Archive for ‘Laos’

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.

January 21, 2015

Campaigners call for Laos to answer for ‘disappeared’

Campaigners call for Laos to answer for ‘disappeared’

Update: 14:07, 20 January 2015 Tuesday
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Campaigners call for Laos to answer for 'disappeared'
file photo

NGOs say Laos must investigate enforced disappearances.

World Bulletin/News Desk

More than a hundred rights groups Tuesday called on UN members to highlight the case of Laotian civil society leader Sombath Somphone, missing for two years.

Somphone, a well-known figure involved in rural development, has not been seen since he was arrested by police in the capital Vientiane on Dec, 15, 2012.

A statement from 145 NGOs, under the umbrella of the Sombath Initiative, called on the members of the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva “resolutely address” the disappearance.

It added: “Enforced disappearance is a horrible crime, one of a few recognized internationally as unjustifiable under any circumstances.”

Laos is to appear before the council Tuesday.

Angkhana Neelaphaijit, an adviser to the Sombath Initiative, told The Anadolu Agency Tuesday: “The Lao delegation to Geneva says [Sombath’s disappearance] is an internal problem and that Lao authorities are investigating.

“But the CCTV evidence has disappeared and, from what I know, they are not continuing the investigation.”

After footage of Somphone’s arrest at a police checkpoint emerged, Laos refused assistance to enhance the quality of the images and the film has now apparently vanished.

Somphone set up a training center for young people and officials in 1996 and was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award, sometimes described as Asia’s Nobel Peace Prize,  in 2005 for his community leadership.

“When Sombath disappeared, civil society in Laos got very scared,” Neelphaijit said. “Nobody wants to work anymore on human rights issues and even those working on development are very scared.”

The last time Laos was reviewed by the Human Rights Council, in May 2010, the communist government pledged to ensure freedoms of expression, assembly and religion, as well as combating people trafficking.

The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights said the government has failed to make improvements.

“Six years after its signature, Laos has not yet ratified the international convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance,” the Federation said in a statement.

“In addition, the government has failed to adequately investigate most cases of enforced disappearances.”

An investigation by The Anadolu Agency has documented at least 33 enforced disappearances in Laos since 2001.

“The Lao government has a long record of using enforced disappearances, oppressive laws, and long prison terms to silence its critics,” Philippe Dam, acting Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said.

“Governments should use the opportunity of [a] UN review of Laos to make clear they stand with ordinary citizens against the abuses by unaccountable Lao officials.”

November 8, 2014

Laos’ Shrinking Bear Population Threatened by Booming Bile Business

Laos’ Shrinking Bear Population Threatened by Booming Bile Business

Wild bears are trapped and kept in small cages where their gallbladders are drained to make products for the Asian market.

November 07, 2014

John R. Platt covers the environment, technology, philanthropy, and more for Scientific American, Conservation, Lion, and other publications.

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(Photo: Reuters)

The number of bears being trapped and then tapped for the bile in their gallbladders has tripled in Laos in recent years, according to a new study published in the journal Oryx.

Like operators of similar “farms” in China, Vietnam, and South Korea, the Laotians lock bears in small, rusty cages where their gallbladders are repeatedly tapped—sometimes up to three times a day—and drained of their bile. The bile is then sold as a component of traditional Asian medicine or even as an ingredient in products as wide-ranging as wine and shampoo.

The bears in these facilities are kept in horrendous conditions, according to one of the study’s authors, Chris Shepherd, the regional director for Southeast Asia for TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. “Many are malnourished, dehydrated, and in extremely poor health,” he said.

The study—conducted by undercover operatives posing as tourists—found that the number of bears in Laotian bile-extraction facilities increased from 40 in 2008 to 122 in 2012. Most if not all of them appear to have been illegally trapped in the wild, where their populations are in decline. Shepherd said bears in extraction facilities suffer high mortality rates, meaning even more wild bears need to be captured to replace those that die.

Ownership of wild bears is illegal in Laos, as is bear hunting and capture, but the facilities operate without any apparent fear of prosecution. In fact, government sources and official registration documents pointed the investigators toward the facilities they visited. “Some of the farms allow tourists in to see the operations, further illustrating the lack of fear of enforcement efforts and the law,” Shepherd said.

Many of the facilities apparently try to skirt the law against wild bear ownership by saying their animals are captive-bred.

Freedom! 130 Bears to Be Rescued From Chinese Bile Farm

Shepherd discounted that claim. “In any of the farms I have visited—and in any others I have heard of, for that matter—the bears are kept separately in cages, with no opportunity to breed,” he said, noting that even if the animals could interact with one another, they are probably too ill to mate and reproduce. Trapping wild bears, meanwhile, is cheap and “pretty much risk-free,” Shepherd said.

