Lao Govt and Implicated Companies Must Deliver Justice for Survivors of 2018 Attapeu Dam Collapse
26 July 2022, Bangkok - To mark the four years of injustice since the tragic Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam collapse in Attapeu Province in Laos, Manushya Foundation releases its follow-up complaint to 11 United Nations Special Procedures, shedding light on new allegations of human rights violations. The UN complaint submitted to the United Nations on 28 February 2022 urges the Lao Government and implicated companies, including dam developers, banks, and insurers, to effectively address the adverse human rights and environmental impacts caused by the Lao dam collapse, and to provide effective, fair and adequate compensation to at least 7,000 survivors.
The lack of transparency throughout development drew the attention of local human rights defenders. Since 2017, Joseph Akaravong, Lao environmental and community rights activist, has been actively documenting the lack of community consultations, and lack of transparency around the financing and construction of the dam. He interviewed villagers and subsequently posted their videos on Facebook, which became viral following the dam collapse.
Joseph’s activism made him a target of reprisal by the Lao government. He had to leave his motherland in August 2018, and has been living in hiding for many years. Joseph eventually fled to France earlier this year where he is seeking asylum.
Emilie Palamy Pradichit, Founder and Executive Director of Manushya Foundation, also highlighted the importance of hearing affected communities’ voices and providing them with effective reparations:
The Lao government’s offhand handling of the collapse prompted anger among members of affected communities. Nevertheless, Laos, whose human rights record has been tarnished for decades, reacted by harassing those speaking up against the injustices. In September 2019, Houayheuang Xayabouly, also known as Muay, was arbitrarily arrested for publicly condemning Laos’ inaction and continued involvement in similar dam projects which detriment communities and the environment.
The release of the UN complaint also coincides with the Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines’ notice issued on 18 July 2022, stating that dams must ensure appropriate water management and emergency planning. However, this tightening of control comes two days after a video of two leaks from the Nam Theun 1 dam had circulated on social media and went viral, raising Lao people’s concerns of overstressing or breakage, and putting in question the motivations behind the Lao government’s new measure. The Lao government claims it had known about the leaks at the Nam Theun 1 dam since June 2022 and that the seepage would be repaired soon, but water still continues to flow unabated.
Precisely four years after the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam disaster, a potential collapse of the Nam Theun 1 dam would jeopardize the lives and livelihoods of both Lao and Thai communities living downstream. While a draft law on hydropower safety was also approved earlier this month by the Lao National Assembly to improve safeguards against accidents, the lack of environmental and human rights concerns is even more disturbing considering the ambitious plans of Laos to become the “battery” of Southeast Asia, exporting its hydroelectric energy to neighboring countries rather than moving to clean and renewable energy solutions.
 UN Joint allegation letter by Special Procedures LAO 1/2020 addressing the negative human rights impacts caused by the collapse of an auxiliary dam in Attapeu province, in the south-eastern state of Lao PDR, available at : https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25088.
 Inclusive Development International and International Rivers, Reckless endangerment: Assessing responsibility for the Xe-Pian Xe Namnoy Dam collapse, (2019), available at: https://www.internationalrivers.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/86/2020/06/reckless_endangerment_final_for_web-compressed.pdf
 Joseph Akaravong Facebook Page, Public post of 23 February 2017 sharing the voices and concerns of affected communities of three villages in the face of the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy dam, (23 February 2017), available at: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1850076008604657&id=100008068268130. See also Manushya Foundation, Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on the situation in Lao PDR for his official country visit from 18 to 28 March 2019, (March 2019), available at: https://www.manushyafoundation.org/unsr-extreme-poverty-hr-laopdr
 Manushya Foundation, CIVICUS, Forum Asia, Joint Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Lao PDR Third UPR Cycle, 35th Session of the UPR Working Group, (18 July 2019), available at: https://www.manushyafoundation.org/joint-lao-upr-submission
 Water shortage, restricted ventilation, and sanitation problems have been reported. Please see: OHCHR, Untitled communication: United Nations Human Rights Council to Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Power Company, (17 April 2020), available at: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25088
 OHCHR, Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Power Company’s reply to the Joint Allegation Letter, (12 June 2020), available at: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadFile?gId=35334; OHCHR, Krung Thai Bank’s reply to the Joint Allegation Letter, (16 June 2020), available at: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadFile?gId=35348; OHCHR, Republic of Korea’s Reply to the Joint Allegation Letter, (6 July 2020), available at: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadFile?gId=35415; OHCHR, Lao Government’s reply to the Joint Allegation Letter, (16 July 2020), available at: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadFile?gId=35426; OHCHR, Thanachart Bank’s reply to the Joint Allegation Letter, (28 August 2020), available at: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadFile?gId=35547; OHCHR, Bank of Ayudhya Public Company Limited’s Reply to the Joint Allegation Letter, (11 September 2020), available at: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadFile?gId=35564; OHCHR, Export-Import Bank of Thailand’s Reply to the Joint Allegation Letter, (19 October 2020), available at: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadFile?gId=35621
 OHCHR, United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/publications/guidingprinciplesbusinesshr_en.pdf
 Muay is a woman human rights defender with extensive activism in environmental rights and anti-corruption. Unlike Joseph, Muay decided not to flee as she is the breadwinner of her family and is tending to a very young daughter. Muay was handed a five-year sentence at the end of a trial wrought with improprieties and remains in arbitrary detention to date.
