Lao Activist Sombath May Not Be Alive: Diplomats

July 12, 2013

MY COMMENT: Laos is a member of ASEAN and the UnitedDin Merican (2) Nations. While the United Nations  together the United States and the EU has raised concern over Sombath’s disappearance, ASEAN has remained silent. One would have thought ASEAN would be able to have some influence on Laos. Its intervention would have helped to determine the fate of this human rights activist. Always, ASEAN is ineffective in such matters since it treats this case as an internal matter of Laos.

That is sad when ASEAN thinks that it cannot use “moral suasion” with Laos to ensure that Sombath is in safe custody. Even Malaysia is silent on this matter. Our elegant silence is understandable since we do not have an enviable record on human rights.Custodial deaths, for example. Aren’t ASEAN member states not concerned about human rights? Perhaps, the ASEAN Secretary-General, who is from Vietnam, should state the regional grouping’s stand on human rights  by its member states.–Din Merican

Lao Activist Sombath May Not Be Alive: Diplomats

by Radio Free Asia (07-09-13)

SombathMore than six months after his disappearance, some foreign diplomats in Vientiane think it is very unlikely that respected Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone is still alive.

Sombath was driving on the outskirts of the Lao capital Vientiane on December 15 last year when he was stopped in his vehicle by Police and then transferred into another vehicle, as surveillance video from that day showed. No one has seen him since.

Based on private discussions with officials from the Lao government, the ruling Communist Party, and the military, as well as other well-connected sources in the country, several foreign diplomats told RFA’s Lao Service that the 60-year-old community worker’s chances of being alive are very slim.

Lao authorities have reported little or no progress in their investigations since Sombath’s disappearance on the night of December 15, 2012, when Police-recorded surveillance video showed him being stopped at a Police post.

Amid the impasse, many in the foreign diplomatic community in Laos think it is most unlikely that Sombath is still alive, one diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat indicated that Sombath may have been killed by government-linked groups, saying that one “highly placed source” told him bluntly that Sombath was “finished” and “planted,” using jargon to exemplify that he may have been murdered and buried in an undisclosed location.

Lack of trust

Another diplomat quoted an unnamed member of the Lao Communist Party’s central committee as saying that the party leadership did not trust Sombath, who has been campaigning to upgrade youth training, improve the rights of the poor rural population and to protect the environment.

His attempt to plant the seeds of “freedom” in Lao youth minds was perceived as a clear challenge to the Communist Party leadership, which has ruled Laos with an iron fist since 1975, the diplomat said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Lao authorities have also been concerned over his role in organizing the Asia Europe People’s Forum—where various “sensitive” issues such as corruption, land rights and environmental threats were discussed—ahead of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit that took place in Vientiane in November 2012, he said.

One particular concern of the authorities was that Sombath had allegedly written a letter to Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi inviting her to attend the forum, he said. Aung San Suu Kyi did not attend the forum.

The Communist Party’s suspicion was further inflamed by Sombath’s close contact with Thai and international environmentalist groups fiercely opposed to the construction of dams on the Mekong River and which had organized demonstration against the Xayaburi dam project during the ASEM Summit, the second diplomat said.

The diplomat felt that the Lao government’s current strategy is to “drag its feet” over the Sombath’s case, hoping that the issue will fade away like all past arbitrary arrests, imprisonments, and forced disappearances in the country.

International community’s concerns

The United Nations, the United States, and the European Parliament have all raised concerns about Sombath’s disappearance while human rights groups expressed fears he may have been abducted by security groups linked to the government.

London-based Amnesty International and U.S.-based Human Rights Watch had said that Sombath was a victim of “enforced disappearance”—defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts.

“Based on the evidence, the most plausible conclusion is that Sombath Somphone is a victim of an enforced disappearance, for which Lao officials are responsible,” Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam said recently.

“The fact that Sombath was taken from a Police post in the center of Laos’ capital city, and that the police there did nothing to resist, raises very serious concerns,” he said.

Human Rights Watch had said that the authorities in Laos have “failed to seriously investigate or credibly explain the enforced disappearance” of Sombath.

It said there was no indication that the Lao authorities had made any follow-up inquiries into the actions recorded on the police security video.

“After six months, the Lao government’s failure to explain the abduction of a prominent social activist at a police checkpoint or account for his whereabouts raises the gravest concerns for his safety,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Sombath was the former director of the Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC), a nongovernmental organization he founded in 1996 to promote education, training, and sustainable development.

He was the recipient of the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership for his work in the fields of education and development across Asia.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Viengsay Luangkhot. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

9 thoughts on “Lao Activist Sombath May Not Be Alive: Diplomats

  1. Asean is a washout. It couldn’t even deal with Myanmar’s handling of The Lady. It took the US and EU to tame the military junta there. Sombath is a small potato. Yes, Malaysia cannot take the moral high ground on human rights, given our own poor record.

  2. Ahmad Hussein,
    You’re right Malaysia has a record that could be just as bad. Laos is communist. No one except commie leaders has rights of any kind.

  3. The next time you see the Asean leaders on stage clasping hands and flaunting their national costumes, beaming in their Asean solidarity, you should just give them the finger.
    Rogues in civilized garb, that’s what they are. Scratch a little and all their high and mighty words about the Asean way and Asian values show them for the shallow parasites they are, living the high life off the backs of the ordinary folk.

  4. Mr Hussein has a point. We people of Asean are a confused lot. The Malaysians even have an internationally acclaimed actress who play the role of The Lady but in real life, openly supports a regime in her homeland that is exactly the opposite of what The Lady stands and fight for all her life.

    Mr. MT Lai is only partly right. “No one except commie leaders has rights of any kind.” Look around in Asean, you will find the same applies to somewhere very much closer to home but doesn’t wear the tag of “communist country”. “Communists” were the bogeyman of the 1900’s. In 2013, Communists, Imperialists, Socialists, Democrats, they are so much alike. There are communists who behave more like imperialists, there are democrats who behave more like communists. There are lots of confused politicians and people.

  5. No member state in ASEAN wants others from the outside to get involved in its internal affairs without being invited. Effort in moral suasion, if any, will never be made public. Even in terms of human rights, ASEAN has its own formula. But ASEAN is not really a wash-out as some like to claim.

  6. Din,

    You were once a senior Wisma Putra official. I am sure you are well versed with the issue from the onside. Every ASEAN member state has issues that it does not want aired.

    At every ASEAN meeting foreign ministry officials of every member state routinely emphasize the “not interfering in the internal affairs of member state” thing as a sacrosanct code. It must not be breached, as it serves the interest of all member states. This, together with the principle that decisions are made on the basis of unanimity, keeps the organization together. And keeps it weak.

    The fragility of ASEAN was clearly demonstrated at the summit meeting last year in Phnom Penh when the host country, Cambodia, did not go along on the issue of the claim by China on what is clearly ASEAN marine space. That meeting, at its conclusion, could not produce the normal joint communique. There was no unanimity.

    This infuriated Philippines, whose territorial waters and EEZ (exclusive economic zone) were directly affected by China’s claim. It exposed ASEAN’s soft underbelly. As an organizatipn, it was helpless, as any one member can veto an ASEAN decision. No member state is prepared to give up that portion of its national sovereignty so that the majority can produce a binding decision. This is the organization’s fundamental weakness.
    Well, Hamzah, we need a relook at the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and also think about the structure and processes of ASEAN. Our leaders must stop pontificating and start producing results, not more talk, golf and durian eating. People of SEA are not happy with the way things are.–Din Merican.

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