Sombath Somphone Five Years On

This press conference was held at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand on 07 December 2017. Speakers included:

Ng Shui Meng: Former Deputy Representative for UNICEF Laos 2000 to 2004; wife of Sombath Somphone

Charles Santiago: Member of Parliament, Selangor Malaysia; Chairperson, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Anne-Sophie Gindroz: Former Country Director of Helvetas; author of “Laos, the Silent Repression”

Moderator: Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Human Rights Watch Asia Division

The full video can be seen here.

Laos: 5 Years Since Civil Society Leader’s ‘Disappearance’

Human Rights Watch: 15 December 2017

Disclose Sombath Somphone’s Fate or Whereabouts

The government of Laos should immediately disclose the fate or whereabouts of the prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone who was forcibly disappeared in the capital, Vientiane, in December 2012, Human Rights Watch said today.

Sombath Somphone is still missing five years after he was forcibly disappeared in Vientiane, Laos. “Five years on, Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ highlights the glaring problems of enforced disappearance, widespread rights violations, and the culture of impunity protecting government officials in Laos,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government needs to end its cover-up and explain what happened to Sombath.”

Sombath, the founder and former director of the Participatory Development Training Centre, received Southeast Asia’s prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005. Security camera footage shows police stopping Sombath’s jeep at 6:03 p.m. on December 15, 2012, and police taking him into the Thadeua police post. Shortly afterward, an unidentified motorcyclist stopped at the police post and drove off with Sombath’s jeep, leaving his own motorcycle by the roadside. A few minutes later, a truck with flashing lights stopped at the police post. Two people got out of the truck, took Sombath into the vehicle, then drove off. The authorities later denied any knowledge of Sombath being taken into custody. He has not been seen since.

Five years on, Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ highlights the glaring problems of enforced disappearance, widespread rights violations, and the culture of impunity protecting government officials in Laos. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director

At a news conference in Bangkok on December 7, 2017, Shui-Meng Ng, Sombath’s wife, publicly revealed that people she declined to name had seen Sombath at a police holding facility in Vientiane on the night of December 15, a number of hours after he was publicly seen at the police checkpoint. She said that his jeep was seen at the parking lot of that facility on the same evening.

This newly public information demonstrates the inadequacy of the official investigations into Sombath’s disappearance and the contours of a cover-up by Lao authorities. The authorities have repeatedly dismissed concerns raised by Sombath’s family, foreign governments, and human rights groups about whether the government investigation was serious.

Shui-Meng Ng told Human Rights Watch:

Five years on, we are sadly no closer to finding Sombath than we were in the week after he was taken from us. The only thing that has progressed over that time is the Lao government’s cover-up, and the wall of denial and delays it has constructed to buy time. While disheartened, the friends of Sombath all around the world will never give up demanding answers.

Laos has signed, but not ratified, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under international law, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution. Disappearances are a continuing offense that cause anguish and suffering for the victim’s family members.

“Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ will be a stain on the Lao government’s reputation until his fate is explained and those responsible are fairly prosecuted and punished,” Robertson said. “Donor governments, UN agencies, and multilateral organizations should keep raising concerns with Lao leaders until there are credible answers about Sombath’s fate.”

5 years after disappearance of Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, 122 groups ask, ‘Where is Sombath?’

Interaksyon: 15 December 2017

MANILA, Philippines — More than a hundred civil society organizations have slammed the government of Laos for its “failure to independently, impartially, effectively, and transparently investigate” the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a social activist who worked to promote sustainable development for the rural poor, and return him to his family.

“The Lao government’s continued silence and obfuscation of the facts around Sombath’s enforced disappearance have subjected his family to five years of fear and uncertainty over his fate and whereabouts, which remain unknown to this day,” the groups said in a statement released Saturday, December 16.

Sombath, a 2005 recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, often called “Asia’s Nobel Prize,” disappeared the night of December 15, 2012. Continue reading “5 years after disappearance of Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, 122 groups ask, ‘Where is Sombath?’”

