ASEAN in Laos: Challenges of Leadership, Human Rights and Democracy

ASEAN logo 2016Press conference at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand

11am, Wednesday 31 August, 2016, Bangkok 

At a time when ASEAN is witnessing an alarming increase in human rights abuses, restrictions on civil liberties, and a shrinking of democratic space in a number of its member states, what kind of example does this year’s ASEAN Chair, Laos, set for the regional bloc?

The enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone in December 2012, ongoing arbitrary detentions, and extremely tight controls on the media and civil society have instilled an environment of fear, silence, and repression in Laos. Little news about the serious human rights abuses occurring in the country ever comes out in the media, allowing the continued violation of basic liberties.

Despite this repressive environment, foreign aid and investment continue to flow into Laos. Continue reading “ASEAN in Laos: Challenges of Leadership, Human Rights and Democracy”

An open letter to the 2016 Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)

AEPF-2016-06On the occasion of the eleventh Asia-Europe People’s Forum in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, we are reminded of the ninth AEPF held in Vientiane, the capital of the Lao PDR, in 2012.

As the first international civil society forum held in the country, and building on widespread public consultations in every province, AEPF9 was hailed as a milestone for Lao civil society.

But there have been no more such events in the Lao PDR in the subsequent four years.

Soon after AEPF9, Sombath Somphone, the forum’s co-chairperson, was following up on intimidation of participants by authorities both during and after the forum. On December 15, he was stopped at a police check post and then taken away in full view of CCTV cameras.
Continue reading “An open letter to the 2016 Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)”

Shui-Meng’s remarks at AEPF11

Remarks by Ng Shui-Meng, read at the opening of the Asian-Europe People’s forum in Ulaanbataar:


Greetings to all participants gathered together at this 11th AEPF in Ulaan Baatar. Once more representatives from civil society groups across Asia and Europe are gathered together for another Asia-Europe People’s Forum. Two years ago I was in Milan at the 10th AEPF recalling Sombath Somphone’s role and engagement in the 9th AEPF in Vientiane and his optimism and vision of seeing civil society groups, working alongside governments and businesses to support the fostering of more inclusive and sustainable societies across Asia and Europe, and especially for Laos. Unfortunately, Sombath’s aspirations and expectations of a safe and inclusive space for civil society engagement and debate were misplaced.  Two months after the 9th AEPF Sombath was disappeared right in front of a police post in Vientiane, with his abduction clearly recorded by the Lao police surveillance camera.

AEPF11-LogoNow, nearly four years later, Sombath is still missing. His abduction has been acknowledged world-wide as an “Enforced Disappearance”, and his case remains open at the UN Working Group for Enforced Disappearances, as well as at the UN Universal Periodic Review. To all the questions and calls for accountability of Sombath’s abduction, the Lao Government has stubbornly maintained the position that the state is not involved, and the police are still investigating.  Continue reading “Shui-Meng’s remarks at AEPF11”

Humanity and Nature: Traditional, Cultural & Alternative Perspectives

Humanity & Nature Publication CoverAn economy is often defined as “the wealth and resources of a country or region”. Few would contest that the greatest wealth and most fundamental resource for humanity is the earth on which we live; yet most do not see our environment as an economy in itself.  Conversely, nearly all contemporary economic and development models see the natural economy as a resource to be exploited (or at best managed) to serve the needs of the monetized economy.

While this perspective is certainly predominant, it is neither intrinsic nor universal. It is also increasingly proving to be unsustainable.

Focus on the Global South and The Sombath Initiative, in cooperation with the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, held the Sombath Symposium on February 15-17, 2016, to present and discuss knowledge and practice drawn from different cultures and traditions that can serve as an alternative foundation to the predominant growth-driven development model.

This publication, “Humanity and Nature: Traditional, Cultural and Alternative Perspectives”, compiles essays discussing these perspectives, as well as syntheses of the different parts of the symposium.  The Sombath Initiative and Focus on the Global South hope that this publication will serve as resource material, as well as a guide document for the ongoing and future work on alternative perspectives on humanity’s relationship with nature.

A short video of the symposium and videos of each presentation are available to view at The Sombath Initiative YouTube channel.

