Lao Delegation Ducks Questions at UN Rights Review

Radio Free Asia: 16 July 2018

Lao delegate Phoukhong Sisoulath addresses the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, July 11, 2018. Screen grab from UN Web TV

Lao government representatives evaded tough questioning at a U.N. review of the country’s rights record last week, speaking to points that had not been raised and saying that villagers arrested for refusing to leave confiscated land had sought to block the country’s development.

Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, from July 11 to 12, the U.N. Human Rights Committee (CCPR) examined for the first time the state of civil and political rights in communist Laos. The committee tracks the compliance of state signatories to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Laos became a state party to the Covenant in 2009.

Addressing the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, an agricultural expert who vanished at a police checkpoint outside the Lao capital Vientiane in 2012, Lao delegate Bounkeut Sangsomsak refused to answer detailed questions from the Committee concerning government efforts to find the missing civil society leader. Continue reading “Lao Delegation Ducks Questions at UN Rights Review”

UN Committee Set to Examine Civil and Political Rights in Laos

RFA: 14 June 2018

A U.N. review of the rights record of Laos scheduled for July should look closely into the condition of civil and political rights in the Southeast Asian country, focusing on reports in recent years of forced disappearances and harsh prison terms handed out to critics of the country’s government, two Paris-based rights groups say.

Numerous violations of citizens’ rights in the one-party communist state have been documented and must finally be addressed, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization The Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said in a joint statement released this week.

“The upcoming review of the disastrous state of civil and political rights in Laos is a rare opportunity to put the spotlight on the repressive actions of the authoritarian government in Vientiane,” Debbie Stothard, FIDH Secretary-General, said in the June 11 statement. Continue reading “UN Committee Set to Examine Civil and Political Rights in Laos”

Serious human rights violations under scrutiny in landmark UN review

FIDH & LMHR: 11 June 2018

(Paris)The situation of civil and political rights in Laos remains dire, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today, ahead of a landmark review by a United Nations (UN) body. FIDH and LMHR also released a ‘shadow report’ that documents the numerous and serious violations of civil and political rights committed by the authorities in the one-party state.

“The upcoming review of the disastrous state of civil and political rights in Laos is a rare opportunity to put the spotlight on the repressive actions of the authoritarian government in Vientiane. It’s critical that the international community pays close attention to this review and uses its key outcomes to recalibrate its policies vis-à-vis Laos,” said FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard.

The situation of civil and political rights in Laos will be examined by the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) for the first time on 11-12 July 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland. The CCPR monitors state parties’ compliance with their legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Laos became a state party to the ICCPR in 2009. Continue reading “Serious human rights violations under scrutiny in landmark UN review”

EU silent on human rights

Focus on the Global South: 25 April 2018

The European Union (EU) is one of the largest international donors to the Lao PDR, with a budget of over 200 million Euros for the 2014-2020 period.

On 15 March 2018, the EU and the Lao PDR held the eighth session of their annual Human Rights Dialogue in Brussels.  Ahead of the Dialogue, many organisations concerned by the deteriorating situation regarding civil liberties and peoples’ rights in the Lao PDR made submissions to the EU, presenting examples of persisting and deepening rights violations.

Below is a letter that was submitted to the EU by nine organisations, asking that the EU link its aid to actual betterment of basic freedoms and human rights of the targeted beneficiaries of aid.  The letter also asked the EU to publicise a detailed account of the proceedings of the Dialogue.

Such an account has yet to be made available to the public. Continue reading “EU silent on human rights”

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.