Posts tagged ‘Lao’

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.

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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.

April 13, 2014

Thailand’s ethnic melting pot curdles amid regional political divisions


Thailand’s ethnic melting pot curdles amid regional political divisions

Published: April 14, 4:13 AM

LAMPHUN (Thailand) — Each time Mr Muean Chimoon leaves his wooden house in northern Thailand, he pays homage to a portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a father figure and long a symbol of national unity.

“We have a King who loves everyone,” said Mr Muean, a retired bus driver who exudes the renowned cheerful insouciance of rural Thailand.

But when the conversation turns to politics, Mr Muean’s smile disappears. He lashes out at the “arrogance” of protesters in Bangkok who want to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government, which has overwhelming support in the north and north-east.

“Bangkok has always wanted to choose their own Prime Minister,” Mr Muean said. “They don’t care what northern people think — they just care about themselves.”

Thailand is the land of the Thais, of course — but also of the Lanna, Lao, Mon, Malay, Khmer and Chinese, among other ethnic groups subsumed into the country over the centuries.

Eight years into Thailand’s political crisis over the influence of the Prime Minister’s family, some of those ethnic identities are resurfacing. The country’s political divisions roughly follow the outlines of ancient kingdoms and principalities, rekindling bygone impulses for greater autonomy from Bangkok.

“I’ve never seen the country this divided,” said local council member Ponganand Srisai in Baan Nong Tun, a rice-farming north-eastern village.

Banners on the roads calling for secession have been among the most extreme expressions of the north’s bitterness toward Bangkok. The Lanna kingdom, including Lamphun, was annexed by Bangkok in 1899. For decades, its people have spoken a dialect distinct from the Thai officially recognised and promoted by the central government. At the time of annexation, the region had its own written language, which used a different alphabet from Thai.

Prominent commentator Tanet Charoenmuang, a proponent of greater autonomy for northern Thailand, said northerners perceive government institutions as favouring the capital at the expense of the provinces.

“Thailand has been an overcentralised state, and a sense of localism is quietly re-emerging,” Mr Tanet said.

The army appears to have taken the notion of secession very seriously, vowing to investigate and bring legal action against anyone advocating leaving Thailand. The reign of King Bhumibol, who was crowned in 1950, has long cemented Thai identity. The King, now ailing, and his absence from civic life has added to a sense that the country has lost its rudder.

Three governments supported by northern and north-eastern voters have been removed from power since 2006, one — Ms Yingluck’s brother Thaksin’s — by a military coup and two in highly-politicised court judgments. In the past months, protesters in Bangkok have demanded the overthrow of the government and a reduction in the influence of the Shinawatra clan, which is from the northern city of Chiang Mai.

The prospect that a fourth democratically elected government could be removed by the courts in coming weeks has been met by seething anger in villages across the north and northeast. Protest leaders call government supporters “buffaloes,” an insult connoting upcountry ignorance.

Mr Ponganand describes southerners, who on some days make up the bulk of protesters, as extremists.

Government supporters say a sense of solidarity has emerged between northern Thailand and the vast northeastern Isaan plateau, where the maternal tongue, a form of Lao, is similar to the Lanna language of the north.

Ms Chalida Chusirithanakit from the north-east, says the current round of protests has kindled “a real sense of pride in being Isaan people,” especially among the government’s Red Shirts supporters. “They feel they have struggled and have been oppressed for a long time,” she said.

Support for Ms Yingluck and her party is so strong in Maha Sarakham province that “even a dog in a red shirt could run in an election and win,” she added. The New York Times


February 26, 2014

Press Release: U.S. Senate Slated To Vote On Laos, Hmong Veterans Burial Honors Bill

U.S. Senate Slated To Vote On Laos, Hmong Veterans Burial Honors Bill, Reports CPPA

Center for Public Policy Analysis

For Immediate Release

WASHINGTON, D.C./EWORLDWIRE/Feb. 25, 2014 — The U.S. Senate is pressing a major omnibus veterans bill forward today for potential consideration that contains legislation to assist Lao- and Hmong-American veterans of the Vietnam War in Laos who are seeking burial rights and honors at U.S. national veterans cemeteries.

“S. 1982, ‘The Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act,’ introduced by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT), is scheduled for a cloture vote today by the Senate and potential debate on the bill. This comprehensive veterans’ bill contains historic and important language adopted and rolled-in from earlier legislation regarding Lao- and Hmong-American veterans’ burial and honors benefits, including S. 944 and S. 200,” said Philip Smith, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) in Washington, D.C.

