ASEAN in Laos: Challenges of Leadership, Human Rights & Democracy

Press conference held at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand on 31 August, 2016, Bangkok 


Panelists included (click on link for their presentation):

  • Shui Meng Ng, Spouse of Sombath Somphone
  • Walden Bello, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
  • Laurent Meillan, Acting Regional Representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

With moderation by Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.

Video of the press conference is available in three segments: One, two & three.

The following press briefings were also distributed:

လာအိုုႏိုုင္ငံရွိလူ႔အခြင့္အေရးခ်ိဳးေဖာက္မွဳမ်ားကိုု ကိုုင္တြယ္ေျဖရွင္းျခင္း

အာဆီယံထိပ္သီးေခါင္းေဆာင္မ်ားအစည္းအေ၀းတြင္ ေပ်ာက္ကြယ္လ်က္ရွိေသာ  ေခါင္းေဆာင္ Sombath Somphone အေျကာင္းကိုု အေလးထားေဆြးေႏြးသင့္,လြတ္လပ္မွဳကိုု ျငင္းဆိုုျခင္း

ဘန္ေကာက၊္ ၃၁ ရက္ေန႔၊ ျသဂုုတ္လ၊ ၂၀၁၆။ ဗီယန္က်င္းျမိဳ့တြင္ က်င္းပမည့္ အာဆီယံေခါင္းေဆာင္မ်ား အစည္းအေ၀းမတိုင္မီညေနတြင္ တရားမ၀င္ထိန္းသိမ္းအက်ဥ္းခ်ျခင္း၊ ဖမ္းဆီးခ်ဳပ္ေႏွာင္ျခင္းျဖစ္စဥ္မ်ား အပါအ၀င္ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရး ခ်ိဳးေဖာက္အျကမ္းဖက္မွဳမ်ားကို ေဆြးေႏြးအေျဖရွာရန္ လာအိုႏိုင္ငံအစိုးရအား လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးဆိုင္ရာအဖြဲ႔မ်ားက ေတာင္းဆိုလိုက္ပါသည္။ စက္တင္ဘာလ ၆ ရက္ေန႔မွ ၈ ရက္ေန႔ အထိျပဳလုပ္မည့္ အာဆီယံအစည္းအေ၀းတြင္ ကမၻာႏိုင္ငံေခါင္းေဆာင္မ်ားသည္ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးဆိုင္ရာ ျပသာနာမ်ားကို ေဆြးေႏြးအေျဖရွာႏိုင္ျကမည္ ျဖစ္ပါသည္။ ႏိုင္ငံ့ေခါင္းေဆာင္မ်ားအေနျဖင့္ လူ႔အခြင့္ အေရးႏွင့္ရပိုင္ခြင့္မ်ား၊ မီဒီယာလြတ္လပ္ခြင့္၊ ဒီမိုကေရစီ၊ ဘာသာေရးလြတ္လပ္ခြင့္ႏွင့္ စီးပြားေရး ပြင့္လင္း ျမင္သာမွဳ တိုင္းတာေရးစံႏွဳန္းအဆင့္မ်ားတြင္ လာအိုႏိုင္ငံအား ေအာက္ဆံုးအဆင့္ေရာက္ေစသည့္ ညွဥ္းပန္းႏွိပ္စက္မတရားျပဳမွဳမ်ားကို မျပဳလုပ္ရန္ လာအိုအစိုးရအား ဖိအားေပးသင့္သည္။

Logo-Sombath Initiative

ထိုင္းႏိုင္ငံ၊ ဘန္ေကာက္ျမိဳ႔ရွိ ႏိုင္ငံျခားသတင္းေထာက္မ်ားကလပ္တြင္ The Sombath Initiative က ဦးစီးျပီး ယေန႔က်င္းပျပဳလုပ္သည့္ သတင္းစာရွင္းလင္းပြဲတြင္ အရပ္ဘက္အဖြဲ႔အစည္းေခါင္းေဆာင္ Sombath Somphone ရုတ္တရက္ေပ်ာက္ကြယ္သြားမွဳ၊ လာအိုႏိုင္ငံ၏ဒီမိုကေရစီႏွင့္ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရး ဆိုင္ရာတားျမစ္ခ်က္မ်ား၊ လြတ္လပ္စြာ ဆနၵထုတ္ေဖာ္ခြင့္အားနည္းျခင္း၊ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးဆုိင္ရာ ကတိက၀တ္မ်ားကို ေဖာ္ေဆာင္ရန္ပ်က္ကြက္ျခင္းႏွင့္ ႏိုင္ငံတကာအေထာက္အပံ့မ်ားနွင့္ ရင္းႏွီး ျမွဳပ္ႏွံမွဳအက်ိဳးသက္ေရာက္မွဳမ်ား ပါ၀င္သည့္စာတမ္းမ်ားကို ထုတ္ျပန္ခဲ့ျကသည္။
Continue reading “လာအိုုႏိုုင္ငံရွိလူ႔အခြင့္အေရးခ်ိဳးေဖာက္မွဳမ်ားကိုု ကိုုင္တြယ္ေျဖရွင္းျခင္း”

