Lao authorities have failed to properly account for the disappearance almost three years ago of civil society activist Sombath Somphone, who was last seen in police custody at a checkpoint in the capital Vientiane, and must commit themselves to a “real and renewed” effort to find him, rights groups and Sombath’s wife said at a conference in Bangkok on Saturday.
Sombath Somphone 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.
Those concerned over Sombath’s fate have expected the Lao government to “quickly and independently” investigate the disappearance, Kingsley Abbott, legal advisor for the Geneva-based International Commission for Jurists, said at the conference, “1,000 Days Without Justice For Sombath Somphone.”
Government investigators should also have informed Sombath’s wife and family of their progress, Abbott said.
“But the government of Laos has done none of that.”
“We therefore hope that today’s event keeps this case alive, keeps it in the media, [and] ensures that this forced disappearance is not forgotten, and will lead to a reenergized and real, renewed commitment on the part of Laos to investigate this case,” he said.
Also speaking at the conference, Sombath’s wife Ng Shui-Meng said that continued silence in Laos over the case has caused “fear, an increasing fear, of even mentioning the name of Sombath.”
“In fact, Sombath’s disappearance has caused very serious and negative reverberations in the work of civil society organizations all over Laos, both local as well as international,” she said.
Thirteen others missing in Laos
Civil society organizations must now “help more by asking the government about the search for Sombath: why he has never been found, why there has been no clear answer [in the case],” Ng told RFA’s Lao Service in an interview following the conference.
“I hope that all the agencies that used to work in Laos with Sombath will not stop looking for him,” she said.
In a Sept. 11 statement, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR), which sponsored the conference, noted the Lao government’s “continued refusal to accept external assistance regarding the investigation of Sombath’s enforced disappearance.”
At least 13 other individuals, including three student organizers of a pro-democracy protest in 1999, also remain missing in Laos, the rights group said.
“We call on Laos to undertake prompt, impartial, and effective investigations into Sombath’s case and all other outstanding cases of enforced disappearance and provide effective remedies and reparation to all victims pursuant to its international legal obligations,” IFHR said.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.