Freedom House places the Lao PDR near bottom of its Freedom Index


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Laos’ ranking in Freedom House‘s 2017 “Freedom in the World” report

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

Feedback and suggestions are welcome.

In its Freedom in the World report for 2017, Freedom House has given the Lao PDR a score of 12, which puts it in the lowest category of “Not Free.”

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.

Laos ranks 123 out of 176 in Transparency’s corruption index


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Laos’ ranking in Transparency International’s  2016 “Corruption Perceptions Index”

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

Feedback and suggestions are welcome.

According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception’s Index for 2016, Laos ranks 123 out of the 176 countries assessed, with a lower ranking indicating greater corruption.

Topping the list are Denmark, New Zealand and Finland, and at the bottom are North Korea, South Sudan and Somalia.

The Lao PDR’s score is 30, which is a considerable improvement over scores of 25 for 2015 and 2014. Other rankings (and scores) in the region include:

  • Singapore: 7th (84)
  • Malaysia: 55th (49)
  • China: 79th (40)
  • Indonesia: 90th (37)
  • Thailand: 101st (35)
  • Philippines: 101st (35)
  • Vietnam: 113th (33)
  • Myanmar: 136th (28)
  • Cambodia: 156th (21)

It is important to note the index is based on perceptions of corruption drawn from various, verifiable data sources, and not an absolute measure.

Laos judged “mostly unfree” in economic freedom


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Laos’ ranking in the Heritage Foundation’s 2017 “Index of Economic Freedom”

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

Feedback and suggestions are welcome.

In its 2017 Index of Economic Freedom, the Heritage Foundation ranks the Lao PDR a 123rd out of 180 countries.

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.

Laos: 5 Years Since Civil Society Leader’s ‘Disappearance’

Human Rights Watch: 15 December 2017

Disclose Sombath Somphone’s Fate or Whereabouts

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.”

Laotian police likely involved in Sombath abduction, new details suggest

Asian Times: 15 December 2017


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. (more…)