GENEVA (13 December 2022) – The Government of Lao must intensify efforts to investigate the enforced disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone, a development worker and human rights defender, whose fate and whereabouts are still unknown 10 years after his abduction, UN human rights experts* said today.
“Credible, prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations are essential to ascertain the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared and hold perpetrators of the crime accountable,” the experts said in a statement on the 10th anniversary of Somphone’s enforced disappearance.
“We reiterate our call for the Government to request international assistance and technical cooperation to carefully review existing evidence and engage effectively in the search of Mr. Sombath Somphone in a transparent and participatory manner, in accordance with international standards governing the search for the disappeared,” they said.
Experts also stressed that “enforced disappearances are prohibited by international law and constitute a particularly aggravated form of arbitrary detention”.
On 15 December 2012, closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage reportedly registered Mr. Somphone’s vehicle being stopped by the police at checkpoint in Vientiane. Within minutes, he was forced into another vehicle by unknown individuals and driven away in the presence of the police officers. Mr. Somphone has never been seen again since.
According to reports no independent and credible technical examination of the footage has ever been undertaken and a decade later official investigations into the case remain inconclusive.
The experts said that like many human rights defenders, Mr. Somphone had worked relentlessly to address the adverse human rights impact of business activities, supporting the rural poor and victims of land confiscation.
“His enforced disappearance had a chilling effect on civil society and other human rights defenders in the country,” they said.
“Disappeared persons and their loved ones have an inalienable right to truth, justice and reparations, which are long overdue with the passing of time and lack of meaningful progress in official investigations,” the UN experts said.
“We urge authorities to thoroughly investigate this and all other cases of enforced disappearance in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, effectively search for disappeared persons, bring perpetrators of the crimes concerned to justice, provide adequate redress for harm suffered by victims and their relatives and ensure their safety,” they said.
The UN experts also urged the authorities of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, signed in 2008, and recognise the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and examine individual and inter-state complaints.
“The Government must refrain from adopting any measures that would be inconsistent with the spirit and purpose of the Convention and urgently incorporate its provisions into their domestic legal framework,” they said.
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*The experts: Ms. Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair), Mr. Luciano Hazan, Ms. Angkhana Neelapaijit and Ms. Grażyna Baranowska of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Ms. Fernanda Hopenhaym (Chairperson), Ms. Pichamon Yeophantong (Vice-Chairperson), Ms. Elżbieta Karska, Mr. Robert McCorquodale and Mr. Damilola Olawuyi of the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Chair-Rapporteur), Mr. Mumba Malila (Vice-chairperson), Ms. Ganna Yudkivska, Ms. Priya Gopalan, and Mr. Matthew Gillett, Working Group on arbitrary detention.