Posts Tagged ‘Laos’

Profile of Muay: A Laotian Woman Human Rights Defender

March 18, 2021

On 17 a blog post in hrcessex by Sarah Mui profiles Muay: “A Fierce Woman Human Rights Defender”

Houayheung (“Muay”) Xayabouly is not only a mother, small business owner and the primary breadwinner of her family, but shehas also been breaking down stereotypical gender roles by being a fierce human rights defender and environmental activist in Laos.She is viewed as a public figure among her community because of her work to shed light onto the countless human rights violations that she and fellow Lao people have endured at the hands of the national government. In 2019, the Lao government decided to make an example out of Muay and unjustly sentenced her to five years in prison, for which she was stripped of all fair trial guarantees. In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I urge all who read this to remember her name, learn her fight and spread awareness to demand that all charges be dropped and Muay be set free.

Photo courtesy of Manushya Foundatio

In 2017, Muay began raising awareness on social media over the excessive tolls that she along with other people in her community were being charged when crossing a bridge on the border of Laos and Thailand. The cost of the toll was equivalent to several meals, but Lao people relied on it to travel to and from work each day, including Muay herself. It turned out that the Lao government had given the private international company, Duangdee, the concession to charge the toll when it constructed the bridge in the first place. This concession left her community in an impossible situation where they were perpetually indebted to this private company who took advantage of the bridge’s necessity. Muay’s video about the toll deeply resonated with the Lao people, who agreed that the government benefited from the financial relationship with Duangdee. This made Muay realize the importance of using her voice to speak up for Lao people, and it was then that she made the decision to dedicate her life to fighting for them.   

The Lao government did nothing in response to their people’s outcry over the excessive tolls, but rather chose to focus attention on finding ways to intimidate Muay. Soon after the video went viral, the police were sent to her location to warn her to not criticize it.

In 2018, Muay challenged the Lao government over the corrupt hiring practices of public sector and governmental positions in that they were being appointed on the condition of bribes instead of through proper hiring procedures. This was quite personal for Muay because her own brother had been deeply impacted by this practice. He had always aspired to become a police officer but was cheated out of money and the position of his dreams due to these dishonorable practices. Muay’s video discussing the topic received over 320,000 views as of July last year. 

Soon after Muay’s widely viewed video, she was fired from her job as a tour guide for “unknown” reasons other than the fact her employer had been mysteriously pressured to do so. 

Muay was not going to let the government deter her from helping Lao people. Later that year, she decided to create a school for Lao children to address the dire inequalities that they faced in accessing education. The current practice was for parents to pay a bribe to secure a spot for their children, otherwise they could not provide them an education. She started multiple fundraisers to accomplish this goal, including selling shirts that said, “I don’t want to buy government positions,” referencing the Lao government’s corrupt hiring practices in addition to holding a concert featuring a number of local performers. 

Again, instead of actually listening to the suffering of its people, the government chose to continue to try to intimidate Muay by shutting down the fundraising concert and prohibiting the selling of shirts. 

The year 2018 was also troubling because that summer a dam collapsed in Attapeu Province, which led to numerous deaths, disappearances and displacements of Lao people. The government purportedly underreported the impact of the collapse and restricted access to the scene by the media and independent aid organizations. Muay decided to take matters into her own hands and post her own videos of the disaster and its significant effect on the community. 

In response to the shocking video, Muay was called to the police station and was told to cease all criticism of the Lao government. 

Around the same time, Muay had learned that donations for the impacted families of the dam collapse were being sold by Lao police for their own monetary gain. She could not allow her community to suffer so she started collecting donations for them herself. She documented and shared this all on social media.

Within a few days, the Lao government issued a press statement advising the public against reading “unofficial news” about the collapse. 

In the autumn of 2019, the Lao people who lived close to the dam were again harmed after a tropical storm caused major flooding, leaving over 100,000 displaced from their homes. Again, disturbed by the Lao government’s indifference towards its people, Muay posted another video calling the government out for its slow response and its lack of preventative measures which could have mitigated the storm’s impact.  

Around the same time, the Lao government sent police to arrest Muay without a warrant while she was dining at a restaurant. She tried to post a video about what had happened, but she was forced to delete it. She was then placed in pre-trial detention long before her hearing and was denied an impartial lawyer and the ability to challenge her detention. She was subject to repeated long interrogations where she was coerced to confess to “spreading propaganda against the Lao government.” She was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison, for which she visitation has been limited and closely monitored. She has not been able to see her young daughter but a handful of times and international NGOs have been completely barred.

