Posts tagged ‘Asia’

December 17, 2014

HRW: Lao government’s investigation into Sombath case ‘is a sham’

Human Rights

HRW: Lao government’s investigation into Sombath case ‘is a sham’

Two years ago, prominent activist Sombath Somphone vanished from the streets of the Lao capital Vientiane. Although the authorities could give answers, they have remained silent to this day, says HRW’s Phil Robertson.

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.dw.de/hrw-lao-governments-investigation-into-sombath-case-is-a-sham/a-18129563

Laos Sombath Somphone Archivbild 2005

On the evening of December 15, 2012, civil society leader Sombath disappeared without a trace. He was on his way home from the office when he was pulled over at a police checkpoint. The rights activist was later taken to another vehicle and driven away. His whereabouts still remain unknown.

Right from the beginning, it is widely believed to be a case of enforced disappearance, with many suspecting the Southeast Asian nation’s Communist one-party government to be behind the abduction. The government, however, has so far firmly denied any responsibility for the incident. The Sombath case stirred an international outcry, with prominent figures like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Desmond Tutu calling for his safe return and urging the authorities not to block a thorough investigation.

Sombath had for decades campaigned for the rights of the land-locked nation’s poor rural population and the protection of environment. In 2005, he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Prize, considered Asia’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize. In a DW interview, Phil Robertson, Asia expert at Human Rights Watch, strongly criticizes the Lao government for their hard stance.

Phil Robertson Human Rights Watch

Robertson: ‘The authorities know far more than they are letting on’

DW: It has been two years since Sombath went missing. Are there any news concerning his whereabouts and his fate?

Phil Robertson: No, there’s been very little additional news about his whereabouts or what has happened to him. What we know is that Sombath was taken away as seen in the CCTV video of December 15, 2012, and there are reliable sources that said he was still in the custody of the authorities in Vientiane later that night, but then little more is known after that.

The Lao police’s investigation has been a complete joke so far. The authorities know far more than they are letting on, and it’s really become quite clear that the government’s investigation is a sham, designed to draw out the time and frustrate those demanding answers – presumably with the aim of getting them to finally give up and forget.

But two years on, we’re not going to forget, and we’re going to remain committed to supporting his wife, Shui-Meng Ng, and family, in their demands for answers. I’ve lost count of the number of offers of technical assistance by European and North American police forces to the Lao police for their investigation, but all of those offers have been refused.

As a recent report from the International Commission of Jurists shows, there are many lines of investigative inquiry to be pursued if the Lao government were interested in doing the sort of thorough investigation required by international human rights law – but instead, they are engaged in a cover-up, and a campaign of enforced silence in Vientiane to prevent anyone from saying more about Sombath.

The many governments providing development assistance to Laos should make a big issue of this and demand a real search for the truth of what has happened to Sombath.

From the very beginning, the Lao government has denied that it had anything to do with Sombath’s disappearance. Is there any chance that someone other the government is responsible for this?

​The Lao government has been lying from the top on down when it comes to the Sombath case. At the start of their inquiries, they freely admitted that the person pictured in the CCTV footage was Sombath – but now they are claiming that maybe it was not him. So if anything, the investigation is not making any progress. It’s rather going backwards.

Lately, Lao diplomats have been trying to peddle a new theory that Sombath’s work brought him into conflict with Thai mafia elements involved in Laos and that it was the Thais that did something to him. Of course, there is no evidence of that. This is yet another part of the officials’ ongoing effort to confuse and misinform, and desperately try to transfer blame to somewhere else other than the Lao government.

For the second anniversary of his disappearance, a group of legislators, civil society leaders and activists launched the so-called Sombath Initiative. What does this Initiative stand for?

What the Sombath Initiative stands for is an ongoing campaign for answers about what happened to Sombath. The initiative calls for justice for him and his family, and reminds his vision and work in participatory rural development. It will counter the effort by the Lao government to “buy time” with their bogus investigation and press people to forget. The Initiative will ensure that no one forgets the case.

Furthermore, it will also defend Sombath’s reputation and his work from the kind of scurrilous rumors that the Lao government is trying to spread to somehow discredit him.

Do you reckon that the new initiative could actually achieve something in order to solve the case and compel the government to start a thorough investigation?

​The Initiative will bring together all of Sombath’s friends, allies, and admirers from home and abroad to press the Lao government to change its views and start a real investigation into the enforced disappearance of Sombath.

