Vientiane Declaration ignores rights, people, etc.

Logo-Speak Out-Points to PonderThe Vientiane Declaration on Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, which will be signed at the High Level Round Table Meeting, departs sharply from the spirit and assurances made during the recent Universal Periodic Review.

A few observations include:

  • The document makes no mention of human rights, civil rights or any kind of rights.
  • Civil society, NPAs and INGOs are only included in regard to their role in carrying out the development agenda.
  • While there are over 50 references to government, and nearly 40 to partners, there is little reference to the Lao people.
  • The document does not include the word population. Citizens are mentioned only in terms of receiving services. Indeed, people are only mentioned twice, and those are within the Lao PDR’s name.
  • The only reference to community is that of international donors. Ethnic groups or indigenous populations are not mentioned.

Experts See Worsening Situation as Laos and EU Hold Human Rights Talks

Radio Free Asia: 06 November 2015

A 2005 photo of Sombath Somphone in the Philippines.

Lao and European Union officials met on Friday in the Laotian capital Vientiane to discuss human rights issues at a time when the number of such abuses and restrictions on various freedoms are increasing rapidly.

The objective of the sixth annual EU-Laos human rights dialogue was to support the implementation of Laos’ international human rights obligations and commitments. Attendees exchanged views on governance and the rule of law, democratic freedoms and people’s participation, as well as human rights, socioeconomic development, and international cooperation.

The meeting comes as the communist, one-party state continues to score poorly on its human rights record, with rights groups continuing to pressure the government for details of activists, students and others who have been detained or disappeared.

“The situation in Laos during this time is getting worse because social organizations are restricted to working only with communities that suffer from a lack of development projects,” said a source who declined to be named.

Last month, Lao authorities decided not to host a meeting of civil society organizations (CSO) in Southeast Asia on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit next year, fearing potential criticism by participants against governments in the region and inadequate resources for the decision.

But another reason that the ASEAN forum will not be held in Laos is because the Lao government cannot guarantee the safety of Lao participants, the source said. He also pointed out that the country recently failed in a bid to win seat on the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council. Continue reading “Experts See Worsening Situation as Laos and EU Hold Human Rights Talks”

Human Rights Watch Concerns on Laos

Human Rights Watch: 05 October 2015

Human Rights Watch HRWHuman Rights Watch makes this submission on the occasion of the European Union – Laos Human Rights Dialogue, scheduled to take place on November 6, 2015, in Vientiane. Laos recently appeared for its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the United Nations Human Rights Council on January 20, 2015, in which its human rights record and future commitments to improve respect for rights were discussed. Numerous EU member states spoke at this session, and raised concerns about increasing restrictions on civil and political rights in Laos.  Several mentioned the case of prominent civil society leader and Magsaysay Prize award winner Sombath Somphone and the need for a credible investigation into his enforced disappearance on December 15, 2012. This is especially important for the EU given concerns that the Lao government may have targeted Sombath in connection with his leadership of the 9th ASEM People’s Forum in Vientiane on November 5-6, 2012.

Related Content: HRW Submission to the EU-Laos Human Rights Dialogue

The EU-Laos dialogue represents a crucial opportunity to further raise pressing human rights concerns and to improve the efficacy of the dialogue by setting clear benchmarks for improvements and ensuring the outcome of discussions are public. As Laos prepares to take chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the second time in 2016, it will have the opportunity to play a greater role in promoting compliance with international human rights standards across the ASEAN region.  However, the recent decision by the Lao civil society groups, working closely with the Lao government, to refuse to organize the annual ASEAN People’s Forum/ASEAN Civil Society Conference in Vientiane in 2016 raises fundamental questions about how open or participatory Laos’ ASEAN chairmanship will actually be. Continue reading “Human Rights Watch Concerns on Laos”

EU human rights talks must be backed by action

FIDH: 03 November 2015

FIDH-Logo(Paris) The EU must ensure that the Lao government makes firm commitments during upcoming bilateral human rights talks, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today. The two organizations made the call ahead of the 6th EU-Laos human rights dialogue, which will be held on 6 November in Vientiane.

In conjunction with the human rights dialogue, FIDH and LMHR published a joint briefing paper that details ongoing human rights violations that have occurred in the country since the previous round of talks in May 2014.

“It is imperative that the EU negotiates clear, measurable, and time-bound commitments with the Lao government and ensures their implementation. Otherwise, the human rights dialogue risks being a meaningless process that does not deliver any concrete results” FIDH President Karim Lahidji

lmhr-logoSince May 2014, the Lao government has enacted additional draconian legislation, such as Decree 327, to augment its existing arsenal of repressive laws. Authorities have arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned individuals who have criticized the government or exposed instances of corruption. Authorities have continued to crack down on religious minorities, arresting numerous members of various Christian groups.

The government has failed to provide any updates on the investigation of the enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, whose fate and whereabouts remain unknown. In addition, it has outrageously labeled allegations of other unresolved enforced disappearances as “not true.” Continue reading “EU human rights talks must be backed by action”

“People don’t dare speak out”

“This is the biggest catchment for fresh water fish in the world and that demands a strategy for fish,” one source said, adding that Lao staff were aware of the issues but were silenced by fears of upsetting the government.

Sources said the disappearance of agriculturalist Sombath Somphone, an advocate of rural reform and farming practices, almost three years ago had a chilling effect on bureaucrats who must toe the government line on dam construction.

“They are nasty and people don’t dare speak out,” an MRC source said.

The Laos government has fended off a barrage of international criticism over Sombath – who was last seen on CCTV being bundled into a police car – and for having little if any regard for its legal obligations to human rights.

During a recent trip to Laos, one senior bureaucrat told this journalist that anyone publicly opposed to the government’s massive infrastructure plans – aimed at developing hydropower and turning Laos into a net exporter of electricity – “can simply disappear like Sombath Somphone.”

From “Why the Mekong River Commission May Be In Peril,” in The Diplomat, 10 October 2015

Laos in the Spotlight Again Over Human Rights

The Diplomat: 02 October 2015

Sombath Somphone, seen here with Desmond Tutu in 2006. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Violations are again an issue in the Southeast Asian state.

By Luke Hunt

Human rights violations are again an issue in Laos – and a thorn in the side of a government more concerned with centrally-planned economic policies – following the death 61-year-old Tiang Kwentianthong.

Tiang was originally arrested for praying for a sick woman without government approval. Reports say he was denied medicine for diabetes. He was jailed nine months ago, released in March after his condition had deteriorated substantially, and died on September 17.

His death comes almost three years after the disappearance of well-known agriculturalist and rural reformer Sombath Somphone, who has not been seen since December 15, 2012. CCTV footage obtained by his relatives showed him being bundled into a police car.

His wife and relatives recently marked 1,000 days since he went missing, calling on authorities to make a genuine effort to find him. Vientiane has resisted international pressure and offers of forensic help in the search for Sombath. Continue reading “Laos in the Spotlight Again Over Human Rights”

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.