Photo courtesy of Manushya Foundation

The Lao Government is Using Muay as an Example to Silence Dissent 

Muay is a strong and dedicated woman human rights defender and environmental activist who has fought endlessly for her community. Instead of taking accountability and listening to the suffering of its people, the Lao government has instead chosen to turn a blind eye to its human rights obligations and punish Muay for her significant contributions to her country. Until now, Muay’s story has only been made available by a few NGOs working hard to shed light onto her fervent advocacy and now wrongful detention. To spread the word about her fight, please share this blog, follow #FreeMuay and visit this link to demand that Muay be set free!

About the Author: Sarah Mui is an American human rights lawyer currently in the LLM for International Human Rights Law program at the University of Essex. She is also a research assistant with the Manushya Foundation located in Bangkok. Sarah hopes to work in the field women’s rights upon graduation. 

https://hrcessex.wordpress.com/2021/03/17/muay-a-fierce-woman-human-rights-defender/

Disappearance of Lao Rights Defender Od Sayavong – another Sombath Somphone?

October 17, 2019

Lao democracy advocate Od Sayavong reads a statement at a protest in Bangkok, Thailand, June 16, 2019.

Lao democracy advocate Od Sayavong reads a statement at a protest in Bangkok, Thailand, June 16, 2019.
Roseanne Gerin of Radio Free Asia reported on 2 October 2019 that UN Rights experts had expressed concern over disappearance of Lao human rights defender Od Sayavong, who went missing in Thailand months after meeting with a U.N. special rapporteur. Three special rapporteurs and four members of the U.N.’s Working Groups on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, part of a body of independent human rights experts under the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, urged Bangkok to clarify the steps it has taken to locate Od and ensure the safety of other vulnerable Lao human rights defenders in the capital, according to a news release.

Od, 34, who had been recognized as a refugee by the U.N. refugee agency and openly criticized his country’s government online and in public protests, was last seen at his home in Bangkok on Aug. 26. A week later a colleague reported his disappearance to the Thai police, but authorities have not provided information about his whereabouts, the news release said.

If an enforced disappearance occurred in part as a reprisal for Od’s engagement with the U.N. system, it would be a violation of his human rights, requiring immediate action,” said Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, met with Od and other Lao human rights defenders in Bangkok in mid-March prior to a visit to Laos.in the printed news release. “Everyone should have unhindered access to and communication with the U.N. in the field of human rights.

Michel Forst, U.N. special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, called Od a “vocal advocate on human rights, corruption, and environmental issues in the Lao PDR, a country with a track record of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances.”

In a 6 September statement, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) called on Thai authorities to immediately investigate the activist’s disappearance.

He also had called for the release of three Lao workers sentenced to lengthy jail terms in April 2017 for criticizing their government while working in Thailand, and for a U.N. investigation into the disappearance of rural development expert Sombath Somphone in December 2012. Prior to his abduction a police checkpoint in the Lao capital Vientiane, Sombath criticized government-negotiated land deals that had left thousands of rural Lao villagers homeless with inadequate compensation for their losses. The Lao government has failed to make headway on resolving Sombath’s case, despite repeated commitments that it will do so. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/04/sombath-somphone-third-anniversary-of-his-disappearance-in-laos/

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/us-rights-experts-express-concern-10022019161459.html

Human rights laureates call for end to torture and disappearances in Asia

January 15, 2016

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in a press release of 18 December gave a short report of a meeting held on 12-14 December 2015, where 8 laureates of the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, and human rights defenders from the Asian region participated in an international workshop on“Torture, Violence, and Enforced Disappearances in Asia” organized by Imparsial, IKOHI, and the May 18 Memorial Foundation, (Gwangju, South Korea). The speakers and the victims discussed the realities of human rights issues including torture and enforced disappearances and the implications for the justice institutions to address the problems: Read the rest of this entry »

Sombath Somphone: third anniversary of his disappearance in Laos

January 4, 2016

The first Newsletter of Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, recalls the case of Sombath Somphone, who is a founder of non-governmental organisations in the field of education and rural development He is one of the best-known defenders of social rights in Laos. For all his works and his actions he has received numerous international awards including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.

