Laos

 

  • Country recommendations on civic space for Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

    All UN member states have their human rights records reviewed every 4.5 years. CIVICUS makes four joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space in Armenia, Laos, Kenya and Kuwait, which are up for review in January 2020.

    The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.

    Armenia – CIVICUS highlights unwarranted restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and the use of violence, intimidation and harassment to disperse peaceful protests particularly in 2018 and 2016. We express concerns over the targeting of human rights defenders particularly those working on environmental and LGBTI rights. We highlight concerns over restrictions on freedom of expression and the targeting of journalists who covered protests.   

    Kenya -   In this submission, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, CIVICUS, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders–Kenya (NCHRD-K), express deep concern over the government’s continued unjustified restriction of peaceful protests, as seen in the unlawful interpretation of existing laws by security agents to restrict the right to peaceful assembly and the increasingly worrying trend of security agents violently disrupting peaceful protests. We further examine undue limitations on the freedom of expression, as highlighted by the high number of incidences of harassment, attacks and extrajudicial killings of journalists as well as clauses that are inimical to the freedom of expression in new legislation such as the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act 2018.  

    Kuwait - Since its 2nd Universal Periodic Review, ISHR, Gulf Centre, MENA Rights Group and CIVICUS found that Kuwait did not implement any of the 13 recommendations related to civic space. Instead, restrictive legislation such as the 1979 Public Gatherings Act, the 1970 National Security Law, the 2015 Cybercrime Law and the 2006 Press and Publications Law, continue to place undue restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Furthermore, HRDs face unwarranted restrictions, with women HRDs and activists from the stateless Bedoon minority facing heightened threats. Legal and policy limitations placed on the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression put HRDs at a continuous risk of detention, defamation, citizenship revocation and other forms of reprisals as a direct result of their work. 

    Laos – The submission by CIVICUS, the Manushya Foundation and FORUM-ASIA highlights how the Lao PDR government - which is a one-party state - dominates all aspects of political life and maintains strict controls on civic space. We examine how the extensive restrictions and surveillance of civil society and the absolute controls of the media including TV, radio and printed publications. We also highlight the ongoing failure to investigate the fate and whereabouts of human rights defender Sombath Somphone which has created a chilling effect and the continued criminalisation of government critics. Read press release

    See other country reports submitted by CIVICUS and partners to the UN's Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

     

  • Laos adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

    Joint statement with Forum Asia and Manushya at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Laos

     


    Thank you, Mr Vice President.

    We note that the government of Lao PDR has accepted the majority of the recommendations it received during this Universal Periodic Review. However, we regret that the government has not accepted several key recommendations related to fundamental freedoms, and protection of human rights defenders. 

    Following the second cycle UPR in 2015, Lao PDR committed to reassess the restrictions on [fundamental freedoms] civil society organisations, revise legislation to protect the right to freedom of expression and to ensure freedom of assembly in line with the ICCPR. However, the government’s actions since then stand in stark contrast to these commitments as well as Constitutional guarantees of these rights. 

    New amendments to the Media Act of 2008 introduced in 2016 further consolidate the government’s absolute control over the media.

    The government continues to criminalise criticism of the government using unwarranted criminal defamation charges on the basis of protecting “national interests,” as well as charges of anti-state propaganda, penalized under article 117 of the criminal code.  For instance, woman human rights defender, Houayheuang Xayabouly, known as Muay, was sentenced in November 2019 to 5-year imprisonment for a Facebook post criticising the slow response of the government in providing assistance  to affected communities displaced by flooding as a result of tropical storm in August 2019. 

    The new Decree No. 238 on Associations introduced in November 2017 grants the government broad powers to control or prohibit the formation of associations, monitor and curtail their activities and finances, and to dissolve associations on arbitrary grounds without right of appeal. 

