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  • Writer's pictureManushya Foundation

Today marks the International #DayOfTheDisappeared! Where are Sombath, Od and Lu ??



What is enforced disappearance?


Enforced disappearance, once associated primarily with oppressive regimes and military dictatorships, has found its way into complex scenarios of internal conflict, where it becomes a tool of political suppression and repression of opponents. As we stand together on this International Day of the Disappeared, we shed light on the stories of those who have vanished under such circumstances. We remember their pain, honor their resilience, and call for justice.


Among the most vulnerable are Human Rights Defenders (HRD) who raise their voices for justice and equality, and thereby become enemies of the state. HRD, victims’ relatives, witnesses and legal counselors dealing with cases of enforced disappearance undergo continuing harassment and have all too often been failed by the justice system.



Understanding the Relevance of International Day of the Disappeared


The International Day of the Disappeared is a day to remember and honor the victims of enforced disappearance. By sharing stories and information about missing people, we can help raise awareness of this issue and bring attention to the need for justice.


Bringing Laos into the spotlight on the UN Day of the Disappeared holds immense significance as an urgent call for transparency and justice. The UN's past pleas to the Lao Government to unveil the whereabouts of activists underscores the critical need to address the issue. Unfortunately, the Lao government's delay in ratifying crucial instruments aimed at safeguarding individuals from enforced disappearances has cast a shadow over its commitment.


These instruments, namely the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), provide a comprehensive framework for the protection of individuals from enforced disappearance. They set out the definition of enforced disappearance, the obligations of States parties, and the mechanisms for preventing, investigating, and punishing enforced disappearance.


This delay results in investigations into the situation in Laos being shrouded in opacity and complexity. Moreover, the absence of effective accountability mechanisms within the national framework leaves enforced disappearances unaddressed, thereby failing to meet international human rights standards. The UN Day of the Disappeared serves as an opportunity to shine a light on these systemic gaps and to advocate for a transparent and accountable approach that ensures justice for all.



Did you know that Enforced Disappearance is one of the Lao Authorities' go-to to suppress activists?


Notorious for its ruthless crackdown on dissenting voices both domestically and internationally, Laos resorts to tactics including threats, harassment, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances. The country's reputation for overtly silencing activists has been amplified by numerous high-profile cases of enforced disappearance, including Sombath Somphone’s. Laos’ harsh repression of its human rights defenders stands as a flagrant violation of the country’s international commitments. Despite extensive pleas from the international community to disclose information about the disappeared, the Lao government's cooperation has been, to say the least, limited.



Where are Sombath, Od Sayavong and Lu Siwei?


  • Renowned for his efforts in Lao civil society, Sombath dedicated himself to reinforcing the power of rural communities through inclusive development projects. In December 2012, he was abducted at a police checkpoint in Vientiane, Laos. Despite CCTV footage capturing his abduction, the Lao government has remained tight-lipped about his fate for more than a decade.


  • Since August 26, 2019, Od Sayavong, a Lao democracy activist and refugee in Bangkok, has gone missing. Known for his activism, Od actively exposed human rights violations and corruption in Laos. A few months before his disappearance, Od met with the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights in Bangkok in March 2019, ahead of the Rapporteur's mission to Laos. Od was also planning to stage a protest during the ASEAN People’s Forum (APF) held in September 2019 in Thailand.


  • The arrest of Chinese rights lawyer Lu Siwei in Laos has sent shockwaves within the Chinese activist community. Lu's reputation as an unflinching advocate for sensitive cases in China has drawn global attention to his arrest and potential deportation back to China, where he can face torture and other ill-treatment. To date, Lu Siwei’s whereabouts remain unknown.



When Loved-Ones disappear: the Burden of Absence


As we mark the Day of the Disappeared, our thoughts are also with the Disappeared’s families, who bear a burden that no one should have to endure—the uncertainty, the unanswered questions, the void left by their absence. The pain felt by families of the disappeared serves as a stark reminder that enforced disappearances are not just violations against individuals, but against entire communities and societies.


The families’ strength and resilience amidst these dreadful tragedies encourage us to stand together in solidarity, demanding both justice and answers!



Our Call for Accountability and Action!


✊On this International Day of the Disappeared, we call upon the Lao government to further its commitment to the ICPPED, a crucial framework for safeguarding individuals from enforced disappearance, which it has signed but is yet to ratify.


We also urge the Lao government to be transparent about cases of enforced disappearance and to provide long-awaited answers to the families of the disappeared. The international community, too, holds a responsibility to pressure the Lao government to take meaningful action to ensure justice and accountability.


Silence is not an option! Together, let’s raise our voices for justice and demand accountability for the perpetrators of enforced disappearance. Sombath, Od and Lu’s families DESERVE to know the truth!


#WeAreManushyan ♾️ Equal Human Beings


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