European parliamentarians pressure Laos on missing activist

Europe Online: 28 October 2013

Bangkok (dpa) – European parliamentarians on a visit to Vientiane Monday vowed to keep diplomatic pressure on Laos to solve the case of missing activist Sombath Somphone.

“We did not get convincing answers to any of our questions,” said Werner Langen, chairman of the European Parliament‘s delegation for South-East Asia. “We will keep the pressure on.”

Langen and three other European parliamentarians met Lao legislators and ministers including Phongsavath Boupha, head of Laos‘ national steering committee on human rights, to discuss the case of Sombath who went missing in a Vientiane suburb on December 15 after being stopped at a police checkpoint.

CCTV footage showed Sombath being pushed into a pickup truck that was driven off. He has not been seen since.

The Communist regime has denied knowledge of the incident or Sombath‘s whereabouts.

“We made it clear that if the case is not solved they will lose credibility in the EU,” Langen said.

Continue reading “European parliamentarians pressure Laos on missing activist”

Rights groups pressure EU to help find missing Lao activist

The Nation: 28 October 2013

Human rights groups pressured visiting European parliamentarians in Laos Monday to demand answers about missing activist Sombath Somphone.

“The EU should use all its leverage to ensure Sombath’s safe return,” said a joint letter from Amnesty International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Federation Internationale des Ligues de droits de l’homme and Human Rights Watch.

The civil rights activist has not been seen since December 15, when he was detained at a police checkpoint in Vientiane, and CCTV footage captured images of him being forced into a truck and driven away.

The Communist regime has denied knowledge of the incident or Sombath’s whereabouts. Continue reading “Rights groups pressure EU to help find missing Lao activist”

EU Must Maintain Efforts to Secure Safe Return of Sombath Somphone

AI-CSW-FIDH-HRWA number of international groups have called on European parliamentarians visiting Laos to maintain pressure to secure the release of Sombath Somphone. In part, the letter reads:

In line with the EU’s commitments to promote human rights through all its external actions, we call on you during your upcoming EP delegation visit to urge the Lao government to:

  • Ensure the safe and immediate return of Sombath Somphone.
  • Answer the many outstanding questions around Sombath’s disappearance and establish an independent commission to investigate the case.
  • Fully investigate the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone in a timely and transparent manner, appropriately prosecuting those responsible.
  • Address repression of civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Laos and ensure an enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders.

Until Sombath Somphone is back safely with his family, his case will not be forgotten and calls for his return will persist.

The full letter can be read here.

EU Parliament Dissatisfied with Lao Efforts to Locate Missing Activist

Radio Free Asia: (28 October 2013)

A European parliamentary delegation at a press conference in Bangkok on Lao activist Sombath Somphone's disappearance, Aug. 28, 2013.
A European parliamentary delegation at a press conference in Bangkok on Lao activist Sombath Somphone’s disappearance, Aug. 28, 2013.

A European parliamentary delegation has expressed dissatisfaction with the Lao government’s explanation over the disappearance of prominent local activist Sombath Somphone, who was last seen 10 months ago being stopped in his vehicle at a police checkpoint in the Lao capital Vientiane.

The second European Parliamentary visit to Laos this year came as rights groups urged sustained pressure on Vientiane to secure the safe return of Sombath, a rights campaigner who had been critical of the government’s policies for the poor.

The four-member parliamentary group, led by the chairman of the European Parliament’s delegation for South-East Asia, Werner Langen, met with a number of Lao officials and ministers on Monday, including Phongsavath Boupha, head of Laos’ national steering committee on human rights.

Langen told RFA’s Lao Service that his delegation had held “frank” discussions on the Sombath case with Lao officials, but that little progress had been made.

“The ministers said, ‘We don’t have an answer for where Sombath is now’,” Langen said.

