Three Years On: Demanding Answers for the Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone in Laos

10:30 am, Monday, December 14, 2015

Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT)

Three years ago, on December 15, Magsaysay award winner and acclaimed community development leader Sombath Somphone was detained at a police checkpoint in Vientiane, Laos, and then disappeared by state authorities. Since then, the Lao police and government authorities have consistently failed to seriously investigate the case, and continue to unpersuasively claim ignorance of Sombath’s whereabouts.

Yet evidence is still being uncovered, and on the 3rd anniversary of his enforced disappearance, new CCTV camera footage — obtained from the area where Sombath was abducted on the day that Sombath vanished into state custody – will be made public.

A panel of speakers will also provide the latest updates on Sombath’s case and the international campaign to demand answers from the Lao PDR government.

Speakers include:

  • Angkhana Neelaipaijit,Thai National Human Rights Commissioner, Justice for Peace Foundation and Sombath Initiative
  • Sam Zarifi, International Commission of Jurists
  • Laurent Meillan, UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights
  • Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch

For more information, please call +66-85-060-8406, or email: [email protected]

Human Rights Watch Concerns on Laos

Human Rights Watch: 05 October 2015

Human Rights Watch HRWHuman Rights Watch makes this submission on the occasion of the European Union – Laos Human Rights Dialogue, scheduled to take place on November 6, 2015, in Vientiane. Laos recently appeared for its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the United Nations Human Rights Council on January 20, 2015, in which its human rights record and future commitments to improve respect for rights were discussed. Numerous EU member states spoke at this session, and raised concerns about increasing restrictions on civil and political rights in Laos.  Several mentioned the case of prominent civil society leader and Magsaysay Prize award winner Sombath Somphone and the need for a credible investigation into his enforced disappearance on December 15, 2012. This is especially important for the EU given concerns that the Lao government may have targeted Sombath in connection with his leadership of the 9th ASEM People’s Forum in Vientiane on November 5-6, 2012.

Related Content: HRW Submission to the EU-Laos Human Rights Dialogue

The EU-Laos dialogue represents a crucial opportunity to further raise pressing human rights concerns and to improve the efficacy of the dialogue by setting clear benchmarks for improvements and ensuring the outcome of discussions are public. As Laos prepares to take chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the second time in 2016, it will have the opportunity to play a greater role in promoting compliance with international human rights standards across the ASEAN region.  However, the recent decision by the Lao civil society groups, working closely with the Lao government, to refuse to organize the annual ASEAN People’s Forum/ASEAN Civil Society Conference in Vientiane in 2016 raises fundamental questions about how open or participatory Laos’ ASEAN chairmanship will actually be. Continue reading “Human Rights Watch Concerns on Laos”

Rights Groups, Wife of Missing Lao Activist Renew Calls for Progress in Case

Radio Free Asia: 31 August 2015

A 2005 photo of Sombath Somphone in the Philippines. AFP/Sombath Family

Human rights groups and the wife of a prominent civil rights leader who disappeared nearly three years ago have called on the Lao government to adequately investigate the incident and provide information about the case’s progress.

Sombath Somphone went missing on Dec. 15, 2012, when police stopped him in his vehicle at a checkpoint in the capital Vientiane. He was transferred to another vehicle, according to police surveillance video, and has not been heard from since.

Although authorities have denied any responsibility, Sombath’s abduction is widely acknowledged to be an enforced disappearance.

On Sunday — the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances — Sombath’s wife, Ng Shui-Meng, urged Lao authorities to inform her of their progress in the investigation.

“The authorities always say they are investigating, but always without clear answers,” she told RFA’s Lao Service. “I appeal to the government to have pity on my suffering and honestly give me the investigation results.”

She added that governments and state agencies should not commit enforced disappearances.

“It is a crime and a violation of a person’s rights,” she said. Continue reading “Rights Groups, Wife of Missing Lao Activist Renew Calls for Progress in Case”

Human Rights Watch: Lao UPR response raises serious questions

Human Rights Watch: 25 June 2015Human Rights Watch

UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

The Universal Periodic Review for the Lao People’s Democratic Republic shows the serious gap of Lao government statements of intent and associated plans, laws and decrees versus the minimal progress made on human rights in Laos since the previous UPR in 2010.

Laos’ declaration that it is considering ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance contrasts significantly with its failure to conduct a credible, thorough and impartial investigation into the enforced disappearance of renowned civil society leader and Magsaysay award winner Sombath Somphone, who in December 2012 was videoed being taken from his car at a police checkpoint on a main boulevard in the capital, Vientiane.

Numerous governments raised Sombath’s case during the interactive dialogue yet their concerns were met by an irrelevant and unacceptable Lao government response that “cases of disappearance happened throughout the world, sometimes as a result of conflict with criminal groups.” In Vientiane, far from Geneva, authorities are less circumspect in their campaign of making unfounded insinuations to smear Sombath as somehow being involved in crime.  Similarly, it’s astounding that the Lao government claims it is “open to views or suggestions to help the investigation” when it has turned down multiple offers of technical assistance from many of the governments in this room that would help ensure a genuine investigation is undertaken.

