Archive for December, 2012

December 31, 2012

Laos ‘extremely vulnerable’ to trafficking by organized crime groups – UN official

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Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Yury Fedotov. Photo: UN Information Service, Vienna

5 December 2012 – Due to its unique position in the Greater Mekong region and its shared borders with five countries, Laos is “extremely vulnerable” to the trafficking of people, illicit drugs and commodities by organized crime groups, a senior United Nations official said today.

“While economic growth and regional integration bring many positives such as the increased mobility of goods, services, people and money, they also provide opportunities for transnational organized crime to expand, threaten human security and challenge the rule of law,” said the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, during a visit to the country.

Mr. Fedotov stressed that in spite of its economic reforms, economic growth and efforts to combat corruption, Laos is at risk of trafficking because of its shared borders with Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.

“Transnational organized criminal syndicates traffic in illicit drugs, children, women and men, counterfeit products and fake medicines. But they also play a role in illicit resource extraction including protected natural resources, timber, fish and other wildlife. These syndicates represent a threat to public health and to society’s well-being,” he added.

During his visit, Mr. Fedotov met with senior officials, including Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, and reiterated UNODC’s support for Government efforts to reduce illicit opium poppy cultivation, to increase food security, to develop sustainable livelihoods in former opium-growing areas, and to fight organized crime, corruption, terrorism, and the trafficking of people and sexual exploitation of minors.

He also visited a centre housing women and children who had been victimized by human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual exploitation, and commended police and prosecutors for focusing on victims and their human rights.

“We need more such shelters at a time when many of those in society are being victimized in this way,” he said.

Mr. Fedotov also urged support for Project Childhood, an initiative to combat the sexual exploitation of children – mainly in the travel and tourism sectors – within the Greater Mekong subregion. The project is currently active in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Viet Nam. UNODC is involved in the project, which focuses on prevention and protection, by strengthening law enforcement capacity to identify, arrest and prosecute travelling child sex offenders.

December 27, 2012


แม่น้ำโขง: อิสระแห่งสายน้ำ

เสียงจากเยาวชนลุ่มน้ำโขงแด่ อ้ายสมบัด สมพอน ณ หน้าสถานทูตลาว

“อ้ายสมบัด สมพอน เราต่างปรารถนาสิ่งเดียวกัน นั่นคือสันติสุขเพื่อโลกที่น่าอยู่ โปรดอย่าได้ปิดกั้นโอกาสในการสร้างสันติภาพให้เกิดขึ้นในโลกของเรา โปรดให้ความยุติธรรมแก่อ้ายสมบัด ให้เป็นอิสระ ให้ความเป็นยุติธรรมกับโลกใบนี้ ขอให้เสียงของนักกิจกรรมสังคมท่านนี้ถูกได้ยิน อ้ายสมบัดสมควรที่จะได้รับอิสระและเสรีภาพ” – เยาวชนเวียดนาม

“พลเมืองในสังคมลาวกำลังเรียกร้องสันติภาพอันแท้จริง การปกครองด้วยระบอบประชาธิปไตยอันแท้จริง และความยุติธรรมที่แท้จริง ขออ้ายสมบัด สมพอน เป็นอิสระ” – เยาวชนลาว

“อาจารย์สมบัด สมพอน คือบุคคลต้นแบบผู้ยิ่งใหญ่และเป็นผู้ปฎิบัติจริง ท่านได้นำพาการพัฒนาที่ยั่งยืนในด้านการศึกษา และความมั่งคงทางอาหารมาสู่ประเทศลาวและภูมิภาคลุ่มน้ำโขง สำหรับพวกเราแล้ว คุณูปการของอาจารย์สมบัด ความมุ่งมั่นอันแรงกล้าในงานพัฒนาคือ ‘ต้นทุน’ เป็นดั่งของขวัญชิ้นวิเศษสำหรับคนรุ่นใหม่ โปรดนำอาจารย์สมบัด สมพอน กลับบ้านอย่างปลอดภัยสู่ลุ่มน้ำโขงของเรา” – เยาวชนกัมพูชา

“ให้ความยุติธรรมนำมาซึ่งสวัสดิการ และศักดิ์ศรีความเป็นมนุษย์ มนุษย์เราเกิดมาพร้อมเสรีภาพ โปรดนำอ้ายสมบัติกลับมา ร่วมกันปกป้องอิสรภาพของพวกเรา” – เยาวชนพม่า

“การหายไปของอ้ายสมบัด สมพอน ไม่ควรเป็นแค่อีกข่าวหนึ่งบนหน้าหนังสือพิมพ์ แต่มันควรทำให้เรา ผู้รับรู้เหตุการณ์และสังคมเกิดคำถามว่า
มันเป็นเรื่องยุติธรรมแล้วหรือที่คนที่อุทิศชีวิตทำงานด้านปกป้องรักษาสิทธิให้ผู้อื่นไมได้รับการป้องกันการใช้สิทธิของตนเอง?” –


December 24, 2012

Laos: Unhappy year-end

Laos: Unhappy year-end

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This year was is supposed to have been a year to remember for Laos _ that was until the evening of Dec 15. ”I last saw my husband driving in his jeep behind my car on Saturday, 15 December, 2012. We were both going home to dinner,” said Ng Sui Meng.

