Where’s Sombath? Activist’s mysterious abduction a human rights thorn for Laos as it hosts major summit

South China Morning Post: 05 September 2016

Sombath Somphone (d.) en compagnie de l'archevêque sud-africain Desmund Tutu en 2006. Wikimedia Commons / Shui-Meng Ng

The disappearance of an award-winning activist nearly four years ago is a reminder of the dismal human rights record of the authoritarian government of the tiny landlocked nation.

The light was fading over Vientiane on a cool December evening when a Jeep was stopped at a traffic light. CCTV video later showed the occupant of the car being pulled out and taken away in a pickup truck, never to be seen again.

The disappearance of Sombath Somphone nearly four years ago is a reminder of the dismal human rights record of the authoritarian government of Laos, which prepares to host Asian leaders and US President Barack Obama at a regional summit starting Tuesday. Continue reading “Where’s Sombath? Activist’s mysterious abduction a human rights thorn for Laos as it hosts major summit”

ASEAN in Laos: Challenges of Leadership, Human Rights & Democracy

Press conference held at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand on 31 August, 2016, Bangkok 

RFA-FCCT-2016

Panelists included (click on link for their presentation):

  • Shui Meng Ng, Spouse of Sombath Somphone
  • Walden Bello, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
  • Laurent Meillan, Acting Regional Representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

With moderation by Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.

Video of the press conference is available in three segments: One, two & three.

The following press briefings were also distributed:

လာအိုုႏိုုင္ငံရွိလူ႔အခြင့္အေရးခ်ိဳးေဖာက္မွဳမ်ားကိုု ကိုုင္တြယ္ေျဖရွင္းျခင္း

အာဆီယံထိပ္သီးေခါင္းေဆာင္မ်ားအစည္းအေ၀းတြင္ ေပ်ာက္ကြယ္လ်က္ရွိေသာ  ေခါင္းေဆာင္ Sombath Somphone အေျကာင္းကိုု အေလးထားေဆြးေႏြးသင့္,လြတ္လပ္မွဳကိုု ျငင္းဆိုုျခင္း

ဘန္ေကာက၊္ ၃၁ ရက္ေန႔၊ ျသဂုုတ္လ၊ ၂၀၁၆။ ဗီယန္က်င္းျမိဳ့တြင္ က်င္းပမည့္ အာဆီယံေခါင္းေဆာင္မ်ား အစည္းအေ၀းမတိုင္မီညေနတြင္ တရားမ၀င္ထိန္းသိမ္းအက်ဥ္းခ်ျခင္း၊ ဖမ္းဆီးခ်ဳပ္ေႏွာင္ျခင္းျဖစ္စဥ္မ်ား အပါအ၀င္ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရး ခ်ိဳးေဖာက္အျကမ္းဖက္မွဳမ်ားကို ေဆြးေႏြးအေျဖရွာရန္ လာအိုႏိုင္ငံအစိုးရအား လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးဆိုင္ရာအဖြဲ႔မ်ားက ေတာင္းဆိုလိုက္ပါသည္။ စက္တင္ဘာလ ၆ ရက္ေန႔မွ ၈ ရက္ေန႔ အထိျပဳလုပ္မည့္ အာဆီယံအစည္းအေ၀းတြင္ ကမၻာႏိုင္ငံေခါင္းေဆာင္မ်ားသည္ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးဆိုင္ရာ ျပသာနာမ်ားကို ေဆြးေႏြးအေျဖရွာႏိုင္ျကမည္ ျဖစ္ပါသည္။ ႏိုင္ငံ့ေခါင္းေဆာင္မ်ားအေနျဖင့္ လူ႔အခြင့္ အေရးႏွင့္ရပိုင္ခြင့္မ်ား၊ မီဒီယာလြတ္လပ္ခြင့္၊ ဒီမိုကေရစီ၊ ဘာသာေရးလြတ္လပ္ခြင့္ႏွင့္ စီးပြားေရး ပြင့္လင္း ျမင္သာမွဳ တိုင္းတာေရးစံႏွဳန္းအဆင့္မ်ားတြင္ လာအိုႏိုင္ငံအား ေအာက္ဆံုးအဆင့္ေရာက္ေစသည့္ ညွဥ္းပန္းႏွိပ္စက္မတရားျပဳမွဳမ်ားကို မျပဳလုပ္ရန္ လာအိုအစိုးရအား ဖိအားေပးသင့္သည္။