Open letter on repeal of decree on associations No. 238

International Commission of Jurists: 13 December 2017

H.E. Mr. Thongloun Sisoulith, Prime Minister

Prime Minister’s Office, Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic

 

H.E. Mr. Bounnhang Vorachith, President

President’s Office, Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic

 

H.E. Mr. Xaysi Santivong, Minister of Justice

Ministry of Justice, Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic\

 

13 December 2017

 

Dear H.E. Mr. Thongloun Sisoulith, H.E. Mr. Bounnhang Vorachith and H.E. Mr. Xaysi Santivong,

 

RE:      REPEAL OF DECREE ON ASSOCIATIONS No. 238 of 2017

 

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia), ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), The Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR-Centre) and World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)  express deep alarm about the issuing and coming into force of the Decree on Associations (No. 238 of 2017) (‘the Decree’) in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). Continue reading “Open letter on repeal of decree on associations No. 238”

Sombath Somphone Five Years On

Press Conference: Sombath Somphone Five Years On: Demands for Truth and Justice Continue

And film Screening: The Disappearance of Sombath Somphone

10am and 6.30pm, Thursday December 07, 2017

Press Conference: Sombath Somphone Five Years On: Demands for Truth and Justice Continue

Time: 10 am-12 pm

Place: Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand

December 15th will mark five years since Sombath Somphone, Magsaysay Laureate and Lao civil society leader, was abducted in full view of traffic police and CCTV cameras on a busy Vientiane street. Lao Authorities maintain their investigation continues, even though they have provided no information either publicly or privately in four and one-half of those five years.

While donor support for the development of Lao civil society organisations has increased significantly, so have government restrictions, including numerous arrests, harsh sentences, and a more stringent decree on Non-Profit Associations in the past year alone. A climate of fear and self-censorship prevails among local groups, as well as donors and other international organisations.

Panelists will revisit the conditions surrounding Sombath’s enforced disappearance, and explore what has, and has not, happened since that time.

Speakers:

Ng Shui Meng: Former Deputy Representative for UNICEF Laos 2000 to 2004; wife of Sombath Somphone

Charles Santiago: Member of Parliament, Selangor Malaysia; Chairperson, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Anne-Sophie Gindroz: Former Country Director of Helvetas; author of “Laos, the Silent Repression”

Moderator: Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Human Rights Watch Asia Division

 

Film Screening: The Disappearance of Sombath Somphone
Length: 53 minutes

Time: 6.30 – 8.30 pm

Place: Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand

The Disappearance of Sombath Somphone” is a new documentary film [2017] that looks at Sombath’s life and times, and the events leading up to his disappearance in 2012. Featuring interviews with his wife, Shui-Meng Nag, Lao PDR historian Martin Stuart-Fox, and former European Union Ambassador to Lao PDR, David Lipman, and others.

The film will be introduced by Ng Shui Meng, wife of Sombath Somphone. The screening will be followed by an informal discussion.

Both events are co-organized by The Sombath Initiative, Human Rights Watch, FIDH, ICJ
and APHR.

Laos/Thailand: Investigate Abduction of Exiled Red Shirt Activist

…the Lao government has failed to make progress on at least 10 cases of enforced disappearance, including the case of prominent civil society activist Sombath Somphone—who was last seen being taken away from a police checkpoint in Vientiane on December 15, 2012.

HRW: 01 August 2017

(New York) – The Lao authorities should urgently investigate the abduction of an exiledThai activist Wuthipong Kachathamakul, also known as Ko Tee, Human Rights Watch said today. Eyewitnesses stated that a group of unknown armed assailants abducted him in Vientiane on July 29, 2017, raising grave concerns for his safety.

