Laos: Six years on, civil society worldwide demands answers to the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone

Today, on the sixth anniversary of the disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, the ICJ joined 106 organizations and 37 individuals in a joint statement calling for an independent, impartial and effective investigation to reveal his fate and whereabouts.

The statement read as follows:

14 December 2018: On the eve of the sixth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, reiterate our calls for the Lao government to conduct an independent, impartial and effective investigation to reveal his fate and whereabouts.

Sombath was last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street of the Lao capital, 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, within minutes, 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 fact that police officers were present at and witnessed Sombath’s abduction and failed to intervene strongly indicates state agents’ involvement in, or acquiescence to, human rights violations committed against Sombath, which include the crime of enforced disappearance.

Later that evening, witnesses reportedly saw Sombath at a police holding facility in Vientiane yet to date officials have provided no information about what he was doing there and subsequently what happened to him.

For the last six years, the Lao government has failed to provide any credible answers with regard to the disappearance of Sombath Somphone.

In its most recent pronouncements, made during the review of Laos’ initial report by the Human Rights Committee (CCPR) in July 2018, the Lao government said it had been “trying very hard” to investigate Sombath’s fate and whereabouts.

However, this statement has been contradicted by the government’s refusal to accept international assistance in conducting the investigation and to provide any details about the progress of its investigation.

Lao authorities have failed to disclose any new findings from their investigation of Sombath’s case to the public since 8 June 2013 and have met with his wife, Shui Meng Ng, only twice since January 2013.

Despite the government’s recent claim that police had the “capacity and techniques” to reveal Sombath’s fate and whereabouts, we remain extremely concerned by the lack of progress in the investigation by Lao authorities into his case and reiterate our call for Vientiane to allow international assistance towards conducting an independent, impartial and thorough investigation according to international law and standards.

The Lao authorities have international legal obligations to conduct such investigations and to bring persons responsible for serious violations to justice under treaties to which they are party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture.

We also urge the Lao government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which Laos signed in September 2008, to incorporate the Convention’s provisions into the country’s domestic legislation, and implement it in practice.

Until Sombath Somphone’s fate and whereabouts are revealed, we will not stop demanding that Sombath be safely returned to his family and we will continue to ask the Lao government: “Where is Sombath?”

Laos-SombathSomphoneDisappearance-Advocacy-JointStatement-ENG-2018 (full statement, including list of signatories, PDF in English)

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