(Paris) The outcome of the United Nations’ (UN) assessment of the human rights situation in Laos highlighted the country’s highly repressive environment and the government’s failure to respect virtually all civil and political rights, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today.
“The outcome of the UN review should be an eye-opener for foreign governments, which have too often looked the other way whenever human rights violations were committed in Laos. There are no more excuses for the international community to refuse to pressure the Lao government to address key human rights issues.” Debbie Stothard, FIDH Secretary-General
In two sub-indexes of Political Rights and Civil Liberties, Laos is given rankings of 7/7 and 6/7 respectively. It has held these same rankings since 2010.
This places the Lao PDR very near the bottom of the index, at 151st of 165 countries, and the lowest in Southeast Asia. Scores (and ranks) for other regional neighbours include:
China: 15 (143rd)
Vietnam: 20 (137th)
Cambodia 31 (118th)
Thailand 32: (116th)
Myanmar 32: (114th)
Singapore: 51 (90th)
Philippines: 63 (72nd)
Indonesia: 65 (63rd)
Excerpts from Freedom House’s overview of the Lao PDR include:
Laos is a one-party state in which the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) dominates all aspects of politics and government and harshly restricts civil liberties. There is no organized opposition and no truly independent civil society. News coverage of the country is limited by the remoteness of some areas, repression of domestic media, and the opaque nature of the regime. Economic development has led to a rising tide of disputes over land and environmental issues, as well as corruption and the growth of an illegal economy. Such disputes frequently lead to violence, including by the security forces.
The Laotian government continued to tighten its control over domestic dissent in 2016, partly by monitoring citizens’ activity on social media. In at least three cases, individuals were apparently arrested for comments they posted while working abroad. The authorities also suppressed independent civil society activity. Although Laos hosted the annual ASEAN summit in September, it would not host the parallel ASEAN People’s Forum, a gathering of regional civil society groups. The forum was held in Timor-Leste instead, and participants reported that the Laotian delegation was hand-picked and pressured by the Laotian government to minimize criticism of its record.
Its score of 54 places it in the category of “mostly unfree.” Other categories include free, mostly free, moderately free and repressed. Laos score has remained quite stable over the ten year history of the index.
The index combines indicators of Rule of Law, Government Size, Regulatory Efficiency, and Open Markets. Hong Kong tops the list, and North Korean is at the bottom.
Rankings and scores of neighbouring countries include:
Thailand: 55th (66.2)
Cambodia: 94th (59.5)
China: 111th (57.4)
Myanmar: 146th (52.5)
Vietnam: 147 (52.4)
In part, the Heritage Foundation states:
The Laotian economy has shown notable resilience, growing at an average annual rate of more than 7 percent over the past five years. Laos continues to integrate more fully into the system of global trade and investment. The trade regime has become more transparent, and there has been progress in improving the management of public finances.
Substantial challenges remain, particularly in implementing deeper institutional and systemic reforms that are critical to advancing economic freedom. Weak property rights, pervasive corruption, and burdensome bureaucracy, exacerbated by lingering government interference and regulatory controls, continue to reduce the dynamism of investment flows and overall economic efficiency.
The government of Laos should immediately disclose the fate or whereabouts of the prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone who was forcibly disappeared in the capital, Vientiane, in December 2012, Human Rights Watch said today.
Sombath Somphone is still missing five years after he was forcibly disappeared in Vientiane, Laos. “Five years on, Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ highlights the glaring problems of enforced disappearance, widespread rights violations, and the culture of impunity protecting government officials in Laos,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government needs to end its cover-up and explain what happened to Sombath.”
Sombath, the founder and former director of the Participatory Development Training Centre, received Southeast Asia’s prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005. Security camera footage shows police stopping Sombath’s jeep at 6:03 p.m. on December 15, 2012, and police taking him into the Thadeua police post. Shortly afterward, an unidentified motorcyclist stopped at the police post and drove off with Sombath’s jeep, leaving his own motorcycle by the roadside. A few minutes later, a truck with flashing lights stopped at the police post. Two people got out of the truck, took Sombath into the vehicle, then drove off. The authorities later denied any knowledge of Sombath being taken into custody. He has not been seen since.
Five years on, Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ highlights the glaring problems of enforced disappearance, widespread rights violations, and the culture of impunity protecting government officials in Laos. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director
At a news conference in Bangkok on December 7, 2017, Shui-Meng Ng, Sombath’s wife, publicly revealed that people she declined to name had seen Sombath at a police holding facility in Vientiane on the night of December 15, a number of hours after he was publicly seen at the police checkpoint. She said that his jeep was seen at the parking lot of that facility on the same evening.
This newly public information demonstrates the inadequacy of the official investigations into Sombath’s disappearance and the contours of a cover-up by Lao authorities. The authorities have repeatedly dismissed concerns raised by Sombath’s family, foreign governments, and human rights groups about whether the government investigation was serious.
Shui-Meng Ng told Human Rights Watch:
Five years on, we are sadly no closer to finding Sombath than we were in the week after he was taken from us. The only thing that has progressed over that time is the Lao government’s cover-up, and the wall of denial and delays it has constructed to buy time. While disheartened, the friends of Sombath all around the world will never give up demanding answers.
Laos has signed, but not ratified, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under international law, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution. Disappearances are a continuing offense that cause anguish and suffering for the victim’s family members.
“Sombath’s ‘disappearance’ will be a stain on the Lao government’s reputation until his fate is explained and those responsible are fairly prosecuted and punished,” Robertson said. “Donor governments, UN agencies, and multilateral organizations should keep raising concerns with Lao leaders until there are credible answers about Sombath’s fate.”