On July 29, at approximately 9:45 p.m., a group of 10 armed men dressed in black and wearing black balaclavas assaulted Wuthipong, his wife, and a friend as they were about to enter Wuthipong’s house in Vientiane according to multiple witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch. The assailants hit them, shocked them with stun guns, tied their hands with plastic handcuffs, covered their eyes, and gagged their mouths. Wuthipong was then put in a car and driven away to an unknown location while his wife and his friend were left at the scene. According to Wuthipong’s wife and his friend, the assailants were speaking among themselves in Thai. The incident was reported to Lao authorities in Vientiane. Continue reading “Laos/Thailand: Investigate Abduction of Exiled Red Shirt Activist”

ASEAN MPs Ask Australia to Pressurize Laos on Human Rights

Latin America Herald Tribune: 18 July 2017

BANGKOK – Lawmakers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) urged Australia to pressurize Laos to respect human rights on Monday.

Representatives of the two countries are set to meet for a human rights dialogue on Tuesday and Wednesday in Vientiane, the Laotian capital.

“The human rights situation in Laos continues to be abysmal. Since Sombath’s disappearance, the space for independent civil society in the country – already one of the most repressive in the region – has narrowed considerably. Meanwhile, the public as a whole remains deeply fearful of raising sensitive issues,” Charles Santiago, Malaysian MP and president of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said in a statement.

Continue reading “ASEAN MPs Ask Australia to Pressurize Laos on Human Rights”

Laos: No Progress on Rights

HRW: 17 July 2017

Australian officials should press the government of Laos to respect human rights at the Australian-Laos human rights dialogue, scheduled for July 18-19, 2017, in Vientiane, Human Rights Watch said today in a submission to the Australian government. Key areas of concern in Laos are freedom of speech, association, and assembly; enforced disappearances; abusive drug detention centers; and repression of minority religious groups.

“The Lao government’s suppression of political dissent and lack of accountability for abuses stand out in a human rights record that is dire in just about every respect,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “As a major development partner of Laos, Australia can and should press for greater respect for basic rights.”

Restrictions on civil and political rights in Laos include draconian controls over freedom of speech, association, and peaceful assembly. The lack of fair trials of criminal suspects, widespread judicial corruption, and entrenched impunity for human rights violations are continuing problems, Human Rights Watch said. Continue reading “Laos: No Progress on Rights”

Australia must tackle ‘dire’ situation in human rights talks with Laos – NGOs

Asia Correspondent: 17 July 2017

SET to enter the fifth round of human rights talks with Laos on Tuesday, civil society groups have called upon the Australian government to criticise a lack of progress regarding basic rights and freedoms in the one-party Southeast Asian nation.

The Australia-Laos Human Rights Dialogue is set to be held in the Laotian capital of Vientiane on July 18 and 19, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) reports to have received numerous submissions from local civil society organisations.

Australia is one of only two countries which have regular bilateral dialogue on human rights issues with the tiny communist state of Laos. Coincidentally, this year the two countries mark 65 years of diplomatic relations. The most recent Dialogue was held in Canberra in 2015.

A statement from the Australian embassy in Vientiane earlier this year highlighted “Laos’ relationship with Australia is the country’s longest unbroken diplomatic relationship at ambassador level.” Australia is also home to a sizeable Laotian community, many of whom came as refugees. Continue reading “Australia must tackle ‘dire’ situation in human rights talks with Laos – NGOs”

Rights Groups Call for International Community to Press Laos on Jailed Activists

Voice of America: 26 June 2017

BANGKOK-Human rights groups say the international community, including the United Nations, needs to press Lao authorities on human rights issues.

The calls come amid a string of harsh jail terms handed down by Lao courts against critics of the Communist government.

Rights groups point to Laos’ failures in taking “significant steps to remedy” a poor human rights record and tough restrictions on freedom of speech, association and assembly.

Three Lao migrant workers were recently sentenced to jail terms of between 12 and 20 years for comments posted on social media while in Thailand and because they attended a protest outside the Lao Embassy in Bangkok.

The three — two men, Somphone Phimmasone, Soukan Chaithad and a woman, Lodkham Thammavorg — were arrested when they returned to Laos after posting the messages critical of the Laos government on social media in Thailand. Continue reading “Rights Groups Call for International Community to Press Laos on Jailed Activists”