    We call on Lao PDR to create and maintain, in law and practice, an enabling environment for CSOs, media, journalists and human rights defenders by repealing or reviewing all repressive legislation in accordance with international standards. In particular, we call on Lao to review the Media Act, Decree No. 238 on Associations, Decree number 327 on Internet-Based Information Control/Management and provisions of the Penal Code, including Article 117 on propaganda against the state, that impose undue restrictions on fundamental freedoms. We call on the Lao government to ensure all Lao people can exercise their fundamental freedom of expression, as enshrined in the ICCPR.

    We regret the government’s failure to accept key recommendations to effectively investigate the enforced disappearance of human rights defender Sombath Somphone. Given the government’s protracted failure to disclose any new information about the investigation since June 2013, we call on Lao to establish a new independent and impartial investigative body to determine the fate and whereabouts of Sombath.

    We further call on the government to publicly set out a comprehensive, measurable and time-bound action plan for the implementation of UPR recommendations, in full cooperation and consultation with civil society.


    Civic space in Laos is currently rated as Closed by the  CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • Laos and Thailand must investigate enforced disappearances

    Civil society groups urge Laos, Thailand to investigate enforced disappearances, reveal fate of Sombath Somphone and Od Sayavong

    On the seventh anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, urge the Lao and Thai governments to investigate enforced disappearances, and demand Vientiane finally reveal Sombath’s whereabouts and ensure justice for him and his family.

    Considering the Lao police’s protracted failure to effectively investigate Sombath’s enforced disappearance, a new independent and impartial investigative body tasked with determining Sombath’s fate and whereabouts should be established without delay. 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 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 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 enforced 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, Shui Meng Ng, 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.

    We also call on the Lao and Thai governments to resolve all cases of enforced disappearances in their countries. The most recent case is that of Od Sayavong, a Lao refugee living in Bangkok, who has been missing since 26 August 2019. Over the past several years, Od engaged publicly in drawing attention to human rights abuses and corruption in Laos, and met with the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on 15 March 2019 in Bangkok, prior to the latter’s mission to Laos. The concerns regarding Od’s case were expressed in a joint statement that the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and three Special Rapporteurs issued on 1 October 2019. 

    We would also like to draw particular attention to reports that Ittiphon Sukpaen, Wuthipong Kachathamakul, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Chatcharn Buppawan, and Kraidej Luelert, five Thai critics of the monarchy and Thailand’s military government living in exile in Laos, went missing between June 2016 and December 2018. In the case of the latter three, the bodies of Chatcharn and Kraidej were found about two weeks later on the Thai side of the Mekong River, mutilated and stuffed with concrete, while a third body - possibly Surachai’s - reportedly surfaced nearby and then disappeared. DNA tests carried out in January 2019 confirmed the identity of Chatcharn and Kraidej.

    We call on the Lao and Thai governments to investigate these cases in line with international legal standards with a view towards determining their fate and whereabouts.

    Both the Lao and Thai governments have the legal obligation to conduct such prompt, thorough and impartial investigations and to bring all individuals suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law and gross human rights violations to justice in fair trials.

    We also urge 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.

    Finally, we call on the international community to use the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos to demand the Lao government promptly and effectively investigate the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone. The third UPR of Laos is scheduled to be held on 21 January 2020 in Geneva, Switzerland.

    During the second UPR of Laos in January 2015, 10 United Nations member states (Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom) recommended the Lao government conduct an adequate investigation into Sombath’s enforced disappearance.

    Until the fate and whereabouts of those who are forcibly disappeared are revealed, the international community should not stop demanding that they be safely returned to their families. The Lao government should be under no illusion that our demands will go away, we will persist until we know the real answer to the question: “Where is Sombath?”