Since 15 December 2012, Sombat Sombone is missing. A CCTV footage shows his last moments before his disappearance. According to these images, a motorcycle policeman asks him to get off his vehicle before two men in a vehicle took him. Various international actors, including delegations from the European Parliament and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, went on-site during official visits and used these occasions to question authorities about the situation of Sombath Sompone. According to the feedbacks of these visits, no progress has been made in the investigation into his disappearance and no concrete answer was given to their questions. Thus, many calls were made both by civil society organisations and international institutions in order to have answers on the disappearance of Sombath Sompone and the ones of many others political opponents and other disappeared persons. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/12/31/happy-new-year-that-2016-may-be-a-better-year-for-human-rights-defenders/]

A year after the disappearance of Sombath Sompone, several Special Rapporteurs, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, issued a statement encouraging the Laotian authorities to intensify their efforts in the investigation process into his disappearance. See also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/laos-un-experts-on-two-year-old-disappearance-of-human-rights-defender-sombath-somphone/

ASEAN human rights defenders formulate demands ahead of People’s Forum later this month

April 1, 2015

ASEAN People's Forum

Casey Hynes reports on 26 March that human rights defenders are preparing to bring up strongly the case of their missing Laotian colleague Sombath Somphone at the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum that convenes in Kuala Lumpur on 21-24 April 2015. Sombath was kidnapped in Vientiane, Laos, in 2013 [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/laos-un-experts-on-two-year-old-disappearance-of-human-rights-defender-sombath-somphone/].

The ACSC/APF allows civil society activists from all the ASEAN countries to voice their concerns about rights violations in their countries, and become empowered by the strength in numbers there. In countries such as Laos and Vietnam, dissent is often suppressed with jail time or enforced disappearances, which makes it extremely dangerous for activists to speak out. Jerald Joseph, chair of the APF’s Regional Steering Committee, said that by coming to the forum, activists who face risks in their home countries find a safer space to voice their concerns.

ACSC/APF organizers recently condemned the crackdown on protesters in Burma, where 100 people were arrested for speaking out against a new education law. They also pointed to a spate of political arrests in Malaysia and the murder of Indonesian farmer and lands rights activist Indra Pelani, who was allegedly shot to death by “security guards of a subsidiary company of Asia Pulp and Paper”.

There are numerous cases where human rights defenders have just disappeared. Somchai Neelapaijit in Thailand, Sombath Somphone in Laos, and Jonas Burgos in the Philippines—where are they?” said Mugiyanto, a member of the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development.

The Laos government is notorious for restricting civil society activism, and for routinely committing human rights abuses. However, Laos is set to take over the ASEAN chairmanship in 2016, and Joseph said they’ll have to answer for some of their abuses when that happens. Already, civil society actors have been discussing the rights situation in Laos with activists and government officials there. “The conversation has started, and the pressure is up already,” he said in a phone interview.

Participating organizations sent a letter on behalf of the ACSC/APF to all the ASEAN member governments in January, highlighting their priorities for “reclaiming the ASEAN community for the people.”

The letter stated:

While ASEAN governments are heading towards developing the ASEAN Community’s Post-2015 Vision, the people of ASEAN continue to suffer from authoritarian and military regimes, increased militarisation, violence and armed conflicts, unlawful foreign interference, lack of fundamental freedoms and human rights violations, undemocratic processes, corruption and poor governance, development injustice, discrimination, inequality, and religious extremism and intolerance. …

The failure of ASEAN to meaningfully address the people’s issues is deeply rooted in the organisation’s continued adherence to a neo-liberal model that prioritizes corporate interests and elite groups, including state-owned enterprises, over the interests of the people. Our engagement with the ASEAN process is therefore anchored on a critique and rejection of deregulation, privatisation, government and corporate-led trade and investment policies that breed greater inequalities, accelerate marginalization and exploitation, and inhibit peace, democracy, development, and social progress in the region.

The authors identified four priorities for ASEAN governments to focus on: development justice; democratic processes, governance, and fundamental rights and freedoms; peace and security; and discrimination and inequality.

ASEAN rights activists demand change ahead of People’s Forum | Asian Correspondent.

5 NGOs win the Human Rights award of the French Republic 2014

March 7, 2015

While on the subject of awards for human rights, I see that I missed the announcement of the winners of the Human Rights award of the French Republic (Prix des Droits de l’homme de la République française) which was made on 9 December 2014. With apologies here it is:
Les lauréats - Crédits photo : MJ/DICOM/Caroline Montagné

Five NGOs each received 14 000 € to implement their projects which are in line with the two themes selected by the Jury that year: child exploitation and rights of women:

  1. Aurélie Socias, representing the French NGO Sengsavang (formerly called AFESIP Laos).
  2. Agnès Razafindramanga Leteurtre representing the NGO “Enfance et malnutrition” working in Madagascar.
  3. Patricia Beltran, for the NGO Enda El Alto, in Bolivia.
  4. Mokhtar Bassant for the Foundation Gozour (meaning roots) from Egypt.
  5. Harivola Rakotoarindrasata for the Focus Development Association from Madagascar.

