Resolution of the European Parliament (2)

European Parliament: 14 September 2017

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; (more…)

Laos also near bottom of the Economist’s “Democracy Index”

151

out of

167

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

Laos ranks near bottom of Forbes’ “Best Countries for Business” list

134

out of

139

Laos’ ranking in Forbes 2017 “Best Countries for Business List.”

Note: This is the first in a series of posts on “Laos by the numbers.”

Feedback and suggestions are welcome.

Forbes has rated Laos near the very bottom in its Best Countries for Business ranking for 2017. Only Venezuela, Yemen, Haiti, Gambia, Chad, rank lower. Neighbouring Cambodia ranks 123rd, China 102nd, Vietnam 98th, and Thailand 67th. Sweden, New Zealand and Hong Kong top the list.

Laos also ranked very low on the sub-indicators of Trade Freedom (124th), Technology (120th), Red Tape (123rd), Investor Protection (127th), Corruption (127th), and Personal Freedom (128th). It’s highest ranking is in Market Performance, at 87th.

The accompanying country profile reads:

The government of Laos, one of the few remaining one-party communist states, began decentralizing control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986. Economic growth averaged 6% per year from 1988-2008 except during the short-lived drop caused by the Asian financial crisis that began in 1997. Laos’ growth has more recently been amongst the fastest in Asia and averaged nearly 8% per year for the last decade. Nevertheless, Laos remains a country with an underdeveloped infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. It has a basic, but improving, road system, and limited external and internal land-line telecommunications. Electricity is available to 83% of the population. Agriculture, dominated by rice cultivation in lowland areas, accounts for about 25% of GDP and 73% of total employment. Laos’ economy is heavily dependent on capital-intensive natural resource exports. The economy has benefited from high-profile foreign direct investment in hydropower dams along the Mekong River, copper and gold mining, logging, and construction, although some projects in these industries have drawn criticism for their environmental impacts. Laos gained Normal Trade Relations status with the US in 2004 and applied for Generalized System of Preferences trade benefits in 2013 after being admitted to the World Trade Organization earlier in the year. Laos began a one-year chairmanship of ASEAN in January 2016. Laos is in the process of implementing a value-added tax system. The government appears committed to raising the country’s profile among foreign investors and has developed special economic zones replete with generous tax incentives, but a small labor pool remains an impediment to investment. Laos also has ongoing problems with the business environment, including onerous registration requirements, a gap between legislation and implementation, and unclear or conflicting regulations.

FIDH-LMHR submission to UN HR Council

The space for civil society to conduct human rights activities remains non-existent in the Lao PDR, in breach of Article 22 of the ICCPR. Political groups other than the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party-backed organizations are banned. The government has routinely used its influence to manipulate the membership of civil society organizations’ boards and has forced some organizations to change their names to remove certain words, such as “rights.”

…Lao authorities continue to arbitrarily arrest and detain government critics and charge them under provisions of the Criminal Code. In many cases, little or no information is provided to those arrested on the reason for the deprivation of their liberty or the charges they face. Lao activists have been detained incommunicado without access to legal assistance, and held in prolonged pre-trial detention. This amounts to a clear violation of Article 9 of the ICCPR [see also below, Article 14].

…The government has continued to refuse to adequately and effectively address the issue of enforced disappearance in the country. To this day, the fate and whereabouts of at least 13 activists remain unknown. In the most emblematic case, the government has failed to conduct a thorough, credible, and impartial investigation into the enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who disappeared after being last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street in Vientiane on 15 December 2012.

Excerpts from the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) submission to the List of Issues for the 121st session of the UN Human Rights Committee. The full submission is available here, and the Lao government report and other documentation here.

(more…)

Rights Groups Call for International Community to Press Laos on Jailed Activists

Voice of America: 26 June 2017

BANGKOK-Human rights groups say the international community, including the United Nations, needs to press Lao authorities on human rights issues.

The calls come amid a string of harsh jail terms handed down by Lao courts against critics of the Communist government.

Rights groups point to Laos’ failures in taking “significant steps to remedy” a poor human rights record and tough restrictions on freedom of speech, association and assembly.

Three Lao migrant workers were recently sentenced to jail terms of between 12 and 20 years for comments posted on social media while in Thailand and because they attended a protest outside the Lao Embassy in Bangkok.

The three — two men, Somphone Phimmasone, Soukan Chaithad and a woman, Lodkham Thammavorg — were arrested when they returned to Laos after posting the messages critical of the Laos government on social media in Thailand. (more…)