    Signed by:

    1.    11.11.11
    2.    Action from Ireland (Afri)
    3.    Alliance Sud
    4.    Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma)
    5.    Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance to Stop Mining) 
    6.    Amnesty International
    7.    Armanshahr / OPEN ASIA
    8.    Article 19
    9.    ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) 
    10.    Asia Europe People’s Forum
    11.    Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
    12.    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    13.    Asian Resource Foundation
    14.    Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation (AWAM)
    15.    Awaz Foundation Pakistan – Centre for Development Services
    16.    Banglar Manabadhikar Sutaksha Mancha (MASUM)
    17.    Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
    18.    CCFD-Terre Solidaire
    19.    Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD)
    20.    Centre for the Sustainable Use of Natural and Social Resources (CSNR)
    21.    China Labour Bulletin (CLB)
    22.    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    23.    Civil Rights Defenders
    24.    Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS)
    25.    Community Resource Centre (CRC)
    26.    Community Self-Reliance Centre (CSRC)
    27.    DIGNIDAD Coalition
    28.    Dignity – Kadyr-kassiyet (KK)
    29.    Equality Myanmar
    30.    Europe solidaire sans frontières (ESSF)
    31.    Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) 
    32.    FIAN International
    33.    FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
    34.    Focus on the Global South
    35.    Fresh Eyes - People to People Travel
    36.    Front Line Defenders
    37.    Global Justice Now 
    38.    Globe International
    39.    Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)
    40.    Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)
    41.    Human Rights in China (HRIC)
    42.    Human Rights Watch (HRW)
    43.    Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)
    44.    INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
    45.    International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    46.    Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw)
    47.    Justice for Iran (JFI)
    48.    Karapatan Alliance Philippines (Karapatan)
    49.    Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (KIBHR)
    50.    Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS)
    51.    Land Watch Thai
    52.    Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR)
    53.    Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
    54.    League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI)
    55.    MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture) 
    56.    Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)
    57.    Manushya Foundation
    58.    MONFEMNET National Network
    59.    National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP)
    60.    Nomadic Livestock Keepers' Development Fund
    61.    Odhikar
    62.    People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy(PSPD) 
    63.    People’s Empowerment Foundation (PEF)
    64.    People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR)
    65.    People’s Watch  
    66.    Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) 
    67.    Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI)
    68.    Psychological Responsiveness NGO
    69.    Pusat KOMAS
    70.    Right to Life Human Rights Centre (R2L)
    71.    Rights Now Collective for Democracy (RN)
    72.    South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM)
    73.    Stiftung Asienhaus
    74.    STOP the War Coalition - Philippines (StWC-Philippines) 
    75.    Sustainability and Participation through Education and Lifelong Learning (SPELL)
    76.    Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR)
    77.    Tanggol Kalikasan – Public Interest Environmental Law Office (TK)
    78.    Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
    79.    The Corner House
    80.    Think Centre
    81.    Transnational Institute
    82.    Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)
    83.    Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR)
    84.    Vietnamese Women for Human Rights (VNWHR)
    85.    WomanHealtth Philippines
    86.    Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC)
    87.    World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)
    88.    World Rainforest Movement (WRM)

    Individuals:

    Andy Rutherford 
    Anuradha Chenoy 
    David JH Blake
    Glenn Hunt
    Jeremy Ironside
    Jessica diCarlo
    Kamal Mitra Chenoy
    Mary Aileen D. Bacalso
    Miles Kenney-Lazar
    Nico Bakker
    Philip Hirsch

     

  • Laos: Government must live up to human rights obligations ahead of UN review

    Manushya Foundation, CIVICUS and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) call on the Government of Lao PDR to remove all unwarranted restrictions on civic space in the country ahead of its human rights review to be held at the United Nations (UN) in January-February 2020. The review will mark five years since UN member states made 33 recommendations to the Lao government that directly relate to barriers to open civic space. As of today, the government has partially implemented only three recommendations.

    Following its last review in 2015 , the government of Lao PDR committed to reassess the policy framework and restrictions on domestic and international civil society organisations and facilitate an enabling environment for them; to fully respect and ensure freedom of expression by revising legislation; to ensure freedom of assembly in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and to investigate individual cases such as the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone. 