5 special mentions as encouragement were also made:

  • The Anh Duong association in Vietnam
  • The Shakti Samuha association in Nepal
  • The association Women’s Empowerment Link in Kenya
  • The Fight Against Child Exploitation Foundation (FACE) in Thailand
  • The association Cepaz in Venezuela.

For more information especially on the work by these NGOs see the official press release (in French):Justice / Portail / Remise du Prix des Droits de l’homme de la République française.

For more information on this or other awards: http://www.brandsaviors.com/thedigest/award/prix-des-droits-de-lhomme-de-la-république-française

Laos: UN experts on two-year-old disappearance of human rights defender Sombath Somphone

December 24, 2014

Wouldn’t it be a truly nice Christmas gift if the Laos government would finally undertake a serious investigation into the disappearance of  human rights defender Sombath Somphone, who was last seen in December 2012. That is what a group of United Nations independent experts urged today, 23 December 2014:

It is high time for the authorities of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to voluntarily request international assistance with the aim of shedding light on Mr. Somphone’s fate and whereabouts, two years after his disappearance,” the experts said in a news release. “International law makes clear that the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic has the duty to carry out an independent, thorough, credible and effective investigation,” they added. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/sombath-somphone/]

(The situation of human rights in Laos is due to be assessed next month through the Universal Period Review process, which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. Under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, the process provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve their human rights situation.)

Along with Mr. Kiai, the experts speaking out on Laos today include the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst; and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and the protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion, David Kaye.

United Nations News Centre – Laos: UN experts appeal for help to probe two-year-old disappearance of rights defender.

NGOs call for United Nations to pressure Laos on human rights during UPR

December 8, 2014

On 3 December 2014 the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA), the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR), and a coalition of other NGOs called for United Nations to urge the government of Laos to cease ongoing human rights violations and to restore fundamental human freedoms. They are also calling for the release of Sombath Somphone and other imprisoned Lao and Hmong political and religious dissidents.

In advance of Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR)’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) scheduled for 20 January 2015 in Geneva, the Geneva-based UPR-Info invited diplomats to hear the concerns of civil society organizations at a UPR pre-session in Geneva. Twenty one representatives from the Geneva-based missions attended the pre-session.

We have deep concerns about violations of freedom of expression, enforced disappearances and religious freedom in Laos. Regretting that Lao PDR has not implemented recommendations it accepted at its first UPR in 2010, she urged States to raise concerns on these human rights abuses and presented concrete recommendations for human rights progress in Laos,” stated Thephsouvanh, speaking on behalf of the LMHR, which is also a member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

NGOs Call for United Nations to Pressure Laos | Scoop News.

http://www.centerforpublicpolicyanalysis.org

EU asked to press Laos on human rights in today dialogue

May 19, 2014

Interesting to note that this piece found its way into the Tourism Section of the Thai newspaper Phuket Wan [“This is the first site on the island dedicated especially to tourism, property, restaurants and nightlife, and jobs”of 19 May 2014. “The European Union EU must make the strengthening of bilateral relations with Laos contingent upon the Lao governments ability to make tangible progress in addressing key human rights issues, FIDH and it member organisation, the Lao Movement for Human Rights, said .” The paper then summarizes the briefing paper titled ‘Laos: The government’s failure to reform and address serious human rights issues call for EU action‘, released ahead of the 5th Laos-EU Working Group on Human Rights and Governance, held in Brussels today. [Foremost issues: rampant land grabbing and restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion as well as a credible investigation re human rights defender Sombath Somphone.

via EU Asked to Push for Improved Human Rights in Laos – Phuket Wan

UN High Commissioner condemns disappearance of Billy in context of retaliation against environmentalist in South East Asia

May 6, 2014

The disappearance of Karen activist “Billy” has prompted the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights UNHCHR to condemn the “pattern of killings and forced disappearances of environmental activists in Southeast Asia” and to urge authorities to conduct thorough and independent investigations. “We are concerned about the lack of progress with an investigation into the disappearance of a prominent human rights defender in Thailand,” UNHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville said in a statement released on Friday 2 May. Read the rest of this entry »