Civic space remains ‘closed’ in Laos in ratings published by the CIVICUS Monitor in December 2021. The rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly remained severely restricted, and the state exercised strict control over media and civil society.
In recent months the government has continued to repress its people, both inside the country and outside its borders. An exiled Lao dissident has sought refuge in Canada after he was arrested in Thailand and threatened with deportation. The Hmong community continued to face state-sponsored discrimination, amidst an increased push for foreign investments in the Xaysomboun region. December 2021 marked nine years since human rights defender Sombath Somphone was forcibly disappeared. Continue reading “Political Dissident From Laos Finds Refuge as Ethnic Hmong Indigenous People Remain at Risk”
Today I write to tell you that PADETC, the organization you started since 1996, is officially deregistered. It has been a difficult decision for me to request to deregister PADETC, an organization you had worked so hard to establish and lead for so many years.
However, over the past 7 years since you disappeared, the authorities have denied renewal of PADETC’s license of operation. In fact some people in government do not even want to hear the name of PADETC mentioned. For this reason, most of the PADETC staff have left the organization.
Even though the passing of PADETC is sad, I am sure you would support my decision to deregister the organization. I remember you telling me back in 2008, that you had to prepare for PADETC to evolve to meet the changing times.
In 2008, you had already started to pave the way for PADETC to devolve from being just a development/training organization dependent on external donor funds to become self-sustaining independent entities. To prepare for this process, you had started mentoring and coaching your staff, based on their capacities and interests, to branch out and develop their own operation units that would be initially affiliated with PADETC, but over time these would become their own independent organizations or enterprises. PADETC itself would downsize and be transformed into a small mentoring and coaching center, and would eventually be dissolved.
So between 2009 to 2012, some of your more enterprising staff were already running their own affiliated units, providing consultancy services in the following areas: media training and audio/visual production; community forestry management; community services; organic farming training and operations; finance and management operations; and small business enterprises.
Your enforced disappearance in December 2012, fast-forwarded your plans of pushing his staff out to the real world and establish their own organizations.
Over time most of your staff have left PADETC, some for fear of being associated with you, but a number went off to establish their own organizations, with many continuing to use your development concepts of sustainable development and guiding principles in their own work.
So, my dearest Sombath, despite your disappearance, and despite you not being here to guide and mentor many of the young people and younger staff you have trained, your vision and mission have continued and your concepts on sustainable development have spread far and wide.
As you so often said to me, “everything changes, the only unchangeable thing is change itself”. Once more your foresight has proven correct.
I am sure, wherever you are, you will also be relieved and pleased to know that despite the fact that PADETC is no more, your ideas and your vision of PADETC have lived on in many different forms. Like a strong steady tree, its seeds have spread far and wide.
Sombath Somphone, a well-known civil society organizer, is the most famous “forced disappearance” in Laos.
International community muted amid another anti-democratic clampdown in communist-run Laos
A small demonstration of a few dozen people advocating for human rights was set to take place in the Lao capital of Vientiane on November 11, in what would have been a rare protest in the repressive one-party state.
However, authorities swooped in and arrested eight would-be protesters before they could take to the streets. There are unconfirmed reports that dozens more associated with the thwarted demonstration may be missing.
Demonstrations are highly uncommon in Laos, which has been ruled by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, a repressive communist party, since 1975. Only a handful of pro-democracy protests have ever taken place under communist rule, most lasting only minutes before being broken up by authorities. Continue reading “Laos democrats fight a lonely losing struggle”
The second issue is the situation of civil society, again which I take as illustrative. In general, the government assumes that civil society is an extension of itself. In other words, it is there to implement its own policies. It is not there to provide any independent analysis. It is not there to stimulate reflection, discussion, consultation, participation.
And the result is that there is actually an extraordinary amount of fear throughout the society, in terms of free expression.
But this is something of a paradox that I want to mention. It is true from what I know that large numbers of people are not prosecuted for political crimes. They are not imprisoned, they are not tortured, and this is impressive.
