Laos: UN experts appeal for help to probe two-year-old disappearance of rights defender

International law makes clear that the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic has the duty to carry out an independent, thorough, credible and effective investigation.

UN News Centre: 23 December 2014

UN LogoInternational support is now needed to investigate the enforced disappearance of leading Laotian human rights defender Sombath Somphone, who was last seen in December 2012, a group of United Nations independent experts urged today.

“It is high time for the authorities of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to voluntarily request international assistance with the aim of shedding light on Mr. Somphone’s fate and whereabouts, two years after his disappearance,” the experts said in a news release.

“International law makes clear that the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic has the duty to carry out an independent, thorough, credible and effective investigation,” they added.

Mr. Somphone is a prominent human rights activist working on issues of land confiscation and assisting victims in denouncing such practices. He was last seen at a police checkpoint with his car parked in the police compound. Continue reading “Laos: UN experts appeal for help to probe two-year-old disappearance of rights defender”

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”

Update on Pre-Session for UPR

LMHR-LogoThe pre-session for the Universal Periodic Review of the Lao PDR, organised by UPR-Info, was held on 03 December in Geneva. While the event was attended by 21 representatives from Geneva-based missions, just three organisations gave inputs from the floor.

Among these was the Mouvement Lao pour les Droits de l’Homme (MLDH) (Lao Movement for Human Rights, or ຂະບວນ ການ ລາວ ເພື່ອ ສິດທິ ມະນຸດ) who addressed; 1) Press freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly; 2) Enforced disappearances, and; 3) Religious freedom.

In regard to enforced disappearances, the MLDH called on states to bring pressure on the Lao PDR to:

  • Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Person from Enforced Disappearance without delay followed by a time-bound implementation.
  • Amend domestic laws to include specific provisions in line with the ICCPR, the CAT, and the ICPPED and implement them.
  • Accept ‘foreign experts’ assistance in examining evidence in the case of Sombath Somphone, including the closed circuit video taken on the night he was taken away in front of police authorities.
  • Investigate all cases of enforced disappearances in a transparent manner.

The full statement can be seen here.

 

Pre-Session for Universal Periodic Review

LMHR-LogoA pre-session for the Universal Periodic Review of the Lao PDR (scheduled for January, 2015) was held on 03 December in Geneva. While many international human rights organisations did not attend the session, a briefing paper summarising UPR submissions from some groups was compiled.

The summary includes the following recommendations:

  • APHRImmediately undertake a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation, consistent with international standards, into the apparent enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, publicly release original images of the closed circuit television (CCTV) video of Sombath’s disappearance, and accept offers from foreign experts to assist in examining evidence, including the CCTV footage.
  • Human Rights WatchImplement the commitments made during the 2010 UPR, including by becoming a party to the ICPPED and incorporating all provisions of the various international human rights treaties to which the Lao PDR is a party.
  • Amend its Penal Law to provide for criminal liability for all acts of enforced disappearance and corresponding penalties accounting for the extreme seriousness of these acts.
  • Forum AsiaAllow Ng Shui Meng, Sombath Somphone’s wife, to have access to files and findings of the investigation and other information to which she is entitled.
  • Provide Ng Shui Meng with access to an effective remedy and reparation for the enforced disappearance of her husband.
  • Undertake a thorough, impartial, and effective investigation into all allegations of enforced disappearances, including those related to the nine activistsICJ arrested on 2 November 2009 in connection with planned peaceful demonstrations calling for democracy, justice, and respect of their land rights.

Consultation or Censorship?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised a consultation meeting on the draft National Report of the Lao PDR under the UPR [Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council] for representatives of stakeholders including social, professional, academic and non-profit organisations in Vientiane recently.

The meeting participants exchanged views and provided input on the draft report of the Lao PDR for the second cycle which has been prepared following a series of consultations among government agencies and relevant stakeholders.

Phoukhong SisoulathDirector General of the Department of Treaties and Law, Secretary General to the Lao National Steering Committee of Human Rights Mr Phoukhong Sisoulath chaired the meeting.

Mr Phoukhong stressed the importance of consultations with representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs) as part of meaningful participation in the UPR process…

Vientiane Times, “PDR Prepares for Regular Rights Review,” 11 October 2014

APHR understands that the United Nations Resident Coordinator of the Lao PDR was asked to remove any mention of Sombath’s disappearance from its Universal Periodic Review Submission. The UN Resident Coordinator did not acquiesce to the government’s request.

Non-governmental workers and civil society actors are also held under a strict code of self-enforced silence, fearful of repercussions if they raise what has become one of the most sensitive issues for the Lao regime.

LOGO_APHR“The script that the Lao authorities are reading from has become progressively tighter over the past 18 months: there appears to be a concerted effort to undermine now even the most fundamental, seemingly incontestable aspects of the investigation,” Mr. Santiago said.

“Individuals requesting honest answers to very basic questions are being treated like agitators and enemies. This is an unacceptable distortion of the reality of the situation.”

If the Lao government really wants to solve this case and is as concerned as the rest of us, then why is it blocking all possible avenues for the investigation? asked APHR.

Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, “Lao Government’s Deceptive Game on Sombath must End,” 23 September 2014

 

A Consummate Failure

LOGO_APHRAsean Parliamentarians for Human Rights has submitted a report to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to be used in the upcoming Universal Periodic Review of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in early 2105. Excerpts include:

The members of APHR would like to express their deep dismay at the lack of political will to conduct a serious investigation into the disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone.

