Laos: eight years on, the fate of Sombath Somphone remains unresolved and government remains unaccountable

On 15 December 2020, the eighth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, the ICJ joined 53 organizations and 19 individuals in reiterating its calls on the Government to reveal his fate and whereabouts and to investigate his and all other cases of alleged enforced disappearance in the country.

The statement condemned the Government’s ongoing failure to adequately investigate all allegations of enforced disappearance in Laos, which has been compounded by years of near complete lack of commitment to address this serious crime or provide an effective remedy or reparation to its victims and their families.

In June 2020, during the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, the Government refused to accept all five recommendations that called for an adequate investigation into Sombath’s enforced disappearance. The Government failed to support another eight recommendations that called for investigations into all cases of alleged enforced disappearances in Laos. Despite the government accepting that “the search for missing Lao citizens, including Sombath Somphone, is the duty of the Lao government”, it has failed to evidence any political will to effectively execute or fulfill this duty.

Sombath Somphone was last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street in Vientiane on the evening of 15 December 2012. Footage from a CCTV camera showed that Sombath’s vehicle was stopped at the police checkpoint and that, within minutes, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove him away in the presence of police officers. CCTV footage also showed an unknown individual driving Sombath’s vehicle away from the city center. The presence of police officers at Sombath’s abduction and their failure to intervene strongly indicates State agents’ participation in Sombath’s enforced disappearance.

Lao authorities have repeatedly claimed they have been investigating Sombath’s enforced disappearance, but have failed to disclose any new findings to the public since 8 June 2013. They have not met with Sombath’s wife, Shui Meng Ng, since December 2017. No substantive information about the investigation has been shared by the authorities with Ng or Sombath’s family, indicating that, for all intents and purposes, the police investigation has been de facto suspended.

The statement reiterated a call for the establishment of a new independent and impartial investigative body tasked with determining Sombath’s fate and whereabouts, with the authority to seek and receive international technical assistance to conduct a professional and effective investigation in accordance with international standards. This is a call which multiple signatory organizations have been making since his enforced disappearance in 2012.

The statement further urged the Lao government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), which Laos signed in September 2008; incorporate its provisions into the country’s legal framework, implement it in practice, and recognize the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of the victims.

The full statement is available here.


Kingsley Abbott, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser, e:

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