Sombath Somphone – One Year After

7pm Wednesday Dec 11, 2013
Members Free, Non-Members: 350 Baht

Sombath Somphone, perhaps the Lao PDR’s most prominent community development activist and founder of the Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC) was last seen on the evening of Dec 15, 2013 on a road in Vientiane. According to footage from a CCTV camera, he was stopped in his own vehicle by police, left it, and minutes later got into another vehicle and was driven off into the darkness.

Since then, a veil of silence has descended on the disappearance of the man who in 2005 was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership. The Lao government which has denied any involvement in his disappearance, has come under pressure for a credible explanation – which has not been forthcoming. 100 days after Sombath disappeared, US Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement said “Regrettably, the continuing, unexplained disappearance of Mr. Sombath, a widely respected and inspiring Lao citizen who has worked for the greater benefit of all of his countrymen, raises questions about the Lao government’s commitment to the rule of law and to engage responsibly with the world.”

To mark one year since he disappeared and to ensure that the incident is not forgotten, the FCCT is pleased to host Sombath’s wife Ng Shui Meng who will speak about her husband’s life and work.

And to join Ng Shui Meng to speak about human security, transparency, accountability and state power, the FCCT is pleased to host:

Pablo Solón, Executive Director of Focus on the Global South. Mr Solon was the Plurinational State of Bolivia’s Ambassador to the UN and chief negotiator for climate change from 2009 to 2011. His brother (Jose Carlos Trujillo Oroza) was one of the forced disappeared in Bolivia in 1972 during the dictatorship of Banzer. His mother (Gladys Oroza de Solon) was co-founder of the Bolivian Association and Latin American Federation of the forced disappeared.

Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Executive Director of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA). Ms. Balais-Serrano has over 40 years of experience in development, human rights and international justice work. Among other initiatives, she helped set up through the Task Force Detainees- Philippines (TFDP), a rehabilitation center for released political prisoners and torture victims and the filing of a class suit in Hawaii against President Marcos after 14 years of martial rule. She also helped establish the Human Rights Commission of the International Federation of Social Workers, where she served as Commissioner for Asia-Pacific for many years. Before returning to FORUM-ASIA in 2013, she spent 10 years as Coordinator for Asia-Pacific with the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), a global network of civil society organizations advocating for a fair, independent and effective ICC.

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Rights groups urge release of Laos activist

A video of this action is now available here.

UCAN News: 18 June 2013

Police are suspected of abducting him six months ago

Dozens of Philippine human rights defenders held a “ritual of remembrance” outside the Lao embassy in Manila today to call for the safe return of highly acclaimed activist Sombath Somphone who was abducted six months ago.

Clarissa Militante, of the group Focus on the Global South, said the Lao government should ensure Sombath is found and returned safely to his family.

Some 100 activists from all over Asia, Europe, the United States and Australia sent “messages of hope and support” for today’s event, Militante said.

People sending messages included Larry Lohman, author of the book Carbon Trading: A Critical Conversation on Climate Change, Privatization and Power and co-founder of the Durban Group for Climate Justice.

Anne Sophie Gindroz of the Swiss group Helvetas urged those detaining Sombath to release him soon

Sombath received the UN’s Human Resource Development Award in 2001 for empowering the rural poor in Laos. Continue reading “Rights groups urge release of Laos activist”

Five Months On, Demand for Accountability and Action

5mth statement bannerLaos: Five Months On, Demand for Accountability and Action in Sombath Somphone’s Disappearance Intensifies

Bangkok/Manila/Jakarta (15 May 2013) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Focus on the Global South, The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) reiterated their call on the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and ASEAN governments to break the silence and take action on the disappearance of Laotian development worker, educator and Magsaysay award winner Sombath Somphone. The appeal was made as civil society organizations, respected world leaders and the diplomatic community, friends and family marked the fifth month of Sombath Somphone’s disappearance today.

Despite the recent conclusion of the 22nd ASEAN Summit (25-26 April) and the 12th AICHR Meeting (6-10 May), no concrete headway has been made in addressing or tackling Sombath’s disappearance and human rights abuses in the region. During the 12th AICHR Meeting, the regional human rights body reportedly discussed the implementation of the recently-adopted ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD), but fell short of taking a position on Sombath’s case, as well as the issue of enforced disappearances in the region. This was despite a recent open letter by the Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy – Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights (SAPA TFAHR), among the many calls from numerous groups and individuals, urging the regional body to do so.

