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”
New 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.
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.
At 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.
…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?
Marking 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 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.
One 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.
“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”.
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.
While 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.
The European Union and Laos have held the fifth round of their annual Working Group Human Rights and Governance meet in Brussels, a statement issued by the 28-member European bloc said Wednesday. The EU delegation was led by Anette Mandler, acting Director for Human Rights and Democracy in the European External Action Services. The Lao delegation was led by Phoukhong Sisoulath, Director General, Department of Treaties and Law, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Lao PDR Representative to the AICHR, Secretary-General to the Lao National Steering Committee on Human Rights. “It provided an opportunity to express concerns about the implementation of international standards in Laos and in the EU. It also allowed for a constructive exchange of experience about how to translate such standards into domestic practice,” the statement said.