Laos has made impressive progress in reducing poverty, but still has a long way to go, as one quarter of the population still lives below the poverty line, according to a U.N. official visiting the Southeast Asian country this month.
During an interview with RFA’s Lao Service in Bangkok on Sunday, Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on poverty and human rights said that during his 10-day visit he hopes to find out why there are so many Lao people without access to school, clean water or good health care when the economy has grown and poverty has been reduced.
He said he planned to meet with government officials, impoverished people, members of civil societies, diplomats, development workers and members of international organizations.
But the special rapporteur noted that he wouldn’t be able to observe the entire country in one trip.
“We can only cover a certain number of provinces and we have to identify places where there are issues relating to poverty which seem to shed some light on, sort of, the concerns that we have,” said Alston.
One such concern might be the case of 14 villagers in Sekong province who were detained in July 2017 for their role in a land conflict that originated in 2006, where authorities granted their land to a Vietnamese rubber company in what is believed to be a 50-year concession. The RFA reporter asked specifically if Alston wanted to travel to Sekong.
“It’s really a question of time. It’s not a matter of not going. We know a number of issues in Sekong. But Laos is a large country geographically and it’s not easy to get around,” said Alston.
Earlier in Geneva, a UN press release stated that Mr. Alston was going to Laos to observe how potential economic growth and investment could impact the poor in Laos. He also plans to observe and report on the education and healthcare situations, especially for groups like children, women and members of ethnic groups in rural areas.
Alston also said that he would like to know to what extent impoverished Laotians have civil or political rights.
The visit by the special Rapporteur is the highest profile visit by a U.N. official since September 2016, when then Secretary General Ban Ki-moon attended the 8th ASEAN-UN Summit.
During that trip, the Secretary General held a series of bilateral talks with Southeast Asian heads of state and witnessed the signing of the Lao-PDR-United Nations Partnership Framework, which remains in force through 2021.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.