Vanished: Laotian development worker still missing after more than a year

The Guardian: 11 March 2014

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Watch the interview with Sombath’s wife at the Guardian website

Sombath Somphone, a Laotian development worker, was last seen on 15 December, 2012, being bundled into a car at a police checkpoint in Vientiane. He has not been heard from since.

Global campaigns, family pleas and government investigations have found no hint of why Somphone disappeared. Advocacy groups believe he was the victim of an enforced disappearance – that he was detained by the government or government agents, who then deny the action and keep the detainee hidden.

Somphone’s position as a civil society leader working in the field of agricultural development has been raised as a possible factor in his disappearance, but his wife, Singaporean national and former Unicef worker Shui Meng Ng, dismisses any suggestion he worked against the government.

Shui Meng has recently completed a speaking tour of Australian universities trying to dispel inaccuracies which she told Guardian Australia may be endangering Somphone – if he is still being held somewhere.

“There were allegations about him taking a very prominent opposition position to the development agenda of the Laos government,” she told Guardian Australia.

“There were also some allegations that Sombath is not even Laotian, that he’s actually carrying an American passport. I felt it was important to make public and correct many of those misinformations about Sombath, who he is, as well as the type of work he’s doing and his vision for Laos.” Continue reading “Vanished: Laotian development worker still missing after more than a year”

Missing Lao activist's wife speaks out, appeals for information

Radio Australia: (07 March 2014)

The wife of abducted Lao rights advocate Sombath Somphone has called on Australia to help maintain the pressure on Laos to do more to resolve the case.

Since Mr Sombath disappeared 15 months ago, Ng Shui Meng has campaigned tirelessly to find out what happened.

Her husband’s disappearance from a police post in central Vientiane generated an international outcry by donor governments, rights groups and NGOs for his safe return.

The Lao government says it is continujng to pursue the case, but little progress has been reported.

Ng Shui Meng has also appealed for anyone in Laos with information to come forward.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Ng Shui Meng, wife of Sombath Somphone, retired academic and former UNICEF representative to East Timor

NG: The reason why I’ve accepted to speak on Sombath is that over the last 15 months, there were a lot of reports on Sombath, some of them were not very accurate in depicting the kind of person he is or the kind of work he has done. So I want to put right what Sombath’s work is and the kind of person he is basically to clarify things to the public out there. As to going back to Laos, I have not done anything wrong and assume the government would understand that my speaking about Sombath’s disappearance is basically about a fact. He has disappeared, the government has acknowledged that he has disappeared and the government has also promised to conduct an investigation around his disappearance and to try and find him. Continue reading “Missing Lao activist's wife speaks out, appeals for information”

Disappeared Lao Civil Society Leader’s Mother ‘Still Waiting for Him to Return'

Radio Free Asia: 27 February 2014

Ng Shui Meng at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in Bangkok, Dec. 11, 2023. RFA
Ng Shui Meng at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in Bangkok, Dec. 11, 2023. RFA

A year and two months since prominent Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone went missing in Vientiane, his family is still puzzled over why he disappeared and his ailing mother is still waiting for him to come home, his wife said Thursday.

“His mother is now 86 years old and ill,” Sombath’s wife Ng Shui Meng told RFA’s Lao Service Wednesday in Australia, where she spoke to students at the University of Sydney about his case.

“She is crying and waiting for her son return,” she said.

“I am asking Lao government and whoever is merciful to bring him home safely; that is my hope.”

The 61-year-old NGO leader has been missing since Dec. 15, 2012, when he was stopped in his vehicle at a police checkpoint in Vientiane. He was then transferred into another vehicle, according to police surveillance video, and no one has seen him since.

Lao officials say they are investigating the case but have offered little information on his whereabouts, prompting human rights groups to suspect that he may have been abducted by government-linked groups. Continue reading “Disappeared Lao Civil Society Leader’s Mother ‘Still Waiting for Him to Return'”

Silence over missing activist in Laos

Asia Times: 12 February 2014

By Shui Meng Ng

Thirteen months after the forced disappearance of civil society activist Sombath Somphone, the European Parliament issued a second resolution calling on the Lao government to “clarify the state of the investigation”, “to answer the many outstanding questions around [his] disappearance”, and “to seek and accept assistance from foreign forensic and law enforcement experts”.

The European Parliament reiterated its concern that ”the lack of reaction by the Lao government raises suspicions that the authorities could be involved in his abduction”. This second resolution was preceded by countless other private and public appeals from governments and their representatives around world.

Statements from international organizations, development agencies, civil society groups, and academics have also urged Lao authorities to find Sombath and return him safely to his family. Scores of reports and editorials by major international and regional news networks have added to the global chorus calling for accountability.

These myriad efforts, however, have so far failed to yield results. There is still no information of Sombath’s whereabouts, or any substantive details on the progress of the official investigation into his disappearance. Continue reading “Silence over missing activist in Laos”

Enlèvement de Sombath Somphone: Vientiane reste muet

Le Temps: 31 Janvier 2014

Shui Meng Ng

Epouse d’un militant des droits de l’homme disparu il y a un an, Shui Meng Ng appelle le régime à faire preuve de bonne volonté

Treize mois après la disparition forcée de Sombath Somphone, le 15 décembre 2012, le Parlement européen a voté une seconde résolution appelant le gouvernement laotien à «clarifier les progrès de l’enquête sur le lieu où se trouve Sombath Somphone pour répondre aux nombreuses questions autour de sa disparition, et à requérir et accepter l’assistance des experts étrangers dans le domaine de la médecine légale et de l’enquête policière». L’UE a réitéré que le «manque de réaction de la part du gouvernement laotien suscitait des soupçons de ce que les autorités pourraient être impliquées dans son enlèvement».

