Amnesty: Conduct a thorough and independent investigation

Amnesty InternationalAmnesty International: 25 June 2015

Amnesty International urges Laos to undertake a thorough and independent investigation into the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone

Human Rights Council adopts Universal Periodic Review outcome on the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Amnesty International welcomes recommendations made by 10 states in the UPR Working Group, on the enforced disappearance of well-known and respected civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who has dedicated his life to promoting sustainable development and poverty reduction. 1 His abduction was captured on CCTV footage, as he was stopped by traffic police at around 6pm on 15 December 2012 outside a police post in the capital, Vientiane. He was last seen being driven away in a white pick-up truck and has not been seen or heard from since then. 2 Unfortunately, Laos did not accept six of these recommendations; however, the government did commit to undertaking a thorough and impartial investigation into his disappearance which Amnesty International calls on it to fulfil. 3

A further 10 states urged Laos to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, 4 and Laos has indicated that it is considering ratification. 5 It is regrettable, however, that Laos rejected calls by seven states to extend a standing invitation to the Special Procedures, 6 and specifically to facilitate a visit by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. 7

The decision by the authorities to reject offers of technical assistance in the search for Sombath Somphone signals a lack of genuine commitment to uphold the rule of law and to protect the rights of its citizens. 8 The disappearance of Sombath Somphone and the failure by the authorities to adequately investigate have become symbolic of the climate of repression in Laos, with a lack of transparency and no accountability for human rights violations. This in turn has had a chilling effect on civil society and on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression more generally.

Despite comments in the opening statement by the head of the Lao delegation to the UPR Working Group on 20 January 2015 that “[t]he rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are guaranteed in the Constitution, laws and decrees”, in practice these rights are severely restricted with the state exercising tight control over the media, the judiciary and political and social institutions. Amnesty International calls on the authorities to extend its apparent willingness to participate in the UPR process, and particularly as it seeks membership of the UN Human Rights Council in the upcoming elections, to enable independent monitoring of the human rights situation and to engage in genuine consultation on the promotion and protection of human rights.

Background

The UN Human Rights Council adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of Lao People’s Democratic Republic on 25 June 2015 during its 29th session. Prior to the adoption of the review outcome, Amnesty International delivered the oral statement above.

Public Document
International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK www.amnesty.org

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  1. Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review – Lao People’s Democratic Republic, A/HRC/29/7, recommendations 121.25 (Germany); 121.94 (Luxembourg), 121.95 (Poland), 121.96 (Portugal), 121.97 (Sweden), 121.98 (Switzerland), 121.99 (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), 121.100 (Australia), 121.101 (Canada), 121.151 (Finland).
  2. See Amnesty International report, Laos: Caught on camera – the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone (Index: ASA 26/002/2013).
  3. A/HRC/29/7/Add.1, page 8.
  4. A/HRC/29/7, recommendations 121.13 (Paraguay); 121.20 (Netherlands), 121.21 (Canada, Spain), 121.22 (Uruguay), 121.23 (Italy), 121.24 (Brazil), 121.25 (Germany), 121.26 (France) 121.27 (Argentina).
  5. A/HRC/29/7/Add.1, page 3-4.
  6. A/HRC/29/7, recommendations 121.67 (Japan), 121.68 (Luxembourg), 121.70 (Ghana), 121.71 (Hungary), 121.72 (Netherlands), 121.73 (Latvia), 121.74 (Paraguay), 121.75 (Norway), 121.76 (Uruguay) and A/HRC/29/7/Add.1, page 6.
  7. A/HRC/29/7, recommendation 121.75 (Norway).
  8. A/HRC/29/7/Add.1, page 8

Human Rights Watch: Lao UPR response raises serious questions

Human Rights Watch: 25 June 2015Human Rights Watch

UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

The Universal Periodic Review for the Lao People’s Democratic Republic shows the serious gap of Lao government statements of intent and associated plans, laws and decrees versus the minimal progress made on human rights in Laos since the previous UPR in 2010.

