How much more is being hidden?

Logo-Speak Out-Points to PonderIf Lao citizens, Lao media, and Lao civil society organisations, as well as UN and NGO agencies working in Laos, are not able to speak about Sombath Somphone, how many other enforced disappearances, unlawful detentions and other human rights violations are being hidden?

Australia promises continued pressure

Australian-FlagAt the fourth Australian-Laos Human Rights Dialogue in Canberra on 5 March, Australia further pressed Laos to conclude an urgent and credible investigation into Mr Sombath’s disappearance, emphasising pressure will remain on Laos unless the case is transparently and credibly resolved. Australia also underlined the need for Laos to respond in a considered manner to recommendations made by Australia and other countries at the recent United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR), including on Mr Sombath’s disappearance and the constrained operating environment for civil society in Laos. Australia will continue to pursue this matter…

Richard Andrews, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in a letter to The Sombath Initiative, responding to an earlier letter to Julie Bishop, Australian Foreign Minister. Despite the Lao government’s continued claims it is more concerned than anybody, a related article in the Vientiane Times makes no mention of Sombath

'The Hypocrisy of Asean'

SEA Globe-23 March 2015…the Somphone case is an excellent example of Asean’s failure to take a stance on human rights. Instead of criticising the Lao government for not investigating the disappearance, she said, Asean “hides” behind its policy of ‘non-intervention’ in national issues, even though it has previously intervened in internal matters.

…Calling this “the hypocrisy of Asean,” Naidu added that the regional body refuses to intervene on human rights but has no qualms about the region’s “capitalist elites” influencing the national economic policies of member states.

Wathshlah Naidu, in “An Uncomfortable Question,” by  David Hutt, in The Southeast Asian Globe.

Laos Accused of Paying Lip Service to UN Human Rights Conventions

Radio Free Asia: 08 January 2015

SB-Magsaysay-08
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.

sombath-ai-weiwei

 

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”