On December 15, 2012, Laotian activist Sombath Somphone was abducted in the capital Vientiane. He has not been seen since. After leaving the then-communist country in the 1970s, he later returned and became an internationally acclaimed development worker. Despite his peaceful methods, he apparently made some enemies on the way. His wife Shui-Meng recalls the events of her husband’s disappearance.
More than six years after her husband’s disappearance at a Lao police checkpoint, the wife of rural development advocate Sombath Somphone says her search for answers to her husband’s fate has now reached a dead end.
“In talking about pushing the case forward, I have come to a real dead end,” Ng Shui Meng told RFA’s Lao Service, speaking in an interview during this year’s International Week of the Disappeared.
“I have heard from the EU ambassador, the U.K. ambassador, and other ambassadors of Western countries that when they raise the case of Sombath with the Lao government, they are told that they are still investigating,” Ng said.
Now, Lao authorities say they are also investigating unspecified “assets” reportedly held by Sombath, Ng said.
“But instead of talking to me to get any kind of answers about what assets Sombath has, they say they are investigating. And they are talking to the ambassadors based in Vientiane rather than talking to me,” she said.
“The police don’t talk to me. The Lao government and the authorities don’t talk to me,” Ng said.
Sombath Somphone disappeared on Dec. 15, 2012, when police stopped him in his vehicle at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Vientiane. He was then transferred to another vehicle, according to a police surveillance video, and has not been heard from since.
Before his abduction, Sombath had challenged massive land deals negotiated by the government that had left thousands of rural Lao villagers homeless with little paid in compensation. The deals sparked rare popular protests in Laos, where political speech is tightly controlled.
His decades of work on behalf of farmers and sustainable agricultural practices helped him win the U.N.’s Human Resource Development Award for empowering the rural poor in Laos, and later the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.
Though authorities have denied any responsibility, Sombath’s abduction is widely acknowledged to be an enforced disappearance—the arrest or detention of an individual by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the person or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty.
In a July 11-12 meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Committee held in Geneva, Switzerland, Lao government representatives evaded tough questioning in the case, drawing attention instead to what delegate Bounkeut Sangsomsak called previously unreported assets held by Sombath, including parcels of land and property in the Lao capital Vientiane worth from 1 to 2 million U.S. dollars.
“Where did all this money come from?” Bounkeut asked.
In a statement, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson said the Lao government is “still engaged in a systematic cover-up of their direct responsibility for the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone.”
“At every step of the way, powerful people in Vientiane have sought to frustrate the efforts of Sombath’s family, and by the international community, to find out what the government did to Sombath.”
“These authorities have also played games with Sombath’s property, denying official documents to the family that would allow them to take care of Sombath’s personal and financial arrangements,” Robertson added.
“The way Laos has treated this whole situation is despicable, and the Lao government deserves utter condemnation for their actions.”
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.
We may not be familiar with enforced disappearances in Singapore but in recent years, several disappearances of people in ASEAN countries has brought this subject to our attention.
Seven years ago, in December 2012 Sombath Somphone, disappeared in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. His Singaporean wife, Ng Shui Meng is still struggling to cope with his disappearance.
WHAT IS ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE?
The crime of enforced disappearance dates back to Nazi Germany when Adolf Hitler issued the Nacht und Nebel Erlass Decree (Night and Fog Decree) on 7 December 1941. Its aim was and still is to spread terror and insecurity in society. Victims were spirited away by State agents or groups/individuals who act on behalf of the State. They literally disappeared into “the night and fog”. Continue reading “Enforced Disappearance – Into the Night and Fog”
15th Anniversary of the Disappearance of Dr Somchai Neelapaijit
Statement of Solidarity by Shui Meng Ng (wife of Sombath Somphone, Lao PDR)
Bangkok, Thailand, 12 March 2019
Today at the 15thAnniversary of the Disappearance of Dr Somchai Neelapaijit, I stand in solidarity and in unity with Khun Angkhana Neelapijit and her family. I stand in solidarity with you, Khun Angkhana, for your relentless and untiring struggle with the Thai court systems to get truth and justice for Somchai. I also stand in unity with your pain; a pain that no wife, or daughter or son, should ever have to bear to have their loved one torn away from them in such an ignoble manner. I also stand in unity with your anger against the impunity of the system of injustice that despite the evidence that was repeatedly presented, your case was dismissed based on legal loopholes designed to protect the guilty and deny justice to the victim.
As the wife of another victim of Enforced Disappearance, Sombath Somphone, of Laos, I understand what you and your family have gone through these past 15 years, for I too have to bear the same pain and indignity as you.
However, Khun Angkhana, despite all the pain and suffering you have borne over the last 15 years, you have shown the Thai people, that you will never give up. You have over the last 15 years become a symbol of the struggle against the injustice of Enforced Disappearance, and you have become the voice for other victims of Enforced Disappearances. Not only have you extended your hand of support to Thai victims, but you have also extended your hand to me.
When Sombath Somphone disappeared on 15 December 2012, nearly 7 years ago, you reached out to me when I was in the depths of my despair and helplessness; not knowing what to do, where to turn, or even to understand what was happening, and why. You extended your hand to me and you gave me comfort – just by sitting with me and holding my hands. I think nobody can really understand what that means unless you are also a victim of such a heinous crime.
