The questions Laos doesn’t want to answer

Amnesty International: 06 September 2016

Der südafrikanische Erzbischof Desmond Tutu bei einem Treffen mit Sombath Somphone (re.).

Nestled in the Mekong region, with mighty China to its north, is landlocked Laos. Famed for its sedate surroundings, and tragically the country where the U.S. dropped more than 260 million bombs during its war in Indochina, it rarely receives the attention received by its more prominent neighbours.

This week, Barack Obama will become the first U.S. President to ever visit the country for the ASEAN summit. In advance of the visit, US officials have spoken of an emerging partnership on development between the two countries, which focuses on health, nutrition and basic education.

As visitors frequently note, the pace of life is slow in Laos, remarkably so. But beneath the tranquil surface that President Obama will encounter, there lurk endemic human rights problems. Continue reading “The questions Laos doesn’t want to answer”

Can Laos stand the spotlight?

Manila Times: 06 September 2016

Laos has adopted the efficient practice of hosting two Asean summits at one go. Why bother organising two events months apart? We already have a lot of domestic homework and who wants to meet world leaders that often, especially if all they’re going to do is nag us about democracy and human rights?

Photo-ops and friendly handshakes are what many Asean leaders prefer — either to silence noisy critics at home or to confer legitimacy if, for instance, they took power after a coup.

So bravo to Malaysia, the 2015 host which lived up to the gentlemen’s agreement for more talking-shops. The dual summits made their debut during Thailand’s chairmanship of Asean in 2009. A decade earlier, leaders were content to meet every two or three years. Continue reading “Can Laos stand the spotlight?”

ขบวนการหนุ่มสาวลาวร้องหน้า UN ปล่อย 3 คนลาวที่ถูกจับเพราะวิจารณ์รัฐ

ประชาไทย: 31 สิงหา 2016


ขบวนการหนุ่มสาวเพื่อประชาธิปไตยแอคชั่นหน้า UN ในไทย เรียกร้องรัฐบาลลาวหยุดละเมิดสิทธิ ปล่อยตัวสามคนลาวที่ถูกจับเพราะวิพากษ์รัฐผ่านอินเทอร์เน็ต

หน้าองค์กรสหประชาชาติ (UN) ขบวนการหนุ่มสาวลาวเพื่อประชาธิปไตย จำนวน 4 คน นำโดย ตามใจ ไคยะวงศ์ (Tamchay Khayavowg) ยื่นหนังสือต่อสหประชาชาติและจัดกิจกรรมชูป้ายเพื่อเรียกร้องให้รัฐบาลลาวปล่อยตัวสามคนลาวที่ถูกจับเมื่อวันที่ 5 มี.ค. 2559 ในคดีวิพากษ์วิจารณ์รัฐบาลลาวบนสื่อสังคมออนไลน์ โดยแผ่นป้ายมีข้อความเรียกร้องให้คืนเสรีภาพและหยุดการละเมิดสิทธิมนุษยชนในลาว “Please return to freedom” “Stop! Human Rights violations in Laos, FREE LAO” Continue reading “ขบวนการหนุ่มสาวลาวร้องหน้า UN ปล่อย 3 คนลาวที่ถูกจับเพราะวิจารณ์รัฐ”

Repression in Laos Goes Under the Spotlight

TheNewsLens: 29 August 2016

TheNewsLens-2016Human rights and democracy advocates are using next week’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Vientiane, Laos, to draw attention to the country’s authoritarian regime.

Charles Santiago is a Malaysian Member of Parliament and Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

In an op-ed published in the Bangkok Post, Santiago slams Laos’ communist government for being a “regional leader” in repression. Continue reading “Repression in Laos Goes Under the Spotlight”

AFSC calls on US President

AFSC:AF 25 August 2016

The American Friends Service Committee has called on US President Barack Obama to raise issues on his upcoming trip to the Lao PDR:

1. Urge the new Lao Administration to publicly announce a renewed investigation into Sombath’s disappearance and to call for regional and international assistance on this unresolved case.

2. Urge Lao authorities to restore and increase safe public space for independent non- profit associations and independent local media.

The call to action can be found here, and the full letter here. (As point of clarification, the Sombath Initiative is not an American organisation.)

