Reflections on Lao Civil Society

The decree [115/PM] reflects the view of the Lao government that civil society has a role to play in the country’s development, but civil society should play this role under the government’s control and in line with government policies and goals.

…The government accepts that CSOs have a role in service delivery in close collaboration with the state. The presence of CSOs on the ground is recognized, and the government expects efficient and inclusive service delivery, but also the downward accountability of CSOs.

…Donors (both INGOs and bilateral donors) expect Lao civil society to take up a broader and more diversified role beyond service delivery. Their general rationale for supporting civil society is the need for an improvement in governance and the promotion of a plurality of voices in Lao society.

…Cases of threat and harassment also happened to a number of other activists. People were put into insecurity and fear and Lao civil society in effect relapsed to an even worse state than prior to AEPF. The trust between government and civil society receded.

…In the past two years, the government has enforced more restriction and control on the participation of civil society in Round Table Meetings and other venues. The registration of non- profit associations (NPAs) has been more difficult with a very few new successful registrations since.

…Meanwhile, the AEPF incidents have left Lao civil society in trauma. Critical CSOs emerging during the period leading to the AEPF have either closed down or significantly diluted their work. Civil society workers now feel insecure when they speak of issues that differ from or critical of the government.

Excerpts from “Reflections on Lao Civil Society,” KEPA, March, 2015.

Stand up for Sombath, please!

Sombath Somphone STOOD UP for Lao civil society, pioneering the first CSO and co-hosting the first, AND ONLY international civil society event in Laos.

Soon thereafter, he was taken from a POLICE POST just a few hundred metres from Sunday’s CIVIL SOCIETY FAIR in Vientiane.

He has never been seen again.

Sombath STOOD UP for Lao civil society. Please STAND UP for him!

Laos: No Progress on Rights

HRW: 17 July 2017

Australian officials should press the government of Laos to respect human rights at the Australian-Laos human rights dialogue, scheduled for July 18-19, 2017, in Vientiane, Human Rights Watch said today in a submission to the Australian government. Key areas of concern in Laos are freedom of speech, association, and assembly; enforced disappearances; abusive drug detention centers; and repression of minority religious groups.

“The Lao government’s suppression of political dissent and lack of accountability for abuses stand out in a human rights record that is dire in just about every respect,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “As a major development partner of Laos, Australia can and should press for greater respect for basic rights.”

Restrictions on civil and political rights in Laos include draconian controls over freedom of speech, association, and peaceful assembly. The lack of fair trials of criminal suspects, widespread judicial corruption, and entrenched impunity for human rights violations are continuing problems, Human Rights Watch said. (more…)

ASEAN MPs urge Australia to push for human rights improvements in Laos

APHR: 17 July 2017

JAKARTA — Southeast Asian lawmakers have called on Australian officials to press for improvements to the human rights situation in Laos when they meet with the Lao government for their fifth bilateral human rights dialogue tomorrow in Vientiane.

In a submission to the Australian government, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) urged members of the delegation to raise critical concerns about restrictions on civil society and fundamental freedoms with their Lao hosts, and called for further inquiry into the case of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who disappeared after being stopped at a police checkpoint in Vientiane in December 2012.

“The human rights situation in Laos continues to be abysmal. Since Sombath’s disappearance, the space for independent civil society in the country – already one of the most repressive in the region – has narrowed considerably. Meanwhile, the public as a whole remains deeply fearful of raising sensitive issues,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament, who has made multiple visits to Laos since 2012 to inquire about Sombath’s disappearance, as well as the broader situation for civil society. (more…)