EU must press government to address ongoing human rights violations in upcoming dialogue

Press release
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(Brussels, Paris) The European Union (EU) must raise its concerns with the Lao government over the ongoing serious human rights violations in Laos and press it to adhere to the country’s human rights obligations, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today. The two organizations made the call ahead of the 10th EU-Laos Human Rights Dialogue, which will be held remotely on 16 June 2021.

“During the more than two years since the previous human rights dialogue with the EU, there has been no improvement in the human rights situation in Laos. It’s time the EU demands concrete actions and results, not just words, from Vientiane.”

Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General

In conjunction with their call, the two organizations released a briefing paper that provides a summary of the human rights situation in Laos from January 2020 to May 2021. The briefing paper documents key human rights violations on the following issues: 1) political prisoners; 2) failure to cooperate with the UN mechanisms; 3) unfair legislative elections; 4) restrictions to the right to freedom of opinion and expression; 5) violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief; and 6) human rights impacts of infrastructure and investment projects.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, human rights violations have continued unabated and the Lao authorities have often blamed the pandemic for their failure to uphold their human rights obligations. The EU should not fall for these excuses and urge the government to address long-standing human rights issues that have nothing to do with COVID-19.”

Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR President

Authorities have continued to restrict freedom of opinion and expression, especially online. Individuals publicly criticizing government actions or exposing instances of corruption have continued to be subjected to arrest, detention, and intimidation.

At least four individuals remain imprisoned for the exercise of their right to freedom of opinion and expression. They are Mr. Somphone Phimmasone, Mr. Soukan Chaithad, Ms. Lodkham Thammavong, and Ms. Houayheuang Xayabouly, aka Mouay, who are serving prison sentences of 20, 16, 12, and five years, respectively.

Harassment and discrimination against religious minorities have persisted in various part of the country. Lao Christians have particularly faced violence, prosecution, and discrimination by authorities.

Infrastructure and investment projects have continued to have negative impact on economic, social, and cultural rights of affected individuals and communities. Such projects include the China-backed Vientiane-Boten railway and numerous dams whose construction is either underway or completed.

Against this backdrop, the Lao government held legislative elections on 21 February 2021. Like previous elections, the polls were a heavily controlled and non-competitive process that failed to guarantee the free expression of the voters’ will.

The government also demonstrated its unwillingness to address key human rights issues under various UN human rights monitoring mechanisms, by failing to address concerns voiced by various UN special procedures and ignoring its reporting obligations under several human rights treaties to which Laos is a state party. In addition, during the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, the government refused to accept key recommendations received in January 2020. These include recommendations concerning enforced disappearances, the abolition of the death penalty, the right to freedom of expression, the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution, and cooperation with the UN.

Press contacts
FIDH: Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) - Tel: +66886117722 (Bangkok)
FIDH: Ms. Eva Canan (French, English) - Tel: +33648059157 (Paris)
LMHR: Ms. Vanida Thephsouvanh (French, English, Lao) - Tel: +33160065706 (Paris)
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