“I said to the ministers, ‘We need a lifeline. Could you give us from the government side a lifeline?’ But the answer was not clear.” Continue reading “EU Parliament Dissatisfied with Lao Efforts to Locate Missing Activist”

The European Parliament

…whereas Sombath Somphone, a prominent figure in social development and youth education, disappeared on 15 December 2012 in the capital city of Vientiane…

…whereas there are violations of fundamental freedoms, particularly press and media freedom, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, academic freedom and the rights of minorities in Laos…

The European Parliament

…Expresses its deep concern about the disappearance, safety and well-being of Sombath Somphone…

…Is concerned about the tardiness and lack of transparency of the investigation into the disappearance of Sombath Somphone; calls on the Lao authorities to undertake prompt, transparent and thorough investigations, in accordance with their obligations under international human rights law, and to ensure the immediate and safe return of Sombath Somphone to his family…

…Asks the Lao authorities to reaffirm publicly the legality and the legitimacy of the work for sustainable development and social justice, in order to counter the intimidation provoked by disappearances such as of Sombath Somphone…

…Calls on the EU to put Laos among its priorities for the 22nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council…

…Calls on the Government of Laos to respect the rights of expression and association, the rights of minorities and protect the right to freedom of religion or belief ending all restrictions on the exercise of this right, as recommended at the UN Universal Periodic Review on 21 September 2010…

From Resolution of European Parliament on 06 February 2013

EU against Vientiane's reticence over Sombath Somphone's disappearance

Asia News: 02 September 2013

Since 15 December, there have been no news about the 61-year-old Laotian activist. CCTV camera shows police officers stopping and taking him away in a pickup. The government denies this version of events, a claim a group of MEPs describes as “ridiculous lies.” Fears are growing about the fate of the 2005 Asian Nobel winner.

2706-LaosPrisonnierVientiane (AsiaNews/Agencies) – There is growing international pressure on the Laotian government, accused of involvement in the disappearance of 61-year-old Laotian activist Sombath Somphone, whose fate remains unknown since the evening of 15 December 2012.

A group of parliamentarians from the European Union has accused Laotian Communist leaders of telling “ridiculous lies” in relation to the issue. The case however has raised awareness about human rights violations in Laos, an isolated country that is rarely mentioned in world mainstream media, at a time when the authorities have tightened controls on media and on the activities of members of civil society.

Nearly nine months since his disappearance, nothing is known about Sombath Somphone’s fate. Despite their best efforts, human rights groups and three separate EU delegations have failed to get more out of Vientiane.

As in previous occasions, the latest attempt elicited a terse response from the Asian country’s Communist leaders who, after noting the lack of progress in finding him, simply turned down an offer for technical help in the search. Continue reading “EU against Vientiane's reticence over Sombath Somphone's disappearance”

The World Wants to Know: Where is Sombath?

The Irrawady: 31 August 2013

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

Still of CCTV footage apparently showing Laotian civil society leader Sombath Somphone about to be detained by unknown men approaching in a white car. (Photo: Youtube)

BANGKOK — At a recent reception in Vientiane, a Western diplomat approached a senior Laotian government official with a query about Sombath Somphone, a respected civil society leader who was grabbed off the streets of the capital on a December evening and has not been seen since. The question elicited a rebuff.

“It is the standard official reaction,” a foreign guest at the reception recalled. “They get into denial mode even though there is CCTV footage of Sombath being forced into a vehicle near a police post in Vientiane.”

A similar wall of silence and denial was erected days later, when a delegation from the European Parliament landed in the Southeast Asian nation on a fact-finding mission over the whereabouts of the soft-spoken 61-year-old. “The Foreign Ministry [officials] presented ridiculous lies that the man abducted wasn’t Sombath,” said the visibly irate Danish lawmaker and head of the delegation, Soren Bo Sondergarrd, speaking to journalists in Bangkok on Wednesday. “They are unwilling to get deeper into this case.”

Sondergarrd’s delegation was the third made by foreign lawmakers, both from Europe and from Southeast Asia, since January this year. And a fourth from Europe is expected on Oct. 28—an indication of the increasing pressure the notoriously secretive communist government is under from the international community. Continue reading “The World Wants to Know: Where is Sombath?”

