Pro-democracy student leaders must be released after over 16 years of arbitrary detention

FIDH: 08 December 2015

FIDH-Logo(Paris, Geneva) The Lao government must immediately and unconditionally release two former pro-democracy student leaders who have been arbitrarily detained for more than 16 years and disclose the fate or whereabouts of two others, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint FIDH and OMCT program) and the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today.

Mr. Thongpaseuth Keuakoun and Mr. Sengaloun Phengphanh, two former student leaders with the Lao Students Movement for Democracy (LSMD), remain detained in Samkhe prison, located on the eastern outskirts of Vientiane. Thongpaseuth and Sengaloun were arrested in Vientiane on October 26, 1999, along with fellow LSMD members Mr. Bouavanh Chanhmanivong, Mr. Khamphouvieng Sisa-at, and Keochay, for planning peaceful demonstrations that called for democracy, social justice, and respect for human rights. All five were subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison for “generating social turmoil and endangering national security.” The government, however, denied that it had detained Bouavanh, Khamphouvieng, and Keochay.

Thongpaseuth and Phengphanh are imprisoned in solitary confinement with their legs locked in wooden stocks at all times. Prison authorities allow them to go out of their cells once a week or once every two weeks to wash and empty their accumulated excrements. They are accompanied by police officers and not by prison guards. Witnesses described them as looking like “human skeletons.” Prison authorities do not allow them to receive visitors and have consistently prohibited them from receiving food and medication sent from family members. For many years, the Lao government refused to acknowledge the detention of Thongpaseuth and Phengphanh.

“The lengthy arbitrary detention of the two former student leaders as well as the prolonged torture inflicted upon them are gross and unacceptable human rights violations. The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release them, investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment, and provide compensation for their wrongful detention.” Karim Lahidji, FIDH PresidentHumhu

Continue reading “Pro-democracy student leaders must be released after over 16 years of arbitrary detention”

EU human rights talks must be backed by action

FIDH: 03 November 2015

FIDH-Logo(Paris) The EU must ensure that the Lao government makes firm commitments during upcoming bilateral human rights talks, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today. The two organizations made the call ahead of the 6th EU-Laos human rights dialogue, which will be held on 6 November in Vientiane.

In conjunction with the human rights dialogue, FIDH and LMHR published a joint briefing paper that details ongoing human rights violations that have occurred in the country since the previous round of talks in May 2014.

“It is imperative that the EU negotiates clear, measurable, and time-bound commitments with the Lao government and ensures their implementation. Otherwise, the human rights dialogue risks being a meaningless process that does not deliver any concrete results” FIDH President Karim Lahidji

lmhr-logoSince May 2014, the Lao government has enacted additional draconian legislation, such as Decree 327, to augment its existing arsenal of repressive laws. Authorities have arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned individuals who have criticized the government or exposed instances of corruption. Authorities have continued to crack down on religious minorities, arresting numerous members of various Christian groups.

The government has failed to provide any updates on the investigation of the enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, whose fate and whereabouts remain unknown. In addition, it has outrageously labeled allegations of other unresolved enforced disappearances as “not true.” Continue reading “EU human rights talks must be backed by action”

Few Surprised as Laos Fails to Win U.N. Rights Council Seat

Radio Free Asia: 29 October 2015

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A 2005 photo of Sombath Somphone in the Philippines.

Laos failed attempt to win a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council in a secret vote in New York was greeted with relief on Thursday by a leading Lao human rights group, which urged the communist government to adhere to U.N. rights treaties before trying to join the council.

The secret ballot by the U.N. General Assembly in Wednesday saw Laos come up short for one of five vacant Asia-Pacific slots on the council, with those regional slots going to Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, the Philippines, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

The Paris-based Lao Movement for Human Rights told RFA’s Lao Service it would have been “most unfortunate” to see the authoritarian one-party government in Vientiane join the 47-member council.

