Archive for ‘Human Rights’

January 19, 2015

Laos: Government’s failure to live up to its UPR commitments calls for more international pressure

19 January 2015

Laos: Government’s failure to live up to its UPR commitments calls for more international pressure

Paris, 19 January 2015: The Lao government’s clear and undeniable failure to live up to its human rights commitments calls for more political pressure by the international community, FIDH and its member organization, the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR), said today. The two organizations made the call ahead of the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, which will take place on 20 January in Geneva.

“Pouring increasing amounts of aid into Laos while remaining silent on the serious human rights violations taking place in the country just hasn’t worked,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. “It’s time for the international community to start applying real political pressure on the government to ensure it addresses human rights issues and undertakes genuine legislative and institutional reforms.”

Laos accepted 115 of the 145 recommendations made by other countries at its first UPR in May 2010. Despite committing to ratifying or acceding to five key international human rights instruments, Laos has become a party to only one of them – the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Six years after its signature, Laos has not yet ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). In addition, the government has failed to adequately investigate most cases of enforced disappearances. This includes the failure to investigate the disappearance of prominent civil society leader and human rights defender Sombath Somphone on 15 December 2012 in Vientiane.

Laos also pledged cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms. However, in the past five years, the government has neither issued any standing invitation for missions to Laos nor allowed any official visit to the country by the UN special procedures. In addition, five reports to main UN treaty bodies are overdue – one of them by nearly six years.

In stark contrast to its UPR pledges to make progress toward combating trafficking in persons and ensuring the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of religion, key indicators point to a lack of improvement in the situation in these areas.

After placing Laos on its ‘Tier 2’ for three consecutive years, in 2014 the US State Department downgraded the country to the “Tier 2 watch list” (the second-lowest tier) for the government’s failure to fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.

Laos ranked 168th out of 178 countries surveyed by Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) in its 2010 Press Freedom Index. In the 2014 Index, it ranked 171th out of 180.

Freedom House has consistently rated the Laos as ‘not free’ in its annual global survey on political rights and civil liberties. Recently-enacted legislation adds to a body of repressive laws that severely restrict the people’s enjoyment of their civil and political rights. Decree 327, adopted on 16 September 2014, contains excessively broad and vaguely-worded provisions that effectively criminalize any online criticism of the government and fall well below international standards on the right to freedom of expression. In addition, the disappearance of Sombath has had a ‘chilling effect’ on civil society in the country. Local organizations are unwilling to speak out against human right violations and to carry out activities for the protection and promotion of human rights because they are afraid of reprisal from the authorities.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has placed Laos on its “watch list” (Tier 2) since 2009. In its 2014 annual report, the USCIRF stated that serious religious freedom abuses continued, particularly in ethnic minority areas, and restrictive laws remained in place.

With regard to land rights, in their joint submission for the UPR, FIDH and LMHR detailed the serious and far-reaching human rights implications of large-scale land leases and concessions granted by the government in recent years. The two organizations also documented the government’s repression of land and environmental rights defenders who worked with communities affected by land concessions and advocated for a more sustainable and all-inclusive form of socio-economic development.

“The Lao government has said that the UPR is the only legitimate process to address human rights at the international level,” said LMHR President Vanida Thepsouvanh. “Regrettably, the government has virtually ignored most of the recommendations it accepted at its first UPR almost five years ago.”

Press contacts
FIDH: Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) – Tel: +66 88 611 7722 (Bangkok)
FIDH: Mr. Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) – Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94 (Paris)
FIDH: Ms. Audrey Couprie (French, English, Spanish) – Tel: +33 6 48 05 91 57 (Paris)

 

Laos - 01

19 Janvier 2015

Laos : Le non respect des engagements pris par le gouvernement à l’EPU appelle à plus de pression internationale

Paris, le 19 Janvier 2015 : L’échec, manifeste et incontestable, du gouvernement lao à tenir ses engagements en matière de droits appelle à plus de pression politique de la communauté internationale, ont déclaré aujourd’hui la FIDH et son organisation membre, le Mouvement Lao pour les Droits de l’Homme (MLDH). Les deux organisations ont lancé cet appel à la veille du deuxième examen périodique universel (EPU) du Laos, qui se tiendra le 20 Janvier à Genève.

