Laos: Five years on, 122 organizations worldwide demand to know: “Where is Sombath?"

15 December 2017

On the fifth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, express outrage at the Lao government’s failure to independently, impartially, effectively, and transparently investigate Sombath’s disappearance, reveal his whereabouts, and return him to his family.

The Lao government’s continued silence and obfuscation of the facts around Sombath’s enforced disappearance have subjected his family to five years of fear and uncertainty over his fate and whereabouts, which remain unknown to this day.

Sombath was last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street of the Lao capital, Vientiane, on the evening of 15 December 2012. His abduction was captured on a CCTV camera near the police checkpoint. The footage strongly suggests that police stopped Sombath’s vehicle and, within minutes, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove him away in the presence of police officers. CCTV footage also appears to show an unknown individual driving Sombath’s vehicle away from the city center before returning sometime later.

The fact that police officers appeared to have witnessed Sombath’s abduction and failed to intervene strongly indicates state agents’ involvement in, or acquiescence to, Sombath’s disappearance. Despite this evidence, the Lao authorities have not presented any new findings with regard to their investigation of the case. Despite claiming in various international fora that the investigation is “ongoing”, the government has not issued an official report on the investigation’s progress since 8 June 2013.

Sombath’s case is not the only case of an unsolved enforced disappearance in Laos. Lao authorities have failed to provide information on the fate or whereabouts of many other individuals, including community activists, who have been victims of enforced disappearance.

The Lao government’s failure to undertake adequate investigations into all cases of enforced disappearances violates its obligations under international human rights law, including Article 2(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Laos is a state party.

We urgently call on governments worldwide to demand that the Lao government immediately provide information on Sombath’s fate or current whereabouts, and other details surrounding Sombath’s enforced disappearance, as well as all other cases of enforced disappearance, in order to determine the victims’ fate or whereabouts. Lao authorities should commit to making the findings available to family members of the disappeared, and provide regular public updates on their progress on all cases of enforced disappearance. The Lao government should also ensure that those responsible for enforced disappearance, regardless of title or rank, are held accountable in trials that comply with international fair trial standards.

Lastly, we strongly urge the Lao government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, incorporate its provisions into the country’s domestic legislation, and implement it in practice.

The 122 Organizations:

Accion Ecologica
Al Haq
Amman Center for Human Rights Studies (ACHRS)
Amnesty International
Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP)
Association for Law, Human Rights and Justice (HAK)
Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP)
Awaz Foundation Pakistan - Centre for Development Services
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) - Friends of the Earth Bangladesh
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)
Bank Information Center
Bytes for All
Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
Center for Environmental Justice (CEJ) - Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka
Centre for Environmental Justice
Centre for Financial Accountability
Centre for Human Rights and Development
Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD)
China Labour Bulletin (CLB)
Christian Development Alternative (CDA)
Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (CAGED)
Coalition of the Flemish North-South Movement 11.11.11
Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS)
Community Resource Centre Foundation (CRC)
Covenants Watch
Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF)
DIGNIDAD (A Life of Dignity for All)
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Empowering Singaporeans
Fastenopfer Switzerland
FIAN International
FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
Finnish Asiatic Society
Finnish League for Human Rights
Focus on the Global South
Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific
Friends of the Earth Australia
Friends of the Earth International
Friends of the Earth Japan
Fundacion Solon
Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict
Globe International
GZO Peace Institute
Haburas Foundation- Friends of the Earth East Timor
Human Rights Alert
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)
Human Rights Defenders Forum
Human Rights Defenders' Alert
Human Rights Watch
Indian Social Action Forum
Indigenous Perspectives
Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association(PBHI)
Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)
INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC)
Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID)
International Accountability Project
International Commission of Jurists
Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw)
Italian League of Human Rights - LIDU
Jan Mitra Nyas
Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP)
Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS)
Lao Movement for Human Rights
Latvian Human Rights Committee
League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI)
Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC) - Friends of the Earth Philippines
Liga lidských Práv (LLP)
Ligue des droits de l'Homme (LDH)
Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)
Mangrove Action Project
Mekong Monitor Tasmania
Mekong Watch
Moroccan Association for Human Rights (Association Marocaine des Droits Humains/AMDH)
National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP)
NGO Forum on ADB
Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network (PENGON) - Friends of the Earth Palestine
People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)
People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR)
People’s Watch
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
PILIPINA Legal Resource Center (PLRC)
Polish Society of Antidiscrimination Law (PSAL)
Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI)
Progressive Voice
Pusat Kumunikasi Masyarakat (Pusat KOMAS)
Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU)
Russian Social-Ecological Union (RSEU) - Friends of the Earth Russia
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) - Friends of the Earth Malaysia
Savitri Bai Phule Women Forum
School for Wellbeing Studies and Research
Sister's Arab Forum (SAF)
Solidarité des Jeunes Lao
Sombath Initiative
Southeast Asia Development Program (SADP)
South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM)
Suan Nguen Mee Ma
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR)
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
The Corner House
Think Centre
Transnational Institute
Ulu Foundation
Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
Vietnamese Women for Human Rights
WomanHealth Philippines
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
World Rainforest Movement