The challenge in disappearance cases is always to sustain the interest and momentum of those who care against the efforts to cover up the truth. And often, these battles take years. We hope that it will not take that long to find out what has happened to Sombath, and ideally see him returned to his family, but the Sombath Intiative is built to sustain a campaign indefinitely until we get the answers we seek.

Vita Park

Sombath had for decades campaigned for the rights of the country’s poor rural population

What effect did the disappearance of Sombath have on others? What has changed since then?

An unprecedented chill has come over grass-roots villages and communities in Laos of the sort not seen since the early years after the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party took over in 1975 and started sending perceived opponents to ​brutal “re-education camps”.

The difference between then and now is the existence of various civil society groups and non-profit associations, led by many who received training and encouragement from Sombath and the Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC) that he founded.

Among these groups, there is now great fear and self-censorship because they see that if such a prominent civil society leader as Sombath can be taken, then no one is safe. So a wall of silence has descended in Vientiane. On the government side, only a few persons are authorized to give the standard government line and everyone else says nothing. On the civil society side, people are looking over their shoulders and are afraid of talking about Sombath.

Sombath has been missing for two years now. In your opinion, what are the chances that he is still alive?

I really don’t know, but we’re all hoping for the best. It’s hard to imagine that a man who has so selflessly contributed to his nation’s development and the well being of ordinary people should be considered an enemy to anyone. ​

Phil Robertson is deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

June 28, 2014

Effects of Laos dam project to be revealed

 

Laos takes ‘courteous’ approach to next Mekong dam project, agrees to consult before work starts

Reuters

June 28, 2014

Updated 2 hours 31 minutes ago

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-28/laos-dam/5557196

Fishing at rapids in the Siphandone area of the Mekong River in Laos

Fishing at rapids in Siphandone area, site of proposed Don Sahong hydro-electric dam.  Photo: International Rivers

Laos has agreed to consult its neighbours before starting construction of a second controversial dam on the Mekong River.

It’s already going ahead with the much bigger Xayaburi dam to supply power to China, despite opposition from Vietnam and Cambodia.

Agreement to allow environmental assessments and for a formal consultation process on the proposed Don Sahong dam was reached at a meeting of the Mekong River Commission in Bangkok.

The commission comprises Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Laos accepted environmental and other studies for the Xayaburi dam after pressure from its neighbours, but went ahead with construction even while they were being conducted.

But this time Vientiane has given an assurance work will not start during the six-month consultation process, describing the move as a “courtesy”.

The Don Sahong project is the second of 11 hydroelectric dams planned for the Mekong mainstream, which has raised concerns about the impact on the environment and livelihoods of millions of people.

It will generate 260 megawatts of electricity, mainly for export to Thailand and Cambodia compared with Xayaburi’s 1,260 megawatts, around 95 percent of which will go to Thailand.

The environmental group International Rivers is among those to have welcomed the decision.

But it says further action is needed “to ensure that the rapid progress of dam building on the Mekong … does not go unchecked”.

Officials say recommendations resulting from the studies of the Don Sahong project would not be binding on Laos.

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Effects of Laos dam project to be revealed

Posted on 27 June 2014

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://wwf.panda.org/?224398/Effects-of-Laos-dam-project-to-be-revealed

Two Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins spotted at Tbong Kla deep pool
© WWF- Cambodia/ Gerad Ryan

WWF welcomes the Lao Government’s decision to have the Don Sahong hydropower project undergo a formal consultation process, a decision likely to delay construction of the project.

The consultation process requires Laos to hold inter-governmental consultations before proceeding with the dam, and conduct and share studies on the project’s environmental and the social impacts. The process will take at least six months to complete.

“Laos is now promising to do what they already signed up to under the Mekong agreement, and should have done months ago” said Marc Goichot, WWF-Greater Mekong’s lead on sustainable hydropower. “Their decision to consult on the Don Sahong project, and share critical details about the project’s impacts, comes after intense pressure from neighbouring countries. It is critical that pressure is maintained to ensure Laos delivers on their promise.”

In September last year, Laos announced its decision to proceed with the Don Sahong dam, bypassing the Mekong River Commision’s (MRC) consultation process.

