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”

Asean must improve its HR practices

The Nation: 01 July 2013

The China Post: 02 July 2013

For the past four years, AICHR has completely ignored violation of human rights in member countries. During the first year of AICHR, attempts were made by individual AICHR member to take up right violations such as the Maguindanao massacre. But it was a non-starter.

Disappearance of Lao activist, Sombath Somphone, in December last year was another case in point showing the AICHR’s lack of moral courage. After all, it came after the announcement of ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights one month before his kidnapping.

The entire article can be read by clicking on the blue links above.

Mansfield Center Expresses Solidarity

mansfield-centerIn an article “Fostering Engagement with Laos While Promoting Human Rights,” on Montana Public Radio, the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center expressed:

…we stand together with the friends and family of Sombath as they work to facilitate his return.  As we maintain our relationships with governmental and non-governmental organizations in Laos, we work to educate colleagues on Sombath’s disappearance, with the hope that he will soon be returned.

The article also states:

In a stark reminder of the state of human rights in Laos, Sombath disappeared six months ago, as he and his wife were driving separately from his office in Vientiane to their home.  A police security video shows him being stopped at a police checkpoint and taken into custody.  Despite attention from international observers, the Lao government has failed to explain his disappearance.  As the U. S. Embassy in Vientiane stated, “Mr. Sombath is widely admired for his peaceful and constructive focus on improving his country…. Continued inaction on this case by the Lao authorities could erode progress made over the past years and damage the country’s international reputation, potentially raising additional questions about the Lao Government’s commitment to uphold the rule of law and engage responsibly with the world.”

The full article can be read by clicking on the link above.

Call for AICHR to Show Relevance

The Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights (SAPA TFAHR) has issued a plea to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AIHCR) to break its silence:

It is high time that AICHR responds to questions of its relevance for human rights in the region. Staying silent on Sombath’s disappearance is a convenient but short-sighted approach because human rights violations related to land, natural resources and the environment are likely to increase as the region embarks on a zealous pursuit of economic development and integration towards 2015. The AICHR must stress to individual ASEAN member states on the urgent need for an enabling environment and democratic space for all human rights defenders, including development workers and civil society organizations, to do their legitimate work without fear of reprisals.

The full statement can be read here.

Somchai, Jonas, Sombath: Southeast Asia’s Missing Human Rights Warriors

The Diplomat: April 16, 2013

By Mong Palatino

Sombath-DiplomatThai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit went missing on March 12, 2004. Filipino activist Jonas Burgos was last seen on April 28, 2007. Lao development economist and educator Sombath Somphone disappeared on December 15, 2012.

The search for these missing activists has become a campaign for human rights promotion, not only in their respective countries but across Southeast Asia. Their names have become synonymous with the fight against enforced disappearances, kidnapping, torture, and other human rights atrocities, often carried out with apparent impunity.

At the time of his disappearance, then 53-year-old Somchai was handling cases in southern Thailand, a region ravaged by infighting between government troops and Muslim separatist rebels. Somchai was pursuing a case against police officers accused of torture when he mysteriously disappeared in Bangkok.

Jonas, the son of Philippine press freedom fighter Joe Burgos, was connected with a left-leaning peasant group when he was abducted by suspected state agents in a Quezon City shopping mall. There were witnesses who testified in the court that Jonas shouted ‘Aktibista ako!’ (I’m an activist!) while he was being dragged out of the mall.

Sombath is a popular NGO leader whose work with the Participatory Development Training Centre in Laos earned him the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award, known as Asia’s Nobel Prize, for community leadership. Sombath’s disappearance was captured on CCTV footage, which shows Sombath being stopped by police and then abducted by unidentified men. Sombath’s abduction is believed to be related to his advocacy for the protection of land rights for ordinary villagers. Continue reading “Somchai, Jonas, Sombath: Southeast Asia’s Missing Human Rights Warriors”