”His jeep was still behind my car around 6pm near the police station at Thaduea Road. After that I did not see him anymore,” Mrs Ng said in an appeal to the Lao government after her husband, Sombath Somphone, went missing on that day.

This year Vientiane and the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party showed the world that their country could easily handle big international events. It hosted the Asia-Europe Summit (Asem) last month, the biggest ever in their history.

Other good news came along this year when the country gained its long-sought membership of the World Trade Organisation after years of negotiations.

Everything seems to confirm the gradual opening of a country once extremely cautious about outside influence on the back of fears of endangerment to the firm grip of the ruling Communist Party.

Change is expected to come, though, with less tolerance of criticism of the government and a bigger role for non-government organisations (NGOs).

But the feel-good mood of Lao watchers turned sour when Mr Sombath disappeared on Dec 15.

The news was a shock to them and left them bewildered. The 60-year-old activist had never been regarded as an enemy of the state.

He founded the Participatory Development Training Centre in Vientiane to promote development and education and was still active even after he stepped down as director.

His work as a social developer was internationally recognised when he received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award on Community Leadership in 2005.

Mr Sombath was a key figure as a co-organiser of the Asia-Europe People’s Forum, which ran alongside the Asem.

Not surprisingly, he was called ”one of the most respected and influential voices for sustainable people-centred and just economic and social development in Laos” by the forum.

More than a week has passed now and at time of writing, his whereabouts are still unknown and the reason behind his disappearance remains a mystery.

Some people have tried to link his disappearance with his advocacy of environmental issues concerning the Xayaburi dam, but that seems too difficult to configure as he has never put himself on the opposite side of the government on this issue.

Vientiane has denied any involvement in the case. Laos’ Foreign Ministry suspects he could have been snatched by unknown people after he was stopped by police at a post on his way home.

Despite government denials, Vientiane cannot distance itself from the issue. Security camera footage supplies evidence that at the very least the police saw him before he disappeared after, according to his wife, ”a truck with flashing lights stopped at the police station and drove off with him”.

His Singaporean wife has appealed to officials at all levels, from village to national government. But Lao authorities seem slow to take action, despite calls for an urgent investigation growing louder from NGOs in Thailand to governments in Washington and Europe.

Mr Sombath’s disappearance came exactly one week after Anne-Sophie Gindroz, country director for Laos of Halvetas, a Swiss-based NGO promoting an agricultural project, left the Lao capital on Dec 8. She was given 48 hours to leave the country after criticising the government.

The two cases might not be connected, but it signals new concerns about Laos’s tolerance of critics.

It’s noted that the work of the NGOs has not changed, and that the country is more open to investment, while party youngbloods have been given a role in running the country over the conservative old guard.

Trying to link the two cases will not benefit the country at all and concern will grow as long as the authorities continue to hesitate to investigate the respected activist’s disappearance or probe the police who saw him before he went missing on that Saturday evening.

Nobody can help Laos except the government itself to prove all doubters that they are wrong.

Saritdet Marukatat is Digital Media News Editor, Bangkok Post.

About the author

Writer: Saritdet Marukatat
Position: Opinion-Editorial Pages Editor
December 22, 2012

Sombath Somphone – Community champion: Abduction of Laos Activist Tied to Rights Work


UN: Abduction of Laos Activist Tied to Rights Work

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GENEVA December 21, 2012 (AP)

The U.N. human rights office says missing Laotian human rights activist Sombath Somphone appears to have been kidnapped because of his human rights work.

A spokesman for the office, Rupert Colville, says “we are highly concerned for his safety.”

Colville urged authorities Friday to do everything possible to find Somphone, 60, last seen on Dec. 15 in video footage from a police post where he detained and driven away in a car by men in civilian clothes. The government of Laos on Thursday disavowed responsibility for the disappearance, suggesting he was kidnapped over a personal dispute.

Somphone won one of Asia’s top civil awards in 2005 for his work reducing poverty and promoting education at a training center he founded.

Laos appeals to public over activist’s disappearance

December 21, 2012 12:52 pm

Vientiane – The Lao government on Friday denied knowing anything about the disappearance of an activist this week, and appealed to the public for clues to his whereabouts.

Sombath Somphone, 60, disappeared on Sunday after being stopped at a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Vientiane.

