Laos: Alleged Enforced Disappearance of Human Rights Defender Mr Sombath Somphone
Letter by William Gomes Salem-News.com
“...authorities are not in a position to say exactly what has actually happened, why Sombath Somphone has gone missing, or who might have been involved in the incident” - Laos government
Sombath Somphone with Desmond Tutu
(YORK, UK) - A Human Rights defender in Laos has gone missing and evidence suggests he is in police custody, even though local authorities deny it.
As the founder and executive director of the Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC), Sombath Somphone is the type of person Laos needs to lead a free-thinking modern generation. PADETC trains young people in order to promote sustainable development.
The country should be embarrassed if it is true, because Sombath Somphone's role in the world is one many know of. For his community development work, Somphone was awarded one of Asia's most prestigious civil awards, the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, in 2005.
We speak with justified paranoia about video cameras stealing our privacy, but that 'eye in the sky' may be the only hope Sombath Somphone's family has at this point with regard to his disposition.
Laotians rally for Sombath Somphone
Relatives of Sombath Somphone have viewed CCTV footage of his car being stopped by police officers around 6pm in the vicinity of Vatnak village in Sisattanak district, Vientiane. Footage reportedly shows the human rights defender being taken into custody by police.
Salem-News.com wishes to recognize Mr. Gomes' efforts to help people like Mr. Somphone. As a dedicated staff member; he is working closely with officials all over the world to bring relief to individuals suffering persecution at the hands of their governments.
Mr. Gomes forges ahead tirelessly saving victims through journalistic intervention and direct government contact. He knows the violators know that U.S. politicians watch Mr. Gomes' work on Salem-News closely to better comprehend what is taking place in nations that the U.S. does, or in some cases, does not support financially.
His successes are highly admirable in a world where human rights are constantly being violated, often without the world hearing the screams of the innocent victims.
H.E. Mr. Thongsing Thammavong
Prime Minister, Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Prime Minister’s Office
Ban Nahai Dious, Muang Chanthaburi
Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Re: Laos: Alleged enforced disappearance of human rights defender Mr Sombath Somphone
I am William Nicholas Gomes, Human Rights Ambassador for Salem-News.com.
I am writing to join the concert of voices regarding the alleged enforced disappearance of human rights defender Mr Sombath Somphone.
On 15 December 2012, human rights defender Mr Sombath Somphone disappeared after last being seen driving away from his office. Since then, his whereabouts have been unknown, although sources have reported having seen video footage of the human rights defender in the custody of the police. Sombath Somphone is the founder and executive director of the Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC), which trains young people in order to promote sustainable development. For his community development work he was awarded one of Asia's most prestigious civil awards, the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, in 2005.
Sombath Somphone left the offices of PADETC in Vientiane at around 5pm on 15 December. When he failed to come home that night, his wife searched for him in the city's hospitals before eventually reporting him missing with the police. On 18 December, an official from the government press office reportedly commented on the phone that there was not yet enough evidence to draw any conclusions about the case. Family members of Sombath Somphone have lodged a complaint with the police who deny all knowledge of the case.
An anonymous colleague of the human rights defender has, however, reported that on 17 December, relatives of Sombath Somphone were shown CCTV footage of his car being stopped by police officers around 6pm in the vicinity of Vatnak village in Sisattanak district, Vientiane. The footage then reportedly showed the human rights defender being led to the Sisattanak district police station in Vientiane, and some time later showed Sombath Somphone being led out of the office and taken away in a white pick-up truck. On 20 December, the Laos Foreign Ministry came up with the statement which reads. “the authorities are not in a position to say exactly what has actually happened, why Sombath Somphone has gone missing, or who might have been involved in the incident”. The Ministry alleges that it might be possible that the human rights defender was kidnapped due to personal or business conflict. Sombath Somphone founded PADETC in 1996, and since the organisation has become a prominent player in Lao civil society. The organisation works in numerous fields to promote sustainable development through the education of young people in particular. Although the organisation's work is not political in nature, it is alleged that Sombath Somphone may have been targeted by government authorities due to his opposition to state development projects with harmful social or environmental consequences.
The “disappearance” of Sombath creates a climate of fear and sends a chilling message to the still-fledgling civil society of Laos. It is therefore important that an enabling environment for human rights defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights, including development workers, is created and cultivated.
The “disappearance” of Sombath is a test of the commitment of the government of Laos to promote and protect human rights in the country. We remind the Government of its commitment under the Article 13(1) of the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Declaration), which provides that in instances where there is an allegation that a person has been subjected to an enforced disappearance, the State shall ensure that the complaint is promptly, thoroughly, and impartially investigated by a competent and independent State authority. The Declaration also obliges the State to promptly refer the matter to a competent and independent State authority whenever there are reasonable grounds to believe that an enforced disappearance has been committed, even if there has been no formal complaint. Furthermore, as a signatory to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED), it must refrain, in good faith, from acts that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty. We also urge the Lao Government to ratify and implement the Convention to prevent future cases of enforced disappearances and to acknowledge the competence of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances.
I am concerned by the allegations of enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, in the light of the important work he has carried out defending human rights in Laos and promoting sustainable development through developing the capacities and leadership skills of young people.
I urge the authorities in Laos to: 1. Carry out an immediate, through and impartial investigation into the alleged enforced disappearance of human rights defender Sombath Somphone, disclose his whereabouts and either release him or charge him with a recognisable offence without delay;
2. Ensure, if he is being held in detention, that he has immediate and unfettered access to his family and lawyers and that his treatment while in detention adheres to all those conditions set out in the 'Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment', adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 43/179 of 9 December 1988;
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Laos are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.
William Nicholas Gomes
Human Rights Ambassador for Salem-News.com
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Salem-News.com Human Rights Ambassador William Nicholas Gomes is a Bangladeshi journalist, human rights activist and author was born on 25 December, 1985 in Dhaka. As an investigative journalist he wrote widely for leading European and Asian media outlets.
He is also active in advocating for free and independent media and journalists’ rights, and is part of the free media movement, Global Independent Media Center – an activist media network for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate telling of the truth. He worked for Italian news agency Asianews.it from year 2009 to 2011, on that time he was accredited as a free lance journalist by the press information department of Bangladesh. During this time he has reported a notable numbers of reports for the news agency which were translated into Chinese and Italian and quoted by notable number of new outlets all over the world.He, ideologically, identifies himself deeply attached with anarchism. His political views are often characterized as “leftist” or “left-wing,” and he has described himself as an individualist anarchist.
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