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Lao PDR’s Rule of Law & Human Rights

The Constitution of Lao PDR, adopted in 1991 and amended in 2003, states in Article 6, “The State protects the freedom and democratic rights of the people which cannot be violated by anyone.” Chapter IV of the Constitution (arts. 34-51) provides for fundamental rights and duties of the citizens including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. In practice, the country grapples with significant human rights problems. While there has been some progress, namely in the area of poverty reduction, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities and restrictions imposed on freedom of expression are among the most serious concerns related to human rights protection in Lao PDR . Prison conditions remain harsh, with reports of abuse of prisoners.

The Government of Lao PDR has established inter-agency mechanisms to promote and protect human rights such as the National Commission for the Advancement of Women, the National Commission for Mothers and Children, the National Committee for Disabled People, the National Committee for Rural Development and Poverty Alleviation, and the National Committee against Human Trafficking. However, the Government shows no interest in establishing an independent national human rights institution as reflected in its rejection to the recommendations by Germany and Canada during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session in 2010 to establish “an independent national human rights institution, in conformity with the Paris Principles”.  

Lao PDR has ratified some essential human rights treaties, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD); International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); Convention against Torture (CAT); Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its two Optional Protocols on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OP-CRC-SC) and on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OP-CRC-AC); and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In 2008, Lao also signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED).

In addition, Lao is also a party to nine International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, namely Conventions No. 4, 6, 13, 29, 100, 111, 138, 144, 182, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

The February 2010 Report of the Working Group on the UPR expressed serious concerns about the disadvantaged position of women in rural and remote areas. Women continue to struggle with illiteracy and face difficulties in access to health care, education and social services, and political participation. The Working Group also highlighted the persistence of discrimination against the Hmong minority, expressing concern over the status of those Hmong forcibly repatriated from Thailand in 2009. Lao PDR accepted 86 recommendations and rejected eighteen, among others:

  • Establish an independent national human rights institution, which is in conformity with the Paris Principles;
  • Free prisoners held following peaceful demonstrations;
  • Ratify international human rights treaties;
  • Adopt measures to abolish death penalty;
  • End restrictions on freedom of religion and freedom of expression;
  • Consider issuing a standing invitation to special procedures.

As of September 2013, Lao PDR had only issued standing invitations to two special procedures, namely the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (1998) and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (2009). Despite the improvement in the area of freedom of religion, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, in her report to the Human Rights Council, remained concerned about individual cases and existing policies and practices that violate freedom of religion or belief.

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