Laos Clarifies Activist Case to UN

The government says information the UN’s human rights office received about disappeared activist Sombath Somphone is incorrect.
2013-01-04
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Sombath Somphone in an undated photo from PADETC's website.
Photo courtesy of PADETC

The Lao government told the United Nations Thursday that missing local social activist Sombath Somphone was not taken into police custody before his disappearance as widely reported and that he may have been kidnapped because of a “personal conflict.”

Yong Chanthalangsy, Laos’s Ambassador to the U.N. office in Geneva, made the statement in a letter responding to queries about Sombath from U.N. rights officials, who have expressed concern that the activist may be the victim of an enforced disappearance by the authorities.

Sombath, who has been honored for his work reducing poverty and promoting education in Laos through a training center he founded, was last seen by his wife driving home from his office in the Lao capital Vientiane on Dec. 15.

Police closed-circuit television footage from that night, which relatives have posted online, shows him being stopped by traffic police, according to government statements about the case.

Yong Chanthalangsy’s letter said that U.N. Special Procedures officials—independent investigators assigned by the U.N.’s Human Rights Council—had been misinformed about the case and that traffic police had not taken Sombath into custody during the stop.

“Contrary to the information the U.N. Special Procedures received, Mr. Sombath was not taken by the police to the police post,” the letter said, according to a copy published in the state-owned Vientiane Times newspaper.

Sombath had been stopped around 6:00 p.m. by police conducting “routine random checks” on vehicles at a police post on Thadeua Road, and had gotten out of his jeep to present his documents to the police, the letter said, citing the footage.

It said that the video footage, which later shows two men entering a pickup truck near Sombath’s jeep and driving to an unknown location, may not show Sombath being driven away from the scene, as relatives had said police told them.

“From the CCTV footage it cannot be confirmed that it was Mr. Sombath who entered the pickup truck."

The letter also noted that the two men who got in the truck—one of whom relatives had said was Sombath—were not forced into it.

“The two persons who got into the truck were not forced to do so. This fact is different from the information the U.N. Special Procedures received which alleged that Mr. Sombath was forced to get into the pickup truck.”

'Personal conflict'

The letter said investigating authorities view “that it may be possible Mr. Sombath has been kidnapped perhaps because of a personal conflict or a conflict in business or some other reasons.”

Sombath’s relatives have said he did not have personal or business conflicts that would have led to him being kidnapped.

Sombath, 60, is the former director of the Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC), a nongovernmental organization he founded in 1996 to promote education, training, and sustainable development in Laos.

The recipient of the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership for his work in the fields of education and development across Asia, he was last seen on the evening of Dec. 15 while driving home from the PADETC office in Vientiane.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, which oversees the Human Rights Council, expressed concern that he had been kidnapped because of his work.

“We are highly concerned for his safety and believe that his abduction may be related to his human rights work,” spokesman Rupert Colville said.

He said the organization was distressed by “what appeared to be” Sombath’s “enforced disappearance,” a term which under international law implicates officials or state agents.

Yong Chanthalangsy’s letter stressed that Laos, as a signatory to the U.N.’s Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, is committed to human rights and that officials have put a high priority on investigating the case.

“The Lao government is deeply concerned about the disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone and attaches importance to the investigations underway in order to find out the truth of this incident,” it said.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Comments (18)
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LAOS NOCK

from San Diego

You know Mr. Yong is half Viet Namese,why we believe his dirty mount. Laos Communist's Proverb: Don't know,Don't see & Don't hear.

Mar 30, 2013 09:04 PM

Anonymous Reader

Defamation and personal attack in the comments may be subject to lawsuit in the common law countries.

Jan 27, 2013 05:38 AM

PhuMeeSinh

from Ottawa

To Lao from Chicargo. I think your mind must be filled with the Lao Communist propaganda. Open your eyes and ear and learn. Are you a member of Lao Communnist Party? then you must go to Vientiane and forget USA, OK.

Jan 25, 2013 02:36 PM

Anonymous Reader

Smart peoples would use their brain and guide themselves on the common sense before launching a cheap accusation against Laos in the case of Sombat disappearance. I don’t think that the Lao police officers are that damned to kidnap that scrap guy in front of the video footage that can be served as eyewitness against himself or herself. Secondly the Lao government would neither bother itself to kidnap that guy of that caliber to discredit Laos as land of opportunity for the investors.

Jan 09, 2013 09:56 PM

Anonymous Reader

guess you are not as smart. That's what they want you to believe. I though they were joking when those gov't people talk about "man in Black" " and suggest that I should watch my mouth at all times (khun Ser Dam)" See the video I have to say "wow" That ain't Will Smith.

Jan 10, 2013 06:59 PM

Anonymous Reader

A friend's passport has been taken from there for a few months now without any official reason. They can't leave the country or work there which means they have no free will of supporting themselves but are expected to pay to get it back, unofficially. If they can do this to a person that has no significance to the government, imagine what they do to the people that are.

Jan 09, 2013 04:44 AM

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