Laos: Anniversary of ‘Disappearance' Demands Action

Thomas Reuters Foundaton: 16 December 2013

The Lao government should immediately disclose the fate of prominent social activist Sombath Somphone, who was apprehended at a police checkpoint in Vientiane one year ago, Human Rights Watch said today.

(Bangkok) – The Lao government should immediately disclose the fate of prominent social activist Sombath Somphone, who was apprehended at a police checkpoint in Vientiane one year ago. The official investigation of his enforced disappearance on December 15, 2012 was inadequate, and the government has yet to offer a credible explanation of Sombath’s whereabouts.

“One year since Sombath Somphone ‘disappeared,’ the Lao government clearly hopes the world will just forget about what happened to one of its most prominent citizens,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Foreign donors to the Lao government should make Sombath’s enforced disappearance a priority until he can return home.”

Security camera footage shows police stopping Sombath’s jeep at 6:03 p.m. on December 15, and unidentified men taking him into the Thadeua police post. Shortly after, 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.  Continue reading “Laos: Anniversary of ‘Disappearance' Demands Action”

Action in front of the Lao embassy in Tokyo

政府批判の許されないラオスで社会活動家が失踪〜大使館前で人権NGOが抗議のアピール

Independent Web Journal: 13 December 2013

(Please click on link above for article in Japanese, as well as a video.)

Tokyo EmbassyIn response to a call from Japanese rights groups, Human Rights Watch and the Amnesty International Japan, around 20 citizens gathered in front of the Laos Embassy in Tokyo on Friday, December 13, 2013. They called out “Return Sombath!” and read out a letter addressed to Lao’s Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, urging his government’s prompt, transparent, and thorough investigation on the abduction and disappearance of Sombath Somphone. The action was to anticipate the Japan-ASEAN Summit held in Tokyo on December 13-15, to which the Lao government had also been invited. Despite the prior notice of the action and bell rings at the door, there was no response from the embassy side. Hence, the letter was put in their mail box.

The same groups also sent a letter to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, asking him to urge the Lao government to take an immediate action on the matter.

Japan: Raise Concerns About Abducted Lao Activist

Human Rights Watch: 11 December 2013

中国语文 Langue française

One Year On, Sombath Somphone Remains Forcibly Disappeared

Screen Shot 2013-02-20 at 9.39.28 AM“On the one-year anniversary of Sombath Somphone’s abduction, Prime Minister Abe should break Japan’s public silence and call upon the Lao government to reveal the truth about Sombath’s fate. Japan’s words carry weight since it is the largest donor to Laos. Prime Minister Abe should use this leverage to send a strong message to the Lao leadership that it needs to stop ignoring the pleas to reveal what happened to Sombath.” Kanae Doi, Japan director

(Tokyo) – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan should raise concerns about the enforced disappearance of a prominent civil society leader in the prime minister’s meeting  with Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong at the Japan-Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International Japan, Mekong Watch, Empowerment For All Japan, and two other Japanese nongovernmental organizations said today in a joint letter to Prime Minister Abe.

The Japan-ASEAN Summit, scheduled from December 13-15, 2013, falls during the one-year anniversary of the abduction and forcible disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a recipient of the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership. Sombath was taken into custody by authorities at a checkpoint outside a police station in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, on December 15, 2012. Continue reading “Japan: Raise Concerns About Abducted Lao Activist”

EU Must Maintain Efforts to Secure Safe Return of Sombath Somphone

AI-CSW-FIDH-HRWA number of international groups have called on European parliamentarians visiting Laos to maintain pressure to secure the release of Sombath Somphone. In part, the letter reads:

In line with the EU’s commitments to promote human rights through all its external actions, we call on you during your upcoming EP delegation visit to urge the Lao government to:

  • Ensure the safe and immediate return of Sombath Somphone.
  • Answer the many outstanding questions around Sombath’s disappearance and establish an independent commission to investigate the case.
  • Fully investigate the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone in a timely and transparent manner, appropriately prosecuting those responsible.
  • Address repression of civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Laos and ensure an enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders.

Until Sombath Somphone is back safely with his family, his case will not be forgotten and calls for his return will persist.

The full letter can be read here.

Laos: End Cover-Up in Activist’s ‘Disappearance’

Human Rights Watch: 14 June 2013

After six months, the Lao government’s failure to explain the abduction of a prominent social activist at a police checkpoint or account for his whereabouts raises the gravest concerns for his safety. The Lao authorities should realize their cover story is fooling no one, and start telling the truth. Brad Adams, Asia director

(Bangkok) – Authorities in Laos have failed to seriously investigate or credibly explain the enforced disappearance six months ago of a leading social activist, Sombath Somphone, Human Rights Watch said today.

Sombath, 60, the 2005 recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, was last seen by his wife on December 15, 2012, as they were driving separately from his office in the capital, Vientiane, to their home for dinner. A police security video shows him being stopped at a police checkpoint and taken into custody. He never arrived home.

“After six months, the Lao government’s failure to explain the abduction of a prominent social activist at a police checkpoint or account for his whereabouts raises the gravest concerns for his safety,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Lao authorities should realize their cover story is fooling no one, and start telling the truth.”

