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June 27, 2015

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014

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The fundamental struggle for dignity has been a driving force in human history worldwide, and what drives us toward it is a set of universal values and aspirations.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are ideals that cannot be contained by national boundaries or ocean shores.

That is why it is especially troubling that so many people in so many places face grotesque restrictions on their freedoms and rights from their own governments.

For far too many people, 2014 was defined by suffering and abuse perpetrated by terrorist groups exploiting religious discourse and divisions to advance their totalitarian ideology, or by governments, such as Syria, sometimes acting in the name of combatting terrorism.

In parts of the Middle East and Africa, violent extremists have made it clear that not only do they have zero regard for human rights; they have zero regard for human life, period. We’ve seen groups like ISIL burn human beings alive, barbarically behead prisoners, sell girls into slavery, and execute innocents widely and indiscriminately.

Almost every week brings new examples of just how far the evil of these groups reaches.

We all witnessed the brutality and nihilism of the horrific attacks by Pakistani Taliban and Boko Haram on schoolchildren, the assassinations of Charlie Hebdo journalists, and numerous outrages and killings carried out by ISIL. The rise of ISIL was in part a consequence of, and illustrated the dangers of, atrocities committed by the government of Syria and failures of inclusive governance in Iraq.

Meanwhile, governments in China, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, among others, continued to stifle free and open media and the development of civil society through the imprisonment of journalists, bloggers, and non-violent critics. In Thailand, the military overthrew a democratically-elected government, repealed the constitution, and severely limited civil liberties; subsequent efforts by the military government to rewrite the country’s constitution and recast its political intuitions raised concerns about lack of inclusivity in the process.

In the face of all this, the human aspiration for political liberty and honest, non-abusive governance remained strong.

Around the world, more people chose their leaders in competitive elections than ever before. On every continent, celebrations marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, while the same demands for human rights and accountable governance that gave rise to that historic day continue to spread.

In Afghanistan, millions of people defied threats of violence to choose a new President representing the country’s first peaceful transfer of power from one elected government to another. India’s parliamentary contest in April 2014 was one of the largest elections in history. Indonesia’s young democracy saw a peaceful electoral transition to a leader who had challenged its traditional centers of power. Tunisia held its first free and fair presidential election since the 2011 revolution.

Activists in countries like Russia and Venezuela showed enduring strength and courage despite increasing restrictions, harassment, and incarceration in their peaceful pursuit of dignity and freedom.

As President Obama said to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2014, “all of us – big nations and small – must meet our responsibility to observe and enforce international norms. We are here because others realized that we gain more from cooperation than from conquest. We call upon others to join us on the right side of history – for while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions… [We] will not shy away from the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…We choose to work for the world as it should be.”

As I travel the world in my capacity as Secretary of State, I regularly meet with brave individuals who risk their lives each and every day to advance human rights. They do so in spite of the threat of violence, and in the face of government attempts to silence their voices.

We at the Department of State will continue to press governments to uphold fundamental freedoms. We remain committed to advocating on behalf of civil society and speaking out for the protection of human rights for all individuals.

Now in their 39th year, these annual Congressionally-mandated reports provide a picture of how the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is being fulfilled. They help promote awareness regarding the reality of human rights in many of the dark corners of the world and the glimpses of light that brave and committed human rights defenders provide.

They are used by the Department of State and other government agencies needs to guide American foreign policy, and by Congress in its determination and allocation of foreign aid and security sector assistance. They also signal to the human rights defenders and activists under siege that the U.S. government recognizes their struggle and stands with civil society in its unending effort to preserve human rights.

I hereby transmit the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 to the United States Congress.

John F. Kerry
Secretary of State

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June 27, 2015

Release of the 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices


John Kerry
Secretary of State
Press Briefing Room
Washington, DC
June 25, 2015
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SECRETARY KERRY: Good to see everybody. Well, thank you very much for being here as we release our Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014. And I want to begin particularly by thanking Tom Malinowski and his entire team. It’s a great team effort that literally works all year long collecting extraordinary information, synthesizing it, and putting together what I consider to be one of the most important reports that the department puts out. And it reflects a vast amount of objective research that will provide a uniquely valuable resource for anybody in the world who cares about justice and law.