“Currently his family and the authorities do not have any more leads or sources of information about his whereabouts. If you know or hear any information about him, please contact one of the numbers below,” an appeal in the state-run Vientiane Times said Friday.//DPA


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Sombath Somphone: Community champion

NGO activists in Thailand yesterday called on the Lao government to look into the disappearance of a Magsaysay Award winner, who has not been seen for several days.

In a letter sent to the Lao government, parliament and several embassies, the activists expressed concern about the safety of Sombath Somphone and called on Lao authorities to take urgent action on the case.

“We, civil society organisations in Thailand, urge Lao authorities to take every urgent action with regard to Mr Sombath’s disappearancee,” the letter, released by the NGO Coordinating Committee, an umbrella group comprising 61 organisations, said.

“We look forward to hearing that all immediate and necessary efforts are being made to search for his whereabouts and investigate the cause of his disappearance.”

The letter has been sent to the Thai and Singaporean embassies in Vientiane and to Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Mr Sombath, 60, won the award in 2005 for community service.

He is founder of the Participatory Development Training Centre in Laos, which is aimed at fostering social development.

Mr Sombath is well known among Thai activists working on cross-border social development issues.

He disappeared on Saturday while he was driving home from his office in Vientiane, the NGOs said.

A source close to him said he left his office around 5pm that day to meet his wife, Shui Meng, a Singapore national, for dinner.

His wife waited and then checked all hospitals after he failed to return home, and reported to police, the source said.

The news about Mr Sombath’s disappearance has been spreading on social networks.

December 22, 2012

Suspicions swirl over disappearance of activist in Laos

Suspicions swirl over disappearance of activist in Laos

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By Emily AlpertDecember 21, 2012, 9:56 a.m.

Behind the wheel of her car, Ng Shui Meng last saw her husband in the jeep behind her, following her home for dinner on a Saturday night, she told human rights groups.

She lost sight of him somewhere near a police outpost. She came home. He did not.

The sudden disappearance of Lao activist Sombath Somphone, 60, has stirred fears for his fate. A grainy video of the Vientiane street where Sombath was last seen shows him being stopped and ultimately taken away, fueling suspicions that the government seized him.

But while Laos is the sort of country where something like that might happen, human rights groups say, it is unclear why it would happen to Sombath. His internationally recognized work centers on reducing poverty through sustainable development, but he is not especially critical of the Lao government.

Laos tried to dispel suspicion in a government statement issued this week, which said traffic police stopped Sombath in his jeep on Saturday night to check his license and car document under “normal procedures.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the grainy security camera footage suggests Sombath may have been kidnapped afterward, perhaps because of a personal or business dispute.

Human rights activists were unconvinced, however, pointing out that police apparently did nothing to stop the supposed kidnapping near their own outpost. Human Rights Watch urged Laos to “come clean” on the disappearance of the respected activist.

“The clamor for his release is not going to go away,” said Brad Adams, its Asia director. “Lao authorities should immediately reveal his location and return him to his family.”

The Southeast Asian nation allows little dissent and ranks among the most repressive countries, according to the rights group Freedom House. The communist nation has gradually opened its economy, but freedom of speech and assembly are still tightly controlled. Shortly before Sombath disappeared, Lao officials reportedly expelled the head of a Swiss nonprofit organization for criticizing the state.

A coworker of Sombath’s told the Associated Press that the activist might have been detained for taking part in an October regional meeting of civil society and nonprofit groups by authorities who misconstrued it as a political act. The goals of such nonprofits are often at odds with those of the Lao government as it tries to peel off its “least developed country” label, embracing rapid and untrammeled economic growth.

His ties abroad are “probably the most alarming aspect of his work” for the Lao government, said Andrew Billo, assistant director for policy programs at the Asia Society. “Laos is increasingly engaging with the outside world. The government is increasingly nervous about that relationship.”

“They want the assistance — but they also want to maintain their sovereignty as a nation,” Billo said. “If Sombath had some dialogue about the aid trajectory for the country, that would definitely be seen as a threat or a potential threat to the government.”

Sombath has unusually strong ties abroad as a Lao activist: He won a University of Hawaii scholarship as a young man and returned to Laos to launch a wide range of programs, from improving education to helping small businesses sell sustainable products such as organic mulberry tea. Seven years ago, he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award, regarded by many as the Nobel Peace Prize of Asia.

“His hopes rest with the young,” the awards foundation wrote when the honor was announced. “He urges them to remain mindful of their country’s traditional values even as global forces grow stronger. Development is good, he assures them, but for development to be healthy, it ‘must come from within.’ ”

Pressure from Western human rights organizations and the U.S. State Department, which said Tuesday that it had registered its concerns with Lao officials, could ensure that Sombath is not detained indefinitely, as it might have been able to do a decade ago, Billo said.

But “they need to be careful,” Billo added. “They don’t want to alienate Laos altogether because it has alternative allies in the region they can call on for support,” such as China. “They can’t let the country off the hook. It’s a delicate tightrope balance between engagement and holding the country accountable.”

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