The European Union and Laos have held the fifth round of their annual Working Group Human Rights and Governance meet in Brussels, a statement issued by the 28-member European bloc said Wednesday. The EU delegation was led by Anette Mandler, acting Director for Human Rights and Democracy in the European External Action Services. The Lao delegation was led by Phoukhong Sisoulath, Director General, Department of Treaties and Law, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Lao PDR Representative to the AICHR, Secretary-General to the Lao National Steering Committee on Human Rights. "It provided an opportunity to express concerns about the implementation of international standards in Laos and in the EU. It also allowed for a constructive exchange of experience about how to translate such standards into domestic practice," the statement said.
The two sides reviewed recent developments in human rights, including issues such as freedom of expression, assembly and association, death penalty as well as civil society and human rights defenders.
The EU raised the exercise of freedom of religion and belief, LGBTI and right of persons with disabilities. Other items discussed included gender equality, human trafficking, conditions in prisons and drug rehabilitation centers, labor standards as well as land policies and rights. The EU also raised a number of individual cases of concern, in particular the case of the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a prominent civil society activist. Sombath's disappearance is seen by the EU with grave concern and remains unexplained. The European bloc also stressed the importance of a vibrant civil society environment in order to contribute to the development of an inclusive and open society.
"In this respect the EU expressed concern regarding the limitation of freedom of expression, particularly the freedom of the media. It welcomed the commitment of Lao to improve the transparency of registration of local civil society organizations but showed concern regarding how long the registration process takes," the statement concluded.