EU must demand end of oppression of civil society and release of government critics

FIDH: 14 March 2018

(Paris) The European Union (EU) must demand Laos release all government critics and create an environment in which civil society can freely and safely operate, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today.

FIDH and LMHR made the call ahead of the 8th EU-Laos human rights dialogue, which is scheduled to be held in Brussels on 15 March 2018. In conjunction with their call, the two organizations released a briefing paper that provides an update on the human rights situation in Laos since the previous dialogue, held in February 2017.

“Recent developments in Laos show that the government has tightened its chokehold on civil society. The EU should not be cowed into silence by Vientiane in the same manner that Vientiane has constrained Lao civil society. Its voice in support of human rights and civil society should be heard loud and clear during this dialogue.” Debbie Stothard., FIDH Secretary-General

Continue reading “EU must demand end of oppression of civil society and release of government critics”

Freedom House places the Lao PDR near bottom of its Freedom Index

151

out of

165

Laos’ ranking in Freedom House‘s 2017 “Freedom in the World” report

Note: This is another in a series of posts on “Laos by the numbers.”

Feedback and suggestions are welcome.

In its Freedom in the World report for 2017, Freedom House has given the Lao PDR a score of 12, which puts it in the lowest category of “Not Free.”

In two sub-indexes of Political Rights and Civil Liberties, Laos is given rankings of 7/7 and 6/7 respectively. It has held these same rankings since 2010.

This places the Lao PDR very near the bottom of the index, at 151st of 165 countries, and the lowest in Southeast Asia. Scores (and ranks) for other regional neighbours include:

  • China: 15 (143rd)
  • Vietnam: 20 (137th)
  • Cambodia 31 (118th)
  • Thailand 32: (116th)
  • Myanmar 32: (114th)
  • Singapore: 51 (90th)
  • Philippines: 63 (72nd)
  • Indonesia: 65 (63rd)

Excerpts from Freedom House’s overview of the Lao PDR include:

Laos is a one-party state in which the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) dominates all aspects of politics and government and harshly restricts civil liberties. There is no organized opposition and no truly independent civil society. News coverage of the country is limited by the remoteness of some areas, repression of domestic media, and the opaque nature of the regime. Economic development has led to a rising tide of disputes over land and environmental issues, as well as corruption and the growth of an illegal economy. Such disputes frequently lead to violence, including by the security forces. 

The Laotian government continued to tighten its control over domestic dissent in 2016, partly by monitoring citizens’ activity on social media. In at least three cases, individuals were apparently arrested for comments they posted while working abroad. The authorities also suppressed independent civil society activity. Although Laos hosted the annual ASEAN summit in September, it would not host the parallel ASEAN People’s Forum, a gathering of regional civil society groups. The forum was held in Timor-Leste instead, and participants reported that the Laotian delegation was hand-picked and pressured by the Laotian government to minimize criticism of its record.

Beware the Destruction of Civil Society in Laos

The Diplomat:  30 January 2018  By David Hutt

A look at a worrying aspect of the country’s deteriorating human rights situation.

If you were to survey articles that focus on the human rights situation in Laos, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that does not reference the “disappearance” of Sombath Somphone, an internationally acclaimed civil society leader who was kidnapped from the streets of Vientiane in late 2012. Leaked CCTV footage shows him being stopped by the police before being taken to a police outpost nearby. Then, a jeep pulls up and two men kidnap him, and someone else drives his car away. He hasn’t been seen since.

The ruling Communist Party claims it launched an investigation, but has released few convincing details about its progress. The government has also refused to admit any responsibility. Based on the evidence we have so far, few serious observers would deny that the most likely scenario is that Sombath was abducted, rather than simply disappearing, despite the fact that the latter continues to be the characterization used. Continue reading “Beware the Destruction of Civil Society in Laos”

Civil Society Groups in Laos Delayed Funding, Forced to Disband Under New Law

 

RFA: 24 January 2018

Sombath Somphone (third from right) and other recipients of the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award link arms during a ceremony in Manila, in a file photo.

A recently introduced law regulating civil society organizations (CSOs) in Laos has further restricted their work, according to sources in the sector, who said groups now face lengthy delays in funding, while others are being forced to operate as small businesses or shut down completely.

In August last year, the government of Laos issued the New Decree on Associations No. 238 of 2017 to replace the Decree on Associations No. 115 of 2009. The amended decree went into effect on Nov. 15, 2017. Continue reading “Civil Society Groups in Laos Delayed Funding, Forced to Disband Under New Law”

Laos judged “mostly unfree” in economic freedom

123

out of

180

Laos’ ranking in the Heritage Foundation’s 2017 “Index of Economic Freedom”

Note: This is another in a series of posts on “Laos by the numbers.”

