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”

Laos: Government mocks UN human rights review

MLDH LMHR-LogoFIDH-LMHR: 30 June 2015

Paris, 30 June 2015: The Lao government’s failure to accept key recommendations received during its latest Universal Periodic Review (UPR) has turned the UN-backed review process into a farce, FIDH and its member organization, the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR), said today.

“The Lao government’s defensive attitude and blanket denials have made its UPR a farce. The latest Laos UPR has clearly shown that Vientiane is unwilling to address important human rights issues,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

FIDH-LogoOn 23 June, Laos accepted 116 of the 196 recommendations it received at its second UPR in January 2015. [1] According to Thongphane Savanhphet, the Lao government’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, the remaining 80 recommendations “did not enjoy the full support” of the government.

The Lao government’s response was particularly inadequate with regard to the issue of enforced disappearances. The government rejected all eight recommendations that called for investigations into all allegations of enforced disappearance in the country and dismissed such allegations as “not true.” In an incongruous twist, the government acknowledged the disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, but accepted only four of the 10 recommendations that called for an investigation into his disappearance. In its explanation of the rejection of the six recommendations related to Sombath’s case, the government churned out stale propaganda and provided no new information regarding its purported attempts to determine Sombath’s fate or whereabouts. The government stated that its Investigation Committee was “opened to views or suggestions from all interested parties” and that concerned authorities were “still thoroughly conducting the investigation.” Continue reading “Laos: Government mocks UN human rights review”

FORUM ASIA: Lao authorities apathetic regarding investigation

Forum AsiaFORUM-ASIA: 25 June 2015

29th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council: Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Plenary on Lao People’s Democratic Republic: Oral Statement by R. Iniyan Ilango on behalf of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development 

Thank you, Mr. President. We welcome recommendations made to the Lao government. We regret that the government has noted and not accepted recommendations related to the protection of human rights defenders[1] and the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression[2].[3] Despite committing at first UPR cycle to work towards an enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders (HRDs) the government continues to restrict HRDs and civil society organisations. We remain concerned over the draft Decree on Associations and Foundations, which, if enacted, will further suppress the activities of civil society in the country. Furthermore, existing laws continue to impose severe restrictions on media freedom, and the newly introduced Decree on Information Management on the Internet criminalises criticism of the government online. We urge the Lao government to repeal or amend all existing laws that restrict the rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association including the Decree on Associations, the Decree on INGOs, the Media Law, the Law on Publications, the Internet Law, and various restrictive provisions in the Penal Law to ensure full compliance with international human rights standards. The government must also withdraw all regressive draft laws including the proposed Decree on Associations and Foundations.

We deplore the Lao government’s unwillingness to effectively investigate the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone. The Lao government’s failure to accept many of the recommendations[4] related to the disappearance of Mr. Somphone stands testimony to Lao authorities’ apathy towards mounting calls from his family and the international community to conduct an impartial and thorough investigation into his disappearance aimed at determining his fate. We reiterate our call to the government to immediately undertake a thorough and impartial investigation into the enforced disappearance of Mr. Somphone in accordance with international standards and with the assistance of the international community. Continue reading “FORUM ASIA: Lao authorities apathetic regarding investigation”

FIDH-LMHR: Conduct investigation, ratify ICCPED, stop forced relocation

FIDH-LogoFIDH-LMHR: 25 June 2015

Human Rights Council – 29th session, Point 6: Adoption of the report on the Lao PDR UPR – Oral statement

Mr. President,

FIDH and its member organization, the Lao Movement for Human Rights, regret that the Lao PDR refused to accept recommendations made by many states in several key human rights areas during its second UPR in January 2015.

LMHR-LogoWe urge the Lao PDR government to implement the numerous recommendations made to address cases of arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearances in the country. All victims of enforced disappearance and their families must receive justice. They include 12 individuals arrested and disappeared between 1999 and 2009 for their call in favor of democracy and respect for human rights. The Lao PDR must also conduct, as a matter of priority, an independent and thorough investigation into the disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, with assistance from the international community. We demand that the Lao PDR establish a timeline for the ratification and implementation of the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. Continue reading “FIDH-LMHR: Conduct investigation, ratify ICCPED, stop forced relocation”

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.


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


  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.