Archive for ‘Lao PDR’

April 22, 2015

‘Sin City’ wildlife raids a start but what about the long-term?

‘Sin City’ wildlife raids a start but what about the long-term?

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10th April, 2015

On March 31, 2015 the Vientiane Times reported that four restaurants at Laos’ Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GT SEZ) had been shut down and illegal wildlife products confiscated and burnt, following the release of EIA’s Sin City report.

Subsequent accounts suggest it was a multi-agency response and, on the face of it, it was a welcome and encouraging first step from the Laotian authorities. The remain questions, however, as to the impact and scope of the effort and what is planned in the long-term.

For example, why would the authorities burn the evidence they presumably need for prosecutions? It’s not clear if they have filed any charges and are planning to take anyone to court.

It wasn’t just restaurants that were raided; footage from Laos TV shows authorities in the Golden Triangle Treasure Hall gift shop where two stuffed tigers, seven tiger skins, one leopard skin and vast quantities of ivory had been documented by EIA and partner Education for Vietnam (ENV). Yet it’s not clear if the ivory, stuffed tigers and other illegal wildlife products from this shop were destroyed as well.

Likewise, it’s not apparent from the stills and video footage available whether the tiger skeletons from the vats of wine in restaurants and retail outlets in the GT SEZ Chinatown were also destroyed.

Burning wildlife contraband at the GT SEZ, screengrab via Laos National TV

Burning wildlife contraband at the GT SEZ, screengrab via Laos National TVContrary to the assertion in the Vientiane Times that local people had supplied the wildlife that was confiscated and burned, the stuffed tigers had come from China and six of the seven tiger skins had been trafficked from Mong La in Myanmar, with the source of those tigers possibly India, Thailand and Malaysia.

As a Party to the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Laos should have taken action to help determine the source of the tiger parts before destroying them. In July 2014, the 65th Meeting of the CITES Standing Committee adopted a recommendation requesting Parties making seizures of tiger skins to take photographs of the stripe patterns (an identifying feature as unique as fingerprints) and share them with countries maintaining stripe-pattern profile databases of wild tigers, such as India. In this way, efforts can be made to determine origin and shed further light on the transnational criminal networks involved. It is not clear if the authorities in Laos implemented this action, or if DNA samples were taken of the tiger, ivory and other wildlife products before they were burnt.

It is also not clear if the Laos authorities are investigating associations between the Chinese business individuals engaged in illegal wildlife trade at the GT SEZ and their contacts in China and Myanmar, or whether any financial investigations are under way to help map those connections.

Officials seal a business in the raid on the GT SEZ, screengrab via Laos National TV

Crucially, there have been no reports on what is happening to the live bears and tigers at the GT SEZ, or what action is being taken to end tiger farming – again, consistent with Laos’ commitments under CITES. It was clear from our engagement with the live animal enclosure manager that the intention is to expand its operations to industrial-scale production of tiger bone wine. There was no mention in the media as to what action, if any, Laos is taking to prevent this. Officials seal a business in the raid on the GT SEZ, screengrab via Laos National TV

Laos is currently subject to CITES trade suspensions for failing to submit an adequate National Ivory Action Plan and the recent law enforcement action may be a sign of a willingness to act when under the spotlight.

But what we would like to see is tangible evidence of an intelligence-led enforcement response, an effort to investigate the individuals involved in the trafficking of tigers and other wildlife into the GT SEZ and a proactive response to end tiger farming. We look forward to working with relevant national and intergovernmental agencies to encourage a meaningful response in Laos.

EIA recognises that Laos cannot do this alone and, accordingly, Sin City sends a clear message to the Government of China over its responsibility to investigate the roles of Chinese nationals and businesses associated with illegal wildlife trade at the GT SEZ.

So far, our appeal to China to act has been met with silence.

Debbie Banks
Head of Tigers Campaign

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April 13, 2015

Lao New Year

 Lao New Year.

Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
April 10, 2015

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On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States of America, I am honored to wish the people of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic peace and prosperity on the occasion of the Lao New Year.