Laos’ declaration that it is considering ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance contrasts significantly with its failure to conduct a credible, thorough and impartial investigation into the enforced disappearance of renowned civil society leader and Magsaysay award winner Sombath Somphone, who in December 2012 was videoed being taken from his car at a police checkpoint on a main boulevard in the capital, Vientiane.

Numerous governments raised Sombath’s case during the interactive dialogue yet their concerns were met by an irrelevant and unacceptable Lao government response that “cases of disappearance happened throughout the world, sometimes as a result of conflict with criminal groups.” In Vientiane, far from Geneva, authorities are less circumspect in their campaign of making unfounded insinuations to smear Sombath as somehow being involved in crime.  Similarly, it’s astounding that the Lao government claims it is “open to views or suggestions to help the investigation” when it has turned down multiple offers of technical assistance from many of the governments in this room that would help ensure a genuine investigation is undertaken.

Numerous governments made recommendations to encourage Laos to take steps to end restrictions on the rights to freedom of association, expression, and peaceful assembly. However, Laos gave no clear explanation why it passed an Internet decree that contains provisions that go well beyond internationally accepted limits on free speech contained in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Laos ratified in 2009. Laos has also tightened government control in the operating guidelines for domestic civil society organizations, as well as the decree overseeing the activities of international NGOs, again without explanation.

Lao accepted many general recommendations, but failed to accept those that would have represented genuine, concrete commitments for progress. This raises serious questions as to how the government actually proposes to implement the rights it rhetorically committed to.

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.

Help pressure the Lao PDR to accept the UPR recommendations!

Get InvolvedAt the Universal Periodic Review for Laos in January, 19 nations* raised the issues of enforced disappearance and ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforce Disappearance, with ten of these addressing Sombath’s case directly.

This show of support is unprecedented, yet real impact will only be achieved if the Lao government accepts and follows through on these recommendations.

Please help to press your government in urging the Lao government to do just that.

See this Letter the Sombath Initiative is sending to all 19 countries’ mission to the United Nations in Geneva. The text of each recommendation is included in the letter, and contact information for all missions can be found here.

Below are the recommendations for those ten countries specifically mentioning Sombath in graphic format. Please share them among friends, colleagues and on social media. Thank you for your support!

*Our sincere apologies. There were 20 countries. Brazil recommended that the Lao PDR should:

121.24. Ratify the ICPPED and adopt implementing legislation, as well as mechanisms to independently investigate and identify perpetrators of those crimes (Brazil);

UPR Recommendation-Australia

UPR Recommendation-Canada

UPR Recommendation-Finland

UPR Recommendation-Germany

UPR Recommendation-Luxembourg

UPR Recommendation-Poland

UPR Recommendation-Portugal

UPR Recommendation-Sweden

UPR Recommendation-United Kingdom

Sweden speaks out for Sombath

Swedish FlagThere are at least nine reported cases of forced disappearances in Laos. The disappearance of the civil society activist Mr Sombath Somphone is one of the most internationally renowned cases. Mr Sombath was last seen at a police checkpoint on 15 December 2012 and his whereabouts are still unknown. The government issued a statement that the disappearance of Mr Sombath would be thoroughly investigated. No results of the investigation have been publicly disclosed.

Sweden recommends that Laos intensify the investigation into the disappearance of Mr. Sombath and accepts external assistance in the investigation and make the results publicly known, and that Laos investigates in a transparent and credible manner all cases of enforced disappearances.

From the Swedish statement to the Universal Periodic Review on Laos held in Geneva on 20 January 2015.

The Lao PDR is a People's Democratic State

The Lao PDR is a people’s democratic state. All powers belong to the people, and are exercised by the people and for the interests of the multi-ethnic people. The State protects the freedoms and democratic rights of the people. All acts of bureaucratism and harassment detrimental to the people’s honor, physical well-being, lives, consciences and property are prohibited.