Logo-Sombath Initiative

ထိုင္းႏိုင္ငံ၊ ဘန္ေကာက္ျမိဳ႔ရွိ ႏိုင္ငံျခားသတင္းေထာက္မ်ားကလပ္တြင္ The Sombath Initiative က ဦးစီးျပီး ယေန႔က်င္းပျပဳလုပ္သည့္ သတင္းစာရွင္းလင္းပြဲတြင္ အရပ္ဘက္အဖြဲ႔အစည္းေခါင္းေဆာင္ Sombath Somphone ရုတ္တရက္ေပ်ာက္ကြယ္သြားမွဳ၊ လာအိုႏိုင္ငံ၏ဒီမိုကေရစီႏွင့္ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရး ဆိုင္ရာတားျမစ္ခ်က္မ်ား၊ လြတ္လပ္စြာ ဆနၵထုတ္ေဖာ္ခြင့္အားနည္းျခင္း၊ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးဆုိင္ရာ ကတိက၀တ္မ်ားကို ေဖာ္ေဆာင္ရန္ပ်က္ကြက္ျခင္းႏွင့္ ႏိုင္ငံတကာအေထာက္အပံ့မ်ားနွင့္ ရင္းႏွီး ျမွဳပ္ႏွံမွဳအက်ိဳးသက္ေရာက္မွဳမ်ား ပါ၀င္သည့္စာတမ္းမ်ားကို ထုတ္ျပန္ခဲ့ျကသည္။
Continue reading “လာအိုုႏိုုင္ငံရွိလူ႔အခြင့္အေရးခ်ိဳးေဖာက္မွဳမ်ားကိုု ကိုုင္တြယ္ေျဖရွင္းျခင္း”

Obama urged to press Laos on human rights at regional summit

Reuters: 31 August 2016

Activists have called on U.S. President Barack Obama to press Laos on its human rights record on issues such as illegal land concessions and forced evictions, when he visits the Communist country next week.

Obama is due to attend a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the capital Vientiane, becoming the first U.S. president to visit Laos.

Campaigners urged Obama to use a bilateral meeting with Laos President Bounnhang Vorachith to discuss issues ranging from environmental contamination to the fate of prominent Lao human rights activist Sombath Somphone, who disappeared in 2012.

“We see this visit to Laos as a human rights test for President Obama and his administration,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

“Are they prepared to come to Southeast Asia and speak publicly about the disappearance of such a prominent person as Sombath Somphone and talk about the ongoing rights violations that are taking place in Laos?” Robertson asked.

Sombath, a U.S.-educated activist focusing on rural development, went missing in Vientiane on Dec. 15, 2012. A video previously released by the authorities shows him being stopped at a police checkpoint before being led into a pickup truck.

Laos maintains the state is not involved in Sombath’s disappearance and police are still investigating, said Sombath’s wife Shui Meng Ng, adding that she has not had an update from police in more than two years.

Sombath’s disappearance and harassment of civil society members has had a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression, with many self-censoring over fears they will be punished, said Laurent Meillan, the acting regional representative of the U.N. Office for the High Commission of Human Rights.

Meillan also expressed concern about large scale development projects and land concessions impacting the rights of local communities.

According to HRW’s Robertson, the Lao government told civil society groups ahead of the ASEAN meeting that it would not permit various subjects to be discussed.

These include Sombath’s disappearance, hydropower projects, land issues or the rights of indigenous and LGBT people, he said.

Human rights under scrutiny in Laos ahead of ASEAN meet

Anadolu Agency: 31 August 2016

BANGKOK, THAILAND - AUGUST 31: An activist holds a protest in front of the Laos Embassy in Bangkok calling on the government to stop Human Rights violations.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – AUGUST 31: An activist holds a protest in front of the Laos Embassy in Bangkok calling on the government to stop Human Rights violations.

One week before Laos hosts a summit of Southeast Asian leaders, international rights groups are demanding that Thailand’s sleepy northern neighbor improve its human rights situation.

But while advocates have underscored the state of human rights in the country, the wife of a prominent civil society leader who disappeared after being arrested in Vientiane in December 2012 had more personal concerns Wednesday. Continue reading “Human rights under scrutiny in Laos ahead of ASEAN meet”

Tackle Human Rights Abuses in Laos

ASEAN Meeting Should Highlight Disappeared Leader Sombath Somphone, Denial of Liberties 

(Bangkok, August 31, 2016) – On the eve of the annual ASEAN leaders summit in Vientiane, human rights and advocacy groups called upon the Lao PDR Government to commit to address its widespread violations of human rights, including instances of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention. Visiting world leaders have a unique opportunity to publicly raise human rights concerns during the ASEAN summit in Vientiane from September 6-8. They should press the Lao government to cease the abuses that have consistently placed Laos at the bottom of rig hts and development indexes measuring rights, press freedom, democracy, religious freedom, and economic transparency.