“The Lao Movement for Human Rights believes the endless and shameless violation of Lao citizens’ rights by the Lao People’s Democratic Republic government as has been going on for years, is not appealing to attract enough votes from other member states,” said Vanida Thephsouvanh, president of the group. Continue reading “Few Surprised as Laos Fails to Win U.N. Rights Council Seat”

1,000 days on, Sombath’s enforced disappearance a clear dereliction of Lao’s international obligations

1000 days11 September 2015

Today marks 1,000 days since prominent Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone “disappeared” at a police checkpoint on a busy street in Vientiane. We, the undersigned organizations, reiterate our call for the Lao government to intensify its efforts to conduct a prompt, impartial, and effective investigation into Sombath’s apparent enforced disappearance, to determine his fate or whereabouts, and to take the necessary measures to bring those responsible to justice.

At the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, held in Geneva on 20 January 2015, 10 states made recommendations to Laos to investigate Sombath’s disappearance. In addition, five states raised questions about the issue.

We are dismayed by the Lao authorities’ failure to provide any specific information on the status and progress of the investigation since 7 June 2013. This failure has occurred despite the government’s claim in June 2015, during the UPR process, that it was “still thoroughly conducting” an investigation into Sombath’s “whereabouts.” It is not enough for Laos to simply assert it is still investigating the case. Laos’ international legal obligations require it to carry out a prompt investigation and to keep Sombath’s family informed on the progress and status of the investigation. Continue reading “1,000 days on, Sombath’s enforced disappearance a clear dereliction of Lao’s international obligations”

Laos : Le Gouvernement se moque de l’examen des droits de l’homme de l’ONU

FIDH-MLDH: 03 Juillet 2015

MLDH LMHR-LogoParis, 30 Juin 2015 : Le refus du Gouvernement Lao d’accepter les recommandations clé formulées lors de son dernier Examen Périodique Universel (EPU) a tourné en farce le processus de révision des Nations Unies, ont déclaré aujourd’hui la FIDH et son organisation membre, le Mouvement Lao des Droits de l’Homme (MLDH).

“L’attitude défensive du gouvernement lao et ses refus généralisés ont fait de son EPU une mascarade. Le dernier EPU du Laos a clairement montré l’absence de volonté de Vientiane à résoudre les sujets importants en matière des droits de l’Homme » , a souligné le Président de la FIDH M.Karim Lahidji.

FIDH-LogoLe 23 juin, le Laos a accepté 116 des 196 recommandations préconisées lors de son second EPU en janvier 2015. Selon Thongphane Savanhphet, le représentant permanent du Laos, auprès de l’Office des Nations Unies à Genève, les autres 80 recommandations « n’ont pas recueilli le soutien total » du gouvernement.

La réponse du gouvernement a été particulièrement insuffisante sur le sujet des disparitions forcées. Le gouvernement a rejeté l’ensemble des huit recommandations qui appelaient à mener une enquête pour toutes les allégations de disparitions forcées dans le pays, considérant ces allégations comme « non conformes à la réalité ». Par un tour de passe- passe incongru, le gouvernement a reconnu la disparition du proéminent leader de la société civile Sombath Somphone, mais a accepté seulement quatre des dix recommandations appelant à enquêter sur sa disparition. Dans les explications évoquées pour le rejet des six recommandations relatives au cas de Sombath, le gouvernement a livré une propagande désuète et n’a pas fourni d’informations nouvelles concernant ses prétendues tentatives pour déterminer le sort de Sombath. Le gouvernement a déclaré que le Comité d’Investigation était « ouvert à tout avis ou toute suggestion des parties intéressées » et l’enquête menée par les autorités concernées était « toujours en cours ». Continue reading “Laos : Le Gouvernement se moque de l’examen des droits de l’homme de l’ONU”

Laos: Government mocks UN human rights review

MLDH LMHR-LogoFIDH-LMHR: 30 June 2015

Paris, 30 June 2015: The Lao government’s failure to accept key recommendations received during its latest Universal Periodic Review (UPR) has turned the UN-backed review process into a farce, FIDH and its member organization, the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR), said today.