Numerous governments made recommendations to encourage Laos to take steps to end restrictions on the rights to freedom of association, expression, and peaceful assembly. However, Laos gave no clear explanation why it passed an Internet decree that contains provisions that go well beyond internationally accepted limits on free speech contained in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Laos ratified in 2009. Laos has also tightened government control in the operating guidelines for domestic civil society organizations, as well as the decree overseeing the activities of international NGOs, again without explanation.

Lao accepted many general recommendations, but failed to accept those that would have represented genuine, concrete commitments for progress. This raises serious questions as to how the government actually proposes to implement the rights it rhetorically committed to.

'The Hypocrisy of Asean'

SEA Globe-23 March 2015…the Somphone case is an excellent example of Asean’s failure to take a stance on human rights. Instead of criticising the Lao government for not investigating the disappearance, she said, Asean “hides” behind its policy of ‘non-intervention’ in national issues, even though it has previously intervened in internal matters.

…Calling this “the hypocrisy of Asean,” Naidu added that the regional body refuses to intervene on human rights but has no qualms about the region’s “capitalist elites” influencing the national economic policies of member states.

Wathshlah Naidu, in “An Uncomfortable Question,” by  David Hutt, in The Southeast Asian Globe.

Australia-Laos rights dialogue: More than just rhetoric needed

The Interpreter: 13 March 2015

For many Australians, Laos is a scenic, off-the-beaten path, holiday destination for adventurous travellers.

Lao Embassy-Bangkok-2013-01

Relatively few know that it’s also a repressive one-party state with a long record of restricting basic rights, and imprisoning or forcibly disappearing critics or citizens who dare to form groups or hold protests without government permission.

Last week, Australia had a chance to throw light on Laos’ darker side when on 5 March, Canberra hosted officials from Vientiane for the fourth bilateral human rights dialogue. The dialogue, held in Australia for the first time, is part of Canberra’s assistance to the Lao Government, intended to improve its human rights record. However, given the intensifying crackdown on fundamental rights, the Lao Government’s commitment to reform appears dubious at best.

To ensure that this dialogue doesn’t become an exercise in empty rhetoric, the Australian Government should work with its Lao counterparts to set concrete measurable benchmarks for reform, and publicly commit to them. Continue reading “Australia-Laos rights dialogue: More than just rhetoric needed”

Australia: Press Laos to Respect Rights

Human Rights Watch: (02 March 2015)

Respond on Sombath Somphone; Set Strong Benchmarks for Reform in Dialogue

Sombath Somphone, a social activist, was last seen in Vientiane, the capital, in December 2012. There is strong evidence that he was forcibly disappeared by Laotian authorities. © 2013 Stephen Sautter

(Sydney) – Australia should use its upcoming human rights dialogue with Laos to raise human rights concerns and set concrete benchmarks for reform, Human Rights Watch said today. The dialogue, scheduled to be held in Canberra on March 5, 2015, is a crucial opportunity to push the government of Laos to take real action on rights ahead of Laos chairing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2016.

In a submission to the Australian government, Human Rights Watch urged officials to raise concerns with their Lao counterparts about the enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, increased restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, violations of labor rights, and abusive drug detention centers.

“Australia should make sure that this human rights dialogue doesn’t become just an exercise in empty rhetoric,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director. “It’s an opportunity to really press the Lao government on sensitive issues and demand meaningful outcomes.” Elaine Pearson, Australia director

This is the fourth such dialogue with Laos, and the first one to be held in Australia. Australia committed funding from 2012 to 2015 to support the Lao government’s human rights activities. The Australian government should review all assistance in funding, programming, and activities in Laos to ensure that it is not contributing to policies and programs that violate human rights. Continue reading “Australia: Press Laos to Respect Rights”

Laos: Pledge Action on Rights, Stop ‘Disappearances’

Human Rights Watch: 19 December 2015

Sombath Somphone, a social activist, was last seen in Vientiane, the capital, in December 2012. There is strong evidence that he was forcibly disappeared by Laotian authorities. © 2013 Stephen Sautter

The government of Laos should use the United Nations Human Rights Council review of its record to pledge concrete measures to address its pervasive human rights problems.

Laos will appear for the country’s second Universal Periodic Review on January 20, 2015, at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In a June 2014 submission to the council, Human Rights Watch raised concerns about the enforced disappearance of civil society leader Sombath Somphone, severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms to expression and assembly, the denial of labor rights, and abusive drug detention centers.

“The lack of progress in the disappearance of a leading activist is sadly emblematic of the Lao government’s failure take action on a wide range of serious human rights problems,” said Philippe Dam, acting Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “UN member countries should make clear their dissatisfaction with Laos’ inaction and insist upon genuine reform.” Continue reading “Laos: Pledge Action on Rights, Stop ‘Disappearances’”

Universal Periodic Review: Lao human rights under scrutiny

UN LogoThe Lao PDR is scheduled for the second Universal Periodic Review of its human rights record on 20 January 2015. In preparation for this event, many organisations from civil society, the United Nations and the Lao government have submitted reports.

Nearly all of the submissions from stakeholders not subject to Lao government control raise the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, many emphatically. These include:

The United Nations, and specifically the UN Lao Country Report, also raise concerns about Sombath’s disappearance, despite reported pressure from the Lao government to exclude any such reference.

In its report, the Lao government, which has repeatedly claimed it is more concerned than anybody else, ignores the issue entirely.