… The Lao investigation has so far been a consummate failure.  APHR questions the sincerity of the current investigation and calls for the government of the Lao PDR to give full support as necessary and as requested for the establishment of an international and/or regional investigation into Sombath’s disappearance;

…APHR calls on the Lao Government to provide meaningful, detailed information about the progress of the investigations to Sombath’s family, lawyers and others with a legitimate interest, including the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the UN Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearance.

… APHR calls on UN member states to vote against Lao PDR’s bid to sit on the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 pending its acceptance and implementation of the above recommendations;

The full statement can be seen here. Similar reports have also been submitted by;

Laos : Le Gouvernement exhorté à régler la question des droits fonciers et à protéger les défenseurs des droits

Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme: 18 Juin 2014

FIDH_pinar_selekLe gouvernement lao doit résoudre de manière urgente la question des droits fonciers et protéger les défenseurs des droits fonciers et droits de l’environnement, ont déclaré la FIDH et son organisation membre, le Mouvement Lao des Droits de l’Homme (MLDH).

Les deux organisations ont lancé cet appel dans leurs recommandations adressées au Conseil des droits de l’Homme en vue du deuxième Examen Périodique Universel du Laos, qui doit se tenir en Janvier-Février 2015 à Genève, en Suisse.

« Les graves violations en matière des droits fonciers, la mauvaise gestion du gouvernement laotien et la corruption ont créé une nouvelle classe de pauvres dans les zones rurales. Tant que des lois ne seront pas appliquées correctement, les citoyens laotiens resteront des cibles vulnérables face aux violations des droits fonciers » a indiqué le président de la FIDH, Karim Lahidji. « Il est urgent de mettre en place un cadre juridique cohérent pour l’approbation et la gestion des concessions. Le gouvernement laotien doit réformer la gouvernance des terres afin de garantir une totale transparence et responsabilisation dans le processus de décisions ainsi que la participation des citoyens », a-t-il exhorté. Continue reading “Laos : Le Gouvernement exhorté à régler la question des droits fonciers et à protéger les défenseurs des droits”

Lao PDR: government must tackle enforced disappearance case

International Commission of Jurists: 16 June 2014

icj_logoThe ICJ today called on the Lao PDR government to carry out a thorough and impartial investigation into the ‘disappearance’ of prominent development activist Sombath Somphone to clarify his fate or whereabouts.

It also demanded that authorities ensure that the perpetrators are held to account and that he or his family members are afforded redress.

On 15 June 2014, the ICJ filed a submission to the 21st session of the Working Group on Universal Periodic Review (UPR), raising Lao PDR’s failure to fulfill its obligations under international law in cases of alleged enforced disappearance.

The ICJ also highlighted Lao PDR’s failure to respect its commitment in its 2010 UPR to “enhance the level of cooperation with treaty bodies and special procedures mandate holders”.

“Despite the passage of more than 18 months since Sombath Somphone’s ‘disappearance,’ the authorities have yet to carry out an effective investigation,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia-Pacific Regional Director. “They have even declined to seek available international assistance with the examination of CCTV footage showing the abduction, which may lead to the identification of the perpetrators.” Continue reading “Lao PDR: government must tackle enforced disappearance case”

HRW condemns Laos government’s gross rights violation

Asia Correspondent: 12 June 2104

Sombath Somphone
Laotian activist Sombath Somphone has been missing since 2012.

The Laos government routinely oppresses citizens, stifles basic human rights, and acts with impunity, Human Rights Watch said in a critique issued this week. The organization blasted the Southeast Asian country’s leaders for restricting “fundamental rights including freedom of speech, association, and assembly.” The critique concerns Laos’ failures to live up to recommendations issued in a 2010 Universal Periodic Review. The country is up for another review in October, and HRW believes the last UPR did not address critical areas, including “enforced disappearances; freedom of speech, association, and assembly; the treatment of detainees in drug detention centers; and labor rights.”

The critique notes the tight control the state exerts over the media, and a culture of self-censorship. News programs that encourage debate and discussion of hot-button rights issues are at risk of being shut down, and activists live with the real threat of harm and kidnapping.

HRW emphasized the country’s policy of enforced disappearance, particularly the high-profile case of Sombath Somphone, an activist who has been missing since 2012. Continue reading “HRW condemns Laos government’s gross rights violation”

Laos: No Progress on Rights

Human Rights Watch: 10 June 2012

Urgently End Disappearances, Systematic Suppression of Basic Freedoms

sombath-somphone
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.

The government of Laos has failed to address the country’s systemic human rights problems, Human Rights Watch said today in a critique of Lao’s human rights record submitted to the United Nations. Laos will appear for the country’s second Universal Periodic Review in October 2014 at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Human Rights Watch highlighted several human rights issues that deserve international attention, including severe restrictions on fundamental liberties, absence of labor rights, and detention of suspected drug users without charge in abusive drug centers. Of particular concern is the forced disappearance of civil society leader Sombath Somphone, in Vientiane in December 2012 after he was stopped by the police, and of an environmentalist, Sompawn Khantisouk, who has been missing since he was ordered to report to a police station in January 2007.

“The Lao authorities are defying international concerns by ignoring calls to respond to the enforced disappearance of activist Sombath Somphone,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Concerned governments need to drive home the point that they will not sit complacently by as disappearances and other abuses multiply in Laos.” Continue reading “Laos: No Progress on Rights”