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.
At 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”
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.
As Barack Obama prepares for his first visit to Laos, its civil society struggles
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”
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.
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.
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.
ON the eve of the third anniversary of acclaimed community development leader Sombath Somphone’s forced disappearance, human rights groups on Monday in Bangkok urged the Lao government to provide information regarding Mr. Sombath’s whereabouts and fate.
Sombath was abducted in Vientiane Laos on the evening of December 15, 2012, at a police check-point where he was then transferred to another vehicle according to police surveillance video. At the press conference in Bangkok newly made public CCTV footage, found by Sombath’s family, showed the car further south on the road as the car traveled back into the capital.
Communist Laos has shown “no political will to solve” the mystery of the abduction of a prominent social activist, a United Nations human rights official said on Monday, on the third anniversary of the kidnapping.
The United Nations and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said police in Laos refused to view new footage of the abduction of Sombath Somphone, a civil society leader who worked to promote sustainable development for the rural poor.
Laurent Meillan of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said the abduction had created “a culture of fear” among workers of non-government organizations in Laos, one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries.
“We are not aware of any progress since the government’s commitment at the U.N. Human Rights Council,” Meillan told a news conference in Bangkok, referring to an assurance by Laos to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice.
In January, Laos was assessed on its rights record and accepted some recommendations made by the U.N. Human Rights Council, including a call for a transparent investigation into the disappearance of the internationally acclaimed activist.
A press conference entitled “Three Years On: Demanding Answers for the Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone in Laos” was held at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Bangkok, Thailand on Monday, 14 December 2014.
A synthesis of new CCTV footage (above) was shared showing: 1) Sombath’s jeep after he was stopped at a police post, 2) being driven out of town by another person after Sombath was called to the police post, and 3) then returning toward the city centre shortly thereafter. The videos also show the pickup truck that took Sombath away.
Despite claims they are conducting a serious investigation, Lao authorities have shown no interest in reviewing this additional evidence.
Panelists sharing remarks at the event included:
Angkhana Neelaipaijit, Thai National Human Rights Commissioner, Justice for Peace Foundation and Sombath Initiative Advisory Board