« Verser des sommes croissantes d’aide au Laos tout en restant silencieux sur les graves violations des droits humains qui ont lieu dans le pays ne peut simplement pas fonctionner » , a déclaré président de la FIDH Karim Lahidji. « Il est temps pour la communauté internationale de commencer à appliquer une vraie pression politique sur le gouvernement pour s’assurer qu’il aborde les questions des droits humains et s’engage à de véritables réformes législatives et institutionnelles. »

Le Laos a accepté 115 des 145 recommandations formulées par d’autres pays à sa première EPU en mai 2010. Malgré ses engagements à ratifier ou accéder à cinq instruments internationaux clés des droits de l’homme, le Laos est devenu seulement partie prenante d’un seul d’entre eux : la Convention contre la torture et autres peines ou traitements cruels, inhumains ou dégradant.

Six ans après l’avoir signé, le Laos n’a pas encore ratifié la Convention Internationale pour la Protection de toutes les Personnes contre les Disparitions Forcées. En outre, le gouvernement a manqué d’enquêter de manière adéquate la plupart ces cas de disparitions forcées. Ceci inclut son échec à enquêter sur la disparition d’un proéminent leader de la société civile et défenseur des droits de l’homme, Sombath Somphone, survenu le 15 décembre 2012 à Vientiane.

Le Laos a également promis de coopérer avec les mécanismes des droits de l’homme des Nations Unies. Cependant, au cours des cinq dernières années, le gouvernement n’a émis aucune invitation permanente pour les missions au Laos, ni autorisé de visite officielles dans le pays aux procédures spéciales de l’ONU. En plus, cinq rapports principaux pour les organes de traités des Nations Unies sont en retard, dont un de presque six ans.

En contraste flagrant avec ses engagements auprès de l’EPU à faire des progrès dans la lutte contre la traite des personnes et de garantir la jouissance des droits à la liberté d’expression, la liberté d’association et la liberté de religion, les principaux indicateurs font état d’une absence d’amélioration de la situation dans ces domaines.

Après avoir placé le Laos dans la catégorie « Tier 2 » pendant trois années consécutives, en 2014, le Département d’Etat américain a abaissé le pays à “Tier 2 liste à surveiller” (le deuxième plus bas niveau) pour l’échec du gouvernement à se conformer pleinement aux normes minimales pour l’élimination de la traite des êtres humains.

Le Laos était classé 168e sur 178 pays par Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) dans son Indice de liberté de la presse en 2010. Dans l’indice 2014 de RSF, il est classé 171 sur 180.

Freedom House a toujours évalué le Laos comme ‘’non libre’’ dans son enquête mondiale annuelle sur les droits politiques et les libertés civiles. Une législation récemment adoptée vient rajouter un ensemble de lois répressives qui limitent gravement la jouissance du peuple de leurs droits civils et politiques. Le décret 327, adoptée le 16 Septembre 2014, contient des dispositions formulées en des termes extrêmement larges et vagues qui criminalisent efficacement toute critique sur internet du gouvernement et qui tombe bien en dessous des normes internationales relatives au droit à la liberté d’expression. En outre, la disparition de Sombath a eu un effet dissuasif sur la société civile dans le pays. Les organisations locales ne sont guère disposées à dénoncer les violations des droits et de mener des activités de protection et de promotion des droits humains parce qu’ils ont peur de représailles des autorités.

La Commission Américaine sur la Liberté Religieuse Internationale (USCIRF) a placé le Laos sur sa ‘’liste à surveiller’’ (Tier 2) depuis 2009. Dans son rapport annuel de 2014, USCIRF a déclaré que de graves violations de la liberté religieuse ont continué, notamment dans les régions des minorités ethniques, et que les lois restrictives restent en vigueur.

Concernant les droits fonciers, dans leur soumission conjointe pour l’EPU, la FIDH et le MLDH ont détaillé les graves et profondes implications sur les droits de l’homme dues aux baux et concessions de terres à grande échelle accordés par le gouvernement au cours des dernières années. Les deux organisations ont également documenté la répression du gouvernement sur les terres et les défenseurs des droits environnementaux qui ont travaillé avec les communautés touchées par les concessions foncières et a plaidé pour une forme de développement socio-économique plus durable et inclusive.