The message at the heart of these reports is that countries do best when their citizens fully enjoy the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled. This is not just an expression of hope. This is a reality, and it is proven out in country after country around the world. After all, we live in a time when access to knowledge and openness to change are absolutely essential. And in such an era, no country can fulfill its potential if its people are held back, or more so if they are beaten down by repression.

Now we understand that some governments may take issue with these reports, including such extreme cases as North Korea or Syria. But also some governments with whom we work closely may also object. But I want to say something about that, and I think it’s important. The discomfort that these reports sometimes cause does more to reinforce than to undermine the value and credibility of these reports. Truth cannot successfully be evaded or dented or defeated, not over time. It can be changed. The truth wins out.

And so my advice to any leader who is upset by these findings is really to examine them, to look at the practices of their country, and to recognize that the way to alter what the world thinks and the way to change these judgments is to alter what is happening in those countries. That is the advice that we also give to ourselves. There is nothing sanctimonious in this. There is zero arrogance. And we couldn’t help but have humility when we have seen what we have seen in the last year in terms of racial discord and unrest. So we approach this with great self-awareness. But we also understand that when human rights is the issue, every country, including the United States, has room to improve. And the path to global respect always begins at home.

So these reports can actually give governments an added incentive to honor the rights and the dignity of their citizens. It also equips interested observers with an arsenal of facts. Within these pages are the stories of imprisoned pro-democracy activists, journalists jailed simply for telling the truth, members of religious minorities persecuted for practicing their faith, civil society leaders harassed for daring to speak up, and young women and girls who because of their gender are denied an education, kidnapped, or abused.

There are other stories too, because these reports actually have improved over time. I think we do a better job of examining and making judgments about what is happening in places. And frankly, the reports have become more comprehensive each year as a result. The traditional principles of free speech, religious liberty, and equal protection remain at the center of our policy. But we have gradually expanded our reporting to include human trafficking, internet freedom, the rights of persons with disabilities, and the LGBTI community.

We’ve also begun to highlight the profoundly harmful impact that corruption and poor governance have on human rights. No person anywhere should have to pay a bribe just to open a business or to get a driver’s license or to have their day in court or to sell a basket of fruit on a street. Corruption is a threat to society at large, not only because of the larceny that it embodies in terms of the values and principles that people hope to organize their lives by, but also because of the cynicism that it feeds. And that matters because when trust in government is lost, other more harmful forces always try to fill the vacuum.

In this connection, no development has been more disturbing than the emergence of such groups as Daesh, al-Qaida, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab. The many, the litany of these human rights crimes for which these terrorists are responsible has become all too familiar and no less shocking – murder, torture, rape, religious persecution, slavery, and more. Make no mistake: The world community has an absolute obligation to confront and to defeat these groups, and coercive measures are obviously an essential part of that effort.

At the same time, we have to understand that the terrorist presence does not give authorities license to use violence indiscriminately. We can’t rescue a village from Daesh or Boko Haram by destroying it. Any – and terrorism, obviously, is not a legitimate excuse to lock up political opponents, diminish the rights of civil society, or pin a false label on activists who are engaged in peaceful dissent. Practices of this type are not only unjust; they play directly into the hands of terrorists. And when the pathways to nonviolent change are closed, the road to extremism becomes more inviting. And given all the suffering that we have seen in recent years, that is just simply unacceptable.

Terrorism is a grave threat to human rights; conflicts are another. For evidence we have only to turn to the 2014 Country Reports for such nations as the Central African Republic, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine, which has been victimized by its Russian neighbor. Today, an estimated 230 million people live in areas of overt strife, and we are experiencing a crisis in food security. The number of refugees has reached a record level. UNICEF called 2014 one of the most disastrous years ever for children. And in Yemen, Burundi, and elsewhere conflict and civil strife have grown even worse in 2015.

The persistence of terrible bloodshed is a challenge to all of us. It is a challenge to us to strengthen our institutions and our political will so that we can do a better job of deterring aggression, holding accountable those who commit atrocities, identifying potential crises ahead of time, and stopping outbreaks of violence before they begin.