Cette seconde résolution de l’UE a été précédée par d’innombrables appels privés et publics des gouvernements et de leurs représentants dans la région et à travers la planète, ainsi que de communiqués d’organisations internationales, d’organisations pour le développement, de groupements de la société civile et d’universitaires pressant les autorités laotiennes de s’efforcer de retrouver Sombath et le rendre sain et sauf à sa famille. Il y a eu aussi nombre d’articles et d’éditoriaux dans les médias régionaux et internationaux sur le cas de Sombath.

Mais au jour d’aujourd’hui, cette myriade d’efforts n’a abouti à aucun résultat. Il n’y a encore aucune information sur le lieu où se trouve Sombath ni aucun détail substantiel sur les progrès de l’enquête. Continue reading “Enlèvement de Sombath Somphone: Vientiane reste muet”

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (1)

My dearest Sombath,

Late last week, the European Parliament issued another resolution calling on the Lao Government to “clarify the state of the investigation into the whereabouts of Sombath Somphone, to answer the many outstanding questions around Sombath’s disappearance, and to seek and accept assistance from foreign forensic and law enforcement experts’’. The EU reiterated that ‘’the lack of reaction by the Lao Government raises suspicions that the authorities could be involved in his abduction’’.

Although I am very grateful for the continued international pressure, I have to tell you that I cannot help but feel the Lao authorities will just shrug this latest EU resolution aside, as they have done with all the other statements of concern and appeals from around the world. The Lao Government can continue to do nothing because there have been few concrete consequences to their inaction, except for some bad press in the international arena. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (1)”

Dear Sombath…from Somchit

Dear uncle,

One year you are not home… Auntie couldn’t sleep for many months. She spend most of her time working and meeting people asking for help and ways to search for you and to bring you back. She’s so worry about you, especially in cold weather like this. How will you live? Will have blanket and warm clothes?

I still remember that, after you came back from you mediation trip during last year, a nun told you have to pray for aunty 400 times. For what reason you don’t know, but you said you did start doing it from that time.. I do hope that you are still doing that, even it’s already 400 times praying, please keep praying… She feels it.

Grandmother, went sick because of her old age. Auntie really want to visit her but it’s too tough for her and she afraid that grandma will be worst. Till now, she has no idea what happened to you. This time of last year she waited for you because you said you will visit her. She asked for you but we all have to lied that you are working abroad and couldn’t come to visit her, no matter what happened to her. We told her that you called and said that you miss her.

Now a day, grandma has loss much of her memory, she couldn’t sit or walk, she never mention about you, but she cries and yell with pain when she sees me. She said she has no pain for her body, nothing. I think she’s still waiting for you.. please pray for her too.

Yesterday, it’s one year anniversary that you are away. Friends from around the world are thinking about you and doing as much as they can to ask for your safety return. You are in their heart, always.

PADETC did amazing work, that they organise a fair to inspire people about the work you have done to your own people and country, and the people you’ve touched. More than 200 people joined. We did a big pray for you. Many people wrote to you, on the inspiration tree, hope you could come back and read it. I did wrote on the tree, as well as Koung and Mui.

I know you miss all of us, wherever you are. We miss you too. Please be strong, as you always be. I do believe that one day you will come back home again. I will do my best as what you and auntie taught me.


Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (0)

My dearest Sombath,

A year ago on Saturday, December 15, it began as a normal day for us. Who would have thought that before the end of that day, it would be the beginning of a nightmare for both of us – a nightmare that even today, after 365 days, I still wish I could wake up from. I do not even dare think what those 365 days were like for you. I can only hope that you are still safe, and that those who have taken you will not harm you, and treat you with kindness and compassion. I can only hope that your gentle and humble “Buddha nature” will touch the hearts of the people around you, and they will in their hearts know the injustice done to you.

Dearest Sombath, I just want you to know that your plight has not been forgotten. You are in the minds and hearts of all your friends and family, as well as among the colleagues from the civil society networks across the region and beyond.

In particular, the youth groups in the region have been most active since your disappearance. They have carried out many activities to demonstrate their concern for your safety and urged for your return. This activity carried out today and organized by people who respect and love you, is once more to tell the world that you are not forgotten, and they will continue to do everything they can until you are surfaced.

Sombath, you may be somewhat comforted to know that apart from the development networks and partners, many international Human Rights groups, like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Forum Asia, AFAD, FIDH and so on, have also mounted a campaign against this violation of your rights. In addition, many governments around the world and a number of prominent leaders, including Catherine Ashton of the EU, Hilary Clinton and John Kerry of the US, and also Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, have taken up your case with the Lao leaders. They have urged the Lao Government to quickly find you and bring you home. Your leaders, including President Choumaly Sayasone, have promised to conduct serious investigation and find the perpetrators who took you. I can only hope that their promise is true, even though it has now been a year, and there is still no information whatsoever on your whereabouts or your situation.

Sombath, your absence has left such a big void in my life, and the ache does not go away. The only thing that keeps me going is to hang on to the hope that you are still safe, and that you will come home. Sombath, wherever you are, you too must stay strong and have courage and faith that not too long in the near future, you will be reunited with us.

I can solemnly promise you, Sombath, that I will not rest, no matter how hard and how long it would take, I will leave no stone unturned until I get you back.

Stay strong, my love.  Shui Meng