Australia promises continued pressure

Australian-FlagAt the fourth Australian-Laos Human Rights Dialogue in Canberra on 5 March, Australia further pressed Laos to conclude an urgent and credible investigation into Mr Sombath’s disappearance, emphasising pressure will remain on Laos unless the case is transparently and credibly resolved. Australia also underlined the need for Laos to respond in a considered manner to recommendations made by Australia and other countries at the recent United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR), including on Mr Sombath’s disappearance and the constrained operating environment for civil society in Laos. Australia will continue to pursue this matter…

Richard Andrews, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in a letter to The Sombath Initiative, responding to an earlier letter to Julie Bishop, Australian Foreign Minister. Despite the Lao government’s continued claims it is more concerned than anybody, a related article in the Vientiane Times makes no mention of Sombath

Sombath Initiative calls for increased pressure during Australia-Lao human rights dialogue

Logo-Sombath InitiativeThe Sombath Initiative has issued a letter to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop calling for increased pressure on the Lao government to more seriously address the disappearance of Sombath Somphone and related issues during this week’s Australia-Lao human rights dialogue.

Publicly launched in December, 2014, The Sombath Initiative seeks to resolve the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, and to carry forward his ideas and ideals. Lee Rhiannon, the Senator for New South Wales, serves on its Advisory Board.

The letter urges the dialogue be used to raise questions for which there have yet to be satisfactory responses. These include why there have been no updates on the investigation into Sombath’s disappearance for over 18 months, even though Lao authorities insist they are actively pursuing the case.

During the recent United Nations Universal Periodic Review for Laos in Geneva, Australia called on Laos to “Conduct an urgent and credible police investigation into Mr Sombath’s disappearance and communicate the findings, including to address any suspicions of government involvement in his abduction.”

The letter also asks why the Lao government, which aggressively solicits international aid, including significant contributions from Australia, is steadfastly refusing assistance for this investigation.

The full letter is available here.

Wife of Missing Lao Civil Society Leader Laments Lack of Progress in Case

Radio Free Asia: 20 January 2015

Ng Shui-Meng, wife of Sombath Somphone, talks about her husband’s disappearance at a press conference in Bangkok, Dec. 11, 2014. RFA

The Lao government’s response at a United Nations human rights review to concerns over its efforts to find a missing prominent civil society leader demonstrates the need for authorities to accept international assistance and establish an independent commission to investigate his case, his wife said Tuesday.

Ng Shui-Meng, the wife of Sombath Somphone, said a delegation from Laos offered no new information about her husband more than two years after his disappearance while speaking about his case during a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) in Geneva, Switzerland.

“[The Lao government] continues to state that the investigation is continuing, but it has been over two years and there has been no progress,” she told RFA’s Lao Service following the UPR, which involves a comprehensive review of the human rights record of all U.N. member countries every four years. Continue reading “Wife of Missing Lao Civil Society Leader Laments Lack of Progress in Case”

Campaigners call for Laos to answer for 'disappeared'

World Bulletin: 20 January 2015

 A group of Thai and Lao activists rally in Bangkok in January to pressure Lao authorities to speed up their probe into the disappearance of Sombath Somphone. CHANAT KATANYU

NGOs say Laos must investigate enforced disappearances.

World Bulletin/News Desk

More than a hundred rights groups Tuesday called on UN members to highlight the case of Laotian civil society leader Sombath Somphone, missing for two years.

Somphone, a well-known figure involved in rural development, has not been seen since he was arrested by police in the capital Vientiane on Dec, 15, 2012.

A statement from 145 NGOs, under the umbrella of the Sombath Initiative, called on the members of the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva “resolutely address” the disappearance.

It added: “Enforced disappearance is a horrible crime, one of a few recognized internationally as unjustifiable under any circumstances.”

Laos is to appear before the council Tuesday.

Angkhana Neelaphaijit, an adviser to the Sombath Initiative, told The Anadolu Agency Tuesday: “The Lao delegation to Geneva says [Sombath’s disappearance] is an internal problem and that Lao authorities are investigating.

“But the CCTV evidence has disappeared and, from what I know, they are not continuing the investigation.”

After footage of Somphone’s arrest at a police checkpoint emerged, Laos refused assistance to enhance the quality of the images and the film has now apparently vanished. Continue reading “Campaigners call for Laos to answer for 'disappeared'”

145 groups: Make Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone Central to Lao UPR!

The Sombath Initiative:Logo-Sombath Initiative 20 January 2015

We, the undersigned, request you to resolutely address the disappearance of Sombath Somphone at the upcoming Universal Periodic Review for the Lao PDR on January 20, 2015.

Enforced disappearance is a horrible crime, one of a few internationally recognized as unjustifiable under any circumstances.[1]

It is a crime not only against the victim. It is equally a crime against the victim’s family, who are left with no rationale, resolution or means of recourse, and are vulnerable to intimidation and reprisals. For similar reasons, it is also a crime against wider society and, if part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population, a crime against humanity.

Sombath Somphone is widely known for a lifetime of innovative work and remarkable achievements in sustainable agriculture, community and alternative development, public participation, and youth education. He has received accolades from many sources, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005.

It is because of this recognition and respect that his disappearance has brought such a significant and sustained outpouring of concern from across the globe.[2] Continue reading “145 groups: Make Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone Central to Lao UPR!”

