Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (21)

Closure of PADETC

My dearest Sombath,

Today I write to tell you that PADETC, the organization you started since 1996, is officially deregistered.  It has been a difficult decision for me to request to deregister PADETC, an organization you had worked so hard to establish and lead for so many years.

However, over the past 7 years since you disappeared, the authorities have denied renewal of PADETC’s license of operation.  In fact some people in government do not even want to hear the name of PADETC mentioned.  For this reason, most of the PADETC staff have left the organization.

Even though the passing of PADETC is sad, I am sure you would support my decision to deregister the organization.  I remember you telling me back in 2008, that you had to prepare for PADETC to evolve to meet the changing times.

In 2008, you had already started to pave the way for PADETC to devolve from being just a development/training organization dependent on external donor funds to become self-sustaining independent entities.  To prepare for this process, you had started mentoring and coaching your staff, based on their capacities and interests, to branch out and develop their own operation units that would be initially affiliated with PADETC, but over time these would become their own independent organizations or enterprises.  PADETC itself would downsize and be transformed into a small mentoring and coaching center, and would eventually be dissolved.

So between 2009 to 2012, some of your more enterprising staff were already running their own affiliated units, providing consultancy services in the following areas: media training and audio/visual production; community forestry management; community services; organic farming training and operations; finance and management operations; and small business enterprises.

Your enforced disappearance in December 2012, fast-forwarded your plans of pushing his staff out to the real world and establish their own organizations.

Over time most of your staff have left PADETC, some for fear of being associated with you, but a number went off to establish their own organizations, with many continuing to use your development concepts of sustainable development and guiding principles in their own work.

So, my dearest Sombath, despite your disappearance, and despite you not being here to guide and mentor many of the young people and younger staff you have trained, your vision and mission have continued and your concepts on sustainable development have spread far and wide.

As you so often said to me, “everything changes, the only unchangeable thing is change itself”. Once more your foresight has proven correct.

I am sure, wherever you are, you will also be relieved and pleased to know that despite the fact that PADETC is no more, your ideas and your vision of PADETC have lived on in many different forms.  Like a strong steady tree, its seeds have spread far and wide.

Be strong and be happy, my love

Shui Meng

Dear Sombath….from Shui Meng (20)

Reflections on what it means to be Locked Down

Dearest Sombath,

I don’t know whether you know that the whole world is now facing a serious pandemic caused by a coronavirus named COVID-19.  It’s a Sars-like virus, but appears to be much more contagious, and has so far infected more than a million people world-wide and caused more than 50,000 deaths.

So to slow the spread to the virus, many countries across the globe have declared a lockdown, meaning that people should stay at home and not go anywhere unless really necessary.

In Laos, the Prime Minister announced a lockdown from 01 -19 April. All schools, offices and businesses are closed with people asked to work from home.  Pimai celebrations, parties, and gatherings involving large numbers of people are also forbidden.

So, over the last few days, I, like most residents in Vientiane, have stayed at home. Just 3 days into the lockdown, I begin to feel uneasy, with a sense that the house is like a prison.  Yes, I can walk around in the garden, read, listen to music, watch TV, do everything I can normally do in the house, except go out.

Today, my thoughts suddenly wondered to you – thinking to myself, what it would have been for you these last eight years living a locked down (or more likely locked-up) existence somewhere.  I asked myself, what is your situation – are you kept in isolation in a small room, or are you allowed some freedom of movement.  How are you keeping yourself physically and mentally busy? Are you able to keep healthy; what kinds of food do you have; do you have access to reading and writing material; and how are you keeping mentally alert?

In the past I have also often thought about such things, and even though I know it would be very difficult for you, I could never quite understand how bad or terrible it could be.  But now when my own freedom of movement has been somewhat restricted, the full force of what your deprivation of freedom actually meant, and the toll it would take on your physical and mental wellbeing came to me more vividly than ever.  It hit me in the gut like nothing has ever hit me before, leaving me gasping for air.