The start of a new year is a time to celebrate all we have accomplished and look ahead with hope for the future. I was delighted that the United States had the opportunity to join the Government of Laos in co-hosting the Extraordinary Meeting of the Friends of the Lower Mekong in Pakse this past February. The coming year will be an important one for Laos, and I hope it brings joy to Lao people around the world.

The United States values its important friendship with Laos. May the New Year bring us closer together.

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 24, 2015

Press Release: CPPA – 10 Point Appeal During Laos, Hmong Review

10 Point Appeal During Laos, Hmong Review

UN Human Rights Council in Geneva Receives 10 Point Appeal During Laos, Hmong Review

For Immediate Release, January 20, 2015,
Washington, D.C., Geneva, Switzerland, and Vientiane, Laos (Original Press Release Date: January 20, 2015)
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, which convenes in Geneva on January 20, 2015, 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.) Provide immediate and unconditional international access to arrested civic activist Sombath Somphone, and all information related to his arrest and imprisonment;

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;

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.) 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.) 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.) 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.) 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.) 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;

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.) 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 24, 2015

Luxury Home Building by Lao Leaders Raises Eyebrows Among Citizens

Luxury Home Building by Lao Leaders Raises Eyebrows Among Citizens


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Lao PDR Leader 02

Some top Lao politicians are building high-priced, luxury homes in the impoverished one-party communist country, raising questions among citizens about where the money is coming from, sources inside the country said.

Lao President Choummaly Sayasone is the latest top-level politician to build a pricey house and garden at a time when some low-level state employees and teachers are not paid their salaries on a regular basis.

Lao PDR Leader 01Choummaly’s house in Thatluang village of Saysetha district in the capital Vientiane includes a 5 billion kip (U.S. $615,000) garden, a source with knowledge of the matter who did not want to be identified told RFA’s Laos Service, although he could not provide the price of the president’s house.

The building’s contractor, Phonesack Group Co. Ltd., hired Choey Studio Co. Ltd. to design and construct the garden, the source said.

The Phonesack Group has a good relationship with Choummaly’s family, he said, and is involved in logging, mining and other development projects in Laos.

Somsavath Lengsavath, the deputy prime minister, also has built a house which cost 20 billion kip (U.S. $2.5 million) in Nongniang village of Saysetha district.

The luxury homes have prompted Vientiane residents to question how and where the politicians are getting money from to spend on expensive construction and landscaping.

According to the World Bank, per capita annual income in Laos, a nation of 6.9 million people, was $1,450 in 2013.

“Can leaders answer my question about how much money they have after they combine all their salaries, allowances and bonuses?” asked one Vientiane resident, who declined to be named. “And how and where do they get the money to build the houses?”

Another Vientiane resident told RFA: “All of them build houses costing billions of kip. Where do they get the money from and why? Because they sell their signatures? This is a selling-signature time.”

Corruption problem

Many leaders in the Lao government, military and communist party engage in corruption and spend the proceeds on expensive homes and other luxury items, although corruption is a criminal act punishable by fine and/or imprisonment.

Top government officials in particular have been linked to the flourishing illegal timber trade between the country and neighboring Vietnam, according to sources who cite unofficial crossings along the border as conduits for the illicit activity.

Mining companies operating in provinces in southern Laos have claimed that some national leaders have pressured enforcement officials not to take action against the smuggling activity.

Corruption among high-level officials in Laos has been going on for years, if not decades.


Bouasone Bouphavanh, who was prime minister of the country from 2006 to 2010, called for a crackdown on corruption and luxurious living among government officials, according to media reports at the time.

He complained in a 2007 address to the Lao National Assembly, or parliament, that corruption and luxury were rife among government officials in the country.

Low-level bureaucrats, such as police officers and administrative workers, engage in corruption as well, using their authority to extract bribes from citizens.

Corruption in Laos is so widespread that it has deterred foreign investors, created problems with the country’s ability to enforce business contracts and regulation, and left many ordinary citizens impoverished.

In 2014, Lao ranked 145 out of 175 countries on corruption in the nongovernmental organization Transparency International’s corruption perception index, which scores nations on how corrupt their public sectors are seen to be.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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