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Lao PDR: Stop deporting human rights defenders, says UN expert

27 October 2023

GENEVA (27 October 2023) – Laotian authorities must not deport people, including human rights defenders, to countries where there are substantial grounds to believe that they would face an imminent risk of enforced disappearance, torture, summary execution and other grave human rights violations, a UN expert said today.

“I am appalled that, despite numerous calls made by the United Nations, Laotian authorities disregarded their duty of care to Mr. Lu Siwei and so blatantly ignored their obligations under international human rights law,” said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

This warning followed reports that prominent Chinese human rights defender and lawyer, Lu Siwei, was deported in September 2023 from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to the People’s Republic of China where he might be subjected to serious harm, including enforced disappearance. The UN human rights mechanisms, including Special Procedures, have consistently raised concerns on this matter with China over the years.

“It is prohibited to return people to a country where they would face a real risk of serious harm, persecution, torture, ill-treatment or other serious human rights violations upon return, as set out, among others, in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Lao PDR is a State-Party,” the expert said. “This principle of non-refoulement is an essential protection under international human rights law and customary law,” she said.

Lu Siwei fled China earlier this year, reportedly due to intimidation and harassment over his human rights activities. He was reportedly subject to a travel ban before fleeing the country. Siwei was arrested in Lao PDR in July 2023, where there was no official information about his fate and whereabouts. He was subsequently held incommunicado prior to his recent deportation. Eight UN experts called on the Lao PDR on 11 August 2023 to release Lu Siwei from arbitrary detention and refrain from deporting him to China, emphasising the existence of substantial grounds to believe that this would expose him to the danger of grave human rights violations, including enforced disappearance. Nevertheless, Siwei is now reportedly being held in a detention centre in Sichuan Province, China. He has allegedly been denied access to a lawyer of his choice.

“I call on the Chinese authorities to release Mr. Lu Siwei immediately and, in the meantime, ensure that he has access to adequate medical care and basic services and is free to appoint and regularly meet with a legal counsel of his own choosing,” Lawlor said.

The Expert: Ms. Mary Lawlor (Ireland) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders by the Human Rights Council in 2020. She is currently Associate Professor of Business and Human Rights at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) at Trinity College Dublin Business School. In 2001 she founded Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders to focus on human rights defenders at risk. As Executive Director between 2001 and 2016, Ms. Lawlor represented Front Line Defenders and played a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was previously Director of the Irish Office of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, after becoming a member of the Board of Directors in 1975 and being elected its President from 1983 to 1987.

The statement is endorsed by: Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair), Angkhana Neelapaijit, Grażyna Baranowska, Ana Lorena Delgadillo Pérez, Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances; Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers;

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.

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Orsolya Toth ([email protected]/+41 22 917 9913) or write to [email protected]

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact 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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