When I look around me and see the other family members of Enforced Disappearance, I am once more enraged by the lack of justice for the victims and families of Enforced Disappearance. I am angry that state impunity against such crimes can continue unabated in our countries in such a callous manner. We ordinary citizens expect our governments and institutions to protect us, not act against us. And yet we are made to feel that we are the “criminals”, or our disappeared loved ones are on the wrong side of the law.
Let’s see what our disappeared loved ones have done, and what laws have they broken? Who is Somchai Neelapaijit? Who is Sombath Somphone? Who is Billy and the others here today?
Somchai Neelapaijit is a well-known muslim lawyer and human rights defender; he was defending the legal rights of the muslims in Southern Thailand, and he was actively advocating the Thai state agencies to end torture when he was disappeared.
Sombath Somphone is a respected community development worker and a vocal advocate for environmental protection, and land rights for the poor in Laos.
And Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, is a prominent Karen rights activist, fighting for the rights of the Karen minority to have access and protection of their ancestral forestlands and resources.
So are people like Somchi, Sombath, and Billy criminals? Or are they just people with a social conscience standing up for and defending the rights of those who have no voice in their own communities?
That is the crime of injustice of Enforced Disappearance, and that is why we the family members of the Disappeared must continue to speak up, to get truth and justice for our loved ones as well as for all other victims of Enforced Disppearances in our own countries and beyond.
Today we are here to remind everyone it has been 15 years since Somchai Neelapaijit has been disappeared, and it has been 15 years that Khun Ankhana Neelapaijit has been fighting for truth and justice for him. It is time to give truth and justice to Somchai Neelapaijit; and it is time to give closure to Khun Angkhana and her family.
We urge you all here today to stand with us the victims; don’t stand with the perpetrators. Help bring our loved ones back to our families”
Today, February 14, is Valentine’s Day – a day to remind those who are dearest to us that they are loved and are precious.
Sombath, I know you never paid too much attention to Valentine’s Day because it is really not part of Lao’s cultural practice to celebrate the day. I once teased you into buying me some flowers for Valentine’s Day, and you did that just to please me. But you said, isn’t is better to grow flowers in the garden, take care of them and then we will have flowers all year round, rather than just flowers for Valentine’s Day! That’s you – always so practical, but also always thinking of what is truly important and valuable. And indeed, that’s what you did in the garden – you always made sure we have flowers, fruits, and vegetables grown in the garden all year round. Yes, you made sure that everyday we are surrounded by true love and not just a symbolic one.
And because you are so special, you are still remembered by the people who know and love you. Today a friend brought me a special gift for you and I. She brought me a Bodhi leaf from Sri-Lanka that was grown from a branch of the original Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha sat and meditated when he became enlightened. Isn’t this the most befitting gift of love anyone could give to you and I on this day? When I look at that beautiful Bodhi leaf, it radiates the true nature of love and compassion. For me the Bodhi leaf is also a sign from you sending your love and reassuring me that you are fine.
So my love, with that assurance, I too am sending you a special message of love today. And not only today, but as with everyday since you were disappeared more than 6 years ago, I will continue to send you my prayers and love and best wishes for your good health, well-being and happiness – knowing that no matter where you are, you will spread love, kindness and wisdom to all around you.
Six years after his disappearance at a Lao police checkpoint, the wife of rural development activist Sombath Somphone called again on the Lao government to account for his fate, saying she has been kept in the dark despite government promises to investigate his case.
“I am very sad that after six long years, I still have no news about Sombath,” Ng Shui Meng, a resident of Singapore, told RFA’s Lao Service in a phone call on Dec. 12.
BANGKOK: The wife of a prominent Laos activist who vanished after being stopped at a checkpoint on the streets of Vientiane said Wednesday (Dec 12) she “can’t move on” as the mystery over his fate remains unsolved almost six years later.
The disappearance of Sombath Somphone, an award-winning environmental campaigner, drew rare international attention to the poor rights record of Laos, an authoritarian one-party state where activists work under state scrutiny.
Sombath was last seen on the night of Dec 15, 2012, with CCTV cameras capturing the moment when police pulled him over at a checkpoint in the Laos capital. He was shown entering a separate truck with two other men and driven off.
The unsolved case of disappeared Laotian development worker Sombath Somphone is brought to light in a documentary that is screening at this year’s FreedomFilmFest in Malaysia
Sombath Somphone was an internationally renowned development worker who disappeared nearly six years ago on the streets of Vientiane, Laos. CCTV footage suggests that the police snatched him. The case is still unsolved and the Lao police and government have continued to maintain their innocence in the matter.
The 2017 documentary film The Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone, directed by Rann Penn, will be screened at this year’s FreedomFilmFest, taking place in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.
Separated by a generation, Jonas Burgos was abducted at 37 years old, Sombath Somphone a few months before turning 56
Filipino human rights activists call on the Lao government to surface Sombath Somphone, who went missing in Vientiane, Laos, in 2012. (Photo by Joe Torres/ucanews.com)
When we were invited to Europe to seek support for our search for my missing son, Jonas Burgos, my other son, who accompanied me, and I were greeted with welcome posters of Jonas with the caption “Jonas is mijn broer,” “Jonas ist mein Bruder,” “Jonas is my brother.”
The impact was such that now we have our own posters reading “Jonas is my brother.”
A few years back, I met Shui Meng Ng, a Singaporean whose husband, Sombath Somphone, is a victim of enforced disappearance. For three days, I learned about Sombath.