Global perspective Human stories

Independent UN experts urge Laos to probe disappearance of prominent rights activist

Credit: OHCHR
Credit: OHCHR

Independent UN experts urge Laos to probe disappearance of prominent rights activist

A group of independent United Nations experts today urged the Government of Laos to boost its investigation into the enforced disappearance a year ago of Sombath Somphone, a prominent human rights activist working on issues of land confiscation and assisting victims in denouncing such practices.

“We are deeply concerned about his safety and security,” the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said in a news release, urging the Government “to do its utmost to locate Mr. Somphone, to establish his fate and whereabouts, and to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

The experts noted that Mr. Somphone was held in police custody following his reported disappearance, according to additional information received that sheds new light on the case. A few days after his disappearance, he was seen inside a police detention centre with his car parked in the police compound.

Two days later, he was reportedly moved to a military camp outside the capital, Vientiane, and then transferred again to an unknown location one week later. It was further reported that, a few days following his disappearance, relevant Government officials said that Mr. Somphone would be released.

It has also been reported, the experts added, that the closed-circuit television footage, which recorded the incident of the abduction of Mr. Somphone on 15 December 2012, has not been analysed by any independent body.

“Defenders play a key role in promoting human rights and their legitimate work should be fully respected,” the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, said. “Mr. Somphone’s disappearance might have a chilling effect on human rights defenders operating in the country, owing to his high profile at the national and international levels.”

The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, called on Laos to fully cooperate with the Geneva-based Human Rights Council and its experts, and voiced deep regret over the Government’s lack of response to his requests to visit the country.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.