still remain shrouded in mystery. On 15 December 2012, Sombath was driving outside Vientiane, Laos, when, as video evidence shows, he was stopped at a police post. A truck with flashing lights arrived.

As police looked on, Sombath was bundled into it by men in civilian clothing. Police investigations have been far from thorough and failed to make full use of available video footage. Continue reading “Making the disappeared visible: the EU and the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone”

Concern or Censorship?

Screen Shot 2013-02-01 at 22.53.08 PMWhile the Lao government has repeatedly expressed its concern about Sombath’s disappearance, it appears to also be censoring any mention of his name.

Following the fifth annual EU-Lao “Working Group on Human Rights and Governance” held on 19 May 2014, an EU press release stated:

The EU also raised a number of individual cases of concern, in particular the case of the disappearance of Mr Sombath Somphone, a prominent civil society activist. Mr Sombath’s disappearance is seen by the EU with grave concern and remains unexplained.

But while a Vientiane Times article released soon thereafter copies much of the EU statement exactly, it omits any mention of Sombath. Not surprisingly, the Vientiane Times also fails to report:

…the EU expressed concern regarding the limitation of freedom of expression, particularly the freedom of the media.