“The Lao government’s defensive attitude and blanket denials have made its UPR a farce. The latest Laos UPR has clearly shown that Vientiane is unwilling to address important human rights issues,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

FIDH-LogoOn 23 June, Laos accepted 116 of the 196 recommendations it received at its second UPR in January 2015. [1] According to Thongphane Savanhphet, the Lao government’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, the remaining 80 recommendations “did not enjoy the full support” of the government.

The Lao government’s response was particularly inadequate with regard to the issue of enforced disappearances. The government rejected all eight recommendations that called for investigations into all allegations of enforced disappearance in the country and dismissed such allegations as “not true.” In an incongruous twist, the government acknowledged the disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, but accepted only four of the 10 recommendations that called for an investigation into his disappearance. In its explanation of the rejection of the six recommendations related to Sombath’s case, the government churned out stale propaganda and provided no new information regarding its purported attempts to determine Sombath’s fate or whereabouts. The government stated that its Investigation Committee was “opened to views or suggestions from all interested parties” and that concerned authorities were “still thoroughly conducting the investigation.” Continue reading “Laos: Government mocks UN human rights review”

FIDH-LMHR: Conduct investigation, ratify ICCPED, stop forced relocation

FIDH-LogoFIDH-LMHR: 25 June 2015

Human Rights Council – 29th session, Point 6: Adoption of the report on the Lao PDR UPR – Oral statement

Mr. President,

FIDH and its member organization, the Lao Movement for Human Rights, regret that the Lao PDR refused to accept recommendations made by many states in several key human rights areas during its second UPR in January 2015.

LMHR-LogoWe urge the Lao PDR government to implement the numerous recommendations made to address cases of arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearances in the country. All victims of enforced disappearance and their families must receive justice. They include 12 individuals arrested and disappeared between 1999 and 2009 for their call in favor of democracy and respect for human rights. The Lao PDR must also conduct, as a matter of priority, an independent and thorough investigation into the disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, with assistance from the international community. We demand that the Lao PDR establish a timeline for the ratification and implementation of the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. Continue reading “FIDH-LMHR: Conduct investigation, ratify ICCPED, stop forced relocation”

800 Days Missing: Global human rights group asks Laos to step up probe on Sombath disappearance

InterAksyon: 24 February 2015

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MANILA – An international human rights group on Monday asked the Laos government to hasten its investigation into the enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who has been missing since 2012.

Sombath was a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for community development. The award is Asia’s version of the Nobel Prize.

In its website, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said the Laos government must turn words into action and step up the investigation into the enforced disappearance of Somphone.

“The Laos government must also publicly disclose the findings,” FIDH and its member organization, the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR), said on Monday.

The two organizations made the call to mark 800 days since Sombath’s disappearance on the evening of 15 December 2012 in Vientiane, FIDH said.

The group said that at the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, held in Geneva on January 20, 2015, government representative Phongsavath Boupha said that authorities were “still thoroughly conducting” an investigation into Sombath’s disappearance.

“Phongsavath also declared that the investigation committee was “ready to receive suggestions from any interested parties with regard to the ongoing investigation,” FIDH said.

Despite the Lao government’s claim of an ongoing investigation, Vientiane has failed to provide any update on the probe since June 2013, the group said.

“For too long, Vientiane has dragged its feet on Sombath’s disappearance. It’s time for the Lao government to fulfill its international obligations and implement the UPR recommendations concerning enforced disappearances,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.“The government must also keep its word and accept international technical assistance in the investigation.” Continue reading “800 Days Missing: Global human rights group asks Laos to step up probe on Sombath disappearance”

Laos: Civil society leader Sombath Somphone missing for 800 days

International Federation for Human Rights and Lao Movement for Human Rights: 23 February 2015

Joint press release

FIDH-LogoThe Lao government must turn words into action and step up the investigation into the enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone and publicly disclose the findings, FIDH and it member organization, the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR), said today. The two organizations made the call to mark 800 days since Sombath’s disappearance on the evening of 15 December 2012 in Vientiane.

LMHR-LogoAt the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, held in Geneva on 20 January 2015, Lao government representative Phongsavath Boupha said that authorities were “still thoroughly conducting” an investigation into Sombath’s disappearance. Phongsavath also declared that the investigation committee was “ready to receive suggestions from any interested parties with regard to the ongoing investigation.” Despite the Lao government’s claim of an ongoing investigation, Vientiane has failed to provide any update on the probe since 7 June 2013.

