The 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.
At 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”
The 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.”
Laos 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.”
The Lao PDR is scheduled for the second Universal Periodic Review of its human rights record on 20 January 2015. In preparation for this event, many organisations from civil society, the United Nations and the Lao government have submitted reports.
Nearly all of the submissions from stakeholders not subject to Lao government control raise the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, many emphatically. These include:
The pre-session for the Universal Periodic Review of the Lao PDR, organised by UPR-Info, was held on 03 December in Geneva. While the event was attended by 21 representatives from Geneva-based missions, just three organisations gave inputs from the floor.
Among these was the Mouvement Lao pour les Droits de l’Homme (MLDH) (Lao Movement for Human Rights, or ຂະບວນ ການ ລາວ ເພື່ອ ສິດທິ ມະນຸດ) who addressed; 1) Press freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly; 2) Enforced disappearances, and; 3) Religious freedom.
In regard to enforced disappearances, the MLDH called on states to bring pressure on the Lao PDR to:
Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Person from Enforced Disappearance without delay followed by a time-bound implementation.
Amend domestic laws to include specific provisions in line with the ICCPR, the CAT, and the ICPPED and implement them.
Accept ‘foreign experts’ assistance in examining evidence in the case of Sombath Somphone, including the closed circuit video taken on the night he was taken away in front of police authorities.
Investigate all cases of enforced disappearances in a transparent manner.
A pre-session for the Universal Periodic Review of the Lao PDR (scheduled for January, 2015) was held on 03 December in Geneva. While many international human rights organisations did not attend the session, a briefing paper summarising UPR submissions from some groups was compiled.
The summary includes the following recommendations:
Immediately undertake a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation, consistent with international standards, into the apparent enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, publicly release original images of the closed circuit television (CCTV) video of Sombath’s disappearance, and accept offers from foreign experts to assist in examining evidence, including the CCTV footage.
Implement the commitments made during the 2010 UPR, including by becoming a party to the ICPPED and incorporating all provisions of the various international human rights treaties to which the Lao PDR is a party.
Amend its Penal Law to provide for criminal liability for all acts of enforced disappearance and corresponding penalties accounting for the extreme seriousness of these acts.
Allow Ng Shui Meng, Sombath Somphone’s wife, to have access to files and findings of the investigation and other information to which she is entitled.
Provide Ng Shui Meng with access to an effective remedy and reparation for the enforced disappearance of her husband.
Undertake a thorough, impartial, and effective investigation into all allegations of enforced disappearances, including those related to the nine activists arrested on 2 November 2009 in connection with planned peaceful demonstrations calling for democracy, justice, and respect of their land rights.
Le gouvernement lao doit résoudre de manière urgente la question des droits fonciers et protéger les défenseurs des droits fonciers et droits de l’environnement, ont déclaré la FIDH et son organisation membre, le Mouvement Lao des Droits de l’Homme (MLDH).
« Les graves violations en matière des droits fonciers, la mauvaise gestion du gouvernement laotien et la corruption ont créé une nouvelle classe de pauvres dans les zones rurales. Tant que des lois ne seront pas appliquées correctement, les citoyens laotiens resteront des cibles vulnérables face aux violations des droits fonciers » a indiqué le président de la FIDH, Karim Lahidji. « Il est urgent de mettre en place un cadre juridique cohérent pour l’approbation et la gestion des concessions. Le gouvernement laotien doit réformer la gouvernance des terres afin de garantir une totale transparence et responsabilisation dans le processus de décisions ainsi que la participation des citoyens », a-t-il exhorté. Continue reading “Laos : Le Gouvernement exhorté à régler la question des droits fonciers et à protéger les défenseurs des droits”