Sombath Somphone was last seen in Vientiane on the evening of Saturday, 15 December 2012 when he was driving home in his jeep.
Two days later, CCTV footage became available that showed Sombath being stopped by police and then abducted. The video can be seen here.
Sombath is a friend, colleague and a visionary who has spent his life working for his people and country. This website hopes to facilitate his return to his family and work.
ມີຄົນພົບເຫັນ ສົມບັດ ສົມພອນ ຄັ້ງສຸດທ້າຍໃນ ນະຄອນຫລວງວຽງຈັນ ໃນຕອນແລງ ຂອງວັນເສົາ ທີ 15 ທັນວາ 2012 ເມື່ອລາວ ກຳລັງຂັບລົດຈິດຂອງລາວກັບບ້ານ.
ສອງມື້ຕໍ່ມາ ໄດ້ມີພາບຖ່າຍວິດີໂອກ້ອງວົງຈອນປິດຈາລະຈອນ ໄດ້ສະແດງໃຫ້ເຫັນວ່າ ສົມບັດ ກຳລັງຖືກຢຸດກວດໂດຍຕຳຫລວດ ແລະ ຫລັງຈາກນັ້ນກໍ່ຖືກລັກພາຕົວໄປພາບຖ່າຍ ວິດີໂອດັ່ງກ່າວ ສາມາດຊົມໄດ້ທີ່ນີ້.
ສົມບັດເປັນໝູ່, ເປັນເພື່ອນຮ່ວມງານ ແລະ ເປັນຜູ້ທີ່ມີວິໃສທັດ ຊຶ່ງລາວໄດ້ໃຊ້ຊີວິດເຮັດວຽກ ເພື່ອປະຊາຊົນ ແລະ ປະເທດຊາດ. ເວບໄຊ້ນີ້ຫວັງວ່າຈະຊ່ວຍເອື້ອຍອຳນວຍໃຫ້ລາວກັບມາ ຫາຄອບຄົວ ແລະ ວຽກງານຂອງລາວ.
He has also a very strong respect for indigenous practices and local wisdom. He always believes that you could not survive in farming if you did not know what to do.
Not like some agriculture specialists nowadays who walk straight into a developing country and say ‘We can teach you what to do.’
Sombath never did that. He always tried to learn and listen first, and that has always been the way he works with other people. He’s a listener. He doesn’t talk very much. He listens first.
Ng Shui Meng, in remarks given at Castan Event: Enforced Disappearances in Asia: the case of Sombath Somphone, held at the Monash University, Melbourne, Australia on 06 March 2014.
This is a letter that has been written many times in my mind. It’s a hard letter to write – I would much prefer to say it to you in person. I cannot remember the first time we met, but I remember we bonded over too much coffee on the balcony of Shui Meng’ sea-facing abode in Dili. There, you shared your wisdom with me, telling me about PADETC and the work it had done. Your serene smile – that classic Sombath look of equanimity – captured the gentle but determined way you viewed life. As sea breeze brought salt to our lips, you sketched out your idea of happiness: the roof of happiness must stand upon the pillars of heart, economy, culture, and environment while supported by the foundation of education. This drove you to devote decades of your life to your fellow Lao, despite the opportunities you had been offered. You are a man of the Earth. This, the Timorese could recognise whenever you visited us in Dili. I was a privileged disciple, whose ears and mind were, thankfully, open.
Later, the one month I spent in Laos – documenting PADETC’s work – was a chance to deeply understand your philosophy. Local knowledge, you exhorted, is what will help any community develop sustainably. I saw how your face lit up with pride when you introduced your young staff and youth volunteers. These are the ones whom you have envisioned would make Laos a better place.
But it wasn’t always work you talked about. On the old swing facing the Mekong River, as we watched your neighbour trawl for fish against the setting sun, you told me about the siblings you helped to bring up. You spoke of your days at the East West Centre – where I, too, had studied briefly. There, you had met your Shui Meng, and fallen in love. Whenever the two of you were together, I would be tickled by how you two – both grey in the head – would still tease one another incessantly. Shui Meng’s chidings were often infused with more love than she realised she was showing. When my son met the two of you at Labrador Park in Singapore, he called you “Uncle Zombat” and her, “Auntie Water”. We ended our excursion with ice-cream – dry ice swirled fancily about – and promised to meet again. That still stands. We pray that our Uncle Zombat comes home so that Auntie Water will no longer cry. We love you, Sombath.
Yours most sincerely,
Bridgette, Norman & Val
In the over 600 days since Sombath’s abduction, there have been virtually no results from the official investigation.
Almost immediately, authorities concluded they were not responsible.
Since that time, reports have consisted largely of irrelevant details, denials, and claims that efforts continue with the utmost seriousness and urgency.
A draft chronology of major events to date is available here. Updates will be added when they become available.
Concerned friends, colleagues and organisations from across the world continue to hope for more results, and less rhetoric.
The Government of Lao PDR has also publicly refused to accept the assistance of foreign experts to technically enhance the CCTV footage taken during the time Sombath Somphone “disappeared”, despite the fact that it had earlier admitted that it did not possess the technical capacity to enhance the footage so that the persons and vehicles shown there may be properly identified. This refusal by the Government of Lao PDR to cooperate with experts to look into evidence may be construed as an act impeding the investigation, in contravention of its obligations under the ICCPR, the CAT and the standards of the Convention and the Declaration.
International Commission of Jurists, in “Legal Memorandum on the case of Sombath Somphone.” A related press release can be seen here.
People in Potsdam are asking…
A growing number of individuals and groups from around the world continue to ask “Where is Sombath?”
Some of the pictures they have sent are collected at People are Asking…
Please keep asking, and sending pictures such as these.
I heard about your enforced disappearance six days before the passing into law of the Philippine Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act of 2012, the first ever anti-enforced disappearance law in Asia. I have worked on the issue of enforced disappearance for a couple of decades. Each case means a life stolen from the disappeared and his or her family. It means that a part of society has been forcibly taken from it, thus tearing apart its very fabric and causing devastating consequences to the disappeared that you are, your loved ones and the society where you belong. When the most-awaited enactment of the then draft anti-disappearance law came after more than 16 years of struggle for it to see the light of day, I had the ambivalent feeling of joy that we finally have this law in the Philippines, but mixed with pain because the list of desaparecidos of the world was lengthened further by your enforced disappearance.
A few weeks before the 2013 International Day of the Disappeared, I wrote to your wife, Shui Meng about our campaign for your return, which she readily responded with an open heart. We demonstrated in front of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the country that bestowed upon you the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award. We conducted a signature campaign and personally gave the signatures to the Lao Embassy in Manila. We wrote statements demanding for your return. We sent messages to the Permanent Missions of Laos to the UN in Geneva and New York. We heard a deafening silence. Continue reading
…the Lao have certain capacities that we don’t put as much value on as we should: The capacity to share; the capacity to care. It’s very high here. But we don’t see that as capacity.
This video is one of a series from an interview by Ore Huiying with Sombath in August, 2010.