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Lao: UN experts appeal for international help two years after the enforced disappearance of leading rights defender

GENEVA (23 December 2014) – International support is now needed to investigate the enforced disappearance of a leading Laotian human rights defender, a group of United Nations independent experts* have said today. Human rights activist Sombath Somphone has been disappeared since December 2012.

“It is high time for the authorities of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) to voluntarily request international assistance with the aim of shedding light on Mr. Somphone’s fate and whereabouts, two years after his disappearance,” the experts said. “International law makes clear that the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic has the duty to carry out an independent, thorough, credible and effective investigation.”

Mr. Somphone is a prominent human right activist working on issues of land confiscation and assisting victims in denouncing such practices. He was last seen at a police check point with his car parked in the police compound.

“We urge the authorities to release more information about the progress of investigation, especially to his family,” the independent experts stressed. “In the absence of any tangible progress, we strongly recommend that an international team of experts work jointly with the Lao People’s Democratic Republic’s to fulfil its legal obligations.”

“We also encourage all States to offer their support to the Government of Lao PDR to ensure that the disappearance of Mr. Somphone is thoroughly investigated,” the experts added.

The situation of human rights in Lao is due to be assessed in January 2015 through the Universal Period Review process, which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. Under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, the process provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.

“We call on the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to fully cooperate with the Human Rights Council and its Special Procedures mechanisms,” they added.

The experts hope that the authorities will respond favorably to a request for an invitation to visit the country by the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

(*) The experts: The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and the protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion, David Kaye.

The United Nations human rights experts are part of what it is known as ‘Special Procedures’, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system. ‘Special Procedures’ is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Currently, there are 39 thematic mandates and 14 mandates related to countries and territories, with 75 mandate holders.

Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Lao People’s Democratic Republic: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/LAIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Marissa Storozum (+41 22 917 9689 / freeassembly@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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