    In a joint submission to the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, our organisations assess the current human rights situation to track compliance with these recommendations and international human rights standards. The submission finds that Lao PDR’s persistent failure to uphold its commitments has resulted in continued unwarranted restrictions to civic space and acute shortcomings with respect to the right to freedom to freedom expression, assembly and association, and in the protection of human rights defenders.

    “Using unwarranted defamation, libel, and slander charges, justified by vague claims of ‘national interests’, the government increasingly restricts any speech or actions that would highlight corruption or the violation of rights resulting from development projects and investments, specifically those related to land and sustainable development.” said Emilie Pradichit, Founder & Director of Manushya Foundation. “The Lao government must immediately repeal or amend legislations that do not comply with international standards and obligations through transparent and inclusive mechanisms of public consultation, end the harassment and intimidation against persons who speak up, and provide effective remedy in cases where the rights of individuals have been denied or violated.” 

    Manushya, CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA are seriously concerned about the pervasive control exercised by the government over civil society, and the severe restrictions faced as a result. Extensive surveillance, reprisals and the criminalisation and enforced disappearance of human rights defenders have created an environment in which it is all but impossible to speak out. The right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are guaranteed in the Constitution of Lao PDR, and its obligations under the ICPPR. However, the legal framework – including broadly formulated, restrictive and conflicting provisions in the Constitution, the Penal Code, and other laws, as well as government decrees passed without oversight – serves to limit any independent action or information, and criminalise any expression perceived as critical of the government. All actions taken and information shared must undergo a lengthy process of state approval and organisations are forced to maintain close ties with the State, making independent human rights organisations virtually non-existent. 

    “The laws, policies and practices of the Lao government restrict any legitimate activities that they believe could threaten the state. Constant monitoring and the detention of activists such as Bounthanh Thammavong, Lodkham Thammavong, Soukane Chaithad, Somphone Phimmasone, and the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, has compounded this chilling effect to the extent that activists and journalists now avoid using ‘human rights’ language in their work,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS. “States must question these actions of the Lao government that allow for impunity for violations of civic freedoms and press the government to create a safe, respectful and enabling environment that is free of undue hindrances, obstruction, legal or administrative harassment.”

    Manushya, CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA also urge the member states of the United Nations (UN) to use the UPR of Laos to ensure increased transparency and accountability through law and practice in order to protect and promote the rights of civil society in Laos, especially those of human rights defenders, civil society activists, and journalists.

    “The Universal Periodic Review of Laos is an important opportunity to hold the Lao government accountable for ongoing, serious violations of fundamental freedoms and human rights,” concluded Ahmed Adam of FORUM-Asia. “The international community cannot afford to ignore the permanent closure of civic space and criminalisation of legitimate exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly as well as work of human rights defenders in Lao.  International scrutiny is necessary to improve the human rights situation in Lao, particularly given that the government has done nothing to change a situation that has been ongoing for decades.”

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in Laos as closed.


    For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

    (EN) Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher, CIVICUS, +6010-4376376,

    (EN & Lao) Emilie Pradichit, Founder & Director, Manushya Foundation, +66 (0) 92-901-5345,   

    (TH) Suphamat Phonphra, Programme Officer, Manushya Foundation, +66 (0) 83-578-9879,   

    (EN) Ahmed Adam, UN Advocacy Programme Manager, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), +41 (2) 10-826-4345,

     

  • Laos: Letter to UN Member States ahead of human rights review

    Open Letter: UN member states must highlight Laos’s severely restrictive civic space environment at its upcoming UN human rights review

    Your Excellency,

    As you will be aware, Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) will face its third review under the UN’s UPR mechanism on 21 January 2020.

    Following its last review in 2015, the government of Lao PDR committed to reassess the policy framework and restrictions on domestic and international civil society organisations and facilitate an enabling environment for them; to fully respect and ensure freedom of expression by revising legislation; to ensure freedom of assembly in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and to investigate individual cases such as the enforced disappearance of human rights defender Sombath Somphone.