“Unfortunately, many Lao- and Hmong-American veterans who served in America’s covert theater of operations during the Vietnam War are dying across the United States without the benefit of being recognized or honored for their extraordinary military and clandestine service.

“Having saved the lives of many U.S. soldiers and aircrews, these forgotten veterans deserve to be buried with dignity at U.S. national veterans’ cemeteries, with military honors, for their unique service as part of the ‘U.S. Secret Army’ defending U.S. national security interests and the “Royal Kingdom of Laos”, pivotal in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict.

“The effort to further honor, and review, the Lao- and Hmong-American veterans’ service, is being spearheaded by Chairman Bernie Sanders, Vice Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Begich (D-AK), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jack Reed (D-RI), and others.

“Congressmen Jim Costa (D-CA) and Paul Cook (R-CA), along with over 30 Members of Congress, have also introduced bipartisan legislation in the House regarding granting Lao- and Hmong-American veterans’ burial honors at national cemeteries administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” Smith concluded.

“We are strongly urging the U.S. Congress, as soon as possible, to pass and help implement crucial legislation to help those Lao- and Hmong veterans still surviving from the Vietnam War, along with their families in the United States,” said Colonel Wangyee Vang, president of the Lao Veterans of America Institute (LVAI), headquartered in Fresno, Calif.

“‘The Lao- and Hmong Veterans Burial Honors Bill’ was introduced in 2012, and again in early 2013, as S. 200, by Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

“We are very thankful that legislation is advancing in the U.S. Senate and Congress to seek to grant burial honors and benefits to our veterans at national veterans cemeteries administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” Vang stated.

The CPPA, LVAI and Lao Veterans of America, Inc., provided testimony before the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee in May and June of 2013, during Committee hearings and markup sessions on the plight of Lao and Hmong veterans and pending veterans’ benefits legislation.


Jade Her, Maria Gomez or Philip Smith
Center for Public Policy Analysis
2020 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20006
PHONE. 202-543-1444

November 4, 2013

PRESS RELEASE: Vietnam, Laos: Officials Involved in Abduction, Trafficking, and Sex Slavery of Women, Children


Center for Public Policy Analysis





Vietnam, Laos: Officials Involved in Abduction, Trafficking, and Sex Slavery of Women, Children

November 02, 2013 01:19 PM EST


WASHINGTON & HANOI, Vietnam–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Ethnic Hmong, Lao and Montagnard girls, including children, are being abducted and forced into marriage and prostitution at an alarming rate by corrupt government and military officials in Vietnam and Laos according to statements issued jointly today by non-governmental organizations.


The Lao Human Rights Council, Inc., (LHRC) and the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) are issuing a statement of concern about the increasing role of government and military officials in the abduction and violent trafficking of women and children in Vietnam, Laos and Southeast Asia.


“The growing problem of institutional violence, abduction, forced marriage, abuse, sexual exploitation and human trafficking directed against minority Hmong and Lao women and children by corrupt government and military officials is especially egregious in the border areas of Laos and Vietnam, including Vietnam’s province of Nge Anh bordering Laos’ Xiang Khouang province,” said Philip Smith of the CPPA in Washington, D.C., which focuses on human rights issues.


Smith continued: “In areas in Vietnam and Laos, ethnic Lao and minority Hmong and Montagnard girls, and children, are being abducted and forced into a life of violent abuse and sex slavery by government and military officials. Many girls and women suffer unspeakable cruelty, rape and domestic violence, or are trafficked internationally. Minority Christians are especially being targeted. The unfortunate victims are sometimes murdered or commit suicide as a result.”


According to Vaughn Vang, President of the LHRC: “We recently received tragic information about a 17 year old Vietnamese Hmong girl, Miss Pang Nhia Lor (Paaj Nyiag Lauj), who lives in the Ky Son District area of Nge Anh Province in Vietnam, bordering Laos. On October 16, two men who are local high-ranking communist and government provincial leaders from other Hmong villages forced the poor young girl into marriage and abducted her from the village area of Ban Nam Khyen Xa Nam. The men stated their names as Doua Yang (Nruas Yaaj) and his father Nhia Vws Yang (Nyiaj Vws Yaaj). They visited Miss Pang Nhia Lor’s parents’ residence and misused their authority by forcing Pang Nhia’s parents to sell her to them as Doua’s wife against the girl’s and parents’ will.”


