Laos Grilled on Disappearances, Speech Curbs at UN Rights Meeting

Radio Free Asia: 30 September 2020

Laos’ representative to the UN Office in Geneva Kham-Inh Khitchadeth addresses the UN Human Rights Council Sept. 28, 2020.

“We note from the addendum to the UPR report that it is the duty of the Lao government to search for missing Lao citizens including Mr. Sombath Somphone, the Laotian spouse of a Singapore citizen. We hope that Laotian authorities will resolve the case expeditiously and bring about the much-needed relief to his family,” said En Yu Keefe Chin.

UN members and NGOs called on Laos this week to resolve the forced disappearance case of a prominent rural development expert and stop censoring and jailing peaceful critics, as the Southeast Asian nation faced a review of its rights record in Geneva.

In a hearing Monday at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Laos was questioned over the 2012 disappearance of Sombath Somphone, its highly restrictive media environment, and freedom of religion – with one NGO crediting Vientiane for some improvements in treating religious minorities.

Singapore’s representative used the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Lao’s rights record to highlight the case Sombath Somphone, whose wife is Singaporean. Continue reading “Laos Grilled on Disappearances, Speech Curbs at UN Rights Meeting”

Government response to UN human rights review a step in the wrong direction

FIDH: 29 September 2020

The government stated that investigations into cases of disappearances were “considered on a case by case basis,” but refused to reveal how many investigations it had conducted and to provide any information about the “search” for Sombath Somphone.

The Lao government’s failure to accept key recommendations received during its latest Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a step in the wrong direction for human rights in Laos, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today. The UPR report for Laos was adopted today in Geneva, Switzerland.

“The Lao government’s non-committal response to international concern over key human rights issues signals that rights abuses and repression of civil society may continue with total impunity for years to come. The international community must step up its pressure on the Lao government and put human rights at the top of its agenda vis-a-vis its relations with Vientiane.” Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General

The Lao government accepted 160 of the 226 recommendations it received during its third UPR in January 2020. The remaining 66 recommendations were “noted” (i.e. not accepted).

“Once again, the Lao government is sweeping its human rights problems under the rug, pretending no one will notice. The international community should not fall for Vientiane’s tricks and, instead, establish clear benchmarks against which human rights progress, or lack thereof, can be measured.” Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR President

Below is a brief analysis of the government’s response to the recommendations made by UN member states with regard to selected key human rights issues.

Enforced disappearances

The government’s response was inadequate with regard to the issue of enforced disappearances. The government did not accept 13 of the 15 recommendations that called for investigations into all cases of enforced disappearance, including that of civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who was specifically mentioned in five “noted” recommendations. The government stated that investigations into cases of disappearances were “considered on a case by case basis,” but refused to reveal how many investigations it had conducted and to provide any information about the “search” for Sombath Somphone. In addition, the government made no commitments regarding the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) – a treaty Laos signed in September 2008. As in the previous UPR cycle, the government reiterated it was only “considering” ratifying the ICPPED.

Torture and detention conditions

Despite numerous and credible reports of torture, ill-treatment, and sub-standard conditions in various places of detention, the government did not accept four recommendations that called for investigations into allegations of torture, the prevention of torture, and the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OP-CAT). The government accepted two recommendations that called for the improvement of conditions in places of detention.

Death penalty

All 16 recommendations regarding the death penalty did not enjoy the government’s support. They included recommendations that called for: the abolition of the death penalty; the establishment of a moratorium on executions; and the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

Civil society

Amid ongoing repression of civil society, the government accepted two recommendations that called for the creation of an enabling environment for civil society to operate. However, the government refused to accept two recommendations that called for the amendment of legislation that restricts the right to freedom of association. This legislation includes the draconian Decree on Associations (Decree 238), which several UN human rights monitoring mechanisms have criticized for being inconsistent with international standards related to the right to freedom of association. The government said the recommendation to amend Decree 238 was “entirely inaccurate” and did not reflect the “real situation in the country.” The government also falsely claimed that the drafting process of Decree 238 “had gone through extensive consultations with all relevant stakeholders.”

Right to freedom of expression

The government did not accept all three recommendations that called for an end to the persecution of individuals for the exercise of their right to freedom of expression and one recommendation that urged the release of those detained for exercising that right. Another three recommendations calling for the amendment of legislation restricting the exercise of the right to freedom of expression were “noted.” Despite clear evidence to the contrary, the government made the outrageous claim that it had “made efforts to facilitate freedom of expression.”

National Human Rights Institution

The government failed to accept all four recommendations that called for the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) in accordance with the Paris Principles. The government touted the National Committee on Human Rights (NCHR) as the “overarching human rights mechanism for the promotion and protection of human rights at the national level.” However, the NCHR is a government inter-agency coordination body whose composition, powers, and mandate are completely inconsistent with the Paris Principles.