    In total, member states made 33 recommendations to the Lao government that directly relate to barriers to open civic space. Since then, the government has partially implemented just three of these recommendations.

    In a submission to this UN review cycle, the Manushya Foundation, FORUM ASIA and CIVICUS outlined some of the most serious concerns facing civil society in Lao PDR. The submission found that the country’s persistent failure to uphold its commitments has resulted in continued unwarranted restrictions to civic space and acute shortcomings with respect to right to freedom to freedom expression, assembly and association, and in the protection of human rights defenders.

    In Laos’s pre-UPR session, held in December 2019, independent civil society organizations highlighted that the situation for fundamental freedoms had worsened, particularly in relation to online surveillance.

    We are encouraged by Laos’s renewed commitment to the sustainable development goals which it reaffirmed during its UPR pre-session. However, we remind states, and the Lao government, that civic space is central to the achievement of all of the SDGs, and without engagement of independent civil society, any improvements in SDGs are cosmetic at best.

    Based on our research, the government continues to exercise pervasive control over civil society, which faces severe restrictions as a result. Extensive surveillance, reprisals and the criminalisation and enforced disappearance of human rights defenders have created an environment in which it is all but impossible to speak out.

    While the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are guaranteed in the Constitution of Lao PDR, an array of restrictive laws and government decrees continue to exist that serves to restrict civic freedoms and criminalise any expression perceived as critical of the government. This lack of civic space has meant many people fear speaking up about corruption or the violation of rights resulting from development projects and investments, specifically those related to land and sustainable development.

    A new Decree No. 238 on Associations that came into effect in November 2017 imposes severe restrictions on civil society organisations (CSOs) and force CSOs to maintain close relations with the state, making independent human rights organisations virtually non-existent. Further, international CSOs also face challenges operating in the country.

    The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said in March 2019 after his visit to Lao PDR that he “received countless reports from people inside the country and who have recently fled Laos about the extent to which people feel they are not able to speak freely and fear reprisal for expressing criticism of government policies”.

    Given this environment, and the lack of political will demonstrated thus far by the government of Lao PDR to uphold its civil space obligations, we urge states to ensure that civic space remains a key issue raised during this third cycle of Laos’s UPR.

    This means ensuring freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to operate free from unwarranted state interference, the right to communicate and cooperate, the right to seek and secure funding, and the state’s duty to protect. At a minimum, such recommendations should include:

    • Take measures to foster a safe, respectful, enabling environment for civil society, including through removing legal and policy measures, which unwarrantedly limit the right to association.
    • Relevant laws and regulations should be revised - in particularly, Decree No. 238 on Associations and Decree No. 13 of 2010 on INGOs - to guarantee that undue restrictions on freedom of association are removed and to bring them into compliance with 22 of the ICCPR.
    • Ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction or legal and administrative harassment.
    • Establish a new commission tasked with carrying out a prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial investigation aimed at determining the fate or whereabouts of human rights defender Sombath Somphone.
    • Ensure freedom of expression and media freedom by all bringing national legislation into line with international standards. In particular, Article 65 the Penal Code (propaganda against the state), the Media Act of 2008 and Decree No. 327 on Internet-Based Information Control/Management, should be reviewed to ensure that national legislation are in line with the best practices and international standards in the area of freedom of expression.
    • Extend a standing invitation to all UN Special Procedures mandate holders and prioritize official visits with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

    Yours sincerely,

    Emilie Pradichit, Director, Manushya Foundation    
    Ahmed Adam, Programme Manager, United Nations Advocacy, FORUM-ASIA
    David E. Kode, Advocacy & Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

     

  • Laos: Nine years on, civil society worldwide still demands answers on Sombath's enforced disappearance

    On the ninth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organisations, reiterate our calls on the Lao government to determine his fate and whereabouts and deliver justice to him and his family.