Finally, it is worth asking – and some people do ask this question – why do we care? Why do we do this? Why do we issue this report? Why do we Americans care whether the rights of others are respected?

Well, certainly, in an interconnected world, “Injustice anywhere is,” to quote Dr. King, “a threat to justice everywhere.” And there can be no doubt that our citizens will do better and they will feel safer in a world where the values that we cherish are widely upheld.

But there is also, I think, an even deeper reason for why we care. Because when human rights tragedies are supplanted by human rights victories, the very idea of progress becomes less rhetorical and much more real. What do I mean by that?

Well, consider a couple of questions.

First, is there a more hopeful measure of civilization’s advance than the abolition of slavery, the enfranchisement of women, the end of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the broadening recognition of minority rights everywhere in the world?

Is there a more meaningful agenda for the future than the shrinking of bigotry, the curtailment of conflict, the defeat of terrorism, the prevention of genocide, and a fuller commitment to the rights and the dignity of every man, woman, and child?

So why do we care?

Well, we care because respect for human rights provides the truest mirror that we have of ourselves, the most objective test of how we have come over the centuries, and how far we still have to go. It is a yardstick by which we can measure life itself. I realize that that is placing a lot of weight on what is, after all, just a report, but I think the description fits. And I hope it will inspire us – people here and around the world – between this year and next to take more steps, hopefully giant steps, in the direction of greater justice, wider decency, and peace.

So I thank you for coming together. I know you’ll have some questions of Tom. I’m going to leave this in his hands to further make a statement and then to answer your questions on specific countries. So Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary – Mr. Secretary, can I –

MR KIRBY: We’re not taking questions.

SECRETARY KERRY: Do you have my sticks here somewhere?

MR KIRBY: I got this. I’ll trade you, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Trade. That’s a hell of a trade. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we wish you all the best, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you.

QUESTION: Are you hopeful on Iran? Are you hopeful on Iran, Secretary?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m always hopeful. Yes, I’m hopeful. I’m not declaring optimism. I am hopeful.


March 6, 2015

Australia: Press Laos to Respect

Australia: Press Laos to Respect Rights

Rights Respond on Sombath Somphone; Set Strong Benchmarks for Reform in Dialogue

March 2, 2015

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“Australia should make sure that this human rights dialogue doesn’t become just an exercise in empty rhetoric. It’s an opportunity to really press the Lao government on sensitive issues and demand meaningful outcomes.” Elaine Pearson, Australia director

(Sydney) – Australia should use its upcoming human rights dialogue with Laos to raise human rights concerns and set concrete benchmarks for reform, Human Rights Watch said today. The dialogue, scheduled to be held in Canberra on March 5, 2015, is a crucial opportunity to push the government of Laos to take real action on rights ahead of Laos chairing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2016.

In a submission to the Australian government, Human Rights Watch urged officials to raise concerns with their Lao counterparts about the enforced disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, increased restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, violations of labor rights, and abusive drug detention centers.

“Australia should make sure that this human rights dialogue doesn’t become just an exercise in empty rhetoric,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director. “It’s an opportunity to really press the Lao government on sensitive issues and demand meaningful outcomes.”

This is the fourth such dialogue with Laos, and the first one to be held in Australia. Australia committed funding from 2012 to 2015 to support the Lao government’s human rights activities. The Australian government should review all assistance in funding, programming, and activities in Laos to ensure that it is not contributing to policies and programs that violate human rights.

Laos has repeatedly responded with silence or denial to all questions about the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone in Vientiane in December 2012. He was last seen on the evening of December 15, 2012, in Vientiane. Lao public surveillance CCTV footage revealed that police stopped Sombath’s car at a police post. Within minutes after being stopped, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove away. Analysis of the video shows that Sombath Somphone was taken away in the presence of police officers who witnessed the abduction and failed to intervene – a fact that strongly suggests government complicity.

Australia should use this opportunity to press Lao for information about his fate or whereabouts. At the United Nations Human Rights Council review of Laos in Geneva in January 2015, Australia had called for a credible investigation into Sombath Somphone’s enforced disappearance and raised concerns about Internet censorship and shrinking space for civil society on human rights.

