‘Absolutely no political will…’

Charles Santiago-FCCT

Yesterday marked the first month of Sombath’s disappearance… His wife was asked to go talk to the police as part of the investigation process. She turned up at the police station at 9:00 AM, and the questions they had for her, after one month of the investigation was, ‘When did you get married to Sombath? How did you guys meet each other? Where do you guys stay and whether you have children?’ …and the questioning was done, the investigation was done by the lowest ranking officer at that particular police station.

Now this raises fundamental questions. The first is it raises the notion that, after one month you call a wife and tell her ‘When did you guys get married, or when did you meet for the first time?’ Which actually shows that the police and the civil administration have absolutely no interest, no political will, to get the the root of this problem. Absolutely no interest, and no political will to resolve this issue, except saying in all our meetings that ‘We want to get to the root of this problem because the credibility of Laos has been hit, and therefore we want to solve this problem as soon as possible.’

But when asked about the investigation itself, there is absolute stonewalling, and the same script being repeated all the time…

Charles Santiago, Member of Malaysian Parliament, at FCCT press conference after travelling to Laos in January, 2013.

Laos facing possible aid review over missing activist, says Euro MP

Radio Australia: (07 November 2013)

A European parliamentary delegation says the Lao government has yet again failed to offer a credible explanation as to the whereabouts of a well-known rights activist.

(audio program)

It’s almost 11 months ago since the disappearance of the internationally-recognised development worker and teacher, Sombath Somphone.

And for the second time this year, a European delegation has visited Laos to press authorities on the case of the missing activist, but they say little progress has been made.

Presenter: Tom Maddocks

Speakers: Soren Sondergaard, delegation leader (August) and member of the European parliament; Werner Langen, delegation leader (October) and Chairman of the ASEAN delegation in the European Parliament; Rupert Abbott, Laos researcher, Amnesty International

MADDOCKS: In August, a European parliamentary delegation drew the conclusion that Lao authorities were “still in a state of denial” about the disappearance of Sombath Somphone.

The delegation was led by Danish member of parliament Soren Sondergaard.

SONDERGAARD: Our key message was that it is impossible in a country like theirs to accept that a person can disappear a few metres in front of a police control station, taken on camera, everything is taken on camera, and despite of that, eight months have gone without any result in the investigation. Continue reading “Laos facing possible aid review over missing activist, says Euro MP”

European parliamentarians pressure Laos on missing activist

Europe Online: 28 October 2013

Bangkok (dpa) – European parliamentarians on a visit to Vientiane Monday vowed to keep diplomatic pressure on Laos to solve the case of missing activist Sombath Somphone.

“We did not get convincing answers to any of our questions,” said Werner Langen, chairman of the European Parliament‘s delegation for South-East Asia. “We will keep the pressure on.”

Langen and three other European parliamentarians met Lao legislators and ministers including Phongsavath Boupha, head of Laos‘ national steering committee on human rights, to discuss the case of Sombath who went missing in a Vientiane suburb on December 15 after being stopped at a police checkpoint.

CCTV footage showed Sombath being pushed into a pickup truck that was driven off. He has not been seen since.

The Communist regime has denied knowledge of the incident or Sombath‘s whereabouts.

“We made it clear that if the case is not solved they will lose credibility in the EU,” Langen said.

Continue reading “European parliamentarians pressure Laos on missing activist”

Rights groups pressure EU to help find missing Lao activist

The Nation: 28 October 2013

Human rights groups pressured visiting European parliamentarians in Laos Monday to demand answers about missing activist Sombath Somphone.

“The EU should use all its leverage to ensure Sombath’s safe return,” said a joint letter from Amnesty International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Federation Internationale des Ligues de droits de l’homme and Human Rights Watch.

The civil rights activist has not been seen since December 15, when he was detained at a police checkpoint in Vientiane, and CCTV footage captured images of him being forced into a truck and driven away.

The Communist regime has denied knowledge of the incident or Sombath’s whereabouts. Continue reading “Rights groups pressure EU to help find missing Lao activist”

EU Must Maintain Efforts to Secure Safe Return of Sombath Somphone

AI-CSW-FIDH-HRWA number of international groups have called on European parliamentarians visiting Laos to maintain pressure to secure the release of Sombath Somphone. In part, the letter reads:

In line with the EU’s commitments to promote human rights through all its external actions, we call on you during your upcoming EP delegation visit to urge the Lao government to:

  • Ensure the safe and immediate return of Sombath Somphone.
  • Answer the many outstanding questions around Sombath’s disappearance and establish an independent commission to investigate the case.
  • Fully investigate the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone in a timely and transparent manner, appropriately prosecuting those responsible.
  • Address repression of civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Laos and ensure an enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders.

Until Sombath Somphone is back safely with his family, his case will not be forgotten and calls for his return will persist.

The full letter can be read here.

EU Parliament Dissatisfied with Lao Efforts to Locate Missing Activist

Radio Free Asia: (28 October 2013)

A European parliamentary delegation at a press conference in Bangkok on Lao activist Sombath Somphone's disappearance, Aug. 28, 2013.
A European parliamentary delegation at a press conference in Bangkok on Lao activist Sombath Somphone’s disappearance, Aug. 28, 2013.

A European parliamentary delegation has expressed dissatisfaction with the Lao government’s explanation over the disappearance of prominent local activist Sombath Somphone, who was last seen 10 months ago being stopped in his vehicle at a police checkpoint in the Lao capital Vientiane.

The second European Parliamentary visit to Laos this year came as rights groups urged sustained pressure on Vientiane to secure the safe return of Sombath, a rights campaigner who had been critical of the government’s policies for the poor.

