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.
Students, NGO officials, and diplomats held a remembrance service in Vientiane on Friday to commemorate a prominent civil society leader who vanished five years ago at a police checkpoint outside the Lao capital, while rights groups worldwide demanded to know his whereabouts.
The group gathered at the Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC) to mark the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, who founded the nonprofit center devoted to sustainable social, economic, and environmental development.
Sombath’s widow, Ng Shui Meng, who has repeatedly called on the Lao government to answer questions surrounding the fate of her husband, thanked the center for continuing to believe in Sombath’s vision and ideas.
Five years ago on the Friday before Christmas, distraught colleagues and friends of Sombath Somphone gathered at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand after his disappearance in Laos’ capital, Vientiane. Last week, after another press conference at the FCCT on his case, we are nowhere closer to the truth than we were in 2012, but a new revelation adds weight to the widely held belief that the Laotian government was behind his disappearance.
A respected advocate for sustainable development and community empowerment, Sombath was driving home when he was stopped at a police checkpoint in Vientiane on the evening of December 15, 2012 – five years to the day before the publication of this article. Video footage showed him, moments after he got out of his car, being escorted by a group of unidentified individuals into a white van and driven away. An unidentified person then drove Sombath’s car away.
Last week, it was revealed that witnesses, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, saw Sombath in a police holding facility in Vientiane later that same evening, with his car parked nearby. In 2015, Ng Shui-Meng, Sombath’s wife, also obtained and publicly released additional closed-circuit TV footage showing Sombath’s car being driven toward the city center by an unknown individual. This suggests that the vehicle’s whereabouts could likely be traced. Continue reading “Laotian police likely involved in Sombath abduction, new details suggest”