On 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.
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.
For 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.
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.
….the abduction of Sombath Somphone nearly a year ago and the lack of progress in the investigation have sent the wrong message to the international diplomatic and business communities about Laos. Transparency and credible progress in the investigation would send the message that Laos is serious about the rule of law.
European 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…