Lao PDR: State disavowal of enforced disappearances
Human Rights Committee's 123rd session - July 2018
Soldier watching over prisonniers. Photo credit: Human Rights Watch
The Human Rights Committee reviewed the first periodic report submitted by the Lao PDR on 10th and 11th July 2018 in Geneva. At the very outset, the Lao delegation extended a full invitation to the members of the Committee to visit Laos and stated it being an underdeveloped and small country, it would need financial and expert support from the Committee to implement the recommendations.
The webcast is available here : part 1 & part 2
"“There is a pattern of impunity for acts of enforced disappearances [...] State has a legal obligation to carry on effective investigations”."
National Human Rights Institution
The Committee recalled the Laos’ UPR recommendation to set up an NHRI based on the Paris Principles, but noted that Laos continues to delegate this function to a National Commission. On being asked about the independence of the body, the delegation made reference to the National Steering Committee on Human Rights whose mandate covered civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The delegation, however, informed the Committee that this Committee is chaired by a minister because the “issue of human rights is so important for the country”. It is notable that the National Assembly has oversight powers over the judiciary under the Constitution.
In the light of the fact that ten years have passed since Laos signed the Convention on Enforced Disappearances, the Committee enquired of the steps that have been taken towards its ratification. The Committee stressed on the need for a clearer understanding on the number of investigations in alleged cases of enforced disappearances since 2008, and the result of such investigations. The delegation informed the Committee that Laos was still not ready for the ratification, and it stressed that since Laos had not ratified the Convention, it had no legal obligation to incorporate the definition of enforced disappearance into its laws.
When asked specifically of the case on Sombath Somphone, the delegation replied by saying that, it was “natural for a disappearance case to take years” and that the Lao police authorities have their own techniques for investigation and therefore there was no need of international assistance. The delegation claimed that the allegations were “baseless and groundless as there are no detailed information on these persons” and the authorities “found no evidence to support the allegations”.
In this regard the Committee observed that there was a “pattern of impunity for acts of enforced disappearances… State has a legal obligation to carry on effective investigations”.
Despite the de facto moratorium, the State confirmed a number of 315 prisons on death row, out of which 311 were charged under drug related offences. The delegation stated that death penalty was still necessary to “suppress serious crime in the country”. The Committee reminded the State that in the light of the ICCPR “sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes”. According to the Committee’s jurisprudence and draft General Comment 36, drug related offences can never justify the imposition of the death penalty.
Freedom of Expression
The Committee took specific note of the legal provisions that unduly restrict the freedom of expression, including the requirement of approval of media content by the concerned authorities before broadcast or dissemination. The Committee raised the question of the compatibility of laws on defamation and libel that included propaganda against the Lao PDR, online criticism of the government and dissemination of false information online.
While acknowledging the long and difficult past of Laos, a Committee member stated that “Things have changed, and you have become a stable country. It is a high time your country opens up to pluralism, both when it comes to civil society and political parties.”
The delegation concluded the session by asking the Committee to reveal its sources so that Laos could verify their credibility for itself.
Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee
Within two years, the State party should provide information on the following recommendations from the Committee's Concluding Observations:
- Effectively criminalize enforced disappearance, in accordance with international standards, and ensure that such criminal provisions are enforced in practice
- Step up efforts to conduct a thorough, credible, impartial and transparent investigation into the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, and in all other cases of alleged enforced disappearances, and identify those responsible
- Ensure that the victims and their families are regularly informed of the progress and results of the investigations and receive the official administrative documents required by international standards; and that they are provided with full reparation
- Ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with penalties that are commensurate with the gravity of the crime
- Provide appropriate specialized training on the effective investigation and handling of enforced disappearances to security forces, judicial and other law enforcement officials, including on the provisions of the relevant international standards
- Act upon the commitment to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
Participation in public affairs and the right to vote
- Take all measures necessary to give full effect to the right of citizens to genuinely take part in the conduct of public affairs, to vote and to be elected, in accordance with article 25 of the Covenant
- Ensure that electoral legislation does not discriminate against persons with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities
- Revise legislation denying all convicted prisoners the right to vote
Rights of persons belonging to minorities
- Take all steps necessary to ensure that meaningful consultations are held with communities with a view to obtaining their free, prior and informed consent for development projects impacting on their livelihood, lifestyle and culture
- Ensure that communities participate in any processes concerning their relocation, that such relocations are carried out in accordance with relevant international standards
- End the persecution of members of the Hmong ethnic minority, including their arbitrary arrest, detention and enforced disappearances and effectively investigate such acts, bring perpetrators to justice, and provide full reparation to victims or their families
Lao PDR's next periodic report is due by 27 July 2022.