« Le gouvernement lao a dit que l’EPU est le seul processus légitime pour aborder les droits de l’homme au niveau international. Malheureusement, le gouvernement a quasiment ignoré la plupart des recommandations qu’il a acceptées lors de son premier EPU il y a près de cinq ans » , a déclaré la présidente du MLDH, Vanida Thephsouvanh.

Contacts Presse
FIDH : M. Andrea Giorgetta (Anglais) – Tel : +66 88 611 7722 (Bangkok)
FIDH : M. Arthur Manet (Français, Anglais, Espagnol) – Tel : +33 6 72 28 42 94 (Paris)
FIDH : Ms. Audrey Couprie (Français, Anglais, Espagnol) – Tel : +33 6 48 05 91 57 (Paris)

December 23, 2014

Laos: UN experts appeal for help to probe two-year-old disappearance of rights defender

Laos: UN experts appeal for help to probe two-year-old disappearance of rights defender

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49679#.VJn_x_8eI

An ethnic Hmong woman in Ban Houythao, Laos, where most people depend on the land for their livelihoods. Photo: IRIN/Martin Abbiati

23 December 2014 – International support is now needed to investigate the enforced disappearance of leading Laotian human rights defender Sombath Somphone, who was last seen in December 2012, a group of United Nations independent experts urged today.

“It is high time for the authorities of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to voluntarily request international assistance with the aim of shedding light on Mr. Somphone’s fate and whereabouts, two years after his disappearance,” the experts said in a news release.

“International law makes clear that the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic has the duty to carry out an independent, thorough, credible and effective investigation,” they added.

Mr. Somphone is a prominent human rights activist working on issues of land confiscation and assisting victims in denouncing such practices. He was last seen at a police checkpoint with his car parked in the police compound.

“We urge the authorities to release more information about the progress of investigation, especially to his family,” the experts stressed. “In the absence of any tangible progress, we strongly recommend that an international team of experts work jointly with the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to fulfil its legal obligations.”

“We also encourage all States to offer their support to the Government of Lao PDR to ensure that the disappearance of Mr. Somphone is thoroughly investigated,” the experts added.

The situation of human rights in Laos is due to be assessed next month through the Universal Period Review process, which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. Under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, the process provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve their human rights situation.

The experts said they hope that the authorities will respond favourably to a request for an invitation to visit Laos by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai.

Along with Mr. Kiai, the experts speaking out on Laos today include the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst; and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and the protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion, David Kaye.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Opium poppy cultivation in ‘Golden Triangle’ hits new high in 2014 – UN report

 

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.

December 12, 2014

NGOs Call for United Nations to Pressure Laos on Sombath Somphone, Human Rights, Press and Religious Freedom Violations

NGOs Call for United Nations to Pressure Laos on Sombath Somphone, Human Rights, Press and Religious Freedom Violations

Geneva, Switzerland, Washington, D.C., and New York,

3 December 2014 – For Immediate Release

Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA)

Tele. (202)543-1444

info@centerforpublicpolicyanalysis.org

 

The Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA), the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR), and a coalition of civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are calling for United Nations’ (UN) members to urge the government of Laos to cease ongoing human rights violations, religious freedom violations, and to restore fundamental human freedoms, including press freedom. They are also calling for the release of Sombath Somphone and other imprisoned Lao and Hmong political and religious dissidents.

Joining the CPPA and LMHR, in coalition, are the: Lao Human Rights Council, Inc.; the United League for Democracy in Lao, Inc.; Lao Veterans of America, Inc.; Laos Institute for Democracy; Lao Students Movement for Democracy; Hmong Advance, Inc.; Hmong Advancement, Inc.; and, others.

“We are calling for increased transparency and human rights reforms by the Lao government, military and communist party, as well as press and religious freedom,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) in Washington, D.C. “The NGOs and civil society organizations have also joined together to call for the immediate release of Sombath Somphone, and others who have disappeared at the hands of the Lao military and secret police, including the leaders of the Lao Students Movement for Democracy of 1999, ethnic Hmong refugee leaders, Lao and Hmong minority Christian believers, and many other political prisoners and religious and political dissidents.” http://www.centerforpublicpolicyanalysis.org

Smith continued: “Unfortunately, in Laos, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPRD or Lao PDR) is still a one-party Marxist government largely controlled by the military and communist party; It continues to be strongly allied with Stalinist North Korea.”