The four-member parliamentary group, led by the chairman of the European Parliament’s delegation for South-East Asia, Werner Langen, met with a number of Lao officials and ministers on Monday, including Phongsavath Boupha, head of Laos’ national steering committee on human rights.

Langen told RFA’s Lao Service that his delegation had held “frank” discussions on the Sombath case with Lao officials, but that little progress had been made.

“The ministers said, ‘We don’t have an answer for where Sombath is now’,” Langen said.

“I said to the ministers, ‘We need a lifeline. Could you give us from the government side a lifeline?’ But the answer was not clear.” Continue reading “EU Parliament Dissatisfied with Lao Efforts to Locate Missing Activist”

Restraining Leviathan

The Inquirer: 02 September 2013

By Walden Bello

The state is a Janus-faced creature.  On the one hand, there is its “soft face.”  This is the set of institutions that provide representation and justice. Then there is the “hard face” of the state, the most important institutions of which are the executive, the internal security forces, and the armed forces.

This “deep state” is a highly contradictory institutional complex. On the one hand, it provides security and order.  On the other, it poses the greatest threat to the human, political, and civil rights of citizens.  For it is so easy to cross the very thin line separating the provision of public order and the violation of the rights of citizens in the name of order.

This is why it is important to hem in and envelop the security institutions with laws and rules that severely limit or prevent the use of force against citizens.   This is the reason laws like Republic Act 10353, the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012, are extremely important, for they restrain the constant institutional temptation of Leviathan to cross the line between the legitimate provision of public security and the illegitimate use of the power of the deep state to repress citizens.   Republic Act 10353 was one of the historic triad of human rights bills passed by the 15th Congress.  The other two were the Marcos Compensation Bill and the Bill on the Rights of Internally Displaced People.  (Unfortunately, the last was vetoed by President Aquino on very specious grounds.) Continue reading “Restraining Leviathan”

Justice Elusive for Asia's Victims of Enforced Disappearances

Radio Free Asia: 02 September 2013

A European parliamentary delegation at a press conference in Bangkok on Lao activist Sombath Somphone's disappearance, Aug. 28, 2013.
A European parliamentary delegation at a press conference in Bangkok on Lao activist Sombath Somphone’s disappearance, Aug. 28, 2013.

Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama’s designated successor the Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, has been missing for nearly two decades.

In Thailand, Somchai Neelapaijit, the chairman of the Thai Muslim Lawyers Association, disappeared nine years ago while providing legal assistance to Muslims accused of involvement in violence against security forces in the country’s troubled south.

More recently, a prominent Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who has been critical of the government’s policies for the poor, vanished after being stopped at a police checkpoint.

In all three cases, governments are believed to be behind the disappearances.

Enforced disappearances—the detention of persons by the state, usually the military or police, followed by a refusal to reveal their fate or whereabouts—has become a major human rights concern in Asia. Continue reading “Justice Elusive for Asia's Victims of Enforced Disappearances”

EU against Vientiane's reticence over Sombath Somphone's disappearance

Asia News: 02 September 2013

Since 15 December, there have been no news about the 61-year-old Laotian activist. CCTV camera shows police officers stopping and taking him away in a pickup. The government denies this version of events, a claim a group of MEPs describes as “ridiculous lies.” Fears are growing about the fate of the 2005 Asian Nobel winner.

2706-LaosPrisonnierVientiane (AsiaNews/Agencies) – There is growing international pressure on the Laotian government, accused of involvement in the disappearance of 61-year-old Laotian activist Sombath Somphone, whose fate remains unknown since the evening of 15 December 2012.

A group of parliamentarians from the European Union has accused Laotian Communist leaders of telling “ridiculous lies” in relation to the issue. The case however has raised awareness about human rights violations in Laos, an isolated country that is rarely mentioned in world mainstream media, at a time when the authorities have tightened controls on media and on the activities of members of civil society.

Nearly nine months since his disappearance, nothing is known about Sombath Somphone’s fate. Despite their best efforts, human rights groups and three separate EU delegations have failed to get more out of Vientiane.

As in previous occasions, the latest attempt elicited a terse response from the Asian country’s Communist leaders who, after noting the lack of progress in finding him, simply turned down an offer for technical help in the search. Continue reading “EU against Vientiane's reticence over Sombath Somphone's disappearance”

Eight Months On, E.U. Lawmakers Talk Tough Over Disappeared Laos Activist

Protesters demand the return of Laotian activist Sombath Somphone in front of the Laotian embassy in Bangkok on Dec. 25, 2012

Time: 30 August 2013

The video is admittedly grainy, but what it shows is undeniable — well, at least to everyone except the Laotian government. Prominent Laotian civil-society leader Sombath Somphone was last seen on Dec. 15, 2012, driving in his jeep in the capital, Vientiane. CCTV footage (below) shows him being stopped at a police checkpoint and then driven away in a different vehicle while flanked by security personnel. Eight months on, European parliamentarians have accused the communist-run state of telling them “ridiculous lies” regarding the 62-year-old’s disappearance.

Though hopes for his welfare are rapidly fading, the cause of Sombath refuses to follow suit. An official European Parliament delegation is due to travel to Vientiane on Oct. 28, and his disappearance will likely remain at the top of the agenda after an advance party that visited this week found their inquiries fell on deaf ears. “The Laos regime is still in a state of denial,” Soren Bo Sondergaard, a Danish member of the European Parliament, told reporters on Wednesday, adding that he wants to “send a signal to the regime that this case will not go away.” Sombath’s wife was apparently told by the chief investigating officer last week that her husband’s case has officially been closed, only for that to be hastily countered by superiors when further accusations of complicity began to fly. Continue reading “Eight Months On, E.U. Lawmakers Talk Tough Over Disappeared Laos Activist”