Cooperation with UN special procedures

The government refused to accept the two recommendations that called on Vientiane to issue a standing invitation to all UN special procedures. The government justified its refusal by saying that a standing invitation “is not applicable” and that invitations to special procedures mandate holders are considered “on a case by case basis and also based on convenient timing for both sides.”

Activists Protest Laos’ Rights Record at UN Meeting in Geneva

Radio Free Asia: 21 January 2020

“Speakers and protesters at Tuesday’s meeting in Geneva repeatedly mentioned the disappearance of rural development expert Sombath Somphone in December 2012.”

Dozens of human rights activists held protests Tuesday in front of the headquarters of the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHCR) as the council conducted Laos’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR) meeting in Geneva.

Led by the Germany-based Alliance for Democracy in Laos, the crowd picketed the meeting in an attempt to draw attention to human rights abuses in Laos.

Speaking to RFA’s Lao Service, ADL President Bounthone Chanthalavong-Wiese said that Vientiane has not yet implemented the 116 recommendations it agreed to five years ago — the last time it was reviewed by the council. Continue reading “Activists Protest Laos’ Rights Record at UN Meeting in Geneva”

UN member states must continue to ask “Where is Sombath?” during human rights review

FIDH: 18 July 2019

(Paris) United Nations (UN) member states must use the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos to continue to demand the Lao government determine the fate or whereabouts of civil society leader Sombath Somphone, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) urged today.

The two organizations made the call in their joint submission for the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, which is scheduled to be held in January-February 2020 in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Sombath’s case is emblematic of the pervasive culture of impunity for human rights violations in Laos and the climate of fear that has been gripping local civil society. The international community must continue to press the Lao government to deliver justice for Sombath and his family and hold those responsible for his enforced disappearance accountable.” Debbie Stothard., FIDH Secretary-General

In January 2015, 10 UN member states (Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK) recommended the Lao government conduct an adequate investigation into Sombath Somphone’s enforced disappearance.

In July 2018, the government said it had been “trying very hard” to investigate Sombath’s disappearance. However, this statement has been contradicted by the government’s ongoing refusal to accept international assistance in conducting the probe and to provide any details about the progress of its investigation.

Sombath Somphone was last seen on the evening of 15 December 2012 in Vientiane. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage showed that police stopped Sombath’s car at a police post. Within minutes after being stopped, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove away. Analysis of the CCTV footage showed that Sombath was taken away in the presence of police officers, a fact that supports a finding of government complicity.

“The UPR represents a rare opportunity for all UN member states to engage the Lao government on human rights issues. The international community should be relentless in its calls on the Lao government to address the serious and systematic human rights violations that continue to occur in the country.” Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR President

The joint FIDH-LMHR submission focuses on the following human rights issues in Laos since the second UPR cycle, which began in January 2015: freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of association; enforced disappearances; torture; prison conditions; freedom of religion or belief; the right to participate in the design and implementation of infrastructure and investment projects; and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs.

Where is Sombath? Where is the UPR?

The last Universal Periodic Review for the Lao PDR was held in January, 2015.

Seventy-two states made 203 recommendations, and the Lao government accepted 119 of them.

Ninety-three of those accepted recommendations called for a specific action, yet nearly two and one-half years later, and half-way until the next review, authorities have yet to release their plan for follow-up.

And while civil society organisations often play important roles in the follow-up and monitoring of the UPR implementation, those in Laos are apparently obliged to wait for the government plan.


What are…Laos’ International Human Rights Obligations & Commitments?

Logo-What isBriefing paper prepared by Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) has participated in the first two rounds of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights records, but its compliance and engagement with other UN human rights mechanisms has been very limited, despite its treaty obligations and UPR commitments. This low level of cooperation is particularly worrying given the lack of meaningful access to domestic remedies for human rights violations, which continue to take place with impunity.

CRD-logoHuman Rights Treaties

Laos is state party to seven core international human rights treaties (and two optional protocols): (1)

  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) (accession in 1974)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (accession in 1981)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its two Optional Protocols (CRC-OP-AC & CRC-OP-SC) (accession in 1991 & ratification in 2006)
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (accession in 2007)
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) (accession in 2009)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (accession in 2009)
  • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) (accession in 2012)

Continue reading “What are…Laos’ International Human Rights Obligations & Commitments?”

Is Sombath Being Forgotten?

Logo-Speak Out-Points to PonderAs Laos celebrates its traditional new year, a few points to ponder:

  • While the Lao government claims it is continuing to investigate Sombath’s disappearance, no results have been released in nearly three years. But is anybody still asking?
  • Within days of his disappearance, Sombath’s family filed an appeal with the Supreme People’s Prosecutor. Authorities later claimed the document had been lost. But were attempts made to replace it?
  • Sombath co-chaired the Asia-Europe People’s Forum in 2012, and was abducted soon thereafter. Will AEPF be raising Sombath’s case at their meeting in Mongolia this July?
  • Will Sombath, other human rights issues, or the challenges facing Lao civil society be addressed at this year’s Lao Studies Conference in July?
  • Lao NPAs (and/or the Lao government) declined to host the Asia People’s Forum in Laos this year, in part because of issues surrounding Sombath. Will his plight be discussed at the ACSC/APF in East Timor?
  • The EU and other donors are providing significant support for INGOs and NPAs to follow-up on the Universal Periodic Review, which includes ten recommendations to more seriously investigate Sombath’s disappearance. Is Sombath’s name mentioned in any of this work?
  • Will world leaders attending this year’s ASEAN summit speak of Sombath or the worsening human rights situation in Laos, or will wider geopolitical issues prevail?
  • Will donors accept even more restriction, non-transparency and self-censorship at this year’s High-Level Donor Roundtable meeting?

