Australia-Laos rights dialogue: More than just rhetoric needed

The Interpreter: 13 March 2015

For many Australians, Laos is a scenic, off-the-beaten path, holiday destination for adventurous travellers.

Lao Embassy-Bangkok-2013-01

Relatively few know that it’s also a repressive one-party state with a long record of restricting basic rights, and imprisoning or forcibly disappearing critics or citizens who dare to form groups or hold protests without government permission.

Last week, Australia had a chance to throw light on Laos’ darker side when on 5 March, Canberra hosted officials from Vientiane for the fourth bilateral human rights dialogue. The dialogue, held in Australia for the first time, is part of Canberra’s assistance to the Lao Government, intended to improve its human rights record. However, given the intensifying crackdown on fundamental rights, the Lao Government’s commitment to reform appears dubious at best.

To ensure that this dialogue doesn’t become an exercise in empty rhetoric, the Australian Government should work with its Lao counterparts to set concrete measurable benchmarks for reform, and publicly commit to them. Continue reading

Australians call on Bob Carr to act

Senator, the Hon Bob Carr
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Level 10, Bligh House
4 – 6 Bligh Street, Sydney NSW 2000

Fax 02 9228 3655

Monday 4 February 2013

Dear Sir,

We are writing to express our profound concern about the disappearance of respected Lao development leader, Mr. Sombath Somphone.

Sombath is the founder and former director of the Participatory Development Training Centre, a winner of the Magsaysay award and a tireless worker for sustainable development and improving the livelihoods of people in rural Laos.

Sombath was last seen by his wife who was driving ahead of him, on the evening of December 15th in the Lao capital Vientiane, as the couple returned home in separate cars. CCTV footage released by the Lao police shows Sombath stopping at a police post and leaving his vehicle. The footage then shows his jeep being taken away by someone else. He was next seen getting into a pick up truck with two other men and being driven away.

His family has had no contact from him since.

The only official comment on the matter made by the Lao Government so far has been to deny Sombath is in police custody and any knowledge of his whereabouts, and to speculate he could have been the target of a kidnapping. Continue reading