3 years on, rights groups demand answers on Sombath Somphone disappearance

Asian Correspondent: 15 December 2015

2015-12-15-FCCT
Human rights representatives speak at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok, Monday.

By John Quinley III

ON the eve of the third anniversary of acclaimed community development leader Sombath Somphone’s forced disappearance, human rights groups on Monday in Bangkok urged the Lao government to provide information regarding Mr. Sombath’s whereabouts and fate.

Sombath was abducted in Vientiane Laos on the evening of December 15, 2012, at a police check-point where he was then transferred to another vehicle according to police surveillance video. At the press conference in Bangkok newly made public CCTV footage, found by Sombath’s family, showed the car further south on the road as the car traveled back into the capital.

A representative from the Sombath Initiative said in a written statement, that the police refused to look at the additional evidence from the family, which, “demonstrates the authorities have absolutely no interest in conducting a serious investigation, as they so often claim.” Continue reading “3 years on, rights groups demand answers on Sombath Somphone disappearance”

Laos shows ‘no political will’ to solve activist’s disappearance, U.N. rights official says

Reuters: 14 December 2015

Communist Laos has shown “no political will to solve” the mystery of the abduction of a prominent social activist, a United Nations human rights official said on Monday, on the third anniversary of the kidnapping.

The United Nations and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said police in Laos refused to view new footage of the abduction of Sombath Somphone, a civil society leader who worked to promote sustainable development for the rural poor.

Laurent Meillan of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said the abduction had created “a culture of fear” among workers of non-government organizations in Laos, one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries.

“We are not aware of any progress since the government’s commitment at the U.N. Human Rights Council,” Meillan told a news conference in Bangkok, referring to an assurance by Laos to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice.

In January, Laos was assessed on its rights record and accepted some recommendations made by the U.N. Human Rights Council, including a call for a transparent investigation into the disappearance of the internationally acclaimed activist.

The Lao foreign ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. Continue reading “Laos shows ‘no political will’ to solve activist’s disappearance, U.N. rights official says”

Press conference marks three years of Lao government complacency on investigation

A press conference entitled “Three Years On: Demanding Answers for the Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone in Laos” was held at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Bangkok, Thailand on Monday, 14 December 2014.

A synthesis of new CCTV footage (above) was shared showing: 1) Sombath’s jeep after he was stopped at a police post, 2) being driven out of town by another person after Sombath was called to the police post, and 3) then returning toward the city centre shortly thereafter. The videos also show the pickup truck that took Sombath away.

Despite claims they are conducting a serious investigation, Lao authorities have shown no interest in reviewing this additional evidence.

Panelists sharing remarks at the event included:

  • Angkhana Neelaipaijit, Thai National Human Rights Commissioner, Justice for Peace Foundation and Sombath Initiative Advisory Board
  • Sam Zarifi, International Commission for Jurists
  • Laurent Meillan, UN Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights
  • Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch

A press release be seen here, and video of the conference itself is available here.

Notes on the synthesis video include:

  • 0:08: Map showing location of original traffic CCTV camera (Camera #1) and locations of cameras from which new CCTV footage was obtained (Camera #2 & #3).
  • 0:20: Original CCTV footage (Camera #1) beginning just after Sombath was stopped in his jeep. This footage, as well as explanatory notes, is available here.
  • 1:10:  Sombath getting out of his jeep and going to police post.
  • 1:51:  Person arriving on motorcycle
  • 3:35: Jeep being driven away, going away from city centre.
  • 3:56: Jeep seen going away from city centre on Camera #2
  • 4:42: Jeep seen coming back toward city centre on Camera #2
  • 5:00: Jeep seen going away from city centre on Camera #3
  • 5:45: Jeep seen coming back toward city centre on Camera #3.
  • 6:40: Truck with Sombath seen leaving police post on Camera #1. Note truck is second vehicle behind van.
  • 7:04: Same truck seen heading away from city centre on Camera #2.
  • 7:20: Same truck seen heading away from city centre on Camera #3.

Three Years On: Demanding Answers for the Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone in Laos

10:30 am, Monday, December 14, 2015

Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT)

Three years ago, on December 15, Magsaysay award winner and acclaimed community development leader Sombath Somphone was detained at a police checkpoint in Vientiane, Laos, and then disappeared by state authorities. Since then, the Lao police and government authorities have consistently failed to seriously investigate the case, and continue to unpersuasively claim ignorance of Sombath’s whereabouts.

Yet evidence is still being uncovered, and on the 3rd anniversary of his enforced disappearance, new CCTV camera footage — obtained from the area where Sombath was abducted on the day that Sombath vanished into state custody – will be made public.

A panel of speakers will also provide the latest updates on Sombath’s case and the international campaign to demand answers from the Lao PDR government.

Speakers include:

  • Angkhana Neelaipaijit,Thai National Human Rights Commissioner, Justice for Peace Foundation and Sombath Initiative
  • Sam Zarifi, International Commission of Jurists
  • Laurent Meillan, UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights
  • Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch

For more information, please call +66-85-060-8406, or email: [email protected]

"Enforced disappearances in the Lao PDR alarming"

afadLaos is a signatory to the main international human rights instruments1 including the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPED); yet, the practice of enforced disappearances in the Lao PDR is alarming.

