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Laos: Five years on, 122 organizations worldwide demand to know: “Where is Sombath?”

December 15th, 2017  •  Author:   122 Organizations Worldwide  •  6 minute read

(15 December 2017) – On the fifth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, express outrage at the Lao government’s failure to independently, impartially, effectively, and transparently investigate Sombath’s disappearance, reveal his whereabouts, and return him to his family.

The Lao government’s continued silence and obfuscation of the facts around Sombath’s enforced disappearance have subjected his family to five years of fear and uncertainty over his fate and whereabouts, which remain unknown to this day.

Sombath was last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street of the Lao capital, Vientiane, on the evening of 15 December 2012. His abduction was captured on a CCTV camera near the police checkpoint. The footage strongly suggests that police stopped Sombath’s vehicle and, within minutes, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove him away in the presence of police officers. CCTV footage also appears to show an unknown individual driving Sombath’s vehicle away from the city center before returning sometime later.

The fact that police officers appeared to have witnessed Sombath’s abduction and failed to intervene strongly indicates state agents’ involvement in, or acquiescence to, Sombath’s disappearance. Despite this evidence, the Lao authorities have not presented any new findings with regard to their investigation of the case. Despite claiming in various international fora that the investigation is “ongoing”, the government has not issued an official report on the investigation’s progress since 8 June 2013.

Sombath’s case is not the only case of an unsolved enforced disappearance in Laos. Lao authorities have failed to provide information on the fate or whereabouts of many other individuals, including community activists, who have been victims of enforced disappearance.

The Lao government’s failure to undertake adequate investigations into all cases of enforced disappearances violates its obligations under international human rights law, including Article 2(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Laos is a state party.

We urgently call on governments worldwide to demand that the Lao government immediately provide information on Sombath’s fate or current whereabouts, and other details surrounding Sombath’s enforced disappearance, as well as all other cases of enforced disappearance, in order to determine the victims’ fate or whereabouts. Lao authorities should commit to making the findings available to family members of the disappeared, and provide regular public updates on their progress on all cases of enforced disappearance. The Lao government should also ensure that those responsible for enforced disappearance, regardless of title or rank, are held accountable in trials that comply with international fair trial standards.

Lastly, we strongly urge the Lao government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, incorporate its provisions into the country’s domestic legislation, and implement it in practice.

For a PDF version of this statement, click here. For a version of the statement in Lao, click here.

1. Accion Ecologica

2. Al Haq

3. Amman Center for Human Rights Studies (ACHRS)

4. Amnesty International

5. Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA

6. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)

7. Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)

8. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

9. Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP)

10. Association for Law, Human Rights and Justice (HAK)

11. Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP)

12. Awaz Foundation Pakistan – Centre for Development Services

13. Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

14. Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) – Friends of the Earth Bangladesh

15. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)

16. Bank Information Center

17. Bytes for All, Pakistan

18. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)

19. Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)

20. Center for Environmental Justice (CEJ) – Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka

21. Centre for Environmental Justice

22. Centre for Financial Accountability

23. Centre for Human Rights and Development

24. Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD)

25. China Labour Bulletin (CLB)

26. Christian Development Alternative (CDA)

27. Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (CAGED)

28. Coalition of the Flemish North-South Movement 11.11.11

29. Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS)

30. Community Resource Centre Foundation (CRC)

31. Covenants Watch

32. Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF)

33. DIGNIDAD (A Life of Dignity for All)

34. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

35. Empowering Singaporeans


37. Fastenopfer Switzerland

38. FIAN International

39. FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

40. Finnish Asiatic Society

41. Finnish League for Human Rights

42. Focus on the Global South

43. Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific

44. Friends of the Earth Australia

45. Friends of the Earth International

46. Friends of the Earth Japan

47. Fundacion Solon

48. Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict

49. Globe International

50. GZO Peace Institute

51. Haburas Foundation- Friends of the Earth East Timor

52. Human Rights Alert

53. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)

54. Human Rights Defenders Forum

55. Human Rights Defenders’ Alert

56. Human Rights Watch

57. Indian Social Action Forum

58. Indigenous Perspectives

59. Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association(PBHI)

60. Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)

61. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre

62. Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC)

63. Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID)

64. International Accountability Project

65. International Commission of Jurists

66. Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw)

67. Italian League of Human Rights – LIDU

68. Jan Mitra Nyas

69. Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP)

70. Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS)

71. Lao Movement for Human Rights

72. Latvian Human Rights Committee

73. League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI)

74. Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC) – Friends of the Earth Philippines

75. Liga lidských Práv (LLP)

76. Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH)

77. Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)

78. Mangrove Action Project


80. Mekong Monitor Tasmania

81. Mekong Watch

82. Moroccan Association for Human Rights (Association Marocaine des Droits Humains/AMDH)

83. National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP)

84. ND-Burma

85. NGO Forum on ADB

86. Odhikar

87. Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network (PENGON) – Friends of the Earth Palestine

88. People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)

89. People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR)

90. People’s Watch

91. Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)

92. PILIPINA Legal Resource Center (PLRC)

93. Polish Society of Antidiscrimination Law (PSAL)

94. Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI)

95. Progressive Voice


97. Re:Common

98. Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU)

99. #ReturnOurCPF

100. Russian Social-Ecological Union (RSEU) – Friends of the Earth Russia

101. Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) – Friends of the Earth Malaysia

102. Savitri Bai Phule Women Forum

103. School for Wellbeing Studies and Research

104. Sister’s Arab Forum (SAF)

105. Solidarité des Jeunes Lao

106. Sombath Initiative

107. Southeast Asia Development Program (SADP)

108. South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM)

109. Suan Nguen Mee Ma

110. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)

111. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)

112. Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR)

113. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)

114. The Corner House

115. Think Centre

116. Transnational Institute

117. Ulu Foundation

118. Vietnam Committee on Human Rights

119. Vietnamese Women for Human Rights

120. WomanHealth Philippines

121. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

122. World Rainforest Movement