For more information about The Sombath Initiative and Sombath Somphone, please visit

Humanity & Nature: Traditional, Cultural & Alternative Perspectives

Sombath Symposium-2016-02Public Forum

February 17, 2016, 9.30 am–12.30 pm

Ruan Chula Narumit, Chulalongkorn University

This public forum will share the key lessons and conclusions from the Sombath Symposium, a three day event which aims to exchange and explore various traditional, cultural and alternative perspectives on how humans value and interact with nature.

Participants of symposium will come from Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, The Philippines, Indonesia, and India, and represent a wide range of ethnic, cultural, religious and vocational backgrounds and perspectives.

The forum will also be joined by local community and activists from Thailand to contribute to the discussion on their struggles to protect the nature and livelihood.

Organised by Focus on the Global South and the Sombath Initiative, in cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation

English-Thai-English translation will be provided

Lunch will be served at 12:30 at SASA International House

For more information about this event and to confirm attendance please contact Hamdee Tohming at [email protected] or 089-004-4117.

Accidental Heroine

Bangkok Post: 05 January 2016

Angkhana-2016Not prepared to play the victim even after the recent ruling on the disappearance of her lawyer husband, Angkhana Neelapaijit is dedicating her life to helping others who suffer abuse of rights…

Angkhana was known in security quarters as a daring, stubborn and outspoken widow who has always reminded the world about Thailand’s chronic impunity. She strongly supported the wife of the missing Karen land rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen on her quest for justice. Angkhana is also a key member of The Sombath Initiative that is looking into the disappearance of Laos’ senior community development figure Sombath Somphone.

Lao activist case moving slowly

Bangkok Post: 15 December 2015

The enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a Lao activist who disappeared in December 2012, will be probed until there is an answer, a forum was told.

“We will never stop asking questions about the enforced disappearance of Sombath,” according to his wife, friends, and colleagues despite continued rebuttals by the Lao government which will assume the Asean chairmanship in the next two weeks.

Angkhana Neelapaijit, a National Human Rights Commissioner, read a message from Shui-Meng, Mr Sombath’s wife, at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok Monday on the eve of the third anniversary of his disappearance.

“The pain and burden have continued, not lessened with time. Nothing can take the pain away … but I’m exhausted by the search for an answer as the state refuses to come clean,” read the message.

“There are times when the burden and pain are too heavy, but families of other enforced disappearance victims have continued to stand with us. So it’s no longer a personal struggle, it is for the sake of humanity and it is our right to pursue answers and the truth.”

Ms Angkhana is a member of “The Sombath Initiative” which has been pushing for an answer from the Lao government. The 2005 Magsaysay laureate was last seen on the evening of Dec 15, 2012 in Vientiane.

Sam Zarifi, International Commission of Jurists’ (ICJ) Asia Pacific regional director, showed new CCTV camera footage which was obtained from the area near the police checkpoint on the day of the abduction. Continue reading “Lao activist case moving slowly”

Family of missing Laos activist Sombath Somphone reveal new evidence three years after disappearance

Channel News Asia: 14 December 2015

The family of Sombath Somphone, a Laos civil society leader who went missing in the capital Vientiane three years ago, urged the government to do more to probe into his disappearance.

Sombath Somphone, an award-winning campaigner for sustainable development in Laos, pictured in 2005.

Sombath Somphone, an award-winning campaigner for sustainable development in Laos, pictured in 2005. (Photo: AFP)

Within days after his disappearance, the Laos government released footage showing his Jeep had been driven out of the capital Vientiane.

However, a new piece of evidence released on Monday (Dec 14) by an advocacy group, the Sombath Initiative, revealed his car had been turned around and driven back towards the city centre.

Presented at a press conference entitled “Three Years On: Demanding Answers for the Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone in Laos” in Bangkok was new footage his family retrieved from closed circuit TV cameras (CCTV) along the road where he is believed to have disappeared.

His family claimed they had presented state investigators the new evidence, adding the authorities have yet to examine it.

“This CCTV footage was gathered by Sombath’s family and sheds new light on what happened the night he disappeared,” said Sam Zarifi, Regional Director for Asia-Pacific for the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). Continue reading “Family of missing Laos activist Sombath Somphone reveal new evidence three years after disappearance”