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.

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”

Investigation Update: Yet another Reversal

Yong ChanthalangsySoon after Sombath was taken from in front of a police post on 15 December 2012, government statements issued in the KPL Lao News Agency and by Yong Chanthlangsy, Permanent Representative of the Lao PDR to the UN in Geneva in the Vientiane Times, clearly indicate that it was Sombath in the CCTV footage.

Phengsavanh _ThiphavongxayHowever, subsequent reports on behalf of the investigating committee by Phengsavanh Thipphavongxay, Deputy Director General, General Police Department in the Vientiane Times, allege the persons in the recording could not be identified.

Phoumma KhammanichanhThis new interpretation was taken further by Phoumma Khammanichanh, the Lao Ambassador to Australia, in a letter to John Hogg, President of the Australian Senate, claiming the CCTV “…did not give any clear picture of who or what is what therein… Particularly Mr. Sombath himself could not be precisely identified. Therefore, many people can not but keep wondering if Mr. Sombath did actually disappear in the place captured by the CCTV.”

Boupha-UPRBut Phongsavath Boupha, Chairman for the Lao National Steering Committee on Human Rights, again changes course in his statement at the Universal Periodic Review about Sombath’s disappearance on January 20th. Addressing accusations the Lao government might have been involved, Mr. Boupha asserts:

“…these accusations can be refuted by referring to the mere fact that the incident happened in front of a police CCTV camera, and the police authorities, based on their duties under the law, cooperate sincerely with his wife and relatives, allowed them to view and record the CCTV footage.”

Sombath-exits-JeepIf the CCTV footage is not clear enough to identity Sombath or his disappearance (as claimed by the investigative committee and Ambassador Khammanichanh) how can that same footage refute accusations that authorities may have been involved in the incident?

Also, if the police were conducting “…their duties under the law…” when allowing relatives to view the CCTV, why have they denied any subsequent access, and are still refusing to release the original file?

Lao authorities ask for suggestions…while ignoring those made previously

In his recent remarks at the Universal Periodic Review, Phongsavath Boupha, the Chairman for the Lao National Steering Committee on Human Rights, said:

“…the investigation committee has always been open to views and suggestions, and is ready too receive suggestions from any interested parties…”

If authorities are sincerely seeking suggestions, they might begin with these from Canada, the European Union, the United States, and UN Special Rapporteurs made last month on the two-year mark since Sombath’s disappearance.

On this same occasion, suggestions were also made by Amnesty International, the Magsaysay Foundation, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and 82 International Rights Groups.

In addition, the International Commission of Jurists released a report with specific suggestions through which Lao authorities might “…fulfill their obligations under international law.”

More recently, a number of suggestions were offered by Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights.

Scores of additional appeals, statements and suggestions from the above and many other concerned governments, organisations  and individuals can be found here.

More comments and recommendations have been made during the Universal Periodic Review itself. If Lao authorities are truly “…ready too receive suggestions from any interested parties…”, will they work to ensure these are included in the Outcome Report?

Finally, Mr. Boupha suggests that Lao authorities “…cooperated sincerely with [Sombath’s] wife and relatives, allowed them to view and record the footage.”

What better way to demonstrate their sincerity and seriousness than to simply release the original recording, a suggestion that has been made dozens of times?

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!”

Laos: Pledge Action on Rights, Stop ‘Disappearances’

Human Rights Watch: 19 December 2015

Sombath Somphone, a social activist, was last seen in Vientiane, the capital, in December 2012. There is strong evidence that he was forcibly disappeared by Laotian authorities. © 2013 Stephen Sautter

The government of Laos should use the United Nations Human Rights Council review of its record to pledge concrete measures to address its pervasive human rights problems.

Laos will appear for the country’s second Universal Periodic Review on January 20, 2015, at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In a June 2014 submission to the council, Human Rights Watch raised concerns about the enforced disappearance of civil society leader Sombath Somphone, severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms to expression and assembly, the denial of labor rights, and abusive drug detention centers.

