Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 –Lao People’s Democratic Republic
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The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is an authoritarian state ruled by the only party the constitution legitimizes, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The most recent National Assembly election, held in 2011, was not free and fair. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most significant human rights problems continued to be that the government denied citizens the ability to change their government, conditions in some prisons were harsh, and corruption in the police and judiciary led to a lack of due process and arbitrary arrest and detention.
Other human rights problems continued to include: abuse of prisoners and detainees by some police and security force members; government infringements on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association, as well as on the right to privacy; government restrictions on academic freedom; local restrictions on religious freedom; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and against persons with HIV/AIDS; and government restrictions on worker rights.
The government did not take steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, and police and security force members acted with impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no credible reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including of insurgents.
There were no developments in the cases of persons allegedly killed by the military or police in previous years.
There continued to be no progress reported in the 2012 abduction of Sombath Somphone, a prominent civil society leader and retired founder of a nonprofit training center, by individuals in plainclothes after what appeared to be an orchestrated stop of his vehicle by traffic police in Vientiane. The government denied knowledge of his whereabouts, and its investigation into his disappearance was neither conclusive nor transparent.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices. Police and security force members sometimes abused prisoners.
Authorities occasionally subjected detainees to beatings and long-term solitary confinement in completely dark rooms, and in some cases authorities placed them in leg shackles or wooden leg stocks for long periods. Degrading treatment, the chaining and manacling of prisoners, and solitary confinement in small, unlit rooms were standard punishments in larger prisons, while smaller provincial or district prisons employed manacles and chains to prevent prisoners from escaping.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention facility conditions varied widely and in some prisons continued to be harsh. There was a separate prison for foreigners.
Physical Conditions: Samkhe Prison in Vientiane, the country’s largest, held approximately 550 male and 150 female prisoners separated by gender in a 12-acre facility built in 1966, according to authorities. Some prisons reportedly held juveniles with adults, although no official or reliable statistics were available on the overall population or gender of prisoners. Cells were apparently crowded. Prisoners had adequate access to potable water. Food rations were minimally adequate. Prisoners reportedly could grow fruits and vegetables to supplement their meals, and some prisons had a sundry shop where prisoners could purchase basic food and toiletries. Some prisons other than Samkhe required inmates to reimburse authorities upon release for the cost of food eaten during incarceration. Prisoners in the larger, state-operated facilities in the capital generally fared better than did those in smaller, provincial prisons.
Although most prisons had some form of clinic, usually with a doctor or nurse on the staff, medical facilities were usually deficient. Prisoners had access only to basic medical care, and treatment for serious ailments was unavailable. For example, in Samkhe Prison there was a clinic with four sick beds and a staff of three for 700 inmates. Prisoners received vaccinations upon arrival; if sick, they had to pay medicine costs. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported prison officials did not allow charitable organizations to visit prisoners to provide humanitarian assistance, despite earlier permitting this practice. Villagers who lived near the Samkhe Prison confirmed a fire at the prison in October burned down a warehouse, but they reported no fatalities. Villagers believed the fire destroyed prisoners’ stored personal belongings and clothing. Government officials did not confirm the incident or report any injuries. In some facilities prisoners could arrange for treatment in police hospitals, and authorities sent prisoners to these hospitals in emergencies. There was no information available during the year on the prevalence of death in prisons or pretrial detention centers.
Administration: There was no information available regarding the adequacy of recordkeeping on prisoners. In certain cases the government allowed the release of offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes without formally sentencing them to prison.
There were no ombudsmen to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Prison wardens set prison visitation policies. Family members generally could access prisoners and detainees once per month. Prisoners and detainees could follow some religious observances, but authorities did not provide any facilities.
The Ministry of Public Security monitored prison and detention center conditions. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, although there were no reports prisoners, detainees, or their family members made such requests due to fear of exacerbating poor detention conditions. There were also no known investigations of complaints.
Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit regular independent monitoring of prison conditions. At times authorities provided foreign diplomats access to some prisons, but such access was strictly limited.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but some government officials did not respect these provisions, and arbitrary arrest and detention persisted.
In 2012 the government detained and moved children and adults deemed to be beggars and homeless from Vientiane streets in an effort to prepare the capital for hosting an international summit meeting. According to the government, authorities returned some homeless individuals to their home villages and moved others into a temporary housing facility in a Vientiane suburb. Authorities sent 21 children to the government-run facility between October 2013 and September. At year’s end 49 persons remained in the facility, 19 of whom were women. The government also arranged with an international NGO to provide emergency shelter and informal education to children removed from city streets. The NGO reported it assisted 1,541 children between January and September and had some children in its shelter at year’s end.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Ministry of Public Security maintains internal security but shares the function of state control with the Ministry of Defense’s security forces and with the LPRP and the LPRP’s popular front organizations. The Ministry of Public Security includes local, traffic, immigration, and security (including border) police, village police auxiliary, plus other armed police units. The armed forces have domestic security responsibilities, including counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency.
Impunity remained a problem, as did police corruption; there were no statistics available on their extent. The Ministry of Public Security’s Inspection Department maintained complaint boxes throughout most of the country for citizens to deposit written complaints, but usage statistics were also unavailable.
The government continued to cooperate with international organizations to implement a national strategy to strengthen law enforcement and deal with increased drug trafficking and abuse, as well as related crime and police corruption.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Police and military forces have arrest powers, although normally only police exercised them. The law provides detainees the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of their detention. The law also requires authorities to notify detainees of the charges against them and inform next of kin of their detention within 24 hours of arrest, and this generally occurred. Prisoner access to family members was not certain, but officials generally allowed it. There is a bail system, but authorities arbitrarily implemented it. There were procedures for house arrest of detainees, particularly for health reasons, and isolated reports of detainees held under house arrest. There were no reports of prisoners held incommunicado during the year. The law provides detained, arrested, or jailed citizens and foreigners the right to legal representation upon request.
Arbitrary Arrest: Police continued to exercise wide latitude in making arrests, relying on a provision of the law that provides warrants are not necessary to apprehend persons in the act of committing crimes or in urgent cases. Police reportedly sometimes used arrest as a means to intimidate persons or extract bribes.
Pretrial Detention: There is a one-year statutory limit for detention without trial. The length of detention without a pretrial hearing or formal charges is also limited to one year. The Office of the Prosecutor General reportedly made efforts to have authorities bring all prisoners to trial within the one-year limit, but officials occasionally did not meet the requirement. The Prosecutor General’s Office must authorize police to hold a suspect pending investigation. It grants authorization in three-month increments, and police must release a suspect after a maximum of one year if they lack sufficient evidence to bring charges. Authorities at times continued to detain prisoners after they completed their sentences, particularly if prisoners were unable to pay court fines. In some cases officials released prisoners after they agreed to pay fines later.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but impunity and corruption continued to be problems. Some judges reportedly accepted bribes. There were no cases reported during the year of government or party officials influencing the courts. The National Assembly may remove judges from office for impropriety but did not do so during the year.