Laos: Seven years on, the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone remains unresolved

On 15 December 2019, the ICJ joined 87 organizations and 11 individuals in a statement urging the Lao and Thai governments to investigate apparent cases of enforced disappearance and demanding that the Lao government finally reveal Sombath Somphone’s whereabouts and ensure justice for him and his family.

The statement was issued on the seventh anniversary of the disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone and called particularly for the establishment of an independent and impartial investigative body tasked with determining Sombath’s fate and whereabouts without delay, considering the Lao police’s protracted failure to effectively investigate his case. The new body should have the authority to seek and receive international technical assistance in order to conduct a professional, independent, impartial, and effective investigation in accordance with international standards.

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 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 met with Sombath’s wife, Ng Shui Meng, only twice since January 2013 – the last time in December 2017. No substantive information about the investigation has been shared by the police with the family, indicating that, for all intents and purposes, the police investigation has been de facto suspended.

The joint statement called on both Lao and Thai governments to promptly and impartial investigate all cases of suspected enforced disappearance in Laos and Thailand in line with international legal standards with a view towards determining the fate and whereabouts of apparent victims.

These include the cases of Od Sayavong, a Lao refugee living in Thailand who has been missing since 26 August 2019, and the cases of Ittiphon Sukpaen, Wuthipong Kachathamakul, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Chatcharn Buppawan and Kraidej Luelert, five Thai critics of the monarchy and the Thai government living in exile in Laos, who went missing between June 2016 and December 2018.

The statement further urged the Lao and Thai governments to promptly ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which Laos and Thailand signed in September 2008 and January 2012 respectively; to incorporate the Convention’s provisions into their domestic legal frameworks, implementing it in practice; and to recognize the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of victims or other States parties.

The full statement is available here.


Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia and the Pacific Director, e: frederick.rawski(a)

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