The much-criticised project was discussed at the June 26-27 meeting of the MRC – an inter-governmental agency made up of representatives from the four Lower Mekong nations — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Don Sahong dam threatens the Mekong’s critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins and will block the only channel available for dry-season fish migration, putting the world’s largest inland fishery at risk. Close to 200,000 people have signed WWF’s petition calling on the dam builder, Mega First, to pull out of the project.

“We thank people around the world who signed the WWF’s petition to stop the Don Sahong dam,” added Goichot. “Mega First would do well to listen to the growing voices of opposition to this disastrous project and reconsider their engagement.”

The Don Sahong dam is the second dam on the Lower Mekong mainstem, following the controversial Xayaburi dam that Laos has begun constructing despite opposition from neighbouring Cambodia and Vietnam.

“The Mekong River Commission’s joint decision-making process was effectively broken in 2012 when Laos decided unilaterally to proceed with Xayaburi dam, against the express wishes of Vietnam and Cambodia,” added Goichot.

“There is currently little faith in the MRC’s process to ensure joint decisions are made for the benefit of all Mekong nations. If Laos fails to be held to account, the MRC will soon lose its legitimacy and 60 million people living in the Mekong basin will suffer.”

Crowd of children with Pra or River catfish (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus). River catfish are closely related to the Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas), a critically endangered Mekong endemic specieis. The Mekong giant catfish migrates from the Tonle Sap Lake to the Mekong River at the end of the rainy season each year and a dam like Don Sahong would block their migration.
© Zeb Hogan / WWF-Canon

 

 

June 24, 2014

Laos stuggles to meet vaccin goals

Steve Finch, Vientiane, Laos

June 23, 2014

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.cmaj.ca/site/earlyreleases/23june14_Laos-struggles-to-meet-vaccine-goals.xhtml

Vientiane, Laos has one of the highest economic growth rates in the region in recent years – about eight percent — but it also has a budget shortfall. That means many state workers including doctors and nurses also haven’t been paid in months.

Amid the ongoing fiscal crisis, aid workers were concerned the government wouldn’t meet a sharply rising financial commitment to fund patchy, but improving immunization coverage. In the absence of a local commitment, there was concern international donors would cry foul, potentially threatening the country’s vaccination program.

Then on May 12, UNICEF reported that Laos had deposited the requisite $530 000, confirming the landlocked Southeast Asian state’s small commitment to the program, which totaled US$7.9 million in 2014. The government’s commitment has placated foreign donors, guaranteeing coverage for the majority of the country’s nearly seven million people.

“In light of the fiscal situation, it is encouraging that the government of Laos is continuing to commit its financial resources to high impact and life-saving interventions for children, such as immunization,” said Julia Rees, acting head of UNICEF’s Laos office, the procurer of vaccines for the country.

In at least one province, local authorities had already asked an international health nongovernmental organization to help fund immunization efforts.

Dr. Soulivanh Pholsena, director of foreign relations at the Laos Ministry of Health, did not respond to questions on the country’s vaccination program.

Laos aims to graduate from least developed country status by 2020 — the first country in the world to state such an ambition — which will mean lowering donor funding. To that aim, the government has been asked to contribute sharply rising annual payments towards routine vaccines. It started funding them in 2012 with a payment of just $22 400.

“Over time, countries take on an increasing share of vaccine costs so that — when the time is right — they are ready to assume the full costs of financing their vaccine programs,” said Rob Kelly, a spokesman of GAVI Alliance, which has disbursed US$19.3 million since 2000 as one of the biggest funders of immunization in Laos.

Although a new real-time, digital vaccine supply system that tracks cold storage and delivery to patients was introduced this year and major progress has been made recently, many people in remote areas still do not receive routine vaccinations.

Laos has increased coverage for measles from just 40% of the population in 2007 to 82% last year, according to the national statistics bureau. But in four provinces, still less than a quarter of babies at the critical age of 12 to 23 months are immunized against the disease.

While the mortality rate for under-fives has reduced much faster than expected, studies by the University of Washington this month did not include Laos on a list of countries expected to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal for reducing child mortality.

Viorica Berdaga, head of health and nutrition at UNICEF Laos, said there was still every chance of reducing under-five deaths by two-thirds to meet MDG4 in time for next year.

“To maintain this pace the government of Laos should continue to increase its resources for the delivery of child survival interventions to those who are hardest to reach,” she said.