Plight of Sombath Somphone Back in Focus

The Diplomat: 30 August 2013

By  Luke Hunt

The inability of the Laos government to offer a credible explanation for the disappearance of prominent activist Sombath Somphone has again drawn unwanted headlines, with demands for donor nations to think twice before committing taxpayers dollars to the one-party Communist state.

The latest swipe comes from Amnesty International, which is raising Somphone’s plight on International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance. Somphone was last seen in police custody on December 15, but the authorities insist they have no knowledge of his whereabouts.

“The human rights group calls also on other countries to do more to demand that the civil society leader, a victim of enforced disappearance, is found and returned safely to his family,” Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, said.

Much to the embarrassment of officials in Vientiane, who have been preoccupied with organizing billions of dollars for the financing of ambitious infrastructure projects, Somphone’s disappearance was caught on CCTV, leading to repeated calls for the Laos government to act. Continue reading “Plight of Sombath Somphone Back in Focus”

Eight Months On, E.U. Lawmakers Talk Tough Over Disappeared Laos Activist

Protesters demand the return of Laotian activist Sombath Somphone in front of the Laotian embassy in Bangkok on Dec. 25, 2012

Time: 30 August 2013

The video is admittedly grainy, but what it shows is undeniable — well, at least to everyone except the Laotian government. Prominent Laotian civil-society leader Sombath Somphone was last seen on Dec. 15, 2012, driving in his jeep in the capital, Vientiane. CCTV footage (below) shows him being stopped at a police checkpoint and then driven away in a different vehicle while flanked by security personnel. Eight months on, European parliamentarians have accused the communist-run state of telling them “ridiculous lies” regarding the 62-year-old’s disappearance.

Though hopes for his welfare are rapidly fading, the cause of Sombath refuses to follow suit. An official European Parliament delegation is due to travel to Vientiane on Oct. 28, and his disappearance will likely remain at the top of the agenda after an advance party that visited this week found their inquiries fell on deaf ears. “The Laos regime is still in a state of denial,” Soren Bo Sondergaard, a Danish member of the European Parliament, told reporters on Wednesday, adding that he wants to “send a signal to the regime that this case will not go away.” Sombath’s wife was apparently told by the chief investigating officer last week that her husband’s case has officially been closed, only for that to be hastily countered by superiors when further accusations of complicity began to fly. Continue reading “Eight Months On, E.U. Lawmakers Talk Tough Over Disappeared Laos Activist”

Sandheden om Sombath må frem

Politiken: 30 August 2013

FN-dagen for ofrene for påtvungne forsvindinger må bruges til at intensivere arbejdet for Sombath Somphone i Laos.

Dagen i dag – den 30. august – har FN udpeget til årlig mindedag for ofrene for påtvungne forsvindinger. Selvom der de senere år er sket store fremskridt i Latinamerika, så kan dette fænomen desværre ikke tilskrives historien.

Tværtimod sker det fortsat mange steder i verden, at personer som led i interne konflikter bortføres uden af de efterladte får noget at vide om, hvad der er sket. Mod politiske modstandere, fagligt aktive m.v. bruges ufrivillige forsvindinger som et redskab til at sprede frygt og terror. Det rammer ikke alene den nære familie og venner, men påvirker dermed samfundet som helhed.

I den forløbne uge har jeg været i Laos for at søge nyt i en konkret bortførelsessag vedrørende Sombath Somphone.

Sombath er en kendt og respekteret civilsamfundsleder, ikke bare i Laos men i hele Sydøstasien. I 2005 modtog han bl.a. “Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership”, som kan sammenlignes med en regional Nobel-pris. Så sent som i efteråret 2012 var han en af hovedkræfterne bag det meget vellykkede “Asia Europe People’s Forum” (AEPF), som fandt sted i Laos’ hovedstad Vientiane forud for det officielle euro-asiatiske topmøde, ASEM9. Continue reading “Sandheden om Sombath må frem”