Abducted a Year Ago, Sombath Somphone Case Highlights Human Rights Abuses in Laos

Protest in front of Laos embassy in Bangkok. Photo from Facebook page of Joey Oliveros Dimaandal.

Protest in front of Laos embassy in Bangkok. Photo from Facebook page of Joey Oliveros Dimaandal.

Sombath Somphone, a development economist and educator from Laos, was abducted by unidentified men exactly a year ago a few moments after he was stopped by a police car. His disappearance was captured by a CCTV footage. Today, his family and friends from around the world are asking the Laos government to undertake more decisive actions to help find Sombath.

The Solidarity for Asian Peoples’ Advocacy Working Group on ASEAN is accusing the Laos government of hiding something about the case:

We hold the government of Lao accountable for his enforced disappearance. The inconsistencies in the Lao government's policy pronouncements over his case prove our point that it has something to do with what happened to Sombath Somphone. We challenge Lao officials to, once and for all, provide a credible action and resolution on his case. It must prosecute individuals and institutions responsible for his enforced disappearance.

The Laos government has denied that it was involved in the disappearance of Sombath.

Nalaka Gunawardene clarified that Sombath is not an activist:

Sombath isn’t a politician. Nor is he an activist, although some have given him that label. The Sombath I know is a sensitive thinker who pauses to reflect on where his country and the world are headed. He is also a teacher and mentor who has helped thousands of young Lao nationals to improve skills and find their own voice.

In a Facebook note, Anne-Sophie promised Sombath that his friends will keep alive the advocacy until he is found:

Someone said that “the one who has been killed dies once, the disappeared dies again everyday”. We refuse to let this happen. This is why we are starting this discussion with you today. And this discussion will continue, everyday, to keep you alive. Your engagement has been a lot about giving voice to the people. It is time for others to give you a voice. Silence will not prevail. Because we will never forget. Because we keep hoping.

Meanwhile, 62 NGOs in the Asia-Pacific signed a statement urging the Laos government to form a new body to investigate Sombath’s disappearance:

Establish a new commission tasked with carrying out a prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial investigation into Sombath’s enforced disappearance and return him safely to his family.

Extend an invitation for a country visit by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances
Sombath’s whereabouts remain unknown and there has been no progress in the investigation into the circumstances of his enforced disappearance. In addition, the authorities have rejected offers of technical assistance to analyze the CCTV footage.

M Rajaretnam hopes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN will demand more answers from the Laos government:

After a year of silence, the disclosure should be treated as an opportunity to seek redress for Mr Sombath. If Sombath Somphone can disappear in broad daylight, it can happen to anyone. Asean governments and their stakeholders, in the name of human decency, have the right to clear answers from the Lao leadership.


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