Mugiyanto, Chairperson of Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) calls on the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) for more serious efforts in addressing the case of Sombath Somphone based on new information it submitted indicating state involvement in his disappearance.
AFAD got information from reliable sources that Lao state agents are keeping Sombath Somphone, a human rights defender and Ramon Magsaysay awardee for community leadership in 2005. Someone from the Lao Foreign Ministry was said to have called the Ambassador of Singapore based in Vientiane on 19 December 2012, five days after Sombath’s disappearance telling him that Sombath would be released the next day, 20 December 2012. In the afternoon of the next day when Sombath was still not released, the Ambassador called up again but the person who informed him earlier denied that he had ever said anything about Sombath’s release.
Another source from the police also confirmed seeing Sombath inside a police holding compound with his jeep parked within the premises a few days after his disappearance. Two days later, the same source said Sombath was moved to a military camp outside Vientiane. A week later, the source relayed that Sombath was moved again but this time he did not know where Sombath was moved and that it was no longer possible to gather information on his whereabouts.
The new information above clearly proves that Sombath was indeed involuntarily disappeared and it was done by some sections of the leadership who want him silenced to deliver a chilling message to civil society and the Lao population to stop their human rights work.
“The UNWGEID has to step up its efforts and send a letter of request to the Lao government to visit the country and assure the people of Laos that something can be done about the violations of human rights in the country and the continued rule of impunity,” Mugiyanto emphasized.
Sombath was a very prominent person known internationally and highly respected locally. The Lao people are keenly following efforts done to surface him because according to reports gathered by AFAD, they feel that “if nothing can be done for Sombath, nothing can be done for the others”.
“The UNWGEID needs to do more to bring the message to the people of Laos that the international community can take action and hold the Lao Government accountable and to go after the perpetrators and return Sombath Somphone,” Mugiyanto further said. The Lao government signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on 29 September 2008. It is duty bound to protect the right of Sombath and all of its citizens from enforced disappearance.
The UNWGEID recently concluded its 101st session held from 4-13 November 2013 in Geneva and AFAD actively participated in the session. AFAD inquired on actions taken regarding the case of Sombath as well as on other cases it submitted.