3 years on, rights groups demand answers on Sombath Somphone disappearance

Asian Correspondent: 15 December 2015

Human rights representatives speak at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok, Monday.

By John Quinley III

ON the eve of the third anniversary of acclaimed community development leader Sombath Somphone’s forced disappearance, human rights groups on Monday in Bangkok urged the Lao government to provide information regarding Mr. Sombath’s whereabouts and fate.

Sombath was abducted in Vientiane Laos on the evening of December 15, 2012, at a police check-point where he was then transferred to another vehicle according to police surveillance video. At the press conference in Bangkok newly made public CCTV footage, found by Sombath’s family, showed the car further south on the road as the car traveled back into the capital.

A representative from the Sombath Initiative said in a written statement, that the police refused to look at the additional evidence from the family, which, “demonstrates the authorities have absolutely no interest in conducting a serious investigation, as they so often claim.” Continue reading “3 years on, rights groups demand answers on Sombath Somphone disappearance”

Whose Vision? Whose Reality?

December 17th, 2015
Time: 14:00-17:00
DIPAK C.JAIN room, SASA International House, Chulalongkorn University

15-12-17-SI Panel2016 will be an important year for ASEAN, as it promises to turn its “vision” into a “reality”. Its chairmanship will be with the Lao PDR, where civil society organizations in the recent ACSC/APF agreed they will not hold their 2016 gathering. This forum aims to draw attention and give different perspectives to this so-called ASEAN “Reality” and “Vision” of a “Dynamic Community”.


  • Angkhana Neelapaijit, National Human Rights Commission of Thailand
  • Kraisak Choonhavan, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
  • Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch
  • Supalak Ganjanakhundee, the Nation

Moderator: Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South
For more information: Hamdee, 0890044117, [email protected]

Press conference marks three years of Lao government complacency on investigation

A press conference entitled “Three Years On: Demanding Answers for the Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone in Laos” was held at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Bangkok, Thailand on Monday, 14 December 2014.

A synthesis of new CCTV footage (above) was shared showing: 1) Sombath’s jeep after he was stopped at a police post, 2) being driven out of town by another person after Sombath was called to the police post, and 3) then returning toward the city centre shortly thereafter. The videos also show the pickup truck that took Sombath away.

Despite claims they are conducting a serious investigation, Lao authorities have shown no interest in reviewing this additional evidence.

Panelists sharing remarks at the event included:

  • Angkhana Neelaipaijit, Thai National Human Rights Commissioner, Justice for Peace Foundation and Sombath Initiative Advisory Board
  • Sam Zarifi, International Commission for Jurists
  • Laurent Meillan, UN Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights
  • Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch

A press release be seen here, and video of the conference itself is available here.

Notes on the synthesis video include:

  • 0:08: Map showing location of original traffic CCTV camera (Camera #1) and locations of cameras from which new CCTV footage was obtained (Camera #2 & #3).
  • 0:20: Original CCTV footage (Camera #1) beginning just after Sombath was stopped in his jeep. This footage, as well as explanatory notes, is available here.
  • 1:10:  Sombath getting out of his jeep and going to police post.
  • 1:51:  Person arriving on motorcycle
  • 3:35: Jeep being driven away, going away from city centre.
  • 3:56: Jeep seen going away from city centre on Camera #2
  • 4:42: Jeep seen coming back toward city centre on Camera #2
  • 5:00: Jeep seen going away from city centre on Camera #3
  • 5:45: Jeep seen coming back toward city centre on Camera #3.
  • 6:40: Truck with Sombath seen leaving police post on Camera #1. Note truck is second vehicle behind van.
  • 7:04: Same truck seen heading away from city centre on Camera #2.
  • 7:20: Same truck seen heading away from city centre on Camera #3.