Feedback and suggestions are welcome.

In its 2017 Index of Economic Freedom, the Heritage Foundation ranks the Lao PDR a 123rd out of 180 countries.

Its score of 54 places it in the category of “mostly unfree.” Other categories include free, mostly free, moderately free and repressed. Laos score has remained quite stable over the ten year history of the index.

The index combines indicators of Rule of Law, Government Size, Regulatory Efficiency, and Open Markets.  Hong Kong tops the list, and North Korean is at the bottom.

Rankings and scores of neighbouring countries include:

  • Thailand: 55th (66.2)
  • Cambodia: 94th (59.5)
  • China: 111th (57.4)
  • Myanmar: 146th (52.5)
  • Vietnam: 147 (52.4)

In part, the Heritage Foundation states:

The Laotian economy has shown notable resilience, growing at an average annual rate of more than 7 percent over the past five years. Laos continues to integrate more fully into the system of global trade and investment. The trade regime has become more transparent, and there has been progress in improving the management of public finances.

Substantial challenges remain, particularly in implementing deeper institutional and systemic reforms that are critical to advancing economic freedom. Weak property rights, pervasive corruption, and burdensome bureaucracy, exacerbated by lingering government interference and regulatory controls, continue to reduce the dynamism of investment flows and overall economic efficiency.

Five years on, 122 organizations worldwide demand to know: “Where is Sombath?”

FIDH: 15 December 2017

On the fifth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, express outrage at the Lao government’s failure to independently, impartially, effectively, and transparently investigate Sombath’s disappearance, reveal his whereabouts, 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.

Sombath was last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street of the Lao capital, Vientiane, on the evening of 15 December 2012. His abduction was captured on a CCTV camera near the police checkpoint. The footage strongly suggests that police stopped Sombath’s vehicle and, within minutes, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove him away in the presence of police officers. CCTV footage also appears to show an unknown individual driving Sombath’s vehicle away from the city center before returning sometime later. Continue reading “Five years on, 122 organizations worldwide demand to know: “Where is Sombath?””

New Guard, Old Problems: What Sombath Somphone’s Continued Disappearance Says About Rights in Laos

The Diplomat: 13 December 2017

The development suggests that more of the same is at work in this realm in the Southeast Asian state.

Five years after Lao activist Sombath Somphone disappeared after being snatched off the streets of Vientiane by police, rights concerns in the tiny, landlocked Southeast Asian state still remain significant and unresolved.

Last year’s change in government, with a new prime minister in charge of the one-party state, had also raised hopes that this type of atrocious and anachronistic behavior might finally have come to an end with Thongloun Sisoulith touted as a more moderate leader.

But those hopes are proving about as realistic as finding Somphone alive.

Perhaps even more disappointing, as noted by Human Rights Watch, is that while donor support for the development of Lao civil society organizations has increased significantly, so too have government restrictions.

Continue reading “New Guard, Old Problems: What Sombath Somphone’s Continued Disappearance Says About Rights in Laos”

Will Donors Remember?

As donors, diplomats and development partners gather for this year’s Roundtable Implementation Meeting in Pakse, will they take time to consider those who were arrested or disappeared in this same city in November 2000 and October 2001, simply for expressing their views?

Will they recall the students who met similar fates earlier in Vientiane in October, 1999?

Will they remember Sombath Somphone or Sompawn Khantisouk, who have been enforcibly disappeared, or their families, who continue to suffer without knowing the fate or alleged wrongdoing of their loved ones? Continue reading “Will Donors Remember?”

A book on “Silent Repression in Laos”, five years after activist disappeared

Justiceinfo.net: 16 November 2017

Sombath Somphone, Laotian activist disappeared in 2012, with Desomond Tutu ©Prachatai

Download the complete book: “Laos, the Silent Repression” in pdf

Anne-Sophie Gindroz, an aid worker who was expelled by the Communist government of Laos in late 2012, has just written a book on her experience in that country. “Laos, the silent repression” (see attachment download above) comes five years after the disappearance of Laotian activist Sombath Somphone. The Laotian government has still not provided any information on his fate, despite international pressure.

Gindroz worked for the Swiss NGO Helvetas in Laos for three years. Shortly before her expulsion, she had been a member of the organizing committee of the Asia-Europe People Forum, a forum of civil society organizations which took place in the Laotian capital Vientiane to coincide with an Asia-Europe summit of heads of State and government. A week after her expulsion, Sombath Somphone was arrested by the Laotian police. He was founder of the Laotian NGO Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC), which works for education in rural areas, and was also on the organizing committee of the People Forum. He has not been heard of since. Author Anne-Sophie Gindroz spoke to Justice Info. Continue reading “A book on “Silent Repression in Laos”, five years after activist disappeared”