Mrs. Vanida Thephsouvanh of the Paris, France-based Lao Movement for Human Rights [(LMHR or Mouvement Lao pour les Droits de l’Homme (MLDH)] expressed: “deep concerns about violations of freedom of expression, enforced disappearances and religious freedom in Laos.” http://www.mldh-lao.org

Mrs. Thephsouvanh said the LMHR along with other civil society organizations are urging United Nations’ members to press the Lao PDR government for urgent reforms at its upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) schedule for the 20th of January, 2015 in Geneva.

“In advance of Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR)’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) scheduled for 20 January 2015 in Geneva, the Geneva-based UPR-Info invited diplomats to hear the concerns of civil society organizations at a UPR pre-session   in Geneva today,” stated Thephsouvanh.

“The UPR is a key mechanism for addressing the state of human rights in all 193 United Nations member states. The UPR is designed to treat all states equally with respect to their human rights records. The UPR process includes the opportunity for each state to declare what efforts they have undertaken to fulfill their obligations to respect human rights;

“We have deep concerns about violations of freedom of expression, enforced disappearances and religious freedom in Laos. Regretting that Lao PDR has not implemented recommendations it accepted at its first UPR in 2010, she urged States to raise concerns on these human rights abuses and presented concrete recommendations for human rights progress in Laos,” continued Thephsouvanh, speaking on behalf of the LMHR, which is also a member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

Twenty one representatives from the Geneva-based missions   attended the pre-session.

The following is the full statement made today by Mrs. Thephsouvanh in Geneva, Switzerland, regarding concerns about the serious situation in Laos (full text below in English translation):

 

STATEMENT
ON THE SECOND UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW OF LAOS
at the Pre-session organized by UPR- Info

Geneva, 3 December 2014

I speak on behalf of the Lao Movement for Human Rights, a non- political human rights organisation based in France, a member of FIDH, the International Federation for Human Rights. We have been involved with the UPR process since the Lao PDR first review in 2010 and have closely monitored the Lao PDR’s pledges and implementation of recommendations it accepted.

The Lao PDR is a one-party State with no independent national human rights institution. No independent civil society organisations were involved in preparing the State report for the UPR. Only state-affiliated CSOs were consulted.

Therefore, it is most necessary that independent information be provided here and I thank UPR-info for making this pre-session possible.

At its first UPR in 2010, Lao PDR  made a voluntary pledge to ‘’fulfill the reporting obligations under human rights treaties, cooperate with the Special Procedures by extending invitation to Special Rapporteurs on thematic issues to visit the country […]’’ (149). To this day, the Lao PDR has 3 overdue reports: ICCPR (due in 2011), ICESCR (due in 2009) and CRPD (due in 2011).

The Lao PDR has also pending requests for visits from three Special Procedures, namely the Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions (request made in 2006), the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing (request made in 2009) and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association (requests made in 2011 and in 2013).

For the second (2nd) UPR on the Lao PDR government, scheduled for 20 January 2015, the report we submitted jointly with FIDH highlighted the situation of land rights, which has become a key issue in the country.

Today, I will focus on the following 3 issues:

  1. Press freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly.
  2. Enforced disappearances.
  3. Religious freedom.

I – Press Freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly

In 2010, Laos accepted recommendations by Australia (5), Canada (27), Italy (48), the Netherlands (66), New Zealand (99), and Slovakia (115) to guarantee freedom of expression and strengthen press freedom. Although a party to the ICCPR, the Lao PDR has failed to protect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.In practice, the Penal Code severely limits freedom of expression under the pretext of protecting national security.

There is still no free press in the Lao PDR and no legal protection for Lao journalists who do not follow the party line. The Lao PDR government still controls all TV, radio, and press outlets in the country. Self-censorship is still widespread.

In January 2012, the Ministry of Information and Culture cancelled the only live call-in radio program after farmers called in to complain about government land grabs.

In December 2012, the government expelled within 48 hours the director of a Swiss NGO for sending a letter to some donor countries, criticizing the authorities for creating a hostile environment for development and civil society groups by stifling freedom of expression and association.

In September 2014, the Lao PDR enacted an internet law that prohibits online criticism of government policies and the one-party State.

Peaceful assembly is still restricted under Article 72 of the Penal Code. Three people have been imprisoned since 1999 for having planned a peaceful protest. Laos refused the recommendation made by Belgium in 2010 to release them. Another 9 persons were arrested for the same reason in November 2009 and have since disappeared.