 In December 2020, Manushya Foundation, The Human Rights Foundation (HRF), and Humanity Beyond Borders jointly submitted an individual complaint to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) to request a formal investigation on the arrest and wrongful conviction of Muay and declare that her arbitrary imprisonment is in clear violation of international law. Please see: https://www.manushyafoundation.org/free-muay-individual-complaint ; In June 2021, the UNWGAD condemned Laos for its persecution of Muay, determining that the arrest and subsequent imprisonment were arbitrary and urging Lao authorities to release her immediately. Please see the UNWGAD decision: https://www.business-humanrights.org/fr/latest-news/laos-un-finds-detention-of-woman-human-rights-defender-was-arbitrary/; The Lao Government has yet to respond.
 The follow-up complaint was sent to 11 UN Special Procedures on relevant thematic issues, including extreme poverty and human rights, business and human rights, adequate standards of living, and non-discrimination.
 OHCHR-UN Special Procedures, News Release: Lao dam disaster: UN experts decry lack of progress for survivors four years on, (22 July 2022), available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/07/lao-dam-disaster-un-experts-decry-lack-progress-survivors-four-years
 Laotian Times article, Laos Energy Ministry Places Dams on Notice Amid Wet Season Storage, (19 July 2022), available at: https://laotiantimes.com/2022/07/19/laos-energy-ministry-places-dams-on-notice-amid-wet-season-storage/
 Radio Free Asia, Unease downstream despite assurances that leaking Lao Nam Theun 1 is safe, (20 July 2022), available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/dam-worry-07202022183610.html ; Joseph Akaravong Facebook Page, Public posts of 16 July 2022 sharing the accident at the Nam Theun 1 dam, (16 July 2022), available at: https://bit.ly/3BhgjSu and https://bit.ly/3Qb4em7; Thai PBS News, สทนช.ประเมินเขื่อนน้ำเทิน 1 ในลาวรั่วซึมจากการก่อสร้างไม่กระทบน้ำโขง, (17 July 2022), available at: https://news.thaipbs.or.th/content/317589; Office of the National Water Resources Facebook Page, Public post of 17 July 2022 regarding the accident at the Nam Theun 1 dam, (17 July 2022), available at: https://www.facebook.com/onwrnews/posts/pfbid02Xm3NnRrhgBL7JTmxsrvb9fFnYSF7BBX1YZ92pzD1Nt8sSXHoc2WoJKBidrnYrFHSl
 Laotian Times, Authorities in Laos Draft Law on Hydropower Safety, (20 January 2020), available at: https://laotiantimes.com/2022/01/20/authorities-in-laos-draft-law-on-hydropower-safety/
 OHCHR-Human Rights Council, Universal Periodic Review of Lao PDR, Third Cycle’s Matrix of Recommendations, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/upr/la-index
 David J. H. Blake and Keith Barney, Impounded Rivers, compounded injustice: contesting the social impacts of hydraulic developments in Laos. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 1-22, (2021), available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/07900627.2021.1920373