The government of Laos must ensure that people living in poverty are able to take part in key decision-making processes that affect their lives, rights groups said Wednesday, ahead of a fact-finding mission to the Southeast Asian nation by a United Nations expert.
In a statement released alongside their joint submission to Philip Alston, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) urged Laos to allow the impoverished to participate in decisions affecting them “in a free, active, and meaningful manner.”
“For all the talk about poverty reduction, the Lao government has failed to listen to the voices of those who live in poverty,” said FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard.
“We urge the government to take the Special Rapporteur’s upcoming visit as an opportunity to re-think its deeply flawed policies that continue to exclude and disempower entire communities in Laos.”
Alston will conduct an official visit to Laos from March 18-28, focusing on the links between poverty and the realization of human rights, before presenting a detailed statement of his initial findings and submitting a final report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
In their joint submission to Alston, FIDH and LMHR detailed several human rights violations they said disproportionately affect those living in poverty, and exclude them from participating in political processes and from seeking redress for rights violations.
Among the violations the two groups listed are restrictions on participating in public affairs, curbs on freedom of association impacting civil society, a lack of due process and the ability to seek justice for rights violations, repression of the right to freedom of expression limiting people’s participation, and the exclusion of communities from the decision-making process for infrastructure and investment projects.
Such rights are guaranteed by international instruments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which Laos is a state party, the groups note.
Infrastructure and investment
LMHR President Vanida Thephsouvanh specifically highlighted how major development negatively impacts those living in poverty when they are left out of the decision-making process.
“Infrastructure and investment projects have disproportionately affected poor individuals and communities in Laos but such projects continue to be designed and implemented without their adequate participation,” Vanida said.
“A new rights-based approach to participation is urgently needed in order to ensure that those living in poverty can make their voices heard,” she said.
Andrea Giorgetta, FIDH’s Asia Desk director, echoed Vanida’s concerns in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service.
“[For] those living in poverty … we’re receiving the information that communities are in most cases not consulted about the project,” he said.
“People don’t know how the project will affect them, where they will be relocated and how much they should be compensated.”
Laos has for decades played host to U.N. agencies working on development and combating poverty in the least-developed nation. But it is unusual for the communist government to engage with the world body on sensitive issues linked to human rights.
In 2017, it permitted a visit by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, who concluded that Laos had made good progress on child protection but needed to do more to tackle problems including child trafficking, forced marriage, prostitution, online sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation by tourists.
De Boer-Buquicchio’s visit marked the first by a U.N. independent expert to Laos since 2008.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.