Laos 2017/2018

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LAOS 2017/2018

The rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly remained severely restricted, and the state exercised strict control over media and civil society. Three activists were convicted in a trial concerning their participation in protests in Thailand and comments made on social media. There was no progress on investigations into a number of enforced disappearances.


Laos submitted state party reports to the UN Human Rights Committee, as well as to the CEDAW Committee and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Enforced disappearances

Despite signing the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2008, Laos had yet to ratify the treaty.

The government failed to establish the fate or whereabouts of Sombath Somphone, a prominent civil society member who was abducted in 2012 outside a police post in the capital, Vientiane. CCTV cameras captured him being stopped by police and driven away. Authorities also failed to establish the fate or whereabouts of Kha Yang, a Lao ethnic Hmong arrested after his forced return from Thailand in 2011, and of Sompawn Khantisouk, an entrepreneur who was active on conservation issues and abducted in 2007 by men believed to be police.

In July, Ko Tee, a Thai political activist sought by the Thai government, disappeared in Laos. The Lao government made no apparent efforts to investigate his disappearance.

Freedoms of expression, assembly and association

Various criminal code provisions and restrictive decrees were used to imprison activists and to suppress the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Broadcast media, print media and civil society activity remained under stringent state control. Political parties other than the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party remained banned.

After a secret trial held in April, activists Soukan Chaithad, Somphone Phimmasone and Lodkham Thammavong were convicted on charges relating to co-operating with foreign entities to undermine the state, distributing propaganda, and organizing protests to cause “turmoil”. They were sentenced to between 12 and 20 years in prison. The three had been arrested the previous year after returning from Thailand to renew their passports. They had previously participated in a protest outside the Lao embassy in the Thai capital, Bangkok, and posted a number of messages on Facebook criticizing the Lao government. In August, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that their detention was arbitrary. Also in August, the government passed a Decree on Associations that imposed onerous registration requirements and restrictions on NGOs and other civic groups and stipulated harsh criminal penalties for failure to comply.

Economic, social and cultural rights

Villagers affected by development projects, including the construction of dams and a Laos-China railway, were forced to relocate. They claimed that they had not been adequately consulted or compensated. In April, the Prime Minister acknowledged problems with implementing land concession regulations. Activists expressed concerns about damage to livelihoods and the environment caused by the construction of hydropower dams.