DOI:10.1503/cmaj.109-4819

June 13, 2014

SuperFood for a thousand days – UNICEF helps fight malnutrition in Laos

ABC - Radio Australia

 

SuperFood for a thousand days – UNICEF helps fight malnutrition in Laos

Updated: 13 June 2014, 13:09 AEST

Humanitarian agency UNICEF, in partnership with global mining group MMG, is addressing children’s malnutrition in one of the region’s poorest countries.

The ‘1000 Day Project’ in Laos focuses on three provinces, distributing millions of sachets that contain micronutrients which can be mixed into children’s food.

The two-pronged exercise is aimed at babies and toddlers – the first thousand days of their lives.

Image: Laos ‘SuperKid’ nutrient sachets (Credit: Bree Fitzgerald, UNICEF)

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Viorica Berdaga, Chief of Health and Nutrition for UNICEF Laos

BERDAGA: The 1,000 Day Project is a corporate social responsibility programme of MMG Limited, where we were trying to identify jointly with the government of Laos PDR an appropriate solution for addressing very high level of malnutrition in young children in Laos.
It was about 44 percent of its children being stunted or too short for their age and they are also suffering from micro-nutrient deficiency or vitamin and mineral deficiencies because of inadequacy of their diet, they’re poor in vitamins and minerals and as many as 64 percent of children are under 2 years of age have anaemia and other micronutrient deficiencies in Laos.
We identified home fortification, with multiple nutrient powder, which is a mineral and vitamin powder that can be added to child’s meal and which can satisfy the daily needs of children in vitamins and minerals. One gram of powder of vitamin and mineral powder contains 15 vitamins and minerals and they address the daily needs of young children in vitamins and minerals.
LAM: And this is a 2 year programme. What about the longer term, can the mothers afford supplements in a country that’s as poor as Laos?
BERDAGA: I wanted to say that this programme actually is using or testing two delivery channels, so one delivery channel is actually through public health system and it’s a free distribution of micronutrient powder through the health system in Laos PDR.
These free distributions target very young children, from 6 to 23 months old and currently, it’s being tested in only three provinces as you main know and the other channel is actually social marketing and use of private sector to sell the micronutrient powders to those who can afford. It’s quite an affordable intervention. So just to say that we are looking at two different models, free distribution and market-based distribution and over the one-year-and-a-half period, we will be learning, together with our partners in the Ministry with Population Services International, with other private sector partners adjusting the models, accessing the course, the capacity to expand it to other provinces in Laos.
LAM: But where the market-based approach is concerned, would the supplements be subsidised in any way?
BERDAGA: For now, the sachets are being sold at their current price. Child care givers of families are willing to pay even more than the current price of the sachets. It’s like three cents a sachet. But for those who cannot afford that, there will be a free distribution.
LAM: So did UNICEF choose Laos as a country to be in partnership with the MMG Group, because the group has a commercial presence there?
BERDAGA: Yes, that’s right. Laos government, they have identified mining as one of their major economic development activities. So from UNICEF side, we were looking for partners that are interested in the longer term development of the country and also working with those partners to support and address development issues that affect children.
In fact, the partnership with MMG also helped educate mothers, families and care givers on how to appropriately feed and care for their young children.
Because in terms of sustainability of solution to address malnutrition in Laos PDR just giving micronutrient powder is not a longer term sustainable solution for the country, but it just immediate medium term measure to help children grow and develop to their full potential.
So we are also trying to work on their dietary practices and on hygiene and sanitation practices, because this has often an important role and contributes to very high level of malnutrition in Laos.
But MMG works in many other areas in Laos PDR with other partners and helps communities, especially communities around its mine, to implement a number of projects in different areas, livelihoods and water sanitation, infrastructure.
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UNICEF, MMG partnership aims to improve child nutrition in Laos

First posted: Fri 13, Jun 2014, 11:14am AEST

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-13/laos-project-to-improve-children-nutrition/5521182

Photo: The 1,000 Day Project aims to improve nutrition in a crucial phase of childhood development. (UNICEF: Bree Fitzgerald)

woA partnership between the UN Children’s Fund and global mining group MMG is aiming to address malnutrition in Laos, one of the region’s poorest countries.

Malnutrition contributes to over one-third of child deaths globally and affects more than 40 per cent of Lao children under five years old, according to experts at UNICEF.

The ‘1000 Day Project’ focuses on the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, a crucial phase of childhood development.

The program will distribute four million micronutrient sachets – branded Superkid – containing essential nutrients to over 180,000 families.

