Urgent Interventions

Civil society groups urge Laos, Thailand to investigate enforced disappearances, reveal fate of Sombath Somphone and Od Sayavong

15 December 2019: On the seventhanniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersignedorganizations, urge the Lao and Thai governments to investigate enforceddisappearances, and demand Vientiane finally reveal Sombath’s whereabouts andensure justice for him and his family.

Considering the Lao police’sprotracted failure to effectively investigate Sombath’s enforced disappearance,a new independent and impartial investigative body tasked with determiningSombath’s fate and whereabouts should be established without delay. The newbody should have the authority to seek and receive international technicalassistance in order to conduct a professional, independent, impartial, andeffective investigation in accordance with international standards.

Sombath was last seen at a policecheckpoint on a busy street of the Lao capital, Vientiane, on the evening of 15December 2012. Footage from a CCTV camera showed that Sombath’s vehicle wasstopped at the police checkpoint and that, within minutes, unknown individualsforced him into another vehicle and drove him away in the presence of policeofficers. CCTV footage also showed an unknown individual driving Sombath’svehicle away from the city center. The presence of police officers at Sombath’sabduction and their failure to intervene strongly indicates state agents’participation in Sombath’s enforced disappearance.

Lao authorities have repeatedlyclaimed they have been investigating Sombath’s enforced disappearance but havefailed to disclose any new findings to the public since 8 June 2013. They havemet with Sombath’s wife, Shui Meng Ng, only twice since January 2013 – the lasttime in December 2017. No substantive information about the investigation hasbeen shared by the police with the family, indicating that, for all intents andpurposes, the police investigation has been defacto suspended.

We also call on the Lao and Thaigovernments to resolve all cases of enforced disappearances in their countries.The most recent case is that of OdSayavong, a Lao refugee living in Bangkok, who has been missing since 26August 2019. Over the past several years, Od engaged publicly in drawingattention to human rights abuses and corruption in Laos, and met with the UnitedNations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on 15 March2019 in Bangkok, prior to the latter’s mission to Laos. The concerns regardingOd’s case were expressed in a joint statement that the UN Working Group onEnforced or Involuntary Disappearances and three Special Rapporteurs issued on1 October 2019.[1]

We would also like to drawparticular attention to reports that IttiphonSukpaen, Wuthipong Kachathamakul, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Chatcharn Buppawan,and Kraidej Luelert, five Thaicritics of the monarchy and Thailand’s military government living in exile inLaos, went missing between June 2016 and December 2018. In the case of thelatter three, the bodies of Chatcharn and Kraidej were found about two weekslater on the Thai side of the Mekong River, mutilated and stuffed withconcrete, while a third body - possibly Surachai’s - reportedly surfaced nearbyand then disappeared. DNA tests carried out in January 2019 confirmed theidentity of Chatcharn and Kraidej.

We call on the Lao and Thaigovernments to investigate these cases in line with international legalstandards with a view towards determining their fate and whereabouts.

Both the Lao and Thai governmentshave the legal obligation to conduct such prompt, thorough and impartialinvestigations and to bring all individuals suspected of criminalresponsibility for crimes under international law and gross human rightsviolations to justice in fair trials.

We also urge the Lao and Thaigovernments to promptly ratify the International Convention for the Protectionof All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which Laos and Thailand signed inSeptember 2008 and January 2012 respectively, to incorporate the Convention’sprovisions into their domestic legal frameworks, implementing it in practice,and to recognize the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances toreceive and consider communications from or on behalf of victims or otherstates parties.

Finally, we call on theinternational community to use the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) ofLaos to demand the Lao government promptly and effectively investigate theenforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone. The third UPR of Laos is scheduledto be held on 21 January 2020 in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the second UPR of Laos inJanuary 2015, 10 United Nations member states (Australia, Canada, Finland,Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UnitedKingdom) recommended the Lao government conduct an adequate investigation intoSombath’s enforced disappearance.

Until the fate and whereabouts ofthose who are forcibly disappeared are revealed, the international communityshould not stop demanding that they be safely returned to their families. TheLao government should be under no illusion that our demands will go away, wewill persist until we know the real answer to the question: “Where is Sombath?”