From the Lao National Report submitted for the Universal Periodic Review held in Geneva on 20 January 2015.

UPR Recommendations on Civil Society

UN LogoIn addition to the numerous recommendations on Sombath’s disappearance made during the Universal Periodic Review for the Lao PDR on January 20th, a number of recommendations were also given regarding civil society:

5.75. Extend, before the end of 2016, a standing invitation to the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression as well as to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (Norway);

5.129. Ensure de jure and de facto protection of fundamental freedoms in order to be in conformity with the ICCPR that has been ratified by Laos. Regarding freedom of expression; lift the restrictions to freedom of press, ensure the independence and pluralism of media, and a safe environment for the work of journalists. Regarding freedom of association; facilitate unhindered action for human rights defenders and NGOs, notably through a reform of their registration system (France);

5.138. Guarantee freedom of expression, the press, assembly and association, as well as freedom of religion and belief in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Uruguay);

5.146. Guarantee the effective exercise of freedom of expression, assembly and association by reforming its legislation particularly in order not to undermine the legitimate work of NGOs and human rights defenders (Luxembourg); Continue reading “UPR Recommendations on Civil Society”

Lao delegation speaks on human rights

Vientiane Times: 31 January 2015 ພາສາລາວ

Government officials held a news briefing in Vientiane on Friday about the outcome of Laos’ participation in the second cycle of the UN Human Rights Council Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland, from January 20-23.

Boupha-UPR
Mr Phongsavath Boupha ( centre ) talks about the outcome of the UN Human Rights Council Periodic Review second cycle in Geneva.

Minister, Head of the President’s Office, Chairman of the Lao National Steering Committee on Human Rights, Mr Phongsavath Boupha, highlighted the Lao PDR’s achievements in advancing the promotion and protection of human rights in Laos since the first cycle of the review in 2010.

He also reiterated the progress made in the implementation of the country’s constitution and laws, policies, good governance, socio-economic development, poverty reduction, realisation of the MDGs, regional and international cooperation on human rights, and the implementation of human rights conventions to which Laos is a party.

Mr Phongsavath said the achievements made during the past five years enable the Lao multi-ethnic people to enjoy fundamental rights in accordance with the nation’s constitution and laws.

He noted that during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) meeting, some 74 countries made statements and recommendations, many of which commended the efforts and achievements of the Lao PDR in the promotion and protection of human rights.

During the meeting, the Lao delegation provided further information, explanations and clarification on certain questions and issues of interest that led to a better understanding of the human rights situation in Laos.

The Lao delegation provided information regarding the ongoing investigation into the missing of Mr Sombath Somphone, among other issues raised by some countries. Continue reading “Lao delegation speaks on human rights”

UPR Recommendations on Sombath

IUN Logon his statement at the Universal Periodic Review for the Lao PDR on January 20th, Mr. Phongsavath Boupha, Chairman for the Lao National Steering Committee on Human Rights, asked for suggestions.

Here they are.

The full report is available here.

5.25. Conclude the process of ratification of the ICCPED shortly, and investigate vigorously all cases of enforced disappearances, including the case of civil society activist, Sombath Somphone, and inform the public transparently about the results of such investigation as far as feasible without endangering the investigation, and bring perpetrators to justice (Germany);

5.94.  Carry out without further delay an independent, credible investigation into the unexplained disappearance of a human rights defender, Mr. Sombath Somphone, which occurred on 15 December 2012 in Vientiane (Luxembourg);

5.95.  Carry out a prompt, independent and impartial investigation aimed at determining the fate or whereabouts of Sombath Somphone (Poland);

5.96.  Undertake a thorough investigation, consistent with international practices and standards, into the disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone (Portugal);

5.97.  Intensify the investigation into the disappearance of Mr Sombath and accept external assistance in the investigation and make the results publicly known, and investigate in a transparent and credible manner all cases of enforced disappearances (Sweden); Continue reading “UPR Recommendations on Sombath”