‘This case will not go away’: 3rd Parliamentary Delegation visits Lao over Sombath Somphone disappearance

(August 28, 2013 -- Bangkok)  The 3rd Parliamentary Delegation to visit Lao PDR during 25-7 August over the enforced disappearance last December of noted activist Sombath Somphone reported in a press conference at the FCCT that there was no new information, with the official investigation going nowhere and the Lao government still in denial.
The delegation included 2 MEPS from the United Left grouping in the European Parliament, Søren Bo Søndergaard of Denmark and Paul-Emile Dupret of Belgium.  The delegation was also joined by Mugiyanto Mugi, a survivor of enforced disappearance in Indonesia in early and Chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and the Indonesian Association of Families of the Disappeared.  Plans to include an Indonesian MP could not be realized in time.
The MEPs met the Vice President of the National Assembly of Lao PDR, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassies of the US, UK, France, Germany and the EU.  Mugiyanto met with those civil society organizations in Vientiane who were prepared to talk.
The MEPs informed the Lao government that an official EU delegation due in Vientiane in October would like the Sombath case to be resolved beforehand so that the mission could focus on other issues.  It seems that this will not happen and therefore the Lao side can expect the Sombath case to remain at the top of the agenda in October.

Sombath Somphone, and his wife, Shui Meng
They reported that resolutions in the European Parliament on the Sombath disappearance have enjoyed remarkably wide bipartisan support and that unusually for a human rights case, foreign embassies have been relentless in questioning the Lao authorities about progress.  
Lao ambitions to become a member of the UN Human Rights Council will be compromised if they continue to leave this case unresolved.  Any future partnership agreements between Lao and the EU would also be under threat.
The Lao authorities have made no progress in the case, and are now even questioning whether the person seen abducted in the CCTV is really Sombath.  The family have recently been told by the police that the investigation is now closed, but the delegation was told that it is continuing at a higher level.  The delegation asked that this investigation make contact with the family and friends of Sombath.
The credibility and sincerity of the official investigation remains questionable since the Lao authorities continue to reject repeated offers of technical assistance from a variety of countries.  The impression given to the delegation was that the Lao authorities hope that they can stonewall until interest fades.  The delegation was adamant that this will not happen.
Mugiyanto noted that Sombath’s case exactly meets the definition of enforced disappearance under the UN’s International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which Lao PDR signed in 2008.  He noted a ‘climate of fear’ among civil society in Vientiane, where many organizations censor their own words and actions.  Paul-Emile Dupret reported his surprise that their visit was not covered by any local media.
There was praise for the courage and determination of Sombath’s wife Shui-meng and other members of his family and friends who continue the campaign for the safe return of Sombath.


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