ASEAN Should Confront Laos On Rights Abuses: NGOs

The Diplomat: 16 December 2014

Call issued on anniversary of disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone

By Prashanth Parameswaran

ASEAN member states should abandon their principle of not interfering in each other’s internal affairs and confront Laos on rights abuses in the country as responsible members of the international community, a group of leading regional and international non-governmental organizations said yesterday.

“Instead of invoking the principle of non-interference into one another’s internal affairs, ASEAN member states must act as responsible members of the international community and uphold the…key tenets enshrined in the ASEAN charter, which recognizes the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms….,” a statement, signed by 82 regional and international NGOs, said.

The statement was released on the second anniversary of the enforced disappearance of revered Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who was last seen on the evening of December 15, 2012. A police security video of the incident showed Sombath being stopped at a police checkpoint while driving home, before being taken into custody by unknown individuals. Rights groups say the fact that the police officers who witnessed the abduction failed to intervene suggests some level of complicity by Lao authorities. Continue reading “ASEAN Should Confront Laos On Rights Abuses: NGOs”

Two years on: Still no answers in disappearance of Sombath Somphone

The Diplomat: 15 December 2014

Lao leading civil rights activist Sombath Somphone, right, with his wife Shui-Meng during a drip to Bali in 2005. Pic: AP.

Lao leading civil rights activist Sombath Somphone, right, with his wife Shui-Meng during a drip to Bali in 2005. Pic: AP.

Two years have passed since the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a celebrated civil rights worker in Laos. Sombath was last seen being driven away in an unknown vehicle in Vientiane on Dec. 15, 2012. He has not been heard from since. Sombath’s family, friends, and colleagues continue to demand answers about his whereabouts and accountability from a government notorious for strong-arming activists and others seen as “troublemakers”.

CCTV footage shows Sombath was last seen when he was stopped at a police post in Vientiane after leaving dinner with his wife. The video shows him at the post and then being driven away in another vehicle. No one knows his whereabouts since then and the Laos government denies having knowledge about where he is, why he was detained, or what has happened to him. Continue reading “Two years on: Still no answers in disappearance of Sombath Somphone”

HRW: Lao government's investigation into Sombath case 'is a sham'

Deutsche Welle: 15 December 2014

Two years ago, prominent activist Sombath Somphone vanished from the streets of the Lao capital Vientiane. Although the authorities could give answers, they have remained silent to this day, says HRW’s Phil Robertson. SB-Magsaysay On the evening of December 15, 2012, civil society leader Sombath disappeared without a trace. He was on his way home from the office when he was pulled over at a police checkpoint. The rights activist was later taken to another vehicle and driven away. His whereabouts still remain unknown.

Right from the beginning, it is widely believed to be a case of enforced disappearance, with many suspecting the Southeast Asian nation’s Communist one-party government to be behind the abduction. The government, however, has so far firmly denied any responsibility for the incident. The Sombath case stirred an international outcry, with prominent figures like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Desmond Tutu calling for his safe return and urging the authorities not to block a thorough investigation.

Sombath had for decades campaigned for the rights of the land-locked nation’s poor rural population and the protection of environment. In 2005, he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Prize, considered Asia’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize. In a DW interview, Phil Robertson, Asia expert at Human Rights Watch, strongly criticizes the Lao government for their hard stance. Continue reading “HRW: Lao government's investigation into Sombath case 'is a sham'”

Wife of missing Laos activist keeps his case alive

Straits Times: 12 December 2014

Mr Sombath Somphone with his Singaporean wife Ng Shui Meng. Dr Ng has launched the Sombath Initiative to “seek resolution” to her husband’s disappearance and to carry forward his ideas. — PHOTO: COURTESY OF NG SHUI MENG

By Nirmal Ghosh, Indochina Bureau Chief In Bangkok

ALMOST two years after the disappearance of prominent Lao civil society figure Sombath Somphone in Vientiane, his Singaporean wife Ng Shui Meng, 67, says “the anxiety and despair grows with each passing day”.

Speaking in Bangkok yesterday at the announcement of the Sombath Initiative, she said: “Today marks 726 days, four days short of two years that Sombath has been taken away.

“Some people sometimes ask me, do you think Sombath Somphone is still alive? My answer is, I can only hope that he is still alive, for without that hope I will not have the strength to get up each day.”

The initiative had been formed in the “desperate hope that the Lao and other governments continue to show interest and pressure Lao authorities not to forget but employ all available resources” to probe the case, she said.

The group behind it includes Dr Ng, Philippine lawmaker Walden Bello, Malaysian MP Charles Santiago and Australian senator Lee Rhiannon.

The goal is to “seek resolution” to Mr Sombath’s disappearance and to carry forward his ideas. Continue reading “Wife of missing Laos activist keeps his case alive”

Two years marked at FCCT in Bangkok

FCCT-2014-12-11To mark two years since the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a press conference was held at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Thailand on December 11th.

The event also included the  launch of the Sombath Initiative, as well as the release of the International Commission of Jurists’ Missed Opportunities: Recommendations for Investigating the Disappearance of Sombath Somphone.”

Video of the event is available here. Remarks were given by: 1) Angkhana Neelapaijit from the Justice for Peace Foundation, 2) Sam Zarifi from ICJ, 3) Matilda Bogner from OHCHR, and 4) Ng Shui Meng. (11 December 2014)