OHCHR calls for Laos Govt to provide answers in Sombath case

Sombath.BANGKOK (14 December 2015) - On the third anniversary of the disappearance of human rights defender Sombath Somphone, representative of OHCHR's Regional Office for South-East called on the Laos Government provide answers in the case.

The following statement was delivered by the Deputy head of the Regional Office, Laurent Meillan, at a news conference arranged by the Sombath Initiative in Bangkok.

“We view the disappearance of Sombath Somphone with grave concern. He is a prominent civil society leader who has been mentoring young civil society workers in a country where democratic space is very limited. As a result, in addition to severely affecting his family and relatives, his disappearance has created a culture of fear among NGO workers in Lao PDR.

The United Nations has been following very closely this case, and we have expressed concerns privately and publicly on several occasions.

Immediately after his disappearance in December 2012, the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances sent an urgent appeal to the Government calling for a transparent and thorough investigation. Since then, several more interventions have been made by the United Nations, including by the UN Secretary-General and High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Initially, the Government responded to the UN human rights mechanism that the authorities were accelerating investigations, collecting evidence in order to reach a conclusion concerning the incident. Later, the Government stated that the police investigations were inconclusive.

It is important to note that since December 2013, no information has been provided by the Government to the public or family only that an investigation is still on-going. The last time the family heard from the authorities was on 24 April 2013.

We are doubtful that all efforts have been made to carefully review all existing evidence. Responses provided by the Government to the UN human rights mechanisms have been unsatisfactory.

In January 2015, Laos was assessed through the Universal Periodic Review process, which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN member states. The Government accepted several recommendations made by member states at the UN Human Rights Council, including Portugal, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Australia. These recommendations called for an impartial, transparent and thorough investigation into Sombath’s disappearance in accordance with international standards. It has been now a year and we are not aware of any progress since the Government’s commitment at the UN Human Rights Council.

At this stage, three years after Mr. Sombath Somphone went missing, it is fair to state that the absence of progress in the investigation of Sombath’s disappearance casts an ominous shadow over the successive commitments made by the Government to act on this case.

On our side, we very much regret the lack of cooperation of the Government with our Office. In December 2012, the Regional Office in Bangkok sent a letter to the Government, expressing concerns about the case. We did not receive a response. On 16 December 2013, the previous UN High Commissioner, Navi Pillay sent a letter to the Government, encouraging the Government to renew their efforts to devote all necessary resources to ensure Sombath’s safe return to his family. On 15 December 2014, the current High Commissioner Zeid sent another letter raising concerns “by the apparent lack of progress and lack on information provided to Mr. Somphone’s family”. The Government did not respond to both letters.

Again here, the lack of cooperation with the UN Human Rights Office questions the level of political will to establish the truth in this case.

What next about this case?

We believe it is crucial for the international community, including our Office to continue demanding that the Government must meet its international human rights obligations in relation to this case.

We will continue to look at all options to ensure this case is dealt with in a thorough and transparent manner. We appreciate the efforts of many states, who along with other international organisations, such as the European Union, have called for action on this case. We must all continue to make it clear to Laos that Sombath's disappearance, and the Government's failure to provide answers, is not acceptable.”

Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council sent letters to the Lao Government. They can be accessed at:
- https://spdb.ohchr.org/hrdb/23rd/public_-_UA_Laos_20.12.12_(3.2012).pdf
- https://spdb.ohchr.org/hrdb/24th/public_-_UA_Laos_09.12.13_(2.2013).pdf

The Lao Government responses can be accessed at:
- https://spdb.ohchr.org/hrdb/22nd/Lao_03.01.13_(3.2012).pdf
- https://spdb.ohchr.org/hrdb/23rd/Lao_25.03.13_(3.2012).pdf
- https://spdb.ohchr.org/hrdb/24th/Lao_10.06.13_(3.2013).pdf
- https://spdb.ohchr.org/hrdb/24th/Lao_30.12.13_(2.2013).pdf


For media inquiries, please contact Jeremy Laurence (+66 84 700 4671 / laurencej@un.org)
The Regional Office for South-East Asia in Bangkok represents the High Commissioner for Human Rights within South East Asia. The High Commissioner for Human Rights is the principal human rights official of the United Nations and heads the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which spearheads the United Nations' human rights efforts.


OHCHR website: http://www.ohchr.org
OHCHR Regional Office for South-East Asia website: http://bangkok.ohchr.org/