Sombath on Ecology & Linkages

How far can we live on the ecological credit card before we hit the ecological crisis? When we hit the ecological crisis, I don’t think anyone can bail us out.

Remarks by Sombath at a panel discussion held at the FCCT in Bangkok, Thailand, 10 November 2008.

Ai WeiWei Speaks Out for Sombath

ai-trace-sombath-710x710The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is internationally renowned for work that defies the distinction between art and activism. In this exhibition of new works created specifically for Alcatraz, Ai responds to the island’s layered legacy as a 19th-century military fortress, a notorious federal penitentiary, a site of Native American heritage and protest, and now one of America’s most visited national parks. Revealing new perspectives on Alcatraz, the exhibition raises questions about freedom of expression and human rights that resonate far beyond this particular place. Fore-site Foundation

@Large: Ai WeiWei on Alcatraz contains images of 176 “Heroes of our time,” including three from Laos: Sombath (shown below), Seng-Aloun Phengphanh and Thongpaseuth Keuakounos.

Sombath-Ai WeiWei

Sombath and Foreign Aid

Sombath-magsaysay-smallFor a country that relies on foreign assistance for roughly 70% of its budget, the agronomist’s disappearance—and the government’s subsequent unwillingness to forthrightly address it—has become a major headache. Few in Laos have built bridges between the foreign and local development communities as effectively as Sombath Somphone.

Murray Heibert, in “Is Laos Losing Its Way?” The Wall Street Journal, 08 January 2013.

But will Sombath’s disappearance and other human rights issues be addressed at the upcoming Round Table Implementation Meeting to be held on 14 November 2014?

ລຸງສົມບັດຫາຍຕົວໄປ… Uncle Sombath disappears…

ລຸງສົມບັດຫາຍຕົວໄປ… Uncle Sombath disappears…

Computer Monitorຈື່ໄດ້ວ່າ… ຕັ້ງແຕ່ຫົວຄ່ຳຈົນຮອດຕອນກາງຄືນວັນທີ 15/12/2012 ພວກເຮົາໂທຫາລຸງສົມບັດບໍ່ໄດ້.. ພວກເຮົານອນບໍ່ຫຼັບເພາະລຸງສົມບັດບໍ່ເຄີຍໄປໃສໂດຍບໍ່ບອກຈັກເທື່ອ ມັນປະຫຼາດອີ່ຫຼີ.. ພວກເຮົາຂັບລົດອ້ອມ ຕົວເມືອງວຽງຈັນ ໄປໂຮງໝໍມະໂຫສົດ ໂຮງໝໍ 103 ໂຮງໝໍ 150 ຕຽງຈົນຮອດ 2 ໂມງເຊົ້າເພາະຄິດວ່າອາດຈະ ເກີດອຸປະຕິເຫດກັບລຸງສົມບັດ ພວກເຮົາຖ້າຈົນເຊົ້າວັນທີ 16/12/2012 ແລ້ວໄປແຈ້ງຄວາມກັບຕຳຫຼວດເພາະ ເຄີຍໄດ້ຍິນວ່າຖ້າຄົນຫາຍເກີນ 24 ຊົ່ວໂມງແມ່ນໃຫ້ໄປແຈ້ງຕຳຫຼວດ ລົງບັນທຶກໄວ້ກັບປກສ ນະຄອນຫຼວງ ໃນໃຈກໍຮູ້ສຶກອຸ່ນໃຈວ່າຕຳຫຼວດຈະຊ່ວຍເຮົາໄດ້ແນ່ນອນ

Remembering… From early in the evening of 15 December 2012 until the middle of the night we couldn’t get through to Uncle Sombath’s phone… We could not sleep because Uncle never went anywhere without telling us… We drove around Vientiane, to hospitals–Mahosot, 103 and 150–until two AM because we thought he might have had an accident. We waited until the morning of 16 December, and then reported to the police, because we had heard that if someone was missing for more than 24 hours, it should be reported to the Vientiane police. Our hearts were somewhat warmed because we felt the police would certainly help.