Disappearance: Mystery of Laos

A commemoration on the third year of Sombath’s Enforced Disappearance


Bridi Banomyong International College, Thammasart University, Bangkok

15 December 2015

  • 14:00-14:45: Exhibition on enforced disappearance
  • 14:45-15:00: Talk about Sombath
  • 15:00-16:00: Music for Peace
  • 16:00-17:00: Ted Talk by Mekong Youth
  • 17:00-18:00: “Laos Today” with video clips
  • 18:00-18:30: Open Letter from Amnesty International Thailand
  • 18:30-19:00: Message from Thai to Lao Friends by SSBP
  • 19:00-19:30: Drama for peace

Three Years On: Demanding Answers for the Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone in Laos

10:30 am, Monday, December 14, 2015

Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT)

Three years ago, on December 15, Magsaysay award winner and acclaimed community development leader Sombath Somphone was detained at a police checkpoint in Vientiane, Laos, and then disappeared by state authorities. Since then, the Lao police and government authorities have consistently failed to seriously investigate the case, and continue to unpersuasively claim ignorance of Sombath’s whereabouts.

Yet evidence is still being uncovered, and on the 3rd anniversary of his enforced disappearance, new CCTV camera footage — obtained from the area where Sombath was abducted on the day that Sombath vanished into state custody – will be made public.

A panel of speakers will also provide the latest updates on Sombath’s case and the international campaign to demand answers from the Lao PDR government.

Speakers include:

  • Angkhana Neelaipaijit,Thai National Human Rights Commissioner, Justice for Peace Foundation and Sombath Initiative
  • Sam Zarifi, International Commission of Jurists
  • Laurent Meillan, UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights
  • Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch

For more information, please call +66-85-060-8406, or email: [email protected]

An open letter to Participants of the 2015 Lao Donor Round Table Meeting

November 5, 2015

As you prepare for this year’s High Level Round Table meeting, we ask that you take a few moments to read and reflect on the address below that Sombath Somphone gave to the 9th Asia-Europe People’s Forum in Vientiane, Lao PDR three years ago.

It was Sombath’s last public address before he was taken from a busy street in the city where most of you work every day.

We ask that you quote his words in your remarks at the RTM itself.

More importantly, we ask that you incorporate the wisdom of those words in your policies and programs in the Lao PDR.

Thank you.

  1. ActionAid International
  2. Alliance Sud
  3. Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances
  4. Asia Indigenous People’s Pact
  5. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
  6. CCFD-Terre Solidaire
  7. Corner House
  8. Dharmajala
  9. Human Rights Watch
  10. Earth Rights
  11. Equality Myanmar
  12. Equitable Cambodia
  13. FIAN International
  14. FIAN Germany
  15. FIAN Netherlands
  16. Focus on the Global South
  17. Food First
  18. Forum Asia
  19. Friends of the Earth International
  20. Friends of the Earth USA
  21. Global Witness
  22. Indian Social Action Forum
  23. Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies
  24. International Network of Engaged Buddhists
  25. Justice for Peace Foundation
  26. Lao Movement for Human Rights
  27. Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation
  28. Re:Common
  29. Mekong Watch
  30. The School for Wellbeing
  31. The Sombath Initiative
  32. Social Action for Change
  33. Spirit in Education Movement
  34. Transnational Institute
  35. War on Want

Continue reading “An open letter to Participants of the 2015 Lao Donor Round Table Meeting”

1,000 days on, Sombath’s enforced disappearance a clear dereliction of Lao’s international obligations

1000 days11 September 2015

Today marks 1,000 days since prominent Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone “disappeared” at a police checkpoint on a busy street in Vientiane. We, the undersigned organizations, reiterate our call for the Lao government to intensify its efforts to conduct a prompt, impartial, and effective investigation into Sombath’s apparent enforced disappearance, to determine his fate or whereabouts, and to take the necessary measures to bring those responsible to justice.

At the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, held in Geneva on 20 January 2015, 10 states made recommendations to Laos to investigate Sombath’s disappearance. In addition, five states raised questions about the issue.