Australia should back up its public statements at the Human Rights Council with strong public and private messages at the human rights dialogue. The Lao government has been intensifying its crackdown on freedom of speech, association, and assembly. In September 2014, the government adopted a restrictive Internet decree that sharply limits the types of information that can be shared, effectively expanding government interference and control. Australia should encourage the government of Laos to reform this decree to ensure that it aligns with international standards protecting freedom of speech and expression.

The Lao government violates the right to freedom of association for workers both in law and in practice. All unions must be part of the government-controlled Lao Federation of Trade Unions. Subsequently, all workers are prohibited from establishing or joining a trade union of their choosing. Australia should get a firm commitment from the Lao government to amend the Trade Union Act and the Labor Act to bring them into full compliance with international labor standards.

The Lao government also maintains a system of drug detention centers, where people suspected of using drugs, beggars, homeless people, children, and people with mental illness are held without a court ruling, judicial oversight, or an ability to appeal. Australia should urge Laos to commit to closing all drug detention centers and carry out prompt investigations into allegations of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in these centers.

“Australia should make its dialogues with Lao worthwhile by issuing public statements of outcomes that set clear benchmarks for improvement,” Pearson said. “If Laos wants Australia’s continuing support on human rights, it needs to answer where Sombath Somphone is, commit to measurable changes, and show signs of genuine reform.”

January 21, 2015

Laos, Hmong NGO Coalition Appeals to United Nations Human Rights Council to Sanction Lao Government Over Egregious Violations

Press Release

Laos, Hmong NGO Coalition Appeals to United Nations Human Rights Council to Sanction Lao Government Over Egregious Violations

January 20, 2015,

Washington, D.C., Geneva, Switzerland, and Vientiane, Laos

Center for Public Policy Analysis

The Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) and a coalition of non-governmental organizations, including prominent Lao and Hmong human rights groups, is appealing to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to sanction and condemn the government of Laos during its pending Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the country’s human rights practices.  The NGOs have released a ten-point (10 point) appeal to the member nations of the United Nations Human Rights Council slated to convene in Geneva today to take up the review of Laos’ controversial human rights record.

“Because of the important Universal Periodic Review of Laos’ deplorable and egregious human rights violations by the United Nations in Geneva, a coalition of non-governmental organizations, and Lao and Hmong human rights groups, are appealing to the member nations of the UN’s Human Rights Council  to vigorously hold the government of Laos, and its military and communist leaders, fully accountable for a myriad of serious and systemic human rights abuses,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the CPPA in Washington, D.C. “Some of the leaders in Laos are clearly guilty of crimes against humanity, up and above their horrific human rights violations.”

“The one-party Marxist government in Laos, which is a de facto military junta run by the Lao People’s Army, continues to systematically engage in enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of political and religious dissidents as well as minority peoples, including the ethnic Hmong,” Smith stated. “The Lao government’s ongoing, and intimate, military and diplomatic relationship with North Korea is also deeply troubling and has resulted in the brutal forced repatriation by Laos of North Korean refugees back to the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang that the asylum seekers have fled.”

Smith continued: “We are calling upon the Lao government to immediately provide unfettered, international access to missing civic leader Sombath Somphone and well as prominent Laotian and Hmong political dissidents,  including the leaders of the Lao Students’ Movement for Democracy who have been imprisoned for over 15 years after leading peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in Vientiane in 1999.   We are also very concerned about numerous Hmong refugee leaders, forcibly repatriated from Thailand to Laos in recent years, as well as notable opposition leaders, such as Moua Ter Thao, who have disappeared into the Lao prison and gulag system, and who also appear to have been subject to enforced disappearances at the hands of Lao military and security forces.”

“The continued persecution, and extrajudicial killing of Lao and Hmong refugees and asylum seekers in the jungles of Laos, as well as horrific religious freedom violations against Hmong Christian and animist believers, are serious human rights violations that the United Nations in Geneva should hold the Lao government accountable for, and call their leaders forward to address,” said Vaughn Vang, Executive Director of the Lao Human Rights Council, Inc. (LHRC). “The Lao military is still heavily engaged in ethnic cleansing and large-scale illegal logging operations, involving military attacks and starvation of Hmong civilians, driving more and more minority peoples from their ancestral lands, including the Hmong people, who are still being forced from the mountains and the jungles of Laos, where their only option is to flee to Thailand, and other third countries, to seek asylum from persecution and death.”

