NGO Director Expelled

Laos kicks out the director of a Swiss development organization for her ‘unconstructive attitude’ toward the government.

A rice field in Laos, Sept. 22, 2011.

Laos said Friday it is expelling the director of a Swiss development organization for criticizing Laos in a letter to donors that says the country's one-party regime stifles debate and creates a hostile environment for aid groups.

Anne-Sophie Gindroz, the country director for Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation, which works on agricultural development in the country, was given 48 hours to leave Laos in a notice on Friday from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The notice said she was being expelled because the Lao government was “dismayed” by her “improper behavior” and “unconstructive attitude” towards Laos, citing a letter she had written to donor countries and organizations ahead of an annual meeting on aid to the country.

“I have no regret about what I have said, done or written. And I will continue to have my convictions and use my freedom to defend the freedom of others,” Gindroz said in an email to friends and colleagues on Friday.

In her November letter ahead of the 2012 Roundtable Implementation Meeting in Vientiane, part of an annual process for dialogue on foreign aid strategy, Gindroz had criticized the Lao government as creating a hostile environment for development and civil society groups by stifling freedom of expression and association.

“We are working in a challenging environment: this is a country governed by a single-party regime, where there is little space for meaningful democratic debate, and when taking advantage of that limited space, repercussions follow,” she said in the letter.

She had also criticized the selection of civil society groups invited to participate in the Round Table process, suggesting that only those who cooperated with the Lao government and refrained from speaking out against poor policies were allowed to participate.

At the end of this year’s Nov. 23 meeting, 42 organizations and 35 countries who donate to Laos agreed to impose stricter conditions on aid to ensure efficiency and transparency, particularly on infrastructure projects, to deter possible corruption and ensure aid projects benefit the Lao people.

'Anti-government campaign'

The notice of Gindroz’s expulsion, sent from the foreign ministry’s Department of International Organizations General Director Phavanh Nuanthasing to Helvetas’s executive director in Zurich, said her letter on the meeting had “demonstrated her explicit rejection of the Lao PDR’s Constitution and law, particularly its political system.”

It added that she was no longer welcome in the country because she had conducted a “prejudicial anti–Lao Government campaign.”

But the ministry stressed that her expulsion was not an action against Helvetas and asked the organization to send a new country director “to continue Helvetas’s good work.”

Helvetas has worked since 2001 with rural communities and farmers in Laos, which is one of the poorest countries in Asia.

Long reliant on foreign aid, Laos is aiming to graduate from U.N. “least-developed country” status by 2020.

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


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