The sachets can be mixed into children’s food to prevent malnutrition, anaemia and similar illnesses.

The Lao Women’s Union and Ministry of Health will work closely with community volunteers to distribute the sachets in Savannakhet, Saravane, and Attapeu provinces.

Viorica Berdaga, UNICEF’s chief of health and nutrition in Laos, told Asia Pacific the micronutrient sachets can satisfy the daily needs of children.

“As many as 64 per cent of children under two years of age have anaemia and other micronutrient deficiencies in Laos,” she said.

“One gram of powder contains 15 vitamins and minerals and they address the daily needs of young children in vitamins and minerals.”

Dr Berdaga says the two-year program is an “affordable intervention” to help fight malnutrition in Laos.

“This free distribution targets very young children – from six to 23 months old – and currently, it’s being tested in only three provinces,” she said.

“We are looking at two different models: Free distribution and market-based distribution.

“We will be learning, together with our partners in the Ministry with Population Services International, with other private sector partners, adjusting the models, accessing the capacity to expand it to other provinces in Laos.”

MMG Limited, which operates the MMG LXML Sepon mine in Savannakhet, has pledged $1.5 million to support the project.

“Our belief – we mine for progress – is reinforced by our investment in communities,” MMG executive general manager Troy Hey said in a statement.

In the first year, the micronutrient sachets will be distributed for free to families with children under two years of age, MMG said.

The company says additional sachets will be subsidised for families with children under five years of age.

June 11, 2014

Laos: No Progress on Rights

Urgently End Disappearances, Systematic Suppression of Basic Freedoms

June 10, 2014

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/06/10/laos-no-progress-rights

CN_Div_333

This government brooks no dissent from its people, and uses rights-abusing laws and long prison terms to prevent any challenge to its power. Lao people fear their government because they know officials can act with near total impunity.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director

CN_Div_333(Bangkok) – The government of Laos has failed to address the country’s systemic human rights problems, Human Rights Watch said today in a critique of Lao’s human rights record submitted to the United Nations. Laos will appear for the country’s second Universal Periodic Review in October 2014 at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Human Rights Watch highlighted several human rights issues that deserve international attention, including severe restrictions on fundamental liberties, absence of labor rights, and detention of suspected drug users without charge in abusive drug centers. Of particular concern is the forced disappearance of civil society leader Sombath Somphone, in Vientiane in December 2012 after he was stopped by the police, and of an environmentalist, Sompawn Khantisouk, who has been missing since he was ordered to report to a police station in January 2007.

“The Lao authorities are defying international concerns by ignoring calls to respond to the enforced disappearance of activist Sombath Somphone,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Concerned governments need to drive home the point that they will not sit complacently by as disappearances and other abuses multiply in Laos.”

The Lao government has not made tangible changes toward meeting commitments made during its first UPR session in 2010. Laos should ratify core international human rights conventions; end restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and the media; and bring its labor laws and regulations into line with core labor standards of the International Labor Organization. The government should investigate and end abuses in its drug detention centers and shift to voluntary, community-based drug dependency treatment that is medically appropriate.

The government severely suppresses the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. The penal code outlaws activities that the government deems to be “slandering” or “weakening” the state. The government strictly controls all television, radio, and print media in the country. It bars any article or mass media broadcast considered contrary to “national interests” or “traditional culture and dignity.” People involved with unauthorized public protests have been sentenced to long prison terms.

Workers are similarly denied their rights, and prohibited from establishing or joining a trade union of their own choosing since all unions must be part of the government-controlled Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU). They are also unable to exercise their right to strike because of restrictions in labor law and authorities’ proven willingness to forcibly break up workers’ protests.

“This government brooks no dissent from its people, and uses rights-abusing laws and long prison terms to prevent any challenge to its power,” Robertson said. “Lao people fear their government because they know officials can act with near total impunity.”

Lao authorities also violate the rights of people held in drug detention centers. Human Rights Watch found that detainees were held against their will for months and even years, in administrative detention without due process protections such as a court ruling, ongoing judicial oversight, or an appeal mechanism. Detainees at the Somsanga center outside Vientiane are given little effective treatment, locked in cells inside barbed wire compounds, and subjected to brutal beatings.

“Compulsory detention in the Lao drug centers violates a slew of human rights,” Robertson said. “Suspected drug users are arbitrarily arrested, denied a fair trial, and subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment in the drug centers.”

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