Head of state: Choummaly Sayasone
Head of government: Thongsing Thammavong (replaced Bouasone Bouphavanh in December)
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
Population: 6.4 million
Life expectancy: 65.9 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 68/61 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 72.7 per cent
Lao authorities denied independent monitors unfettered access to more than 4,500 Lao Hmong asylum-seekers and refugees, who had been forcibly returned from Thailand in 2009 and placed in resettlement sites. Restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly continued. Prisoners of conscience and political prisoners remained imprisoned. At least four people were sentenced to death for drug trafficking, despite a de facto moratorium on executions. No official statistics on death sentences were made public.
Laos rejected recommendations made by the Universal Periodic Review Working Group in May to abolish the death penalty. It signed the UN Convention against Torture in September. In November, the first meeting of states parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions was held in the capital, Vientiane. In December, Laos abstained on a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.
The INGO Network, a group of international non-governmental organizations, voiced concerns about the negative impact of the rapid increase in large foreign investment projects, such as mining and hydropower. The INGO Network also highlighted the need to address social development, disparities in income and access to health and education services.
Land conflicts comprised the highest number of cases in the courts. The authorities cited gaps in laws and regulations, biased judges and a lack of transparency by justice and law enforcement officials as complicating factors.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
Laos denied independent monitors unfettered access to resettlement sites at Phonkham in Borikhamsay province, and Phalak and Nongsan in Vientiane province. This hampered proper assessment of the situation of some 4,500 Hmong forcibly returned from Thailand in December 2009. The remote Phonkham site housed around 3,500 returnees, including more than 1,000 young children. It had no electricity until June, and lacked adequate health care and education facilities. Despite official assurances, identity papers and travel documents were not issued to residents.
The authorities considered all the returnees as “illegal migrants”.
Prisoners of conscience/political prisoners
Lack of transparency about the fate and whereabouts of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners continued.
- The authorities rejected a Universal Periodic Review Working Group recommendation to release prisoners of conscience Bouavanh Chanhmanivong, Seng-Aloun Phengphanh and Thongpaseuth Keuakoun, arrested in October 1999 while attempting to stage a peaceful protest. They remained in prison despite having completed their 10-year sentences.
- The fate and whereabouts of nine people, arrested in November 2009 for planning to petition the authorities about loss of land and lack of social and economic support, remained unknown.
- No news emerged about Thao Moua and Pa Fue Khang, two Hmong arrested in 2003 and sentenced to 12 and 15 years’ imprisonment respectively after a politically motivated unfair trial. They were last known to be held at Samkhe prison in Vientiane.
Freedom of religion
In the provinces, a small number of Christians were harassed in attempts to make them recant their faith.
- In January in Katin village, Saravan province, police and local officials forced dozens of Christians to leave a religious service at gunpoint. When they refused to recant their faith, they were forcibly taken out of the village on foot and left on the side of the road several miles away, without their belongings.