For too long, Vientiane has dragged its feet on Sombath’s disappearance. It’s time for the Lao government to fulfill its international obligations and implement the UPR recommendations concerning enforced disappearances,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. The government must also keep its word and accept international technical assistance in the investigation.” Continue reading “Laos: Civil society leader Sombath Somphone missing for 800 days”

Laos: Government’s failure to live up to its UPR commitments calls for more international pressure

International Federation for Human Rights & Lao Movement for Human Rights: 19 January 2015

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LMHR-LogoThe Lao government’s clear and undeniable failure to live up to its human rights commitments calls for more political pressure by the international community, FIDH and its member organization, the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR), said today. The two organizations made the call ahead of the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, which will take place on 20 January in Geneva.

“Pouring increasing amounts of aid into Laos while remaining silent on the serious human rights violations taking place in the country just hasn’t worked,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. “It’s time for the international community to start applying real political pressure on the government to ensure it addresses human rights issues and undertakes genuine legislative and institutional reforms.”

FIDH-LogoLaos accepted 115 of the 145 recommendations made by other countries at its first UPR in May 2010. Despite committing to ratifying or acceding to five key international human rights instruments, Laos has become a party to only one of them – the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Six years after its signature, Laos has not yet ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). In addition, the government has failed to adequately investigate most cases of enforced disappearances. This includes the failure to investigate the disappearance of prominent civil society leader and human rights defender Sombath Somphone on 15 December 2012 in Vientiane.

Laos also pledged cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms. However, in the past five years, the government has neither issued any standing invitation for missions to Laos nor allowed any official visit to the country by the UN special procedures. In addition, five reports to main UN treaty bodies are overdue – one of them by nearly six years.

In stark contrast to its UPR pledges to make progress toward combating trafficking in persons and ensuring the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of religion, key indicators point to a lack of improvement in the situation in these areas.

After placing Laos on its ‘Tier 2’ for three consecutive years, in 2014 the US State Department downgraded the country to the “Tier 2 watch list” (the second-lowest tier) for the government’s failure to fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.

Laos ranked 168th out of 178 countries surveyed by Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) in its 2010 Press Freedom Index. In the 2014 Index, it ranked 171th out of 180.

Freedom House has consistently rated the Laos as ‘not free’ in its annual global survey on political rights and civil liberties. Recently-enacted legislation adds to a body of repressive laws that severely restrict the people’s enjoyment of their civil and political rights. Decree 327, adopted on 16 September 2014, contains excessively broad and vaguely-worded provisions that effectively criminalize any online criticism of the government and fall well below international standards on the right to freedom of expression. In addition, the disappearance of Sombath has had a ‘chilling effect’ on civil society in the country. Local organizations are unwilling to speak out against human right violations and to carry out activities for the protection and promotion of human rights because they are afraid of reprisal from the authorities.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has placed Laos on its “watch list” (Tier 2) since 2009. In its 2014 annual report, the USCIRF stated that serious religious freedom abuses continued, particularly in ethnic minority areas, and restrictive laws remained in place.

With regard to land rights, in their joint submission for the UPR, FIDH and LMHR detailed the serious and far-reaching human rights implications of large-scale land leases and concessions granted by the government in recent years. The two organizations also documented the government’s repression of land and environmental rights defenders who worked with communities affected by land concessions and advocated for a more sustainable and all-inclusive form of socio-economic development.

“The Lao government has said that the UPR is the only legitimate process to address human rights at the international level,” said LMHR President Vanida Thepsouvanh.“Regrettably, the government has virtually ignored most of the recommendations it accepted at its first UPR almost five years ago.”

Press contacts
FIDH: Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) – Tel: +66 88 611 7722 (Bangkok)
FIDH: Mr. Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) – Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94 (Paris)
FIDH: Ms. Audrey Couprie (French, English, Spanish) – Tel: +33 6 48 05 91 57 (Paris)