As the International Day of the Disappeared is marked around the world, the Laos authorities must promptly, thoroughly and effectively investigate the abduction and suspected enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, Amnesty International said today.
On 15 December 2012, Sombath Somphone, a leading member of Lao civil society, was stopped by traffic police and taken away in a pick-up truck. His whereabouts remain unknown, his family has not been kept informed by the authorities, and there has been no credible investigation into his enforced disappearance.
“Next week, Barack Obama will become the first US President to visit Laos. He must seize this rare opportunity to raise concerns about the human rights situation in the notoriously closed country, including by asking the authorities, ‘Where is Sombath?’” said T. Kumar, Amnesty International USA’s International Advocacy Director.
Barack Obama and leaders from across South East Asia will be meeting in Vientiane, the capital of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos), to attend the ASEAN summit from 6-8 September 2016.
Starting on the International Day of the Disappeared, Amnesty International encourages people to use the hashtag #WhereIsSombath to raise awareness of the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone.
“More than three years have passed since Sombath Somphone was last seen. We have no alternative but to conclude that the authorities are either directly responsible for his disappearance, or have failed miserably to take all necessary measures to get to the bottom of what happened,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific.
Sombath Somphone’s disappearance was chillingly captured on CCTV. In the video, he is last seen stopped at a police post, and asked to step out of his car by traffic police. Moments later, a motorcyclist arrives at the scene, abandons his motorcycle and drives away in Sombath Somphone’s car.
A few minutes later, another man emerges from the police post, and waits by the side of the road. Soon, a pick-up truck arrives, with its lights flashing. Sombath Somphone and others get into the truck. The truck then leaves, with armed people riding a motorcycle leading the way. The passenger on the motorcycle fires a gunshot in the air.
Amnesty International is deeply worried by the lack of progress into any investigation into Sombath Somphone’s whereabouts. The Laos authorities have failed to keep his family and others informed about the case. They have also rebuffed requests from other countries to help investigate his fate, and failed to respond to appeals from the United Nations, the European Parliament and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his case.
“The establishment of an independent commission to impartially, thoroughly and effectively probe his case is long overdue. The commission should not only ensure that Sombath Somphone is safely returned to his family, but also identify those suspected of criminal responsibility and bring them to justice in fair trials, without recourse to the death penalty” said Rafendi Djamin.