Tackle Human Rights Abuses in Laos

ASEAN Meeting Should Highlight Disappeared Leader Sombath Somphone, Denial of Liberties 

(Bangkok, August 31, 2016) – On the eve of the annual ASEAN leaders summit in Vientiane, human rights and advocacy groups called upon the Lao PDR Government to commit to address its widespread violations of human rights, including instances of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention. Visiting world leaders have a unique opportunity to publicly raise human rights concerns during the ASEAN summit in Vientiane from September 6-8. They should press the Lao government to cease the abuses that have consistently placed Laos at the bottom of rig hts and development indexes measuring rights, press freedom, democracy, religious freedom, and economic transparency.

ALogo-Sombath Initiativet the press conference organized today by The Sombath Initiative at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in Bangkok, the groups released briefing papers on forcibly disappeared civil society leader Sombath Somphone, Laos’ restrictions on democracy and human rights, lack freedom of expression, failure to meet human rights obligations, and impacts of foreign aid and investment. Continue reading “Tackle Human Rights Abuses in Laos”

ASEAN in Laos: Challenges of Leadership, Human Rights and Democracy

ASEAN logo 2016Press conference at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand

11am, Wednesday 31 August, 2016, Bangkok 

At a time when ASEAN is witnessing an alarming increase in human rights abuses, restrictions on civil liberties, and a shrinking of democratic space in a number of its member states, what kind of example does this year’s ASEAN Chair, Laos, set for the regional bloc?

The enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone in December 2012, ongoing arbitrary detentions, and extremely tight controls on the media and civil society have instilled an environment of fear, silence, and repression in Laos. Little news about the serious human rights abuses occurring in the country ever comes out in the media, allowing the continued violation of basic liberties.

Despite this repressive environment, foreign aid and investment continue to flow into Laos. Continue reading “ASEAN in Laos: Challenges of Leadership, Human Rights and Democracy”

What are—a state’s key obligations under the CPED?

“The phenomenon of enforced disappearances […] is the worst of all violations of human rights. It is certainly a challenge to the very concept of human rights, denial of the right for humans to have an existence, an identity. Enforced disappearance transforms humans into non-beings. It is the ultimate corruption, abuse of power that allows those responsible to transform law and order into something ridiculous and to commit heinous crimes.”

Niall MacDermot, Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists (1970-1990)

Logo-What isIntroduction

“Enforced disappearance” is one of the worst violations of human rights.  A “disappeared” person is entirely at the mercy of his or her captors, with no access to legal protection.

The family and friends of a disappeared person endure tremendous suffering not knowing whether the disappeared person is alive or deceased, or whether they will ever know their fate or whereabouts.

Usually victims are apprehended at home or ‘grabbed’ from the street, sometimes in broad daylight, and taken to an unknown location. They are frequently tortured and face the constant fear of being killed. Continue reading “What are—a state’s key obligations under the CPED?”

What is…the AICHR?


In 2007, Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted the ASEAN Charter. Article 14 of the Charter provided that ASEAN shall establish a “human rights body”.

In July 2009, the ASEAN Foreign Minister Meeting adopted the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). During the 15th ASEAN Summit in Thailand, in October 2009, ten AICHR Representatives were appointed, one from each Member State. The AICHR was then formally inaugurated.

The AICHR is the body that has an overall responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights in the ASEAN. As the overarching human rights body in the region, it is required to coordinate and cooperate closely with all other ASEAN sectoral bodies that deal with human rights. It is characterized as a “consultative inter-governmental body”.  Continue reading “What is…the AICHR?”

Lao activist case moving slowly

Bangkok Post: 15 December 2015

The enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a Lao activist who disappeared in December 2012, will be probed until there is an answer, a forum was told.

