1,000 days on, Sombath’s enforced disappearance a clear dereliction of Lao’s international obligations

1000 days11 September 2015

Today marks 1,000 days since prominent Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone “disappeared” at a police checkpoint on a busy street in Vientiane. We, the undersigned organizations, reiterate our call for the Lao government to intensify its efforts to conduct a prompt, impartial, and effective investigation into Sombath’s apparent enforced disappearance, to determine his fate or whereabouts, and to take the necessary measures to bring those responsible to justice.

At the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, held in Geneva on 20 January 2015, 10 states made recommendations to Laos to investigate Sombath’s disappearance. In addition, five states raised questions about the issue.

We are dismayed by the Lao authorities’ failure to provide any specific information on the status and progress of the investigation since 7 June 2013. This failure has occurred despite the government’s claim in June 2015, during the UPR process, that it was “still thoroughly conducting” an investigation into Sombath’s “whereabouts.” It is not enough for Laos to simply assert it is still investigating the case. Laos’ international legal obligations require it to carry out a prompt investigation and to keep Sombath’s family informed on the progress and status of the investigation. (more…)

FORUM ASIA: Lao authorities apathetic regarding investigation

Forum AsiaFORUM-ASIA: 25 June 2015

29th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council: Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Plenary on Lao People’s Democratic Republic: Oral Statement by R. Iniyan Ilango on behalf of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development 

Thank you, Mr. President. We welcome recommendations made to the Lao government. We regret that the government has noted and not accepted recommendations related to the protection of human rights defenders[1] and the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression[2].[3] Despite committing at first UPR cycle to work towards an enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders (HRDs) the government continues to restrict HRDs and civil society organisations. We remain concerned over the draft Decree on Associations and Foundations, which, if enacted, will further suppress the activities of civil society in the country. Furthermore, existing laws continue to impose severe restrictions on media freedom, and the newly introduced Decree on Information Management on the Internet criminalises criticism of the government online. We urge the Lao government to repeal or amend all existing laws that restrict the rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association including the Decree on Associations, the Decree on INGOs, the Media Law, the Law on Publications, the Internet Law, and various restrictive provisions in the Penal Law to ensure full compliance with international human rights standards. The government must also withdraw all regressive draft laws including the proposed Decree on Associations and Foundations.

We deplore the Lao government’s unwillingness to effectively investigate the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone. The Lao government’s failure to accept many of the recommendations[4] related to the disappearance of Mr. Somphone stands testimony to Lao authorities’ apathy towards mounting calls from his family and the international community to conduct an impartial and thorough investigation into his disappearance aimed at determining his fate. We reiterate our call to the government to immediately undertake a thorough and impartial investigation into the enforced disappearance of Mr. Somphone in accordance with international standards and with the assistance of the international community. (more…)

Pre-Session for Universal Periodic Review

LMHR-LogoA pre-session for the Universal Periodic Review of the Lao PDR (scheduled for January, 2015) was held on 03 December in Geneva. While many international human rights organisations did not attend the session, a briefing paper summarising UPR submissions from some groups was compiled.

The summary includes the following recommendations:

  • APHRImmediately undertake a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation, consistent with international standards, into the apparent enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, publicly release original images of the closed circuit television (CCTV) video of Sombath’s disappearance, and accept offers from foreign experts to assist in examining evidence, including the CCTV footage.
  • Human Rights WatchImplement the commitments made during the 2010 UPR, including by becoming a party to the ICPPED and incorporating all provisions of the various international human rights treaties to which the Lao PDR is a party.
  • Amend its Penal Law to provide for criminal liability for all acts of enforced disappearance and corresponding penalties accounting for the extreme seriousness of these acts.
  • Forum AsiaAllow Ng Shui Meng, Sombath Somphone’s wife, to have access to files and findings of the investigation and other information to which she is entitled.
  • Provide Ng Shui Meng with access to an effective remedy and reparation for the enforced disappearance of her husband.
  • Undertake a thorough, impartial, and effective investigation into all allegations of enforced disappearances, including those related to the nine activistsICJ arrested on 2 November 2009 in connection with planned peaceful demonstrations calling for democracy, justice, and respect of their land rights.

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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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. (more…)