ALogo-Sombath Initiativet the press conference organized today by The Sombath Initiative at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in Bangkok, the groups released briefing papers on forcibly disappeared civil society leader Sombath Somphone, Laos’ restrictions on democracy and human rights, lack freedom of expression, failure to meet human rights obligations, and impacts of foreign aid and investment. Continue reading “Tackle Human Rights Abuses in Laos”

ASEAN in Laos: Challenges of Leadership, Human Rights and Democracy

ASEAN logo 2016Press conference at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand

11am, Wednesday 31 August, 2016, Bangkok 

At a time when ASEAN is witnessing an alarming increase in human rights abuses, restrictions on civil liberties, and a shrinking of democratic space in a number of its member states, what kind of example does this year’s ASEAN Chair, Laos, set for the regional bloc?

The enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone in December 2012, ongoing arbitrary detentions, and extremely tight controls on the media and civil society have instilled an environment of fear, silence, and repression in Laos. Little news about the serious human rights abuses occurring in the country ever comes out in the media, allowing the continued violation of basic liberties.

Despite this repressive environment, foreign aid and investment continue to flow into Laos. Continue reading “ASEAN in Laos: Challenges of Leadership, Human Rights and Democracy”

Radio silence

The Economist23 July 2016

As Barack Obama prepares for his first visit to Laos, its civil society struggles

Economist-2016
Sombath is Missing

A HIGHLIGHT of Ounkeo Souksavanh’s years as a radio host in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, came in late 2011 when he hosted an episode of Wao Kao (“News Talk”) on land disputes in the south of the country. Near the end of the programme, Mr Ounkeo says, a listener called in and criticised the son of a Politburo member for allegedly grabbing land from farmers for a property-development project. In mid-2012 the Lao government appeared to show sympathy with such complaints: it said it would suspend the granting of permits to take over farmland for rubber plantations, a big cause of farmers’ gripes.

But there was no on-air celebration. The government had shut down the radio programme, one of the country’s only public outlets for grievance. In December 2012 Sombath Somphone, a campaigner for farmers’ rights who had publicly challenged the granting of rural land-use concessions to businesses, was stopped at a police post and put into the back of a pickup truck. He has not been heard from since. His supporters put up notices about his disappearance, like the one pictured on the next page. Officials told them to stop. Mr Ounkeo felt that he was in danger, too. He eventually left for America. He now works there for Radio Free Asia, a station funded by America’s Congress. Continue reading “Radio silence”

Laos: Premier Should Account for ‘Disappeared’ Activist

Human Rights Watch HRWHuman Rights Watch: 14 July 2016

Disclosing Fate of Sombath Somphone Major Test for New Government

(New York) – Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith should immediately disclose the fate of prominent activist Sombath Somphone, who has been forcibly disappeared in Vientiane since December 2012, Human Rights Watch said.

Since taking office on April 20, 2016, Prime Minister Thongloun has stayed silent on Sombath’s disappearance, among the country’s most serious human rights cases in recent years. Official investigations of the case have been rudimentary and inadequate, and failed to offer any credible explanation of his fate or whereabouts. Lao authorities have repeatedly disregarded concerns raised by foreign governments and human rights groups.

“Sombath Somphone’s case is a major test for Prime Minister Thongloun’s new government,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The prime minister should end Lao’s long silence on Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ and explain what happened to him, instead of trying to deflect international criticisms and concerns.” Continue reading “Laos: Premier Should Account for ‘Disappeared’ Activist”

Family of missing Laos activist Sombath Somphone reveal new evidence three years after disappearance

Channel News Asia: 14 December 2015

The family of Sombath Somphone, a Laos civil society leader who went missing in the capital Vientiane three years ago, urged the government to do more to probe into his disappearance.

SB-Magsaysay-08
Sombath Somphone, an award-winning campaigner for sustainable development in Laos, pictured in 2005.

Sombath Somphone, an award-winning campaigner for sustainable development in Laos, pictured in 2005. (Photo: AFP)

Within days after his disappearance, the Laos government released footage showing his Jeep had been driven out of the capital Vientiane.

However, a new piece of evidence released on Monday (Dec 14) by an advocacy group, the Sombath Initiative, revealed his car had been turned around and driven back towards the city centre.

Presented at a press conference entitled “Three Years On: Demanding Answers for the Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone in Laos” in Bangkok was new footage his family retrieved from closed circuit TV cameras (CCTV) along the road where he is believed to have disappeared.

His family claimed they had presented state investigators the new evidence, adding the authorities have yet to examine it.

“This CCTV footage was gathered by Sombath’s family and sheds new light on what happened the night he disappeared,” said Sam Zarifi, Regional Director for Asia-Pacific for the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). Continue reading “Family of missing Laos activist Sombath Somphone reveal new evidence three years after disappearance”