Laos leads region, but only in repression

Bangkok Post: 27 August 2016, By Charles Santiago

Lao Embassy in Bangkok-2013
In this photo taken in December 2012, activists hold a large banner featuring a poster of the missing civil society leader Sombath Somphone during a demonstation in Bangkok. Chanat Katanyu

On Sept 6, heads of state from around the world will gather in Vientiane, Laos, for the year’s only Asean Summit. The high-profile meeting should be a chance for the Lao government, as hosts, to showcase its regional leadership potential. But don’t expect a spectacle of economic, social or environmental innovation. The only thing on display will be the communist government’s unflinching commitment to authoritarianism at all costs — something that neighbouring governments seem ever eager to emulate.

Despite being the titular head of the regional bloc in 2016, Laos leads the region in few respects. Its economic output, in both overall and per capita terms, remains among the lowest in Asean, and its presence on the world stage is minimal.

But there is one particular area in which the Lao government has been a consistent regional leader: repression. Continue reading “Laos leads region, but only in repression”

Lao Government Muted Representatives to ASEAN People’s Forum

Radio Free Asia: 09 August 2016

Laos Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith (C) delivers the opening speech at the planary session of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) 49th annual ministerial meeting in Vientiane, July 24, 2016.
Laos Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith (C) delivers the opening speech at the planary session of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) 49th annual ministerial meeting in Vientiane, July 24, 2016.

Laos’ representatives attending a meeting of civil society organizations that is held each year during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit said little about human rights issues inside their own authoritarian country because they were selected by the government in Vientiane, sources tell RFA.

While the ASEAN People’s Forum is designed to highlight human-rights issues in the 10 countries that make up ASEAN, the Lao government made sure that rights criticisms of that country were kept to a minimum by hand-picking the Lao civil society representatives attending the forum, according to the sources. Continue reading “Lao Government Muted Representatives to ASEAN People’s Forum”

Limited Freedom of Expression

ACSC-APF 2016 LogoThe ACSC/APF 2016 will not take place in Lao PDR, due to concerns over possible restrictions and limited freedom of expression on key issues of concerns of ASEAN which are inconsistent with the agreed ACSC/APF’s modality of engagement.

From the CSO Statement of the 2016 ACSC/APF recently held in Timor Leste. Ironically, the forum’s Regional Steering Committee imposed their own restrictions and limitations by releasing the statement before participants at the forum could voice their concerns on its contents.

Workshop on Sombath at ACSC/APF

ACSC-APF-2016-Humanity & NatureLao civil society representatives made it clear that Sombath’s name, among other issues, would not be welcome at a ACSC/APF event held in Laos. For this and other reasons, the event was moved to Timor-Leste.

“Humanity and Nature” will be held from 16:15-18:15 PM on August 4th in room two of the Alola Foundation.

Speakers include:

  • Ng Shui Meng, Spouse of Sombath Somphone
  • Genito Santana, Kdadalak Sulimutuk Instititute
  • Cheek Sophea, Focus on the Global South
  • Myrna Dominguez, Integrated Rural Development Foundation
  • Sam Zarifi, International Commission of Jurists

Upcoming Asean forum must listen to Lao civil society

Bangkok Post: 02 August 2016

Sombath Somphone was disappeared at a police checkpoint near Vientiane more than three years ago, and the Laos government refuses to discuss his case. (File photo by Chanat Katanyu) 

The Asean Civil Society Conference/Asean Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) which is to take place today in Dili, Timor-Leste appears to be clouded by uncertainty and fears.

Concerns have emerged as there have been no indications that the three-day meeting, as stated during preparatory events in March and May, can provide a safe space for Laos’ progressive and independent civil society organisations (CSOs) — a space where they can offer critiques, raise concerns and voice dissenting opinions on various issues, including human rights violations, forced disappearances and the negative impact of infrastructure development projects on ordinary peoples’ lives.

By safe, I mean that even in the presence of government-sponsored NGO representatives, the voices of members of independent CSOs shall be heard. That they shall be allowed to organise and conduct their own panels and don’t feel threatened or intimidated. Continue reading “Upcoming Asean forum must listen to Lao civil society”