My love, I can only hope that you, who I know is strong of mind and of spirit, would be able to draw on your inner strength to sustain you.  I can also only hope and pray that the injustice you were made to suffer will quickly be righted, your freedom restored, and you will come home to us soon.

My dearest, I also hope that wherever you are, you will not be expose to the COVID-19 virus.  I can only hope and pray for the best for you and for those people you are with. May you be well, may you be healthy. and may you be happy.

Praying for you as always.

Shui Meng

Dear Sombath….from Shui Meng (19)

My dearest Sombath

Today is Valentine’s Day. Lots of people are showing their love by sending red roses and candies to their loved ones.

I recalled one Valentine Day many years ago, I asked you why I did not get any roses from you. You smiled and said “Why would I just give you roses on one day to show my love for you.  Don’t you see, I have planted ‘Star Flowers” for you and when it blooms you will see a constellation of stars like my love for you”.

Today, the Star Flowers you planted are again blooming, and it made me reflect once more on your wisdom and on what really counts.  For you whatever you do, you do with intention which is never shallow or just to please.  Very often in the past, I had wished your were not so bloody pragmatic and practical, but now that you are not here with me, I understand that all you did for me, for our family, and for others, you did them with thoughtful intention and loving kindness. Continue reading “Dear Sombath….from Shui Meng (19)”

Still No Progress on Seventh Anniversary of Sombath Somphone’s Disappearance

Radio Free Asia: 17 December 2019

Ng Shui Meng, wife of Sombath Somphone, who has been missing for seven years in what is widely believed to be an enforced disappearance, attends a press conference on Dec. 17, 2019. RFA

The wife of a missing Lao activist told a gathering to mark seven years since his disappearance that she has not heard any information from Lao authorities about his case in more than two years and believes they “stopped searching long ago.”

Sombath Somphone, who disappeared on Dec. 15, 2012—exactly seven years ago Sunday—when police stopped him in his vehicle at a checkpoint on the outskirts of the capital Vientiane.

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. Continue reading “Still No Progress on Seventh Anniversary of Sombath Somphone’s Disappearance”

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (18)

My dearest Sombath

Today is 15 December 2019.  It’s already 7 years today that you were so ruthlessly taken away from me, your family, and friends.  Who could have imaged that 7 years have gone by and there is still a wall of silence surrounding what happened to you.  However, with each passing day, the silence from those who took you speaks louder than words, and shows clearly their guilt and lack of ability to admit the truth of the injustice done to you.

Never the less, my dearest Sombath, the passing of time does not mean that you are forgotten.  In the days leading up to your 7th anniversary, I have received so many messages from friends, colleagues, and even people who have never met you, to express their solidarity, love and blessing for you, wishing you strength, good health and your safe return to us.

To mark your 7th anniversary, we held a prayer and blessing ceremony for you at Wat Na Khoun Noi Forest temple – the temple that you have had such a long and close affiliation with, and have helped initiate the Buddhist Development Program to train monks, nuns and novices to use the Buddhist teachings as the basis for development of the self, and their families and communities. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (18)”

Wife, Rights Organizations Remember Missing Lao Activist on International Day of the Disappeared

Radio Free Asia: 30 August 2019

Artwork displayed at an event in Bangkok, Thailand to commemorate the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on August 30, 2019.

Sombath Somphone, a Lao activist who has been missing for seven years amid stonewalling by his country’s communist government, was commemorated in Bangkok on Friday, the International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

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.

Continue reading “Wife, Rights Organizations Remember Missing Lao Activist on International Day of the Disappeared”

WorldLink: The disappearance of Sombath Somphone

Deutsche Welle:  28 June 2019


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.

(Link for audio interview)

Search For Husband Now at a ‘Dead End’

Radio Free Asia: 28 May 2019

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.

Forced disappearance

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.

Tough questioning

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.

Enforced Disappearance – Into the Night and Fog

Function 8

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”

Statement of Solidarity

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”