We are dismayed by the Lao authorities’ failure to provide any specific information on the status and progress of the investigation since 7 June 2013. This failure has occurred despite the government’s claim in June 2015, during the UPR process, that it was “still thoroughly conducting” an investigation into Sombath’s “whereabouts.” It is not enough for Laos to simply assert it is still investigating the case. Laos’ international legal obligations require it to carry out a prompt investigation and to keep Sombath’s family informed on the progress and status of the investigation. Continue reading “1,000 days on, Sombath’s enforced disappearance a clear dereliction of Lao’s international obligations”

1,000 Days without Justice

Press conference and panel discussion

10:30 am, Friday September 11, 2015

Note: This event will be streamed live on: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/fcct-live

FIDH-LogoOn the evening of December 15, 2015, police stopped prominent Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone at a police checkpoint on a busy street of Vientiane. Shortly after being stopped, CCTV footage showed that unknown individuals forced Sombath into another vehicle and drove away while police looked on. Sombath was never seen again. His fate or whereabouts remain unknown to this day.

September 11, 2015, marks 1,000 days since Sombath disappeared. During these 1,000 days, what has been done to safely return Sombath? What have been the domestic and regLogo-Sombath Initiativeional implications of his disappearance? What are the next steps?

A panel of four distinguished speakers will answer these questions and provide an update on the quest for truth and justice for Sombath Somphone’s disappearance.

Ms. Shui-Meng Ng is the spouse of Sombath Somphone and a member of the Advisory Board of the Sombath Initiative.

Mr. Kingsley Abbott is the International Legal Advisor for Southeast Asia for the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and a former Senior Legal Officer with the United Nations at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

Ms. Angkhana Neelapaijit is the founder and President of the Justice for Peace Foundation (JPF), a member of the Advisory Board of the Sombath Initiative, and a nominee to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT).

Ms. Debbie Stothard is the Secretary-General of FIDH, the Coordinator of ALTSEAN-Burma, and the Co-Chair of the ASEAN Peoples’ Forum/ASEAN Civil Society Conference (APF/ACSC) Media Committee.

Response to UPR: Rehashed Rhetoric & Continuing Contradictions

The Sombath Initiative: 02 July 2015

Rehashed Rhetoric & Continuing ContradictionsThe Lao Government Response to the 2nd Cycle UPR Recommendations

On June 24th, the Lao government gave its response to the 196 recommendations presented at its 2nd cycle Universal Periodic Review held in Geneva in January.[1]

They contain few surprises. Perhaps most notable is the repeated rhetoric and continuing contradictions.

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED)

The Lao government agreed to ratify the ICPPED convention during the 1st cycle UPR in 2010. Although it failed to do so, it again accepted recommendations to this effect from the Netherlands, Canada, Argentina and Spain (#20, 21 & 27).

It does not, however, accept the recommendation from Uruguay (#22) that it ratify the convention without reservation, claiming it “…will be able to do so only after a thorough study of the convention.”

Italy, Brazil, Germany and France (#23-26) also recommend ratifying the convention, along with thorough and impartial investigations into related cases.

These are also not accepted because “The alleged cases have been investigated by related authorities and found out that such allegations are not true.“

The ICPPED is 18 pages and 7,234 words. Five years is ample time for a thorough study, particularly given the prior commitment to do so.

Moreover, if all the allegations regarding this crime have been found to be false, why is it not possible to ratify the convention without reservation?

Sombath Somphone

In their recommendations, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Finland (#25, 94-101, 151) specifically call for a prompt and independent investigation into the disappearance of Sombath Somphone.

Some of these are accepted, while others are not because they “…partly contain the language or wording that do not reflect the reality in the Lao PDR.”

Despite the UPR recommendations of 20 nations, repeated calls from numerous other governments and world leaders, and the conclusions of the UN OHCHR, the WGEID, the European Union, and nearly every international human rights organisation, the Lao government steadfastly adheres to the claim it has conducted a serious investigation. Continue reading “Response to UPR: Rehashed Rhetoric & Continuing Contradictions”

Sombath is not an isolated case

Please-return-Sombath-Safely…the disappearance of Sombath Somphone is not an isolated case in an otherwise acceptable human rights landscape, but perhaps the most visible manifestation of a broader and deeper malaise.

We ask what potential and resolve exists to address the many other human rights issues given that Lao authorities so steadfastly ignore this one?

From a letter by the Sombath Initiative to those countries making recommendations about enforced disappearance during the Lao PDR’s Universal Periodic Review in February. The Lao government must respond to the UN Human Rights Council regarding these recommendations in the next few days.