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

ພາສາລາວ

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.

Laos Accused of Paying Lip Service to UN Human Rights Conventions

Radio Free Asia: 08 January 2015

SB-Magsaysay-08

A 2005 photo of Sombath Somphone in the Philippines. AFP/Sombath Family

Authorities in Laos are paying lip service to U.N. human rights conventions the government has signed up to, civil society groups charged ahead of the next U.N. review of the country’s rights record.

They called on the United Nations to have a mechanism to follow up with the Lao authoritarian government over its implementation of recommendations made during previous UPR processes.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) will examine Laos’ rights record at a UPR meeting on Jan. 20 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The UPR involves a comprehensive review of the human rights record of all U.N. member countries every four years.

“The most important thing is that the UNHRC has to investigate whether the government has defined the terms of the UN human rights conventions in the country’s constitutution, and whether the country’s laws match the terms of the rights conventions,” a civil society official in Laos involved in the UPR process told RFA’s Lao Service. Continue reading

Universal Periodic Review: Lao human rights under scrutiny

UN LogoThe Lao PDR is scheduled for the second Universal Periodic Review of its human rights record on 20 January 2015. In preparation for this event, many organisations from civil society, the United Nations and the Lao government have submitted reports.

Nearly all of the submissions from stakeholders not subject to Lao government control raise the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, many emphatically. These include:

The United Nations, and specifically the UN Lao Country Report, also raise concerns about Sombath’s disappearance, despite reported pressure from the Lao government to exclude any such reference.

In its report, the Lao government, which has repeatedly claimed it is more concerned than anybody else, ignores the issue entirely.

Laos has a lot of potential

We need to have a balanced development. Balance between economic development, social development, environmental harmony, and most important of all is the development of our young people. They are the cornerstone and the future of our country.

Sombath Somphone, in Country Boy Forever, a video produced by PADETC in preparation for his receiving the Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005.

Dear Sombath…from S.Y. Chin

Dear Sombath,

I write to you on Christmas Eve 2014 after reminding myself and colleagues that you are now missing for more than two years.

Your disappearance has muted for many of your friends the joy of the season.

The past year has brought to the front many of the concerns about sustainable development that you had devoted much of your work towards addressing.

The continuing efforts of many people around the World to address your concerns, which have become universal, has sorely missed your gentle wisdom and leadership.

We all look forward to your safe return.

Our warm wishes for Peace to you, Shui Meng and all our Friends at PADETC.

S.Y. Chin
Publisher

Dear Sombath…from Hannah

Dear Sombath,

This month marks two years of you missing. By now almost everyone in my life has have heard your story and how my parents, Shui-Meng, and I have been personally affected by your forced disappearance. There are many things that I could tell people about you and how much you have impacted my life and helped me to become the person I am today. But these things pale in comparison to what you have done for your country; the very country that is responsible for you not being home with your family for the past two years.

Selfishly, I want you to come home. My heart aches knowing that you may not be at my wedding this September, that you have spent two years away from your wife, and that my parents have a void that only the loss of a best friend can leave. I also want you to come home for the people of Laos, and for the hope and future of the country.

Sombath, we miss you. Whereever you are I hope that you know how much we miss and love you. I think about you every day.

love,

Hannah Foehringer Merchant

ບັນດາ​ກຸ່ມ​ປົກ​ປ້ອງ​ສິດທິ​ມະນຸດ​ສາກົນ ​ຮຽກຮ້ອງ​ຕໍ່ ອາ​ຊ່ຽນ ໃຫ້ກົດ​ດັນ​​ລາວ ເລື້ອງທ່ານສົມບັດ

Voice of America: 24 ທັນວາ 2014

AEPF-2014-004

ບັນດາ​ນັກ​ເຄື່ອນ​ໄຫວ ​ເພື່ອ​ປົກ​ປ້ອງ​ສິດທິ​ມະນຸດ​​ຂອງ 82 ອົງການ ຮຽກຮ້ອງໃຫ້ທາງການ​ລາວ ​​ດຳ​ເນີນ​ການ​ສືບສວນ​ສອບ​ສວນ ​ເພື່ອ​ຄົ້ນຫາ​ຄວາມ​ຈິງ​ ກ່ຽວ​ກັບ​ກໍລະນີ ການຫາຍຕົວໄປຂອງທ່ານສົມບັດ ສົມພອນ ຢ່າງຈິງຈັງ.

