5 years after disappearance of Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, 122 groups ask, ‘Where is Sombath?’

Interaksyon: 15 December 2017

MANILA, Philippines — More than a hundred civil society organizations have slammed the government of Laos for its “failure to independently, impartially, effectively, and transparently investigate” the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a social activist who worked to promote sustainable development for the rural poor, and return him to his family.

“The Lao government’s continued silence and obfuscation of the facts around Sombath’s enforced disappearance have subjected his family to five years of fear and uncertainty over his fate and whereabouts, which remain unknown to this day,” the groups said in a statement released Saturday, December 16.

Sombath, a 2005 recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, often called “Asia’s Nobel Prize,” disappeared the night of December 15, 2012. Continue reading “5 years after disappearance of Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, 122 groups ask, ‘Where is Sombath?’”

There is no valid excuse not to ratify the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance

OHCHR: 29 August 2017

(Note: The Lao PDR has twice promised to ratify this convention in its Universal Periodic Review, but it has not yet done so.)

At a time when enforced disappearance is practiced in every region, and in many countries is increasing, a group of UN human rights experts* urge all Member States to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

To mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the UN experts highlight: “It is inadmissible that in 2017, enforced disappearances continue to happen. Every day we receive new cases of persons subjected to enforced disappearances across the world. When this happens, the life of entire families breaks in pieces and the very fabric of the society is damaged. This needs to end, and by ratifying the Convention, States can start the path towards achieving this aim”.

“There is no valid excuse for this Convention not to become universally ratified,” said Suela Janina, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances. “Following the ratification, States should introduce new legislation and ensure its application in practice”. Continue reading “There is no valid excuse not to ratify the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance”

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. Continue reading “Rights Groups Call for International Community to Press Laos on Jailed Activists”

Where is Sombath? Where is the UPR?

The last Universal Periodic Review for the Lao PDR was held in January, 2015.

Seventy-two states made 203 recommendations, and the Lao government accepted 119 of them.

Ninety-three of those accepted recommendations called for a specific action, yet nearly two and one-half years later, and half-way until the next review, authorities have yet to release their plan for follow-up.

And while civil society organisations often play important roles in the follow-up and monitoring of the UPR implementation, those in Laos are apparently obliged to wait for the government plan.

 

ASEAN in Laos: Challenges of Leadership, Human Rights & Democracy

Press conference held at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand on 31 August, 2016, Bangkok 

RFA-FCCT-2016

Panelists included (click on link for their presentation):

  • Shui Meng Ng, Spouse of Sombath Somphone
  • Walden Bello, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
  • Laurent Meillan, Acting Regional Representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

With moderation by Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.

Video of the press conference is available in three segments: One, two & three.

The following press briefings were also distributed:

Obama urged to press Laos on human rights at regional summit

Reuters: 31 August 2016

Activists have called on U.S. President Barack Obama to press Laos on its human rights record on issues such as illegal land concessions and forced evictions, when he visits the Communist country next week.

Obama is due to attend a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the capital Vientiane, becoming the first U.S. president to visit Laos.

Campaigners urged Obama to use a bilateral meeting with Laos President Bounnhang Vorachith to discuss issues ranging from environmental contamination to the fate of prominent Lao human rights activist Sombath Somphone, who disappeared in 2012.

“We see this visit to Laos as a human rights test for President Obama and his administration,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

“Are they prepared to come to Southeast Asia and speak publicly about the disappearance of such a prominent person as Sombath Somphone and talk about the ongoing rights violations that are taking place in Laos?” Robertson asked.

Sombath, a U.S.-educated activist focusing on rural development, went missing in Vientiane on Dec. 15, 2012. A video previously released by the authorities shows him being stopped at a police checkpoint before being led into a pickup truck.

Laos maintains the state is not involved in Sombath’s disappearance and police are still investigating, said Sombath’s wife Shui Meng Ng, adding that she has not had an update from police in more than two years.

Sombath’s disappearance and harassment of civil society members has had a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression, with many self-censoring over fears they will be punished, said Laurent Meillan, the acting regional representative of the U.N. Office for the High Commission of Human Rights.

Meillan also expressed concern about large scale development projects and land concessions impacting the rights of local communities.