ຫຼັງຈາກນັ້ນ… ຄິດໄດ້ວ່າມີກ້ອງວົງຈອນປິດຢູ່ບ່ອນທີ່ເມຍລາວເຫັນລາວຄັ້ງສຸດທ້າຍ ກໍຄື ຢູ່ປ້ອມຕຳຫຼວດຫຼັກ 3. ໃນວັນທີ 17/12/2012 ຕອນເຊົ້າ ພວກເຮົາກໍເຮັດເອກະສານຂໍອະນຸຍາດເຂົ້າເບິ່ງ ແລະ ໄດ້ຮັບການຮ່ວມມືເປັນ ຢ່າງດີ..ເຖິງວ່າຫົວໜ້າໃຫຍ່ບໍ່ຢູ່ຜູ້ເພິ່ນເປັນຮອງກໍເຊັນອະນຸຍາດໃຫ້… ພວກເຮົາກໍຮູ້ສຶກອຸ່ນໃຈວ່າຈະໄດ້ຕົວ ລຸງສົມບັດກັບມາແນ່ນອນ ແລະ ພວກເຮົາກໍພົບລຸງສົມບັດໃນພາບບັນທຶກກ້ອງວົງຈອນປິດ ພວກເຮົາຂໍບັນທຶກໄວ້ ທາງຕຳຫຼວດກໍອະນຸຍາດ ແຕ່ບອກວ່າຄອມສຽບ USB ບໍ່ໄດ້ ໃຫ້ທາງຄອບຄົວເອົາກ້ອງມາຖ່າຍເອົາ… ພວກເຮົາກໍເຮັດຕາມນັ້ນ…

After that…we remembered a closed-circuit camera at the place his spouse last saw him, at the kilometre three police post. On the morning of 17 December 2012, we wrote a request for permission to view the recording, and received good cooperation…even though the main supervisor was not in, the deputy signed the request… We again felt encouraged, that we would get uncle Sombath back for sure. When we saw Uncle Sombath in the closed-circuit recording, we asked to record it and the police agreed. We couldn’t plug a USB into the computer, but the family could use a camera, so that is what we did.

ຫຼັງຈາກນັ້ນ…ໃນຕອນຕອນສວາຍຂອງມື້ດັ່ງກ່າວພວກເຮົາຂໍເຂົ້າໄປເບິ່ງກ້ອງວົງຈອນປິດອີກ ປາກົດວ່າເພິ່ນບໍ່ ໃຫ້ເບິ່ງອີກແລ້ວ ເພາະວ່າຫົວໜ້າສັງຫ້າມບໍ່ໃຫ້ເບິ່ງ…

Then…around noon on the same day, we asked to view the closed-circuit recording again, but were not allowed to. The supervisor had forbidden it.

ແນວໃດກໍຕາມ ພວກເຮົາໄດ້ຂອບໃຈຕຳຫຼວດທີ່ຢ່າງໜ້ອຍກໍໃຫ້ຄອບຄົວເຮົາໄດ້ເຂົ້າເບິ່ງ ແລະກໍມີຄວາມຫວັງວ່າພາບດັ່ງກ່າວຈະຊ່ວຍໃຫ້ເຮົາສືບຫາຫາລຸງສົມບັດ…

In any case, we thank the police that let the family view the recording, and hope that it helps us to find Uncle Sombath…

Nature & Materialism

Our children have no time to exercise their innate SB in Japan 2008bcuriosities and capacities to explore their world and its links with nature. They have no encouragement to develop their innate emotions of love and care of life and for nature. Time spent by children for nature walks and studying in the open are now replaced by spending time either in extra tuition classes (more cramming and rote learning), in shopping malls, in digital gaming parlors, or in front of the TV. The models of success for children are largely determined by what money can buy. No wonder, their aspirations are all geared around materialism and short-term gratification, and eventually mindless greed.

Sombath, from Talking Points for panel discussion at FCCT in Bangkok, Thailand, 10 November 2008

Sombath on Civil Society in Laos

Civil society does exist in Laos, but in a rather different form. The West tends to see it more legalistically, and we tend to see it more socially. Instead of having a legal contract, we tend to have a social contract where we help each other.

Of course, now we are at the stage where there is the push for legal recognition of the social contract, and I think the most important thing is if people are well-informed; they can voice their opinion. That is the key, how you call it doesn’t matter.

Remarks by Sombath at a panel discussion held at the FCCT in Bangkok, Thailand, 10 November 2008.

AEPF Participants call on ASEM

119 participants at the 10th Asia-Europe People’s forum signed a petition to the ASEM heads of states and government:

aepf10logoEnforced disappearance is never an internal matter in any country.  It is a contravention of international law and widely held to be a crime against humanity. Sombath’s family and friends and the people of Laos have the right to the truth, to know what happened to Sombath. Sombath and his family have the right to justice.

