Regrettably, an opportunity to advance human rights in Laos has instead resulted in yet another aid project.
Indications leading up to the latest Lao-Australia Human Dialogue were encouraging. In the 2015 Universal Periodic Review, Australia filed four recommendations to Laos on the death penalty, the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, internet restrictions, and constraints on civil society in Laos. Following the HR dialogue in Canberra that same year, Richard Andrews, the First Assistant Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) promised continued pressure on these same issues.
More recently, consultations were held with various groups in Vientiane, including INGOs and NPAs. Detailed submissions were made by Human Rights Watch, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, and others. The Australian Embassy in Laos also encouraged others to submit additional inputs.
The government delegation from Australia included high-level officials, two of whom met with Ng Shui Meng, spouse of Sombath Somphone, who requested they ask for further information about Sombath’s whereabouts and the investigation into his disappearance, which the Lao government claims is continuing, even though it has given no updates in over four years. (more…)
Somchai Neelapaijit’s enforced disappearance remains a disheartening reality that we continue to remember. The Sombath Initiative is honored to commemorate his noble efforts in defending the rights of the victims of human rights violations. His endeavors, which challenged the interests and official power of the perpetrators of those violations, in turn made him the victim of human rights violations. His enforced disappearance was done to intimidate and induce fear in people and in the human rights community in particular. His disappearance should not be seen as a loss; neither has it happened in vain. His sacrifice has inspired and continues to inspire us and the wider public to build on and live up to his legacy, especially in eradicating enforced disappearance and in the struggle for genuine freedom and justice amidst the socially and structurally-entrenched widespread human rights violations and culture of impunity that continue to persist.
The Sombath Initiative reaffirms our solidarity with the Neelapaijit family and all the victims of enforced disappearance and their families. We proclaim our commitment to end this heinous crime against humanity and all forms of human rights violations. Our struggles shall endure until justice for the missing loved ones is served and human rights of all people are respected and protected.
Historically, the Lao PDR is a country of remarkable ethnic, linguistic and geographic diversity. Until recently, most communities, particularly in rural areas, were largely self- sustaining and locally-governed. A strong, traditional civil society still exists.
Substantially supported through development aid, state-building is quickly replacing these traditional codes and customs. Most often, local populations have less understanding of, and reduced access to the newer, more centralised laws and mechanisms.
Mass organisations, including the National Front for Reconstruction, the Federation of Trade Unions, and the Women’s and Youth Unions, are often portrayed by the Lao government as civil society organisations, although they exist primarily to represent the state to the population. Non-Profit Associations (NPAs) are seen in a similar vein, as mechanisms to extend governmental agenda, policies and programmes.