Security camera footage from the Municipality Police Station, obtained by Sombath’s wife, Ng Shui Meng, shows police stopping Sombath’s jeep at the Thadeua police post at 6:03 p.m. on December 15. Unidentified men then took Sombath into the police post. A motorcyclist stopped at the police post and drove off with Sombath’s jeep, leaving his own motorcycle by the roadside. A truck with flashing lights then stopped at the police post. Two people got out of the truck, took Sombath into the vehicle, and then drove off. Continue reading “Laos: End Cover-Up in Activist’s ‘Disappearance’”

Asean Urged to Step in over Missing Activist

The Nation: 21 February 2013

Asean and its human rights body were urged to intervene in the disappearance of Lao social activist Sombath Somphone amid the failure of the authorities in Vientiane to trace his whereabouts.

File photo : Sombath

The Lao government’s long silence about Sombath’s whereabouts are increasing our concerns for his safety,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The authorities seem more focused on deflecting international criticism than genuinely investigating Sombath’s disappearance,” he said

There is strong evidence of the role of Laotian authorities into the disappearance of Sombath, a prominent 60-year-old social activist who received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005, more than two months ago, Human Rights Watch said.

He was last seen by his wife, Ng Shui Meng, on December 15 as they were driving separately back from his office to their home for dinner. Shiu Meng lost sight of Sombath’s jeep at around 6pm near the police post on Thadeua Road in Vientiane, and he never arrived home.

Security camera footage from the Municipality Police Station, obtained by Shui Meng, shows that Sombath’s jeep was stopped by police at the Thadeua police post at 6:03pm.

Sombath was then taken into the police post.

Later, a motorcyclist stopped at the police post and drove off with Sombath’s jeep, leaving his own motorcycle by the roadside. Another truck with flashing lights then came and stopped at the police post.

Two people got out of the truck took Sombath into the vehicle, and then drove off. “It’s been incredibly frustrating to not have more visibility into the progress of the investigation,” Daniel Baer, deputy assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, told AFP by telephone from Vientiane after talks with the Lao vice foreign minister.

“I was assured that they are investigating – that’s what the vice minister told me – but I made sure that he understood that not having more information is not helpful,” Baer said, expressing disappointment that he was unable to meet any officials from the ministry of public security.

The campaigner won the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership for his work in poverty reduction and sustainable development in a country that remains one of Southeast Asia’s poorest nations.

The secretive one-party communist state – which exerts total control over the media and does not tolerate criticism – has in recent years gradually given local civil society groups more room to operate.

But Sombath’s disappearance has sent jitters through the activist network.

“There’s no question that it’s had a chilling effect,” Baer said.

“For as long as the case remains unresolved and Sombath doesn’t come home to his wife, the international community as well as many people here who know and love him will continue to ask questions,” he added.

Laos: End Silence on ‘Disappeared’ Activist

Press release from Human Rights Watch

(Française)

(Việt)

Screen Shot 2013-02-20 at 9.39.28 AM(Bangkok, February 19, 2013) – Lao authorities have failed to provide information on leading social activist Sombath Somphone since his apparent enforced disappearance in December 2012, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its human rights commission should intervene in the case with the Lao authorities, who have denied detaining Sombath, and who have not reported his fate or location, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Lao government’s long silence about Sombath Somphone’s whereabouts increase our concerns for his safety,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities seem more focused on deflecting international criticism than genuinely investigating Sombath’s disappearance.”

There is strong evidence that Sombath, a prominent 60-year-old social activist who received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005, was forcibly disappeared by Laotian authorities in Vientiane, the capital, more than two months ago, Human Rights Watch said. He was last seen by his wife, Ng Shui Meng, on December 15 as they were driving separately back from his office to their home for dinner. Shiu Meng lost sight of Sombath’s jeep at around 6 p.m. near the police post on Thadeua Road (KM 3) in Vientiane, and he never arrived home.

Security camera footage from the Municipality Police Station, obtained by Shui  Meng, shows that Sombath’s jeep was stopped by police at the Thadeua police post at 6:03 p.m. Sombath was then taken into the police post. Later, a motorcyclist stopped at the police post and drove off with Sombath’s jeep, leaving his own motorcycle by the roadside. Another truck with flashing lights then came and stopped at the police post. Two people got out of the truck, took Sombath into the vehicle, and then drove off.

On December 19, the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement confirming the incidents as recorded on the security camera, but claimed he was kidnapped for personal or business reasons. Lao authorities have told Sombath’s family, foreign diplomats, United Nations agencies, and civil society groups across Asia that they have been investigating the case. But to date, they have provided no information on Sombath’s whereabouts, his fate, or who was responsible for his enforced disappearance, Human Rights Watch said.

“Lao authorities have not answered the simplest questions about this case, such as why, if Sombath was kidnapped, did the police at the scene do nothing to protect him,” Adams said. “The absence of any real investigation points to the government’s responsibility.”

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 fate or whereabouts of the person.

Enforced disappearances violate or threaten to violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Laos is a party, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and extrajudicial execution.

Laos is one of the first countries in Southeast Asia to sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in September 2008. As a signatory, Laos is obligated under international law to refrain from acts that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty.

Members of ASEAN, to which Laos belongs, should publicly raise their concerns about Sombath’s enforced disappearance, Human Rights Watch said. On February 19, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the commissioners of the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), calling for them to investigate the case. AICHR’s Terms of Reference provides the commission the right “to obtain information from ASEAN Member States on the promotion and protection of human rights.”

“Sombath’s disappearance is a major test for ASEAN and its human rights commission,” Adams said. “ASEAN’s silence in Sombath’s case reflects a deeply rooted lack of credibility in protecting the basic rights of people in Southeast Asia.”

The latest letter from Human Rights Watch to the Lao Government can be downloaded here.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Laos, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/en/asia/laos