We remind all ASEM member states of their human rights obligations, both domestically and internationally. We sincerely demand that the Lao Government to complete their invesrigation on Sombath’s disappearance, make public the investigation report, and take forward legal process against the perpetrators of the crime.  We urge ASEM member states to monitor the fulfilment of these demands and ensure that Sombath and his family receive the justice that is surely their right.

The full statement and list of signatories can be seen here.

EU Must Keep Human Rights at the Centre of the Regions’ Partnership At Asia – Europe Meeting

asem_logoMarking the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) currently underway, Amnesty International has issued a call on the European Union and its member states “to ensure that human rights remain at the centre of all bilateral and multilateral dialogue between Asia and the EU.”

The statement reads, in part:

This 10th ASEM marks almost two years since the disappearance of Sombath Somphone in Laos on 15 December 2012, shortly after organising a civil society event on development around the ASEM, work that may have made him a target of enforced disappearance. Amnesty_InternationalAmnesty International urges EU leaders to use the opportunity at the ASEM to call for his safe return. Leaders at the ASEM should also work to ensure all present ratify and implement the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

The full statement can be seen here.

Recommendations to the ASEM summit

Transnational Institute: 16 October 2014

Hilde van der Pas

aepf10logoOne week before the official Asia-Europe government meeting (ASEM) gathers in Milan, over 400 people from 42 countries in Europe and Asia gathered at the 10th Asia-Europe Peoples forum (AEPF) to present their demands and recommendations.

More than 400 people, representing social movements, organisations and citizens from 42 countries, met from October 10– 12 2014 to discuss five thematic areas that concern citizens across Europe and Asia. As an outcome of the forum,that takes place every two years in Asia or Europe, recommendations will be presented to the governments at the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) on climate change, trade and investment policies, social protection, food sovereignty, migration, peace and security.

The forum started with a keynote speech from Shui Meng Ng, whose husband Sombath Somphone was abducted two years ago, shortly after he participated in the AEPF9 in Laos, as co-chair of the National Organizing Committee. Sombath was last seen when he was stopped by a police car and taken away, on September 15th 2012.

“Sombath was optimistic that many of the challenges and crises in Laos, as well as in Asia and Europe, could be tackled through open and frank dialogue and concrete actions between ordinary citizens in partnership with civil society groups and the government. “said Shui Meng Ng.

Paul Emile Dupret, member of the GUE group in the European Parliament, who went to Laos after Sombath’s disappearance on a mission with the EP, talked about the difficult environment they faced when talking to the Lao government and stated that the European left party rejects “….fake socialism – promoting landgrabbing and corruption”.

Malaysian MEP Charles Santiago put on a Sombath t-shirt to express his solidarity on behalf of all ASEAN parliamentarians. “Don’t tell us we have no business making you accountable,” he said. Continue reading

Final Declaration of AEPF10

p6aepf10logoThe final declaration of the 10th Asia-Europe People’s Forum, held in Milan, Italy on the 10th to 12th of October, has been released. Below is an except about Sombath. The full statement can be read here, or on the website of the Transnational Institute.

On December 15 2014, it will be two years since the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone. Sombath was one of the main organisers of AEPF9 held in Vientiane just before ASEM10. Sombath, a Magsaysay Award winner, is one of the most respected people in ASEAN working for sustainable development. Sombath’s abduction on December 12, 2012 was captured by a CCTV camera. The footage shows that his jeep was stopped in front of a police booth. After he voluntarily went to the booth, a third person came and drove the jeep away. He was seen next being taken away in a pickup truck. Since then, the Lao Government has provided no meaningful information to Sombath’s family, friends and the public about his abduction and continuing disappearance. Instead, successive statements and actions by the Lao Government indicate a continuing denial of its basic responsibility and obligations.

The Lao PDR depends heavily on international aid and in the lead up to its annual Roundtable scheduled for November 2014, the Lao Government is requesting even more financial support from the international community.

Enforced disappearance is never an internal matter in any country. It is a contravention of international law and widely recognised to be a crime against humanity. Sombath’s family and friends and the people of Laos have the right to the truth, to know what happened to Sombath. Sombath and his family have the right to justice.

We remind all ASEM member states of their human rights obligations, both domestically and internationally. We sincerely demand the Lao Government to complete their investigation into Sombath’s disappearance, make public the investigation report, and take forward the legal process against the perpetrators of the crime. We urge ASEM member states to monitor the fulfilment of these demands and ensure that Sombath and his family receive the justice that is surely their right and that he is returned safely to his family.