[Statement] Rights groups urge ASEAN to break silence on enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone

Rights groups urge ASEAN to break silence on enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone
15 December 2014

Wher is SombathOn the second anniversary of the enforced disappearance of prominent Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned regional and international organizations, firmly condemn the Lao government’s ongoing refusal to provide any information regarding Sombath’s fate or whereabouts.

The Lao government’s deliberate silence on Sombath is part of a strategy that aims at consigning to oblivion the heinous crime of enforced disappearance. Regrettably, all other ASEAN member states have remained conspicuously silent on the issue of Sombath’s disappearance. Our organizations believe that ASEAN member states, as well as the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), must break the silence on this matter.

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 10-nation bloc’s key tenets enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, which recognizes the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms among the bloc’s purposes and principles.

As a result, we, the undersigned organizations, call on ASEAN member states to raise the issue of Sombath’s disappearance with the Lao government in all bilateral and multilateral fora. We also urge AICHR to exercise its power to “obtain information from ASEAN member states on the promotion and protection of human rights” in order to shed light on the disappearance of Sombath.

Sombath was last seen on the evening of 15 December 2012 in Vientiane. Lao public surveillance CCTV footage revealed that police stopped Sombath’s car at a police post. Within minutes after being stopped, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove away. Analysis of the CCTV footage shows that Sombath was taken away in the presence of police officers who witnessed the abduction and failed to intervene – a fact that strongly suggests government complicity.

Sombath’s enforced disappearance is not an isolated incident. To this day, the whereabouts of nine people arbitrarily detained by Lao security forces in November 2009 in various locations across the country remain unknown. The nine had planned peaceful demonstrations calling for democracy and respect of human rights. The whereabouts of Somphone Khantisouk are also unknown. Somphone, the owner of an ecotourism guesthouse, was an outspoken critic of Chinese-sponsored agricultural projects that were damaging the environment in the northern province of Luang Namtha. He disappeared after uniformed men abducted him in January 2007.

Our organizations urge ASEAN member states and the AICHR to call on the Lao government to immediately conduct competent, impartial, effective, and thorough investigations into all cases of enforced disappearances, hold the perpetrators accountable, and provide reparations to the victims and their families.

Signed by:

Adventist Development and Relief Agency Lao PDR
Ain O Salish Kendra
Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma)
Amnesty International
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition
Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)
Boat People SOS
Burma Partnership
Cambodian Civil Society Working Group on ASEAN
Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
Cambodian Volunteers for Society
Center for Human Rights and Development
China Labour Bulletin
Coalition to Abolish Modern-day Slavery in Asia
Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS)
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
East Timor and Indonesia Action Network
Equality Myanmar
Equitable Cambodia
FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
Finnish Asiatic Society
Focus on the Global South
Forum for Democracy in Burma
Fresh Eyes – People to People Travel, UK
Gender and Development Initiative-Myanmar
Globe International
Hawaii Center for Human Rights Research & Action
Human Rights and Development Foundation
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Human Rights Watch
Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation
Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (IMPARSIAL)
INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
Initiatives for International Dialogue
Interfaith Youth Coalition on Aid in Myanmar
International Rivers
Judicial System Monitoring Programme
Justice and Peace Network of Myanmar
Justice for Peace Foundation
Justice for Women
Kachin Peace Network
Kachin Women Peace Network
Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association
Korean House for International Solidarity
Lao Movement for Human Rights
Law and Society Trust
League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran
LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights)
Madaripur Legal Aid Association
National Commission for Justice and Peace
Network for Democracy and Development
Olive Branch Human Rights Initiative
People’s Empowerment Foundation
People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy
People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights
People’s Watch
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates
Potahar Organization for Development Advocacy
RTCC Research and Translation Consultancy Cluster
Sehjira Foundation for Persons with Disabilities
Social Action for Change
STAR Kampuchea
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
Taiwan Association for Human Rights
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
Think Centre
Transnational Institute
United Sisterhood Alliance – Cambodia
Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
Women Peace Network Arakan
World Rainforest Movement

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