“We deplore the AICHR’s continued silence on the case of Sombath. We understand that the AICHR discussed the AHRD in its latest meeting, but even the AHRD, a document which is below international human rights standards, provides guarantees to the rights to personal liberty and security and prohibits arbitrary deprivation of that right. In this regard, Sombath’s disappearance is an opportunity for the AICHR to act,” said Haris Azhar, Coordinator, KontraS. Continue reading “Five Months On, Demand for Accountability and Action”

การชุมนุมที่กรุงมะนิลาเพื่อกดดันอาเซียน

ข่าวไทยพีบีเอสเรื่องการชุมนุมที่กรุงมะนิลา ประเทศฟิลิปปินส์เพื่อเรียกร้องผู้นำอาเซียนให้ถือเรื่องการหายตัวไปของสมบัด สมพอนเป็นประเด็นการทำงานเร่งด่วน

คลิ๊กที่ภาพเพื่อชมวิดีโอบน YouTube

A Song for Sombath

Please watch this powerful performance of Nasaan Si Sombath? (Where is Sombath?).

The song is Awit Ng Naghahanap (Song of Searching) by Noel Cabangon. The interpretive dance by SAD.

The event was organised by Focus on the Global SouthAsian Federation Against Enforced Disappearance (AFAD), Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) in Manila on 12th April

Click on the image to watch the video on YouTube

Song for Sombath

Please share this link widely :  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNh5Lnusgl8

Solidarity Event for Sombath Somphone in Manila

The Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy (SAPA) working group for ASEAN released a message during an event held in front of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on April 12th. The statement calls on the leaders of ASEAN to put enforced disappearances on the agenda of their upcoming summit:

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On April 24 and 25, these ASEAN leaders will gather in Brunei under the theme of “Our People, Our Future Together.” But how can we invest our future in an ASEAN where peoples’ basic rights are continuously ignored and violated, a community where people are abducted and forced to disappear? We cannot be part of this. If ASEAN wants us to be part of this community then they should put the interests of the people above everything else. They should respect and uphold basic human rights.

The entire statement can be read here. A related letter from the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs can be read here. A video of the event can be seen here.

The event was organized by Focus on the Global South, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), and Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND).

Where is Sombath Somphone?

by Focus on the Global South

main_8306943360_e098710387Those who assert there is little civil society in the Lao PDR (Laos) have apparently never attended a celebration or festival in the country. Nor have they given due consideration to the staggering diversity of ethnicity and cultures, and the myriad and dynamic ways Lao communities have for centuries dealt with food shortages, natural disasters, and management and sharing of natural resources. Inside Laos, the current elite also seems to have forgotten that it was this same ability to organise and cope in the face of diverse, changing conditions that fed and sheltered the revolutionary struggle.

But if one were to put a face to those aspects of Lao civil society more recognized at the national and international levels, it would be that of Sombath Somphone.

Sombath grew up in rural Laos as the eldest child of a farming family. Passion, determination and a keen intellect led him through education at local, national and international institutions to obtain a BA in Education and an MA in Agriculture. While thousands of others were still fleeing Laos after the country gained independence in 1975, Sombath returned to work with the new government and his compatriots. Over the next three decades Sombath worked with remarkable persistence and humility to promote sustainable agriculture, participatory development and learner-centred education.

In 2005, he received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership for “…his hopeful efforts to promote sustainable development in Laos by training and motivating its young people to become a generation of leaders.” Sombath is one of only two Lao citizens to receive this award, often called Asia’s Nobel Prize, in its 55-year history. A practicing Buddhist, Sombath advocates a holistic approach to living, guided by respect for nature, compassion and honesty.

On the evening of December 15, 2012, Sombath Somphone was abducted at a major street in Vientiane after being stopped by the police. Recorded by a CCTV camera, the abduction shocked people inside the country and across the world. The abduction itself as well as the government’s responses, continue to raise many troubling questions and paint the Lao government in very poor light. Continue reading “Where is Sombath Somphone?”