UN Logo…However, Laos has failed to prove that an impartial investigation had been conducted in regards with Mr. Somphone’s abduction. Only vague official statements have been formulated so far… This on-going situation demonstrates the Government of Laos’ lack of willingness to cooperate with the WGEID.

From a General Allegation made by the Asian Federation against Enforced Disappearance to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.

UPR Recommendations on Sombath

IUN Logon his statement at the Universal Periodic Review for the Lao PDR on January 20th, Mr. Phongsavath Boupha, Chairman for the Lao National Steering Committee on Human Rights, asked for suggestions.

Here they are.

The full report is available here.

5.25. Conclude the process of ratification of the ICCPED shortly, and investigate vigorously all cases of enforced disappearances, including the case of civil society activist, Sombath Somphone, and inform the public transparently about the results of such investigation as far as feasible without endangering the investigation, and bring perpetrators to justice (Germany);

5.94.  Carry out without further delay an independent, credible investigation into the unexplained disappearance of a human rights defender, Mr. Sombath Somphone, which occurred on 15 December 2012 in Vientiane (Luxembourg);

5.95.  Carry out a prompt, independent and impartial investigation aimed at determining the fate or whereabouts of Sombath Somphone (Poland);

5.96.  Undertake a thorough investigation, consistent with international practices and standards, into the disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone (Portugal);

5.97.  Intensify the investigation into the disappearance of Mr Sombath and accept external assistance in the investigation and make the results publicly known, and investigate in a transparent and credible manner all cases of enforced disappearances (Sweden); Continue reading “UPR Recommendations on Sombath”

Two years marked at FCCT in Bangkok

FCCT-2014-12-11To mark two years since the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a press conference was held at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Thailand on December 11th.

The event also included the  launch of the Sombath Initiative, as well as the release of the International Commission of Jurists’ Missed Opportunities: Recommendations for Investigating the Disappearance of Sombath Somphone.”

Video of the event is available here. Remarks were given by: 1) Angkhana Neelapaijit from the Justice for Peace Foundation, 2) Sam Zarifi from ICJ, 3) Matilda Bogner from OHCHR, and 4) Ng Shui Meng. (11 December 2014)

Lao govt condemned for failure to investigate disappearance of prominent Lao civil society worker

Prachathai: 12 December 2014

Thaweeporn Kummetha

Two years after the abduction of the prominent, internationally acclaimed Lao development worker Sombath Somphone by Lao state agents, the Lao government has done very little to find the truth, experts say. Meanwhile, the disappearance and lack of justice has effectively created a climate of fear which has worsened the human rights situation in Laos.

SB-
Sombath Somphone (Photo courtesy of Sombath.org)

“Today marks 726 days, four days short of two years, since Sombath has been taken away from me and my family,” Shui Meng Ng, the wife of Sombath, said at a seminar ‘Sombath Somphone Missing for Two Years’ in Bangkok on Thursday. “Even after the 726 days, the shock, the pain, the anguish have not lessened. In fact, the anxiety has grown with each passing day. Some people sometimes ask me ‘Do you think Sombath is still alive?’ My answer is ‘I can only hope that he is still alive’. Without that hope, I will not have the strength to get up each day”

On 15 December 2012, CCTV at a police checkpoint in Vientiane recorded footage that shows that state agents abducted Sombath at the checkpoint. His car was stopped and then he was escorted into a truck. No one has seen him since. Continue reading “Lao govt condemned for failure to investigate disappearance of prominent Lao civil society worker”

UN OHCHR renews calls for investigation

InboxA year on, the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone continues with impunity in Lao PDR

GENEVA (16 December 2013) – A group of United Nations human rights experts today urged the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) to increase its efforts in the investigations into the enforced disappearance on 15 December 2012, of Sombath Somphone, a prominent human right activist working on issues of land confiscation and assisting victims in denouncing such practices.

“Mr. Somphone has been disappeared for one year. We are deeply concerned about his safety and security”, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said. “We urge the Government of Lao PDR to do its utmost to locate Mr. Somphone, to establish his fate and whereabouts, and to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

The human rights experts noted that Mr. Somphone was held in police custody following his reported disappearance, according to additional information received that sheds new light on the case. A few days after his disappearance, he was seen inside a police detention centre with his car parked in the police compound. Continue reading “UN OHCHR renews calls for investigation”

OHCHR Expresses Concern on Lack of Progress

NewsImageFollowing a press briefing on 21 December 2012 by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), another briefing on 21 June 2013 states it is:

…of concern that six months on there seemed to be no progress in investigating the supposed forced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a human rights activist from the Laos People’s Democratic Republic. He disappeared as he was driving home from the capital of Vientiane on 15 December 2012. Security camera footage supposedly showed his car being stopped by police and then him being driven away by men in plain clothes. The OHCHR was concerned about his safety, as his whereabouts were unknown and no progress has been seen in identifying the suspected perpetrators. OHCHR urged the Government to intensify measures to locate him and to ensure his prompt, safe return to his family. Sombath Somphone had been recognised worldwide for his work on equitable and sustainable development. Reports suggest that his apparent abduction may be related to this.