Two years after prominent Laotian activist Sombath Somphone was last seen at a police checkpoint, the Laotian government must do more to investigate his suspected enforced disappearance, said the ICJ in a new report released today.
“The fact that the Lao PDR government’s last report on the progress of the investigation was released over 18 months ago raises serious concerns as to whether the Laotian authorities are in fact carrying out an effective investigation into this case as they are required to do under international law,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
Sombath Somphone Missing for Two Years– and the Launch of the Sombath Initiative
On December 15, 2012, leading rural development practitioner, grass-roots educator, and Magsaysay award laureate Sombath Somphone was stopped at a roadblock by Vientiane police while on his way home to have dinner with his wife, Shui-Meng Ng. Video footage from a police CCTV camera showed him enter with police, and later exit and be taken away in another car. Since that day, the Lao government has consistently denied knowing where he is – despite clear indications that government officials were involved in the enforced disappearance of Sombath. Despite repeated high profile efforts by Sombath’s family and friends around the region and the world, and high level interventions by various governments with top-level Lao PDR government officials, there has been no progress in investigations to find out what happened to Sombath.
Approaching the second anniversary of his disappearance, a group of legislators, civil society leaders, and activists demanding to know “Where is Sombath?” are holding a press conference to launch The Sombath Initiative, an international campaign to intensify efforts to demand justice and accountability for Sombath. Philippines Congressman Walden Bello will be joined by Sombath’s wife, Shui-Meng, to explain this new initiative and update the latest information on efforts to find Sombath.
Sam Zarifi, the regional head of the International Commission of Jurists, will also release a report written by international investigation experts, pointing out issues and areas that need thorough investigation that the Lao authorities have failed to do, and making recommendations for next steps urgently needed in the investigation.
Speakers will be:
Shui-Meng Ng, wife of Sombath Somphone
Congressman Walden Bello, Akbayan Party Philippines; founder, Focus on the Global South
Sam Zarifi, Director for the Asia-Pacific, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
A pre-session for the Universal Periodic Review of the Lao PDR (scheduled for January, 2015) was held on 03 December in Geneva. While many international human rights organisations did not attend the session, a briefing paper summarising UPR submissions from some groups was compiled.
The summary includes the following recommendations:
Immediately undertake a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation, consistent with international standards, into the apparent enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, publicly release original images of the closed circuit television (CCTV) video of Sombath’s disappearance, and accept offers from foreign experts to assist in examining evidence, including the CCTV footage.
Implement the commitments made during the 2010 UPR, including by becoming a party to the ICPPED and incorporating all provisions of the various international human rights treaties to which the Lao PDR is a party.
Amend its Penal Law to provide for criminal liability for all acts of enforced disappearance and corresponding penalties accounting for the extreme seriousness of these acts.
Allow Ng Shui Meng, Sombath Somphone’s wife, to have access to files and findings of the investigation and other information to which she is entitled.
Provide Ng Shui Meng with access to an effective remedy and reparation for the enforced disappearance of her husband.
Undertake a thorough, impartial, and effective investigation into all allegations of enforced disappearances, including those related to the nine activists arrested on 2 November 2009 in connection with planned peaceful demonstrations calling for democracy, justice, and respect of their land rights.
The Government of Lao PDR has also publicly refused to accept the assistance of foreign experts to technically enhance the CCTV footage taken during the time Sombath Somphone “disappeared”, despite the fact that it had earlier admitted that it did not possess the technical capacity to enhance the footage so that the persons and vehicles shown there may be properly identified. This refusal by the Government of Lao PDR to cooperate with experts to look into evidence may be construed as an act impeding the investigation, in contravention of its obligations under the ICCPR, the CAT and the standards of the Convention and the Declaration.
The ICJ today called on the Lao PDR government to carry out a thorough and impartial investigation into the ‘disappearance’ of prominent development activist Sombath Somphone to clarify his fate or whereabouts.
It also demanded that authorities ensure that the perpetrators are held to account and that he or his family members are afforded redress.
The ICJ also highlighted Lao PDR’s failure to respect its commitment in its 2010 UPR to “enhance the level of cooperation with treaty bodies and special procedures mandate holders”.
“Despite the passage of more than 18 months since Sombath Somphone’s ‘disappearance,’ the authorities have yet to carry out an effective investigation,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia-Pacific Regional Director. “They have even declined to seek available international assistance with the examination of CCTV footage showing the abduction, which may lead to the identification of the perpetrators.” Continue reading “Lao PDR: government must tackle enforced disappearance case”
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.
The International Commission of Jurists has renewed its call to the Lao courts to open a case regarding Sombath Somphone:
It is deplorable that one year after Sombath Somphone was abducted after being stopped by traffic police, the public prosecutor has yet to institute formal or criminal proceedings into his disappearance.
The government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic must immediately take effective measure to ensure an impartial and thorough investigation and bring justice to those responsible for crimes against Sombath Somphone.
Sam Zarifi, ICJ Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. The full announcement can be seen here.
International Commission of Jurists: 17 January 2013
The ICJ calls on the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to take an active role in determining the fate and whereabouts of Sombath Somphone, a community leader in Laos.
The ICJ also calls on the AICHR to fulfill its mandate under Article 4, paragraph 1.11 of its Terms of Reference, and develop a common position and strategy for tackling the serious problem of enforced and involuntary disappearances in the ASEAN region.
This position must aim towards hastening the resolution of cases of enforced and involuntary disappearances in the region, as well as effectively preventing these violations in the future.
Sombath Somphone is the founder and former director of the Participatory Development Training Center (PDTC) and 2005 recipient of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.
He also led Laos’ civil society groups in participating at the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) held in October 2012.
He was last seen being stopped by local police at the Thadeau police station on 15 December 2012, at around 5:00pm.
His family has no information on his fate or whereabouts to this day.