Leaders attending the Asia-Europe Summit should raise rights concerns

Press release
en fr

European and Asian leaders attending the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting Summit of Heads of State and Government (ASEM9) in Vientiane next week should raise their concerns regarding persistent reports of human rights violations in Laos, said the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization, the Lao Movement for Human Rights (MLDH). FIDH and MLDH today published a 16-page briefing paper prepared for the ASEM9.

Laos has ratified a number of important human rights treaties, including the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but has repeatedly violated provisions of these treaties. The FIDH-MLDH briefing paper highlighted over a dozen cases of violations of freedom of expression, assembly and association, freedom of religion, and the rights of ethnic minorities.

Violations of land and housing rights are on the rise. ASEM9 is overshadowed by allegations of the forced evictions of 300 families from a small island in the Mekong in Vientiane to make way for houses built by a Chinese company and Chinese workers to accommodate the foreign leaders who will attend the summit, said FIDH and MLDH. The 9th ASEM Summit will take place from 5-6 November and brings together high-level officials from 46 European and Asia-Pacific countries [1]. , as well as the European Commission and ASEAN Secretariat.

World leaders should not just fly into Laos for a few talk shops behind heavily guarded high-end hotels, and then leave. For far too long human rights violations in Laos have gone under-reported and overlooked by the international community, and the ASEM Summit provides a unique opportunity for global leaders to ask Laos to take concrete steps to improve its human rights records, including to free all those who have been imprisoned for peacefully exercising their fundamental freedoms,” said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

FIDH and MLDH are deeply concerned about the arbitrary arrests and apparent enforced disappearances of dissidents and peaceful protesters, and raised 17 cases in the briefing paper. The whereabouts of four peaceful protesters arrested in October 1999 remain unknown. The Laotian government told a visiting European Parliament (EP) delegation in 2007 that they had been released in 2006. However, families of these political prisoners confirmed that the prisoners have not come home. The authorities refused the EP delegation’s request to meet with these prisoners.

Similarly, nine individuals were arrested in November 2009 in various provinces on their way to Vientiane to participate in a peaceful protest. The government has denied it has ever arrested them. The case of Mrs Kingkeo, one of the nine arrested, has been submitted to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which has forwarded the case to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances following the government’s denial of her arrest.

FIDH and MLDH are also gravely concerned about the situation of the 4,700 Hmongs forcibly repatriated by Thai authorities back to Laos at the end of 2009, including 158 who, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), had already obtained refugee status before being forced back to Laos. The 2011 Human Rights Report of the European Union, published in September 2011, claimed that all of these 158 cases were solved in 2010 by “their discrete departure to receiving countries”. MLDH and FIDH are not aware of any reports that indicate that the European Union had received credible evidence substantiating this claim.

All European and Asian states, especially donor countries, must place human rights at the center of their bilateral relations with Laos and use the full range of instruments, both economic and political, at their disposal to concretely bring about improvement in the human rights situation in Laos,” said Vanida Thephsouvah, MLDH president. “At a minimum, these countries should make sure their trade, investment and development assistance to Laos are fully consistent with international human rights standards, with robust safeguards to anticipate, prevent and redress adverse human rights impact,” added Mrs. Thephsouvah.

To download the FIDH-MLDH briefing paper for ASEM9, click here.

Read more