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”
The development suggests that more of the same is at work in this realm in the Southeast Asian state.
Five years after Lao activist Sombath Somphone disappeared after being snatched off the streets of Vientiane by police, rights concerns in the tiny, landlocked Southeast Asian state still remain significant and unresolved.
Last year’s change in government, with a new prime minister in charge of the one-party state, had also raised hopes that this type of atrocious and anachronistic behavior might finally have come to an end with Thongloun Sisoulith touted as a more moderate leader.
But those hopes are proving about as realistic as finding Somphone alive.
Perhaps even more disappointing, as noted by Human Rights Watch, is that while donor support for the development of Lao civil society organizations has increased significantly, so too have government restrictions.
Laos’ ranking in Reporters Without Borders‘ 2017 “World Press Freedom Index”
Note: This is another in a series of posts on “Laos by the numbers.”
Feedback and suggestions are welcome.
Reporters without Borders ranks the Lao PDR almost at the bottom of its World Press Freedom Index, with a score of 66.41. Norway ranks at the top of the list with 7.60, and North Korea at the bottom with 84.98.
The criteria evaluated in the questionnaire are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.
In 2016, Laos’ ranking was 173rd, and its score 71.58. When the index was first compiled in 2002, its score was 89.00. This rose to 92.00 in 2009 and has been gradually decreasing since then.
Vietnam and China’s ranks (and scores) are somewhat lower at 175th (73.96) and 176th (77.66) respectively. Thailand ranks at 142nd (44.69), Cambodia at 132nd (42.07) and Myanmar at 131st (41.82). Southeast Asia’s highest ranking goes to Indonesia at 124th (39.93),
Reporters without Borders gives the following description of press freedom in Laos:
The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) exercises absolute control over the media. Increasingly aware of the restrictions imposed on the official media and their self-censorship, Laotians are turning to social media. However, the boom in online news and information platforms is threatened by a 2014 decree under which Internet users who criticize the government and the Marxist-Leninist LPRP can be jailed. Only three of the 40 or so TV channels are privately-owned, which falls far short of addressing the lack of media pluralism in Laos. A decree by the Prime Minister that took effect in January 2016 allows foreign media to set up office in Laos on condition that they submit their content to LPRP censorship.
Laos, notably the cases of Somphone Phimmasone, Lod Thammavong and Soukane Chaithad
European Parliament resolution of 14 September 2017 on Laos, notably the cases of Somphone Phimmasone, Lod Thammavong and Soukane Chaithad (2017/2831(RSP))
The European Parliament,
having regard to its previous resolutions on Laos,
having regard to the outcome of the 8th meeting of the European Union-Lao PDR Joint Committee held in Vientiane on 17 February 2017,
having regard to the statement by the Delegation of the European Union to the Lao PDR made in Vientiane on the World Freedom of the Press Day, 3 May 2017,
having regard to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of 1998,
having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948,
having regard to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966,
having regard to the Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic of 1 December 1997,
having regard to the ASEAN Charter,
having regard to Rules 135(5) and 123(4) of its Rules of Procedure,
A. whereas in March 2017 three Lao workers, Mr Somphone Phimmasone, Mr Soukane Chaithad and Ms Lod Thammavong, were sentenced to prison terms of between 12 and 20 years and the equivalent of tens of thousands of euros in fines for criticising the government on social media in relation to alleged corruption, deforestation, and human rights violations, while working in Thailand; whereas the three also stood accused of participating in an anti-government demonstration outside the Lao Embassy in Thailand in December 2015; Continue reading “Resolution of the European Parliament (2)”
Laos’ ranking in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2016 “Democracy Index”
Note: This is the second in a series of posts on “Laos by the numbers.”
Feedback and suggestions are welcome.
The Lao PDR ranks 151st out of 167 on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s“Democracy Index” for 2016. The index compiles 60 indicators grouped into five categories, with a score of between 0 and 10 for each category:
8.00 to 10.00 = Full Democracy
6.00 to 8.00 = Flawed Democracy
4.00 to 6.00 = Hybrid Regime
0.00 to 4.00 = Authoritarian Regime
The Lao PDR’s overall score of 2.37 puts Laos firmly in the category of Authoritarian Regime:
Authoritarian regimes are nations where political pluralism has vanished or is extremely limited. These nations are often absolute dictatorships, may have some conventional institutions of democracy but with meager significance, infringements and abuses of civil liberties are commonplace, elections (if they take place) are not fair and free, the media is often state-owned or controlled by groups associated with the ruling regime, the judiciary is not independent, and the presence of omnipresent censorship and suppression of governmental criticism.
The five categories, and Laos’ score in each are:
Electoral process and pluralism = 0.83
Functioning of government = 2.86
Political participation = 1.67
Political culture = 5.00
Civil liberties = 1.47
Only ten of 167 countries rank lower than Laos in terms of Civil Liberties, and only two are lower in Political Participation.
While North Korea is ranked at the bottom of the list, Laos receives the lowest ranking of any Southeast Asian country. The rankings of neighbouring countries (with scores) include:
China = 136th (3.14)
Vietnam =131st (3.38)
Myanmar = 113th (4.20)
Cambodia = 112th (4.27)
Thailand = 100th (4.92)
Laos’ score has changed little since the index was initiated in 2006. From that year through 2011 its score remained at 2.10. In 2012, it increased to 2.32 before dropping back to 2.21 through 2015, and then rising to 2.36 in 2016