We invite States to urge the Lao PDR to:

  • Set a firm time frame for the reform of the Penal Code and ensure that all new laws conform with international human rights standards and ensure that they are implemented.
  • Repeal all provisions of the Constitution, the Penal Code, the law on media, and the new decree on internet that criminalise basic human rights and subordinate individual rights to the interests of the state.
  • Extend a standing invitation to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and on Human Rights Defenders to visit the Lao PDR.
  • Release all prisoners detained owing to their participation in peaceful demonstrations, and in particular the student leaders who were arrested in 1999.

II- Enforced disappearances

In 2010, the Lao PDR accepted recommendations by France (46) and Spain (122) to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Furthermore, the Lao PDR made a voluntary pledge ratify this Convention. To this day, the Lao PDR has not yet ratified it. However, by signing this Convention in 2008, Laos has the obligation to adhere to the Convention and to prevent and suppress the practice of enforced disappearances.

For two years now, the Lao PDR has been obstructing the investigation on the disappearance of prominent activist and civil society leader Sombath Somphone in December 2012. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage showed that police stopped Sombath’s car at a police checkpoint. Analysis of the video footage shows that Sombath was taken away in the presence of police officers. A few weeks before his disappearance, Sombath played a key role in organizing the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF), a civil society forum that preceded the official Asia-Europe Summit Meeting. At the forum, the topic of land issues was discussed openly for the first time in the Lao PDR. His disappearance is emblematic of the Lao PDR government’s lack of accountability for rights abuses.

Over the years the Lao PDR government has used enforced disappearances as a means to intimidate and silence its citizens, including the disappearance in 2007 of Somphone Khantisouk, an outspoken critic of large-scale rubber concessions that damaged the environment, and, in 2009, the enforced disappearance of 9 persons who planned peaceful demonstrations to call for social justice.

We call on States to urge the Lao PDR to:

– Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Person from Enforced Disappearance without delay followed by a time-bound implementation.

– Amend domestic laws to include specific provisions in line with the ICCPR, the CAT, and the ICPPED and implement them.

– Accept ‘foreign experts’ assistance in examining evidence in the case of Sombath Somphone, including the closed circuit video taken on the night he was taken away in front of police authorities.

– Investigate all cases of enforced disappearances in a transparent manner.

III- Religious freedom

The Lao PDR accepted recommendations from Australia (7), Denmark (37), France (47), Italy (64), Netherland (90), New Zealand (98) and the United Kingdom (141) to adopt adequate measures to fulfill the right to practice religion freely.

The Lao PDR government pledged to amend Decree 92 on Religious Practice in accordance with the ICCPR. However, to date, Decree 92 has remained unchanged. Decree 92 still contains numerous mechanisms for government control of, and interference in, religious activities. Decree 92 regulates up to the smallest detail of control that the government exercises over religious organizations.

In the Lao PDR, Christian minorities in remote areas remain persecuted.

Repression of Christians, mainly Protestants, has not diminished. Throughout 2014, in remote areas of every part of the Lao PDR, Christians have been victims of arbitrary arrest, intimidation, and forced eviction from their village by the authorities for practicing their faith. The central government denied responsibilities for the abuses by blaming local authorities. But Vientiane has never taken any action to hold local authorities accountable. Christians also face repression on the basis of ethnicity as many of them belong to ethnic minorities.

We invite States to urge Laos to:

–  Amend Decree 92 on Religious Practice to bring it in line with Article 18 of the ICCPR.

– Implement measures through revised legislation to protect all citizens from discrimination due to their religion.

– End all restrictions on the right to practice one’s religion of choice without discrimination.

– Prosecute all those involved in the persecution of religious groups.

(Ends)

###

Contact: Maria Gomez or Philip Smith

Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA)

Tele. (202)543-1444

info@centerforpublicpolicyanalysis.org

 

 

August 15, 2014

Monument honors Lao American veterans

 

Monument honors Lao American veterans

Melanie Kalmar
For Sun-Times Media

Aug. 6 2 p.m.