What explains it, however, as far as I can tell, is that the government builds upon the particularities of the Lao personality, the Lao culture, and uses very particular examples to send a message that resonates widely through the society.
So you pick on a particular civil society leader, and you disappear him, and you say no more. The message is loud and clear. This man, Somphone, was preaching a very, I shouldn’t say it…now because he was clearly a very inspirational character, but a revolutionary, he certainly wasn’t. An anti-government man, he wasn’t, but a man who wanted to encourage consultations in accordance with Buddhist and other local traditions, he was.
So the message was, if he can disappear, you can too. Keep quiet.
From the press conference of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Phillip Alston, in Vientiane, 28 March 2019. Video of the full conference can be seen here, and the report and other materials are available here.
… two weeks later another AEPF organizer, Sombath Somphone, disappeared after being stopped at a police checkpoint on a busy Vientiane road. Although the government pleaded that it was investigating Sombath’s disappearance, its failure to make any progress over the following years intensified speculation that he had been silenced due to his advocacy work. After these incidents, government leaders targeted civil society in speeches and, in 2014, introduced guidelines to tighten the regulation of international NGOs.
From the 2018 Bertelsmann-Stiflung’s Laos Country Report. Laos was ranked 106th out of 129 countries on the foundation’s Transformation Index
The European Union (EU) is one of the largest international donors to the Lao PDR, with a budget of over 200 million Euros for the 2014-2020 period.
On 15 March 2018, the EU and the Lao PDR held the eighth session of their annual Human Rights Dialogue in Brussels. Ahead of the Dialogue, many organisations concerned by the deteriorating situation regarding civil liberties and peoples’ rights in the Lao PDR made submissions to the EU, presenting examples of persisting and deepening rights violations.
Below is a letter that was submitted to the EU by nine organisations, asking that the EU link its aid to actual betterment of basic freedoms and human rights of the targeted beneficiaries of aid. The letter also asked the EU to publicise a detailed account of the proceedings of the Dialogue.
Next month marks Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith’s second year in power, a role few Communist Party apparatchiks have grasped with so much aplomb.
The ex-foreign affairs minister has cut an almost progressive profile, at least by Lao standards, in his battles against corruption, pollution and Party extravagance. Now, it appears he wants to make the hermetic Lao People’s Revolutionary Party more transparent, too. Continue reading “Is hermetic Laos poised for more openness?”
(Paris) The European Union (EU) must demand Laos release all government critics and create an environment in which civil society can freely and safely operate, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today.
FIDH and LMHR made the call ahead of the 8th EU-Laos human rights dialogue, which is scheduled to be held in Brussels on 15 March 2018. In conjunction with their call, the two organizations released a briefing paper that provides an update on the human rights situation in Laos since the previous dialogue, held in February 2017.
“Recent developments in Laos show that the government has tightened its chokehold on civil society. The EU should not be cowed into silence by Vientiane in the same manner that Vientiane has constrained Lao civil society. Its voice in support of human rights and civil society should be heard loud and clear during this dialogue.”Debbie Stothard., FIDH Secretary-General
A look at a worrying aspect of the country’s deteriorating human rights situation.
If you were to survey articles that focus on the human rights situation in Laos, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that does not reference the “disappearance” of Sombath Somphone, an internationally acclaimed civil society leader who was kidnapped from the streets of Vientiane in late 2012. Leaked CCTV footage shows him being stopped by the police before being taken to a police outpost nearby. Then, a jeep pulls up and two men kidnap him, and someone else drives his car away. He hasn’t been seen since.
The ruling Communist Party claims it launched an investigation, but has released few convincing details about its progress. The government has also refused to admit any responsibility. Based on the evidence we have so far, few serious observers would deny that the most likely scenario is that Sombath was abducted, rather than simply disappearing, despite the fact that the latter continues to be the characterization used. Continue reading “Beware the Destruction of Civil Society in Laos”
A recently introduced law regulating civil society organizations (CSOs) in Laos has further restricted their work, according to sources in the sector, who said groups now face lengthy delays in funding, while others are being forced to operate as small businesses or shut down completely.