“The lack of progress in the disappearance of a leading activist is sadly emblematic of the Lao government’s failure take action on a wide range of serious human rights problems,” said Philippe Dam, acting Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “UN member countries should make clear their dissatisfaction with Laos’ inaction and insist upon genuine reform.” Continue reading “Laos: Pledge Action on Rights, Stop ‘Disappearances’”

Laos: Government’s failure to live up to its UPR commitments calls for more international pressure

International Federation for Human Rights & Lao Movement for Human Rights: 19 January 2015


LMHR-LogoThe Lao government’s clear and undeniable failure to live up to its human rights commitments calls for more political pressure by the international community, FIDH and its member organization, the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR), said today. The two organizations made the call ahead of the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, which will take place on 20 January in Geneva.

“Pouring increasing amounts of aid into Laos while remaining silent on the serious human rights violations taking place in the country just hasn’t worked,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. “It’s time for the international community to start applying real political pressure on the government to ensure it addresses human rights issues and undertakes genuine legislative and institutional reforms.”

FIDH-LogoLaos accepted 115 of the 145 recommendations made by other countries at its first UPR in May 2010. Despite committing to ratifying or acceding to five key international human rights instruments, Laos has become a party to only one of them – the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Six years after its signature, Laos has not yet ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). In addition, the government has failed to adequately investigate most cases of enforced disappearances. This includes the failure to investigate the disappearance of prominent civil society leader and human rights defender Sombath Somphone on 15 December 2012 in Vientiane.

Laos also pledged cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms. However, in the past five years, the government has neither issued any standing invitation for missions to Laos nor allowed any official visit to the country by the UN special procedures. In addition, five reports to main UN treaty bodies are overdue – one of them by nearly six years.

In stark contrast to its UPR pledges to make progress toward combating trafficking in persons and ensuring the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of religion, key indicators point to a lack of improvement in the situation in these areas.

After placing Laos on its ‘Tier 2’ for three consecutive years, in 2014 the US State Department downgraded the country to the “Tier 2 watch list” (the second-lowest tier) for the government’s failure to fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.

Laos ranked 168th out of 178 countries surveyed by Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) in its 2010 Press Freedom Index. In the 2014 Index, it ranked 171th out of 180.

Freedom House has consistently rated the Laos as ‘not free’ in its annual global survey on political rights and civil liberties. Recently-enacted legislation adds to a body of repressive laws that severely restrict the people’s enjoyment of their civil and political rights. Decree 327, adopted on 16 September 2014, contains excessively broad and vaguely-worded provisions that effectively criminalize any online criticism of the government and fall well below international standards on the right to freedom of expression. In addition, the disappearance of Sombath has had a ‘chilling effect’ on civil society in the country. Local organizations are unwilling to speak out against human right violations and to carry out activities for the protection and promotion of human rights because they are afraid of reprisal from the authorities.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has placed Laos on its “watch list” (Tier 2) since 2009. In its 2014 annual report, the USCIRF stated that serious religious freedom abuses continued, particularly in ethnic minority areas, and restrictive laws remained in place.

With regard to land rights, in their joint submission for the UPR, FIDH and LMHR detailed the serious and far-reaching human rights implications of large-scale land leases and concessions granted by the government in recent years. The two organizations also documented the government’s repression of land and environmental rights defenders who worked with communities affected by land concessions and advocated for a more sustainable and all-inclusive form of socio-economic development.

“The Lao government has said that the UPR is the only legitimate process to address human rights at the international level,” said LMHR President Vanida Thepsouvanh.“Regrettably, the government has virtually ignored most of the recommendations it accepted at its first UPR almost five years ago.”

Press contacts
FIDH: Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) – Tel: +66 88 611 7722 (Bangkok)
FIDH: Mr. Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) – Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94 (Paris)
FIDH: Ms. Audrey Couprie (French, English, Spanish) – Tel: +33 6 48 05 91 57 (Paris)

Universal Periodic Review: Accepted recommendations from the first cycle

UN LogoBelow are some of the recommendations made during the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in 2010 that were accepted:

  • Continue its recent efforts in the area of the ratification of important human rights conventions, and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and accede to the Convention against Torture
  • Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
  • Involve civil society, including human rights non-governmental organizations, in the follow-up to this review
  • Allow media and civil society organizations to undertake education, advocacy, monitoring and reporting on human rights issues
  • Develop a national human rights plan of action to improve awareness of the conventions to which the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a party, and encourage civil society engagement on human rights issues
  • Remove all Internet monitoring and control facilities restricting the use of the Internet
  • Allow privately owned media outlets to be established

A full listing of the recommendations is available here.