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://couriernews.suntimes.com/2014/08/06/monument-honors-lao-american-veterans/

Chin Keomuongchanh (from left), Em Ramangkoun, and Jerry Turnquist show off the monument honoring Lao American Veterans in Elgin’s Veteran’s Memorial Park. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Chin Keomuongchanh (from left), Em Ramangkoun, and Jerry Turnquist show off the monument honoring Lao American Veterans in Elgin’s Veteran’s Memorial Park. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

On his first visit to Veterans Memorial Park in Elgin, Em Ramangkoun’s son asked him, “Why isn’t there a memorial for you?”

When he answered, “I don’t know,” a seed was planted that sprouted an effort among Ramangkoun, and fellow Lao American Veterans of the Vietnam War, to make it happen. The group appointed Chin Keomuongchanh, a retired member of the U.S. Navy, to oversee the project. As a child, Keomuongchanh was among the first group of Lao refugee families to arrive in the U.S. in the mid-1970s and, among the first of their children to graduate from Elgin High School in 1980. “The memorial became my personal conviction,” he said.

During the Vietnam War, fought from 1961 to 1975, thousands of soldiers and airmen from Laos, a country bordering Vietnam, were secretly recruited and trained by the U.S. military to help prevent the spread of communism. They rescued downed pilots, protected U.S. outposts and engaged in guerrilla warfare. In the fight for freedom, they were injured, tortured and killed. For some, their alliance with the United States resulted in them becoming prisoners of war, starved and forced into hard labor.

When the allied forces left Vietnam, the Lao soldiers, after 15 years of aiding the U.S. military, escaped with their families to unspeakable conditions in refugee camps. The lucky ones gained entrance into America through sponsors from not-for-profit organizations. Once here, they formed the Lao-American Veterans Organization to help one another become acclimated to their new homeland. They learned English at the YMCA and took job skills training courses at nearby community colleges.

It took two and a half years, from the time Keomuongchanh and his group started working with local leaders and government agencies to erect a monument, until its unveiling on July 19, the first Lao American Veterans Day. Illinois is the only state in the country, and Elgin is the only city, to proclaim this honorary day, thanks to the efforts of Keomuongchanh and his colleagues. The date itself is significant because on July 19, 1949, the Lao government received its independence from France, and formed its own army.

Made possible with $12,000 in donations from the public, collected in just 8 months, the memorial marks Lao Vets place in history and reminds future generations of the “Secret War.”

“We want the American people to know that the relationship between these two countries didn’t start today,” Ramangkoun said. “During the Vietnam War, we had a working relationship with this country. When the war was over, we came here and no one knew why we were here. We came here because of the war. While here, we became good citizens, good neighbors.”

At the unveiling, a solemn hush came over the crowd as they watched 39 Lao American Veterans, dressed in combat fatigues, march in formation for the first time in more than four decades. The emotional ceremony brought back memories too painful for many Lao Vets to revisit, and a sense of gratitude for the freedom, education and opportunity in America.

Of the approximately 250 people who attended the event were members of the Lao American Veterans Organization of Elgin, as well as chapters from Georgia, Tennessee and Wisconsin, the Cambodian Veterans of Illinois, Buddhist monks from local temples, dignitaries, friends and relatives.

Keomuongchanh’s job did not end that day. He is now working with the U.S. Department of Education, to make the “Secret War” part of the curriculum at schools, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to obtain burial rights for Lao American Veterans at the country’s national cemeteries.

“Without their contributions to the war, think about how many more names would be added to the Vietnam Memorial,” said local historian Jerry Turnquist.

On a recent visit to the monument, Em Ramangkoun smiled, remembering the day his son asked the pivotal question he was then unable to answer. “Now my dream has come true,” he said.

Chin Keomuongchanh, civic engagement program director with the Lao American Organization of Elgin (left), and local historian Jerry Turnquist, were among the many people who worked hard to make the Lao Veterans Memorial a reality. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Celebrating a monument in honor of the Lao American Veterans who fought alongside the U.S. military during the Vietnam War are Lao Vets Soukanh Chan Thammauong (from left), Prince Chandetka, Thongone Vongphakdy, and Em Ramangkoun. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Veterans Memorial Park in Elgin now boasts the first monument in the country honoring Lao American Veterans. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Chin Keomuongchanh, among the first Lao refugee families to arrive in the United States following the Vietnam War, oversaw placement of a memorial honoring Lao Vets in Elgin’s Veterans Memorial Park. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

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