Signed by:

  1. 11.11.11
  2. Action from Ireland (Afri)
  3. Alliance Sud
  4. Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma(ALTSEAN-Burma)
  5. Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance toStop Mining)
  6. Amnesty International
  7. Armanshahr / OPEN ASIA
  8. Article 19
  9. ASEAN Parliamentarians for HumanRights (APHR)
  10. Asia Europe People’s Forum
  11. Asian Federation AgainstInvoluntary Disappearances (AFAD)
  12. Asian Forum for Human Rights andDevelopment (FORUM-ASIA)
  13. Asian Resource Foundation
  14. Association of Women for Awarenessand Motivation (AWAM)
  15. Awaz Foundation Pakistan – Centrefor Development Services
  16. Banglar Manabadhikar SutakshaMancha (MASUM)
  17. Cambodian Human Rights and DevelopmentAssociation (ADHOC)
  18. CCFD-Terre Solidaire
  19. Center for Human Rights andDevelopment (CHRD)
  20. Centre for the Sustainable Use ofNatural and Social Resources (CSNR)
  21. China Labour Bulletin (CLB)
  22. CIVICUS: World Alliance forCitizen Participation
  23. Civil Rights Defenders
  24. Commission for the Disappeared andVictims of Violence (KontraS)
  25. Community Resource Centre (CRC)
  26. Community Self-Reliance Centre(CSRC)
  27. DIGNIDAD Coalition
  28. Dignity – Kadyr-kassiyet (KK)
  29. Equality Myanmar
  30. Europesolidaire sans frontières (ESSF)
  31. Families of Victims of InvoluntaryDisappearance (FIND)
  32. FIAN International
  33. FIDH – International Federationfor Human Rights, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection ofHuman Rights Defenders
  34. Focus on the Global South
  35. Fresh Eyes - People to PeopleTravel
  36. Front Line Defenders
  37. Global Justice Now
  38. Globe International
  39. Human Rights and DevelopmentFoundation (HRDF)
  40. Human Rights Commission ofPakistan (HRCP)
  41. Human Rights in China (HRIC)
  42. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  43. Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)
  44. INFORM Human Rights DocumentationCentre
  45. International Commission ofJurists (ICJ)
  46. InternetLaw Reform Dialogue (iLaw)
  47. Justice for Iran (JFI)
  48. Karapatan Alliance Philippines(Karapatan)
  49. Kazakhstan International Bureaufor Human Rights and the Rule of Law (KIBHR)
  50. Korean House for InternationalSolidarity (KHIS)
  51. Land Watch Thai
  52. Lao Movement for Human Rights(LMHR)
  53. Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada(LRWC)
  54. League for the Defence of HumanRights in Iran (LDDHI)
  55. MADPET (Malaysians Against DeathPenalty and Torture)
  56. Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)
  57. Manushya Foundation
  58. MONFEMNET National Network
  59. National Commission for Justiceand Peace (NCJP)
  60. Nomadic Livestock Keepers'Development Fund
  61. Odhikar
  62. People's Solidarity forParticipatory Democracy(PSPD)
  63. People’s Empowerment Foundation(PEF)
  64. People’s Vigilance Committee onHuman Rights (PVCHR)
  65. People’s Watch
  66. Philippine Alliance of HumanRights Advocates (PAHRA)
  67. Programme Against CustodialTorture & Impunity (PACTI)
  68. Psychological Responsiveness NGO
  69. Pusat KOMAS
  70. Right to Life Human Rights Centre(R2L)
  71. Rights Now Collective forDemocracy (RN)
  72. South India Cell for Human RightsEducation and Monitoring (SICHREM)
  73. Stiftung Asienhaus
  74. STOP the War Coalition -Philippines (StWC-Philippines)
  75. Sustainability and Participationthrough Education and Lifelong Learning (SPELL)
  76. Taiwan Association for HumanRights (TAHR)
  77. Tanggol Kalikasan – PublicInterest Environmental Law Office (TK)
  78. Task Force Detainees of thePhilippines (TFDP)
  79. The Corner House
  80. Think Centre
  81. Transnational Institute
  82. Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)
  83. Vietnam Committee on Human Rights(VCHR)
  84. Vietnamese Women for Human Rights(VNWHR)
  85. WomanHealth Philippines
  86. Women’s Rehabilitation Centre(WOREC)
  87. World Organisation Against Torture(OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of HumanRights Defenders
  88. World Rainforest Movement (WRM)


Andy Rutherford

Anuradha Chenoy

David JH Blake

Glenn Hunt

Jeremy Ironside

Jessica diCarlo

Kamal Mitra Chenoy

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso

Miles Kenney-Lazar

Nico Bakker

Philip Hirsch

[1] OHCHR, Thailand/LaoPDR: UN experts concerned by disappearance of Lao human rights defender, 1October 2019, available at: