Lao PDR: Human rights defender Sombath Somphone forcibly disappeared since 2012

(Joint Communication sent to the Government of Lao PDR)

Prior to his disappearance, Mr. Somphone participated in and was co-Chair of the organising committee of the Asia Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) in November 2012, a biennial conference aimed at promoting dialogue and collaboration between civil society organisations in Asia and Europe, the first international civil society event to be held in Lao PDR.

On 5 February 2021, I sent a follow-up letter with the Chair-Rapporteur of Working Group on Involuntary or Enforced Disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association to the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic regarding the enforced disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone.

Mr. Sombath Somphone is a human rights defender who has advocated against land-grabbing and defended the rights of those whose land has allegedly been illegally seized. He is also the founder of the Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC), the first indigenous non-profit association established in Lao PDR. In 2001 he was awarded the Human Resource Development Award for his contribution empowering communities in rural Laos from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

Ms. Shui Meng Ng is a woman human rights defender and wife of Mr. Somphone. Since his disappearance she has advocated for the Government of Laos to thoroughly investigate his disappearance and other cases of enforced disappearance in the country.

On the evening of 15 December 2012, Mr. Somphone was stopped at a police checkpoint in Vientiane while driving home. The police escorted Mr. Somphone to a police building on the roadside. Some time later, a man in civilian clothing on a motorcycle, parked outside the police building and drove Mr. Somphone’s vehicle away, leaving the motorcycle on the roadside. Shortly after this, a truck with flashing lights parked outside the police station building. Two men dressed in civilian clothing reportedly pushed Mr. Somphone into the back of the vehicle, where other persons were sitting and drove away.

The following day, Ms. Shui Meng Ng went to a police station to report her husband missing. Whilst there, Ms. Ng Shui Meng was shown CCTV footage of her husband’s abduction which she took a video of on her mobile phone. On 20 December 2012, the Government announced that it had launched an investigation into the disappearance of Mr. Somphone.

However, a few days after his alleged disappearance, Mr. Somphone was reportedly sighted inside a police compound, with his vehicle parked on the premises. Two days following the sighting, Mr. Somphone was reportedly transferred to a military camp outside Vientiane and, seven days later, it was reported that he was moved once again to an unknown location.

The Government of Lao PDR has reportedly denied Ms. Shui Meng Ng’s repeated requests since 2012 to provide information or updates on its investigations into her husband’s disappearance, or his possible fate. The Government denied any role in his abduction, despite CCTV footage which shows that police officers were present. Ms. Shui Meng Ng last met with the Lao authorities in December 2017, despite alleged assurances that they would meet and provide regular updates on the investigation into the disappearance.

In the communication, we expressed our concern over the enforced disappearance of Mr. Somphone and alleged absence of evidence of progress into the investigation regarding his whereabouts. We also conveyed concerns over reports of multiple cases of alleged enforced disappearances of human rights defenders in Lao PDR and in neighbouring countries, which would constitute a serious violation of human rights, and may amount to torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Read the letter in full :


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