Laos must abide by European resolution
The Centre for Public Policy Analysis, Lao Movement for Human Rights, International Federation for Human Rights, United League for Democracy in Laos and a coalition of non-governmental organisations are hailing the passage of a resolution by the European Parliament expressing its deep concern regarding the recent disappearance of Lao civil activist Sombath Somphone. The international NGOs, joined by scores of Lao and Hmong organisations, are urging Laos to abide by the resolution.
We are encouraged that the terrible plight of Sombath, who [it is alleged] was extrajudicially abducted and "disappeared" in December, was discussed at the highest levels of a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on February 7. The result was the unanimous and historic passage by the parliament of a multi-point resolution expressing its deep concern regarding the disappearance of Sombath and calling for the government of Laos to cooperate in the case and respect basic human rights and international law.
In recent years, significant numbers of Lao and Hmong political and religious dissidents, as well as ordinary Lao and US citizens, have been arrested and [subsequently] disappeared in Laos. Other ordinary freedom-loving Lao, as well as members of the ethnic Hmong minority, have been tortured, subjected to horrific and deplorable prison sentences, or summarily executed in Laos.
It is important to highlight that Sombath was a humble yet high-level international figure. He was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership because he returned to his native Laos in 1979 to help farmers, young people and the poor.
As a signatory to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the Lao government has the duty to take all possible means to ensure the safe return of Sombath.
Sombath, a US-educated agronomist, has been involved in education and capacity-building programmes for youth, and initiating alternative development models to tackle rural poverty. His disappearance sends a chilling message to the fragile civil society in Laos.
The European Union, in its engagement with Lao authorities, should continue demanding more freedom of expression in the country and the cultivation of a more enabling environment for those working on economic, social and cultural rights, including development workers.
Centre for Public Policy Analysis, Washington, DC