“We will never stop asking questions about the enforced disappearance of Sombath,” according to his wife, friends, and colleagues despite continued rebuttals by the Lao government which will assume the Asean chairmanship in the next two weeks.

Angkhana Neelapaijit, a National Human Rights Commissioner, read a message from Shui-Meng, Mr Sombath’s wife, at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok Monday on the eve of the third anniversary of his disappearance.

“The pain and burden have continued, not lessened with time. Nothing can take the pain away … but I’m exhausted by the search for an answer as the state refuses to come clean,” read the message.

“There are times when the burden and pain are too heavy, but families of other enforced disappearance victims have continued to stand with us. So it’s no longer a personal struggle, it is for the sake of humanity and it is our right to pursue answers and the truth.”

Ms Angkhana is a member of “The Sombath Initiative” which has been pushing for an answer from the Lao government. The 2005 Magsaysay laureate was last seen on the evening of Dec 15, 2012 in Vientiane.

Sam Zarifi, International Commission of Jurists’ (ICJ) Asia Pacific regional director, showed new CCTV camera footage which was obtained from the area near the police checkpoint on the day of the abduction. Continue reading “Lao activist case moving slowly”

Family of missing Laos activist Sombath Somphone reveal new evidence three years after disappearance

Channel News Asia: 14 December 2015

The family of Sombath Somphone, a Laos civil society leader who went missing in the capital Vientiane three years ago, urged the government to do more to probe into his disappearance.

Sombath Somphone, an award-winning campaigner for sustainable development in Laos, pictured in 2005.

Sombath Somphone, an award-winning campaigner for sustainable development in Laos, pictured in 2005. (Photo: AFP)

Within days after his disappearance, the Laos government released footage showing his Jeep had been driven out of the capital Vientiane.

However, a new piece of evidence released on Monday (Dec 14) by an advocacy group, the Sombath Initiative, revealed his car had been turned around and driven back towards the city centre.

Presented at a press conference entitled “Three Years On: Demanding Answers for the Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone in Laos” in Bangkok was new footage his family retrieved from closed circuit TV cameras (CCTV) along the road where he is believed to have disappeared.

His family claimed they had presented state investigators the new evidence, adding the authorities have yet to examine it.

“This CCTV footage was gathered by Sombath’s family and sheds new light on what happened the night he disappeared,” said Sam Zarifi, Regional Director for Asia-Pacific for the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). Continue reading “Family of missing Laos activist Sombath Somphone reveal new evidence three years after disappearance”

3 years on, rights groups demand answers on Sombath Somphone disappearance

Asian Correspondent: 15 December 2015

Human rights representatives speak at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok, Monday.

By John Quinley III

ON the eve of the third anniversary of acclaimed community development leader Sombath Somphone’s forced disappearance, human rights groups on Monday in Bangkok urged the Lao government to provide information regarding Mr. Sombath’s whereabouts and fate.

Sombath was abducted in Vientiane Laos on the evening of December 15, 2012, at a police check-point where he was then transferred to another vehicle according to police surveillance video. At the press conference in Bangkok newly made public CCTV footage, found by Sombath’s family, showed the car further south on the road as the car traveled back into the capital.

A representative from the Sombath Initiative said in a written statement, that the police refused to look at the additional evidence from the family, which, “demonstrates the authorities have absolutely no interest in conducting a serious investigation, as they so often claim.” Continue reading “3 years on, rights groups demand answers on Sombath Somphone disappearance”

Laos shows ‘no political will’ to solve activist’s disappearance, U.N. rights official says

Reuters: 14 December 2015

Communist Laos has shown “no political will to solve” the mystery of the abduction of a prominent social activist, a United Nations human rights official said on Monday, on the third anniversary of the kidnapping.

The United Nations and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said police in Laos refused to view new footage of the abduction of Sombath Somphone, a civil society leader who worked to promote sustainable development for the rural poor.

Laurent Meillan of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said the abduction had created “a culture of fear” among workers of non-government organizations in Laos, one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries.

“We are not aware of any progress since the government’s commitment at the U.N. Human Rights Council,” Meillan told a news conference in Bangkok, referring to an assurance by Laos to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice.

In January, Laos was assessed on its rights record and accepted some recommendations made by the U.N. Human Rights Council, including a call for a transparent investigation into the disappearance of the internationally acclaimed activist.

The Lao foreign ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. Continue reading “Laos shows ‘no political will’ to solve activist’s disappearance, U.N. rights official says”