Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone Must be Addressed
We, the undersigned, request you to resolutely address the disappearance of Sombath Somphone at the upcoming Universal Periodic Review for the Lao PDR on January 20, 2015.
Enforced disappearance is a horrible crime, one of a few internationally recognized as unjustifiable under any circumstances.
It is a crime not only against the victim. It is equally a crime against the victim’s family, who are left with no rationale, resolution or means of recourse, and are vulnerable to intimidation and reprisals. For similar reasons, it is also a crime against wider society and, if part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population, a crime against humanity.
Sombath Somphone is widely known for a lifetime of innovative work and remarkable achievements in sustainable agriculture, community and alternative development, public participation, and youth education. He has received accolades from many sources, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005.
It is because of this recognition and respect that his disappearance has brought such a significant and sustained outpouring of concern from across the globe.
Spanning more than three decades, much of Sombath’s work sought to open doors for exchange and cooperation among government authorities, civil society, and citizens both young and old.
This prominence as a respected leader of Lao civil society is why his abduction has had such a shocking effect in his own country. Today fear reigns among Lao citizens. Many do not even dare to mention Sombath’s name for fear of reprisals that they too could become the next victim.
His disappearance also parallels a decisive reversal in opportunities and space for democratic dialogue, as well as a broader deterioration of the human rights situation throughout the country, notably among those most directly bearing the negative effects of economic development policies, land concessions and infrastructure projects.
Given this, it is of no doubt there are many serious issues to be raised during this Universal Periodic Review. Extensive documentation is available through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In reviewing these reports, note that Sombath Somphone is a central issue in the majority of the stakeholders’ submissions, and nearly all of those from civil society organisations not subject to Lao government control.
Also note that, despite repeated claims it is more concerned than anybody else, the Lao government report makes no mention of his name. Nor does it cite any role for civil society, except in reference to the UPR process itself.
It has been over two years since Sombath Somphone was taken from a police post on a busy street in the capital city. While there has been no indication of any official investigation for over 18 months, numerous independent assessments, including a recent report by the International Commission of Jurists, conclude that the case remains “eminently solvable.”
Further, UN experts have again made clear it is the Lao government’s responsibility under international law to carry out “an independent, thorough, credible and effective investigation.”
It is simply unacceptable that a nation so seeking of and dependent on international aid has summarily refused any assistance for just such an investigation.
In sum, the disappearance of Sombath Somphone is not an isolated case in an otherwise acceptable human rights landscape, but perhaps the most visible manifestation of a broader and deeper malaise.
We ask what potential and resolve exists to address the many other human rights issues given that Lao authorities so steadfastly ignore this one?
It is for these reasons that we implore you to give the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone its rightful place among the most central issues at the upcoming Universal Periodic Review.
The Sombath Initiative and 144 organisations.