Laos shows ‘no political will’ to solve activist’s disappearance, U.N. rights official says

Reuters: 14 December 2015

Communist Laos has shown “no political will to solve” the mystery of the abduction of a prominent social activist, a United Nations human rights official said on Monday, on the third anniversary of the kidnapping.

The United Nations and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said police in Laos refused to view new footage of the abduction of Sombath Somphone, a civil society leader who worked to promote sustainable development for the rural poor.

Laurent Meillan of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said the abduction had created “a culture of fear” among workers of non-government organizations in Laos, one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries.

“We are not aware of any progress since the government’s commitment at the U.N. Human Rights Council,” Meillan told a news conference in Bangkok, referring to an assurance by Laos to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice.

In January, Laos was assessed on its rights record and accepted some recommendations made by the U.N. Human Rights Council, including a call for a transparent investigation into the disappearance of the internationally acclaimed activist.

The Lao foreign ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. Continue reading “Laos shows ‘no political will’ to solve activist’s disappearance, U.N. rights official says”

Laos in the Spotlight Again Over Human Rights

The Diplomat: 02 October 2015

Sombath Somphone, seen here with Desmond Tutu in 2006. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Violations are again an issue in the Southeast Asian state.

By Luke Hunt

Human rights violations are again an issue in Laos – and a thorn in the side of a government more concerned with centrally-planned economic policies – following the death 61-year-old Tiang Kwentianthong.

Tiang was originally arrested for praying for a sick woman without government approval. Reports say he was denied medicine for diabetes. He was jailed nine months ago, released in March after his condition had deteriorated substantially, and died on September 17.

His death comes almost three years after the disappearance of well-known agriculturalist and rural reformer Sombath Somphone, who has not been seen since December 15, 2012. CCTV footage obtained by his relatives showed him being bundled into a police car.

His wife and relatives recently marked 1,000 days since he went missing, calling on authorities to make a genuine effort to find him. Vientiane has resisted international pressure and offers of forensic help in the search for Sombath. Continue reading “Laos in the Spotlight Again Over Human Rights”

Laos : Le Gouvernement se moque de l’examen des droits de l’homme de l’ONU

FIDH-MLDH: 03 Juillet 2015

MLDH LMHR-LogoParis, 30 Juin 2015 : Le refus du Gouvernement Lao d’accepter les recommandations clé formulées lors de son dernier Examen Périodique Universel (EPU) a tourné en farce le processus de révision des Nations Unies, ont déclaré aujourd’hui la FIDH et son organisation membre, le Mouvement Lao des Droits de l’Homme (MLDH).

“L’attitude défensive du gouvernement lao et ses refus généralisés ont fait de son EPU une mascarade. Le dernier EPU du Laos a clairement montré l’absence de volonté de Vientiane à résoudre les sujets importants en matière des droits de l’Homme » , a souligné le Président de la FIDH M.Karim Lahidji.

FIDH-LogoLe 23 juin, le Laos a accepté 116 des 196 recommandations préconisées lors de son second EPU en janvier 2015. Selon Thongphane Savanhphet, le représentant permanent du Laos, auprès de l’Office des Nations Unies à Genève, les autres 80 recommandations « n’ont pas recueilli le soutien total » du gouvernement.

La réponse du gouvernement a été particulièrement insuffisante sur le sujet des disparitions forcées. Le gouvernement a rejeté l’ensemble des huit recommandations qui appelaient à mener une enquête pour toutes les allégations de disparitions forcées dans le pays, considérant ces allégations comme « non conformes à la réalité ». Par un tour de passe- passe incongru, le gouvernement a reconnu la disparition du proéminent leader de la société civile Sombath Somphone, mais a accepté seulement quatre des dix recommandations appelant à enquêter sur sa disparition. Dans les explications évoquées pour le rejet des six recommandations relatives au cas de Sombath, le gouvernement a livré une propagande désuète et n’a pas fourni d’informations nouvelles concernant ses prétendues tentatives pour déterminer le sort de Sombath. Le gouvernement a déclaré que le Comité d’Investigation était « ouvert à tout avis ou toute suggestion des parties intéressées » et l’enquête menée par les autorités concernées était « toujours en cours ». Continue reading “Laos : Le Gouvernement se moque de l’examen des droits de l’homme de l’ONU”