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Lao PDR: UN expert calls out alarming pattern of violations against human rights defenders

22 September 2023

GENEVA (22 September 2023) – A UN expert today pointed to a pattern of serious human rights violations targeting human rights defenders in Lao PDR, including summary executions and enforced disappearances.

“I am alarmed by the serious trend of human rights abuses that have been perpetrated against these human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists,” said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The expert said the violations also included arbitrary and incommunicado detentions, enforced disappearances, violations of fair trial and intimidation which appear to be directly related to the victims’ legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights.

Of the eight cases raised by the Special Rapporteur, two concerned the killings of human rights defenders, Mr. Leokham Losavath and Mr. Bounsuan Kitiyano, with a third, Mr. Phouvong Sayaseng, killed following his enforced disappearance.

Three activists, Mr. Lodkham Thammavong, Mr. SoukaneChaithad and Mr. Somphone Phimmasone are imprisoned in Laos, having been arbitrarily detained and tried in secret after they returned to Laos from Thailand.

Two other human rights defenders Mr. Od Sayavong, and Mr. Phetphouthone Philachanh, allegedly forcibly disappeared, and their fate and whereabouts remain unknown.

Lawlor criticised the ineffectiveness of investigations into these enforced disappearances.

She pointed to a trend of suspected extra-territorial rendition, given that a number of these human rights defenders were based in Thailand at the time of their deprivation of liberty and subsequent enforced disappearance.

“This indicates that countries in the region are coordinating, assisting or acquiescing to extraterritorially abduct human rights defenders, leading to their enforced disappearance,” Lawlor said. “It is a worrying trend that States allegedly coordinate with one another to facilitate these renditions.”

This is not the first time experts have pointed to such a pattern. In 2020, they issued four letters (THA 8/2020, KHM 7/2020; LAO 4/2020; VNM 4/2020) highlighting a persisting trend in Southeast Asia. They are still waiting for more 'substantive information' from Thailand, Viet Nam and Lao PDR as to the facts behind the allegations and welcome additional information from the Governments involved.

“These rendition practices constitute a flagrant violation of the principle of non-refoulement,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Lawlor called on Lao PDR and Thailand to supply updates on their inquiries into the killings and to clarify without delay the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared persons.

“A greater effort must be made to keep human rights defenders safe,” she said.

*The expert: Ms. Mary Lawlor (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The statement is endorsed by Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms. Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair); Ms. Grażyna Baranowska (Poland), Ms. Ana-Lorena Delgadillo Pérez (México) and Ms. Angkhana Neelapaijit (Thailand) – Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. 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.

UN Human Rights, Country Page - Lao

Please refer to the Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on Enforced disappearances in the context of transnational transfers

For further information and media requests, please contact: Orsolya Toth (+41 22 917 99 13 or [email protected] )

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]).

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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