Laos Accused of Paying Lip Service to UN Human Rights Conventions

Radio Free Asia: 08 January 2015

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

Authorities in Laos are paying lip service to U.N. human rights conventions the government has signed up to, civil society groups charged ahead of the next U.N. review of the country’s rights record.

They called on the United Nations to have a mechanism to follow up with the Lao authoritarian government over its implementation of recommendations made during previous UPR processes.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) will examine Laos’ rights record at a UPR meeting on Jan. 20 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The UPR involves a comprehensive review of the human rights record of all U.N. member countries every four years.

“The most important thing is that the UNHRC has to investigate whether the government has defined the terms of the UN human rights conventions in the country’s constitutution, and whether the country’s laws match the terms of the rights conventions,” a civil society official in Laos involved in the UPR process told RFA’s Lao Service. Continue reading “Laos Accused of Paying Lip Service to UN Human Rights Conventions”

Ai WeiWei Speaks Out for Sombath

ai-trace-sombath-710x710The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is internationally renowned for work that defies the distinction between art and activism. In this exhibition of new works created specifically for Alcatraz, Ai responds to the island’s layered legacy as a 19th-century military fortress, a notorious federal penitentiary, a site of Native American heritage and protest, and now one of America’s most visited national parks. Revealing new perspectives on Alcatraz, the exhibition raises questions about freedom of expression and human rights that resonate far beyond this particular place. Fore-site Foundation

@Large: Ai WeiWei on Alcatraz contains images of 176 “Heroes of our time,” including three from Laos: Sombath (shown below), Seng-Aloun Phengphanh and Thongpaseuth Keuakounos.



Human Rights are not an Add-on

The world must hold the line of the UDHR, that human rights are not subject to government approval… Human rights are universal. …We must press Laos to help locate Sombath Somphone and to return him to safety. …These would be but beginnings in addressing the rights of the peoples in the region, but we must not delay any longer.

Universal human rights are just that, they belong to all the planet’s people and governments should stop pretending that it is in their authority to create exceptions to them. Human rights are not an add-on, or something to do after every other problem is solved; they are the ground from which to grow and measure our treatment of each other and our own selves.

Jack Healey, in the Huffington Post

ASEAN human rights talks face major challenges

Jakarta Post: 04 March 2014

Emerlynne Gil, Bangkok

When the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) meets in Jakarta this week, its urgent priority must be improving how it communicates and engages with civil society in Southeast Asia and responds to human rights issues.

ASEAN civil society, representing more than 500 million people from the region, has signaled its eagerness to harness the potential of the AICHR. But the Commission has been widely criticized as being “toothless” and lacking a clear mandate since its creation in 2009.

Human rights issues among its member states need to be prioritized and addressed.

While some member states, including Indonesia and the Philippines have shown a degree of willingness to address them, others have not been so forthcoming. Continue reading “ASEAN human rights talks face major challenges”

Laos Human Rights Abuses 'Serious,' But Mostly Hidden From View

Radio Free Asia: 19 February 2014

Rice farmers blocking a bulldozer from entering their land in a screen grab from an RFA video, Jan. 17, 2014. RFA
Rice farmers blocking a bulldozer from entering their land in a screen grab from an RFA video, Jan. 17, 2014. RFA

The one-party Communist government of Laos is committing “serious” human rights abuses which go largely unreported due to tight political controls, rights groups say, following a report that the country has become the most repressive state in the region.

Laos has been under sharper focus by rights groups since popular civil society leader Sombath Somphone vanished after being stopped in his vehicle at a police checkpoint in the capital Vientiane on Dec. 15, 2012.

The rights groups say there have been many abuses apart from the case of Sombath, who they suspect may have been abducted by government-linked organizations

“The situation in Laos is very serious,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of New York-based Human Rights Watch, told RFA’s Lao Service.

“The Lao government uses its power as a one-party state to effectively control political expression in the country in a way that clearly violates various international human rights treaties.”

“It is still a very dictatorial, rights-repressing government,” Robertson said. Continue reading “Laos Human Rights Abuses 'Serious,' But Mostly Hidden From View”

UN OHCHR renews calls for investigation

InboxA year on, the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone continues with impunity in Lao PDR

GENEVA (16 December 2013) – A group of United Nations human rights experts today urged the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) to increase its efforts in the investigations into the enforced disappearance on 15 December 2012, of Sombath Somphone, a prominent human right activist working on issues of land confiscation and assisting victims in denouncing such practices.

“Mr. Somphone has been disappeared for one year. We are deeply concerned about his safety and security”, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said. “We urge the Government of Lao PDR to do its utmost to locate Mr. Somphone, to establish his fate and whereabouts, and to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

The human rights experts noted that Mr. Somphone was held in police custody following his reported disappearance, according to additional information received that sheds new light on the case. A few days after his disappearance, he was seen inside a police detention centre with his car parked in the police compound. Continue reading “UN OHCHR renews calls for investigation”

Laos human rights chill a year after activist's disappearance

Reuters: 14 December 2013

By Aubrey Belford

Dec 14 (Reuters) – The last sign of Sombath Somphone, the most famous social activist in Laos, is a blurry video taken on a Vientiane street.

The video shows Sombath, 61, being stopped at a police post on Dec. 15 last year. He is seen being led into a pickup truck, which then drives off screen and disappears.

A year on, rights groups and Western governments are calling for Laos to fully investigate Sombath’s disappearance, which Amnesty International says reeks of an official cover-up. The case has become a headache for the Communist country as it seeks international respectability and to open its economy.

The landlocked, impoverished country has experienced economic growth of more than 8 percent in recent years.

It is seeking to become the “battery of Southeast Asia” by exporting electricity from hydropower plants, but it has come under criticism for environmental destruction, land grabs and wasteful resource exploitation.

Now a deep freeze has descended on a tiny civil society that has tried to bring more openness to the tightly controlled state that has little tolerance for dissent. Continue reading “Laos human rights chill a year after activist's disappearance”

The European Parliament

…whereas Sombath Somphone, a prominent figure in social development and youth education, disappeared on 15 December 2012 in the capital city of Vientiane…

…whereas there are violations of fundamental freedoms, particularly press and media freedom, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, academic freedom and the rights of minorities in Laos…

The European Parliament

…Expresses its deep concern about the disappearance, safety and well-being of Sombath Somphone…

…Is concerned about the tardiness and lack of transparency of the investigation into the disappearance of Sombath Somphone; calls on the Lao authorities to undertake prompt, transparent and thorough investigations, in accordance with their obligations under international human rights law, and to ensure the immediate and safe return of Sombath Somphone to his family…

…Asks the Lao authorities to reaffirm publicly the legality and the legitimacy of the work for sustainable development and social justice, in order to counter the intimidation provoked by disappearances such as of Sombath Somphone…

…Calls on the EU to put Laos among its priorities for the 22nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council…

…Calls on the Government of Laos to respect the rights of expression and association, the rights of minorities and protect the right to freedom of religion or belief ending all restrictions on the exercise of this right, as recommended at the UN Universal Periodic Review on 21 September 2010…

From Resolution of European Parliament on 06 February 2013

Risks for Development Opponents

Asia Rights Activists Highlight Risks for Development Opponents

Voice of America: 09 July 2013

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 21.56.50 PMBANGKOK — Human rights advocates in Southeast Asia are warning about increasing dangers to environmental and community organizers, following several high-profile killings in recent years. They say Asia’s economic growth is increasing conflicts with local communities and endangering advocates who oppose big development projects. Continue reading “Risks for Development Opponents”