According to HRW’s Robertson, the Lao government told civil society groups ahead of the ASEAN meeting that it would not permit various subjects to be discussed.

These include Sombath’s disappearance, hydropower projects, land issues or the rights of indigenous and LGBT people, he said.

Human rights under scrutiny in Laos ahead of ASEAN meet

Anadolu Agency: 31 August 2016

BANGKOK, THAILAND - AUGUST 31: An activist holds a protest in front of the Laos Embassy in Bangkok calling on the government to stop Human Rights violations.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – AUGUST 31: An activist holds a protest in front of the Laos Embassy in Bangkok calling on the government to stop Human Rights violations.

One week before Laos hosts a summit of Southeast Asian leaders, international rights groups are demanding that Thailand’s sleepy northern neighbor improve its human rights situation.

But while advocates have underscored the state of human rights in the country, the wife of a prominent civil society leader who disappeared after being arrested in Vientiane in December 2012 had more personal concerns Wednesday. Continue reading “Human rights under scrutiny in Laos ahead of ASEAN meet”

ASEAN in Laos: Challenges of Leadership, Human Rights and Democracy

ASEAN logo 2016Press conference at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand

11am, Wednesday 31 August, 2016, Bangkok 

At a time when ASEAN is witnessing an alarming increase in human rights abuses, restrictions on civil liberties, and a shrinking of democratic space in a number of its member states, what kind of example does this year’s ASEAN Chair, Laos, set for the regional bloc?

The enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone in December 2012, ongoing arbitrary detentions, and extremely tight controls on the media and civil society have instilled an environment of fear, silence, and repression in Laos. Little news about the serious human rights abuses occurring in the country ever comes out in the media, allowing the continued violation of basic liberties.

Despite this repressive environment, foreign aid and investment continue to flow into Laos. Continue reading “ASEAN in Laos: Challenges of Leadership, Human Rights and Democracy”

What are—a state’s key obligations under the CPED?

“The phenomenon of enforced disappearances […] is the worst of all violations of human rights. It is certainly a challenge to the very concept of human rights, denial of the right for humans to have an existence, an identity. Enforced disappearance transforms humans into non-beings. It is the ultimate corruption, abuse of power that allows those responsible to transform law and order into something ridiculous and to commit heinous crimes.”

Niall MacDermot, Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists (1970-1990)

Logo-What isIntroduction

“Enforced disappearance” is one of the worst violations of human rights.  A “disappeared” person is entirely at the mercy of his or her captors, with no access to legal protection.

The family and friends of a disappeared person endure tremendous suffering not knowing whether the disappeared person is alive or deceased, or whether they will ever know their fate or whereabouts.

Usually victims are apprehended at home or ‘grabbed’ from the street, sometimes in broad daylight, and taken to an unknown location. They are frequently tortured and face the constant fear of being killed. Continue reading “What are—a state’s key obligations under the CPED?”

Lao activist case moving slowly

Bangkok Post: 15 December 2015

The enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a Lao activist who disappeared in December 2012, will be probed until there is an answer, a forum was told.

“We will never stop asking questions about the enforced disappearance of Sombath,” according to his wife, friends, and colleagues despite continued rebuttals by the Lao government which will assume the Asean chairmanship in the next two weeks.

Angkhana Neelapaijit, a National Human Rights Commissioner, read a message from Shui-Meng, Mr Sombath’s wife, at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok Monday on the eve of the third anniversary of his disappearance.

“The pain and burden have continued, not lessened with time. Nothing can take the pain away … but I’m exhausted by the search for an answer as the state refuses to come clean,” read the message.

“There are times when the burden and pain are too heavy, but families of other enforced disappearance victims have continued to stand with us. So it’s no longer a personal struggle, it is for the sake of humanity and it is our right to pursue answers and the truth.”

Ms Angkhana is a member of “The Sombath Initiative” which has been pushing for an answer from the Lao government. The 2005 Magsaysay laureate was last seen on the evening of Dec 15, 2012 in Vientiane.

Sam Zarifi, International Commission of Jurists’ (ICJ) Asia Pacific regional director, showed new CCTV camera footage which was obtained from the area near the police checkpoint on the day of the abduction. Continue reading “Lao activist case moving slowly”