The following is the text of the ten-point appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva:

We appeal to the member nations of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to vigorously press the Lao government and military on its repeated and deplorable human rights violations.  We request that the member nations of the UNHRC hold the authorities in Laos, and the Lao government and military, accountable for their egregious human rights violations, which must be condemned by the international community, and we further petition Laos to:

1.)1.) Provide immediate and unconditional international access to arrested civic activist Sombath Somphone, and all information related to his arrest and imprisonment;

2.) 2.) Provide immediate and unconditional international access to arrested student activist leaders of the Lao Students’ Movement for Democracy who were arrested following peaceful, pro-democracy protests in Vientiane, Laos, in October of 1999;

  1. 3.) Provide immediate and unconditional international access to all Lao Hmong refugee camp leaders of the Ban Huay Nam Khao (Huai Nam Khao) refugee camp in Thailand who were forcibly repatriated from Thailand to various camps and sites in Laos, including secret locations, in 2009;

4.)4.)  Stop the Lao military’s ongoing attacks against civilians, and illegal logging, especially in highland and minority populated areas; Provide immediate and unconditional access to international human rights monitors and independent journalists, to closed military zones, and military-controlled areas in Laos, where deforestation, illegal logging, military attacks, enforced starvation, and human rights violations continue against vulnerable minority peoples in Laos, including the ethnic Hmong people;

5.)5.)   Cease religious persecution of Laotian and Hmong religious believers, including Animists, Christians, Catholics and other faiths, who seek to worship freely, and independent of Lao government monitoring and control;

6.) 6.) Cease the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees and asylum seekers who have fled political and religious persecution in North Korea to Laos and Southeast Asia;

7.)7.) Provide immediate and unconditional international access, especially to human rights monitors and attorneys, as well as independent journalists, to various high-profile Hmong-Americans imprisoned, or subject to enforced disappearance, in Laos, including Hakit Yang, of St. Paul, Minnesota, and his colleagues;

8.)8.) Provide immediate and unconditional international access, especially to human rights monitors and attorneys, as well as independent journalists, to the high-profile Hmong opposition and resistance leader  Moua Toua Ter recently repatriated from Thailand to Laos in 2014;

  1. 9.) Provide immediate and unconditional international access, especially to human rights monitors and attorneys, as well as independent journalists, to the two imprisoned Hmong translators, and alleged Hmong opposition members, who allegedly accompanied European journalist Thierry Falise, French cameraman Vincent Reynaud, and their American translator and guide, Rev. Naw Karl Mua in 2003, during their investigation into the Lao military’s persecution and attacks against the Hmong people, as documented by the Committee to Protect Journalists;

10)10.) Provide information, the whereabouts, and the fate of the accused Ban Vang Tao ( Vang Tao /Chong Mek border crossing point) alleged resistance and opposition leaders, and their alleged accomplices,  reportedly involved in the July 2000 cross border attack on a Lao government customs post; International access should be granted to these individuals who were forcibly repatriated from Thailand to Laos prior to their trial, and court proceedings, in Thailand, as documented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); We are concerned about credible reports that these Lao citizens have been subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and extrajudicial killing by the Lao government;  We request that the Lao government provide immediate and unconditional international access by human rights attorneys and international journalists to the accused Laotians who were unfairly denied a court trial in Thailand on the Ban Vang Tao case, since there is no independent judiciary or independent news media in Laos.

The ten-point appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was issued by the CPPA, LHRC, United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc., Lao Students’ Movement for Democracy, Laos Institute for Democracy, Lao Hmong Students Association, Hmong Advance, Inc., Hmong Advancement, Inc., Lao Veterans of America, Inc., and others.



Jade Her or Philip Smith

Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA)

Tele. (202) 543-1444

2020 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20006, USA

January 19, 2015

Laos: Pledge Action on Rights, Stop ‘Disappearances’

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