Vang stated: “During their conversation with the government officials who demanded the girl for forced marriage, Pang Nhia’s alarmed parents put her in a small room in their house and told her to stay put. While in the room, Pang Nhia overheard Nhia Vws Yang stating that Doua demanded to buy Pang Nhia to be his wife. Pang Nhia managed to escape from the room and ran outside. Doua and his father heard Pang Nhia leave and ran after her. The two men chased her and wrestled her to the ground in the mud. They then forcefully took her, covered in mud, blood and tears, to their car and drove away.


“After the government officials drove away in their car, they arrived at Doua Yang’s house. Doua tied Pang Nhia’s hands with a rope and locked her in his bedroom. Pang Nhia is being continually abused by Doua Yang, both sexually and physically, on a daily basis. Doua has also threatened Pang Nhia that he will continue to abuse her until she consents to marry him.


“We are, therefore, urging an immediate investigation and international intervention to help save the life of this innocent Vietnamese Hmong girl, and other girls, and children, like her in Vietnam and Laos,” Vang concluded.




Center for Public Policy Analysis
Maria Gomez or Philip Smith

August 19, 2012

Laotians renew call for freedom in homeland

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By Marie Donovan , Sun Correspondent
Updated:   08/19/2012 06:59:54 AM EDT

LOWELL — Nicholas Sounphale still misses his native country, Laos.

“The country is so beautiful, so lovely,” Sounphale said.

The Littleton resident was one of about 60 people from near and far who attended the Eighth Anniversary Celebration of the Lao Heritage and Freedom Flag at City Hall on Saturday. Posters set up in front of the building bore photos of ancient Laotian treasures, including glistening Buddhist temples, intricately woven baskets of various shapes and sizes, gold statues and finely carved wooden musical instruments and textile-making utensils.

Sounphale, a now 50-year-old research and development technician who emigrated here in 1980, said despite his love for Laos, he was not in favor of the Communist government that took over in 1975.

The event celebrated the contributions of Laotians to the Lowell area while offering speakers a chance to advocate for peaceful change back home to re-install a democratic form of government. It was emceed by Linkham Xaylitdet of The Laotian Community of Lowell. It drew local officials like Mayor Patrick Murphy and City Councilors Rita Mercier and Vesna Nuon, along with native Laotians from as far as Germany.

“The Laotian community of Lowell stands in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Laos,” Murphy said.

Also in attendance to show their support were several Vietnamese immigrants who have served with the US Army Veterans Support Command and several Bangladeshi American officials.

“Thanks to the warm open arms and generous helping hands of the U.S. Government and the American people, we the Laotian Americans are who we are today: independent, free and law-abiding contributive citizens,” said United Lao Political Organization President Khamthene Chinyavong, expressing his gratitude to state officials for allowing them to uphold the Lao National Flag and the Lao Freedom and Heritage Flag so they can share their celebration with the city and the community.

The Lao Heritage and Freedom Flag features three white elephant heads on a red background.

The background represents the courage of Laotian kings and commoners who, despite hailing from 68 ethnic groups, managed to build a unified nation that they defended and protected from invaders for seven centuries, according to Bounthone Chanthalavong-Wiese, president of Alliance for Democracy in Laos.

The white elephant heads, which peer out from a white nine-level parasol, represent the pure beauty of both the land and culture of Laos, said Chanthalavong-Wiese, adding that the parasol represents the levels a person would need to climb, spiritually speaking, to reach the pinnacle that represents the heavens and Mount Meru, which Laotians tend to revere as the center of the universe.

The flag “illustrates the abundance of elephants in the country, hence ‘Lan Xang:’ the land of a million elephants,” said Chantalavong-Wiese, who said about 14 percent of the Laotian population, or more than 500,000 people, had emigrated to other countries to find safety and freedom after the Communist Party replaced the ruling constitutional monarchy.

Among them were Alygnaphon “Alit” Chanthala, who came to the event from Connecticut. Chanthala, now 34, was a leader of the student democracy movement in Laos in 1999. He said he emigrated here to join his sister after watching Communist officials attempt to arrest protesters at a rally he attended back home. Chanthala said he still misses family members back home, but that he is thankful he was able to start a new life here.

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Credited to Khampoua Naovarangsy

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