The scale of Laotian bile farms pales in comparison with those in other countries—China alone keeps up to 10,000 bears in extraction facilities—but the study found that they still have an impact. The authors wrote that bear bile products are advertised in Laos on posters, on the radio, and in newspaper articles that promote consumer demand. That has led to rising bile product prices.

There’s a further potential consequence for wild bears. According to the study, some consumers prefer bile that has been extracted from bears killed in the wild, believing it is either more potent or more valuable. During the two-year investigation, the authors observed an increase in the price for wild bile corresponding with the rising availability of farmed bile.

The study calls for these Laotian extraction facilities to be closed and for increased efforts to stop the illegal cross-border bile trade, which is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

“Only when conservation organizations and enforcement agencies start taking this issue seriously, and jointly tackle the illegal trade, will we see the decline in wild bear populations come to an end,” Shepherd said.

Related Stories on TakePart

November 1, 2014

Laos Plans to Allow Foreigners to Purchase Land in Controversial Move

Laos Plans to Allow Foreigners to Purchase Land in Controversial Move


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A vehicle drives past an advertisement in Vientiane for a Vietnamese company with a rubber concession in Laos, in a file photo.  RFA.

Laos is to allow foreign investors to purchase land under a proposed law which some groups say would discriminate against locals and threaten national sovereignty.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is drafting an amendment to a land law allowing foreigners to purchase land for investments of at least U.S. $500,000 in the country, a high-ranking ministry official told RFA’s Lao Service.

The official said the move is aimed at attracting foreign investments to fuel the impoverished economy.

“In the draft we have added [a clause about] foreign investors [purchasing land] to promote investment, but the next step is to bring the draft for discussion at the government meeting for approval and consider adding additional recommendations,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A committee under the ministry in charge of national land policy “agrees that we should include the right to purchase land for foreigners,” he said. “We are doing this in the highest interest of the public.”

Currently, foreign investors in Laos—the majority of whom are from China or Vietnam—are either granted land leases or concessions from the government for up to 99 years, but existing law includes no provisions to purchase land, which is all state-owned in the communist nation.

It was unclear whether the proposed amendment includes limitations on the amount of land that foreign investors can purchase or guidelines for the cost of the property.

According to the ministry official, the draft amendment will likely be submitted for review at a government meeting of various ministries by the end of November.  If the draft is approved, it must be endorsed by the National Assembly, or parliament, before it can be signed into law.

Allowing foreigners to purchase land would further entice them to invest in Laos, the official said, adding that the business they bring to the country would help to benefit the local economy.

Laos faces persistent fiscal difficulties that have forced the government to delay public infrastructure projects and cancel a cost-of-living allowance for the civil service.

Opposition to proposal

The coordinator of a communal land rights network told RFA that he was against the proposal to allow foreign investors to purchase land, saying the government should instead focus on stronger legislation to ensure that leases and concessions to foreigners do not encroach on the land of villagers.

“I don’t agree with allowing foreigners to buy land, but I do not have any objections to leases and concessions as long as they don’t affect villagers’ property,” he said, adding that selling off land to foreign interests would “turn parts of Laos into other countries.”

The coordinator, who asked not to provide his name, said that his organization works to lessen the influence of capitalism in Laos in the interest of “national liberalization and land ownership,” suggesting that the government is sacrificing sovereignty and the rights of villagers to generate income from foreign investments.

His concerns were echoed by one resident of the capital Vientiane, who told RFA that the proposed change was akin to “putting Lao territory up for sale.”

The sources also questioned why the government would grant foreign investors the right to purchase land when it does not provide the same privileges to its own citizens.

Laotians are granted the right to occupy land through the state. Some of them can sell the right to use their land if their family has inhabited it for generations.

However, citizens cannot officially own property, and the government reserves the right to reclaim land when this is deemed to be in the public interest, such as for national development projects.

Cost of concessions

So far, more than 2,600 land lease and concession agreements have been signed with investors covering 1.1 million hectares (2.7 million acres), or roughly five percent of the country, according to a report published by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in January last year.

The report said that one out of five villages in Laos is affected by the investments, which exceed the area of the country used for wet rice production.

Most concessions in the country are granted for tree plantations and mining operations, and rights groups say the industries negatively impact local communities which rely on land, forests, and water for their livelihoods and food security. They have also led to forced evictions and compensation disputes.

Due to a growing number of land conflicts, the government of Laos had temporarily suspended the granting of concessions since 2012 after drafting an amendment to the country’s land law a year earlier.

Initially, the government called for recommendations to the draft from civil society organizations, which have proposed that villagers be given the right to participate or oppose land concessions for investment projects in their communities, including an option to receive compensation for loss of their land and farms at market value.

A version of the draft amendment made it to the National Assembly for review in mid-2013, but was rejected by the parliament and returned to the ministry for further changes.

Reported by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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