Laos failed attempt to win a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council in a secret vote in New York was greeted with relief on Thursday by a leading Lao human rights group, which urged the communist government to adhere to U.N. rights treaties before trying to join the council.
The secret ballot by the U.N. General Assembly in Wednesday saw Laos come up short for one of five vacant Asia-Pacific slots on the council, with those regional slots going to Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, the Philippines, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.
The Paris-based Lao Movement for Human Rights told RFA’s Lao Service it would have been “most unfortunate” to see the authoritarian one-party government in Vientiane join the 47-member council.
"The Lao Movement for Human Rights believes the endless and shameless violation of Lao citizens' rights by the Lao People’s Democratic Republic government as has been going on for years, is not appealing to attract enough votes from other member states,” said Vanida Thephsouvanh, president of the group.
“The Lao government should respect and implement the international human rights treaties it has signed and ratified before aiming for a seat at the UN Human Rights Council," she said.
The setback for Laos came after a report on the eve of the U.N. vote by three human rights groups – U.N. Watch, Human Rights Foundation and the Lantos Foundation – listed the Southeast Asian country among nine candidates whose records on human rights, press freedom, and other factors made them unsuitable for the council.
Of the countries given black marks by the rights groups, however, Burundi, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, Togo, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela were elected to serve three years on the council.
The Geneva-based council, which has long been controversial because of the presence of staunchly authoritarian states and serious rights violators, is now headed by Saudi Arabia and also includes China, Cuba, Russia, and Vietnam – all of which are rated “not free” by the U.S. NGO Freedom House.These countries are regularly accused of voting on hte council to shield each other from scrutiny or criticism.
Many in the rights community believe Laos’ membership bid failed because the government has never provided acceptable explanations for the disappearance of activist Sombath Somphone, who was kidnapped in front of police outpost almost three years ago.
Sombath went missing on Dec. 15, 2012, when police stopped him in his car. He was then transferred to another vehicle, according to police surveillance video, and has not been heard from since.
Although authorities have denied any role in Sombath’s abduction, the forced disappearance is widely believed to have been carried out by police or some other government-linked group.
Sombath’s wife, Ng Shui-Meng, told RFA she was puzzled that a country full of watchful police cannot turn up any evidence or information.
“There are security personnel in every village and every community, so it is very difficult to conceal a crime in Laos. So for police not to be able to find anything is very difficult to understand, especially when the police have the CCTV footage showing the exact place and time of Sombath's abduction,” she said.
At least 13 other individuals, including three student organizers of a pro-democracy protest in 1999, also remain missing in Laos, say human rights groups
Reported and translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh of RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.