ບັນດາ​ນັກ​ປົກ​ປ້ອງ​ສິດທິ​ມະນຸດ​ສາກົນ​ຈາກ 82 ອົງການ ​ຮ່ວມ​ກັນ​ຮຽກຮ້ອງ​ຕໍ່​ລັດຖະບານ​ອາ​ຊ່ຽນ​ ເພື່ອ​ໃຫ້​ກົດ​ດັນ​ລັດຖະບານ​ລາວ ຕໍ່​ກໍລະນີທີ່ ​ທ່ານ​ສົມບັດ ສົມ​ພອນ ​ໄດ້​ຫາຍ​ຕົ​ວ​ໄປ​ເປັນ​ເວລາ​ກວ່າ 2 ປີແລ້ວນັ້ນ.

ບັນດາ​ນັກ​ເຄື່ອນ​ໄຫວ ​ເພື່ອ​ປົກ​ປ້ອງ​ສິດທິ​ມະນຸດຂອງ 82 ອົງການ​ຈາກ​ທົ່ວ​ໂລກ ໄດ້​ຮ່ວມ​ກັນ​ລົງ​ນາມ​ໃນ​ຖະ​ແຫລ​ງການ ທີ່​ໄດ້​ສົ່ງ​ເຖິງ​ບັນດາ ລັດຖະບານ​ຂອງ​ປະ​ເທດ ສະມາຊິກ ​ໃນ​ກຸ່ມ​ອາ​ຊ່ຽນ​ຢ່າງ​ເປັນ​ທາງ​ການ ​ເມື່ອ​ວັນ​ທີ 15 ທັນວາ 2014 ທີ່​ຜ່ານ​ມາ ຊຶ່ງ​ເປັນ​ວັນ​ຄົບຮອບ 2 ປີ​ ຂອງການ​ຫາຍ​ຕົວ​ໄປ​ຢ່າງ​ບໍ່​ມີ​ຮ່ອງຮອຍ​ຂອງ​ທ່ານ​ສົມບັດ ສົມ​ພອນ ນັກ​ພັດທະນາ​ລາວ​ທີ່​ດີ​ເດັ່ນ​ຂອງ​ອາ​ຊ່ຽນ.

​ໂດ​ຍຖະ​ແຫ​ລງການ​ດັ່ງກ່າວ ​ໄດ້​ຮຽກຮ້ອງ​ຂໍ​ໃຫ້​ລັດຖະບານ ​ຂອ​ງທຸກ​ປະ​ເທດ​ໃນ​ອາ​ຊ່ຽນ ຈົ່ງ​ໄດ້​ຮ່ວມ​ກັນ​ດຳ​ເນີນ​ມາດ​ຕະການ​ກົດ​ດັນ ລັດຖະບານ​ລາວ​ຕໍ່​ກໍລະນີ ທີ່​ໄດ້​ມີ​ການລະ​ເມີ​ດສິດທິ​ມະນຸດ​ໃນ​ລາວ ຢ່າງ​ຮຸນ​ແຮງ ທັງ​ຍັງ​ບໍ່​ໄດ້​ດຳ​ເນີນ​ມາດ​ຕະການ​ ຢ່າງ​ຈິງ​ຈັງ​ໃນ​ການ​ສືບສວນ​ຫາ​ຄວາມ​ຈິງ ​ແລະ​ຕິດຕາມ​ຫາ​ທ່ານ​ສົມ​ບັດ ທີ່​ຖືກ​ຄວບ​ຄຸມ​ຕົວ​ໄປ​ຈາກ​ດ່ານ​ຕຳຫລວດ​ແຫ່ງ​ໜຶ່ງ​ໃນ​ນະຄອນຫລວງ​ວຽງ​ຈັນ ນັບ​ແຕ່​ຕອນ​ແລງ​ວັນ​ທີ 15 ທັນວາ 2012 ​ເປັນຕົ້ນມາ ​ແລະ​ຈົນ​ເຖິງ​ປັດຈຸບັນ​ນີ້ ກໍ​ຍັງ​ຄົງ​ບໍ່​ຮູ້​ຊະ​ຕາ​ກຳ​ຂອງ​ ທ່ານ​ສົມບັດ ​ແຕ່ຢ່າງ​ໃດ. Continue reading

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