International donors must press government on human rights issues

FIDH_pinar_selekInternational Federation for Human Rights/Lao Movement for Human Rights (13 November 2014)

Paris, 14 November 2014: International donors should make their future aid commitments to Laos contingent upon the government’s tangible progress in addressing key human rights issues, FIDH and its member organization, the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR), said in a letter to foreign embassies and major aid agencies in Vientiane on 13 November.

LMHR-LogoOn 14 November, Lao government officials and international donors gather in Vientiane for the 2014 Round Table Implementation Meeting. The event is designed for participants to review implementation of the country’s 7th National Socio-Economic Development Plan (2011-2015) as well as other issues discussed during the 11th High-Level Round Table Meeting in November 2013. Today’s meeting also provides an opportunity for the Lao government and international donors to share information and ideas regarding development policies and strategies.

In recent years, official development assistance (ODA) to Laos has steadily increased. ODA rose by 23% from US$630 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year to US$777 million in 2012-13. Regrettably, the commitment shown by foreign donors to improving the lives of the Lao people has not been matched by a similar willingness by the Lao government to promote and protect its people’s fundamental rights, FIDH and LMHR said in the letter.

“In Laos, a foreign aid bonanza has not translated into greater respect for human rights. The time has finally come for international donors to use their leverage and push the government to live up to its human rights commitments and obligations,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. Continue reading “International donors must press government on human rights issues”

Will donors demand accountability?

With regard to the disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone, The Government of Lao PDR has concerns more than any nation. The Government has investigated and exchanged information with his family and ASEAN nations to find the person. Indeed, the Government of Lao PDR will continue the investigation process in accordance with its legal procedures and bring those involved into the justice.

Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from Report of the 11th High Level Round Table Meeting, held 19-21 November 2013.

  • Logo-Speak OutGovernments, agencies and organisations from across the globe continue to call for a more serious investigation, but no one has expressed satisfaction with efforts to date. No one.
  • No meaningful information has been provided to Sombath’s family. None.
  • There has been no indication of any investigation for well over one year. None.

Will donors continue to support this status quo, or demand accountability?

Sombath and Foreign Aid

Sombath-magsaysay-smallFor a country that relies on foreign assistance for roughly 70% of its budget, the agronomist’s disappearance—and the government’s subsequent unwillingness to forthrightly address it—has become a major headache. Few in Laos have built bridges between the foreign and local development communities as effectively as Sombath Somphone.

Murray Heibert, in “Is Laos Losing Its Way?” The Wall Street Journal, 08 January 2013.

But will Sombath’s disappearance and other human rights issues be addressed at the upcoming Round Table Implementation Meeting to be held on 14 November 2014?

Human rights and donor aid…

It is unlikely any single event could attract more international scrutiny of Laos’ appalling human rights record than the Sombath Somphone case did in late 2012 and 2013. Yet, the ritual announcements of donor aid have continued, including a recent top-up of US$3.9 million from the US, EU, UNDP and France for the Legal Sector Master Plan and its goal of instituting a rule of law state in Laos by 2020. In this game, Lao leaders uphold their side of the bargain by maintaining the government’s commitment to goals negotiated as part of the annual Round Table Process between the government and donors, such as pursuing “off­track areas of the MDGs” and strengthening the rule of law. As long as egregious incidents like Sombath’s enforced disappearance fail to impact upon this bargain, such commitments will continue to operate as mechanisms of governance that reinforce the status quo, rather than as principles guiding better governance.

Simon Creak, in “Laos in 2013: International Controversies, Economic Concerns and the Post-socialist Rhetoric of Rule,” Southeast Asian Affairs, 2014

EU Statement for Round Table

Screen Shot 2013-02-01 at 22.53.08 PMEuropean partners regard the unexplained disappearance of Mr Sombath Somphone as a very serious matter. We express our grave concern regarding his safety and wellbeing. European partners regard the statements made by the Government of Lao PDR on this case as neither sufficient nor convincing. We call on the Government of Lao PDR to conduct a comprehensive and transparent investigation of this case…

From European Development Partners Statement at Lao PDR’s Round Table Meeting. 19 November 2013