[Repost] Laos: After eight years, civil society worldwide demands the government establish and reveal Sombath’s fate and whereabouts

25 January 2021

Link to original post

Jan 13, 2021 | DFFStatements

On the eighth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, reiterate our calls on the government of Laos to reveal his fate and whereabouts, and to investigate all allegations of enforced disappearances in the country to bring those responsible to justice in fair trials.

The government’s ongoing failure to thoroughly, independently, and impartially investigate the cases of Sombath and other alleged victims of enforced disappearance is compounded by its total lack of commitment to address this issue.

In June 2020, during the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos at the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, the government refused to accept all five recommendations calling for an adequate investigation into Sombath’s enforced disappearance. The government also refused to accept another eight recommendations calling for investigations into all cases of alleged enforced disappearance.

Despite the government accepting that “the search for missing Lao citizens, including Sombath Somphone, is the duty of the Lao government”, it failed to demonstrate any will to effectively execute or fulfill this duty. The government stated that investigations into cases of enforced disappearances were “considered on a case by case basis,” but did not reveal how many investigations it had conducted, for which cases, or any updates on developments in the alleged investigations. It also failed to provide any information about its efforts to determine the fate and whereabouts of Sombath Somphone.

In addition, the government failed to further commit to ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance – a treaty that Laos signed in September 2008.

We renew our call for the establishment of an independent and impartial investigative body tasked with determining Sombath’s fate and whereabouts. The new body should receive international technical assistance in order to conduct a professional and effective investigation in accordance with international standards.

We also urge the Lao government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance without delay, incorporate its provisions into the country’s legal framework, implement it in practice, and recognize the competence of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of the victims in accordance with Article 31 of the Convention.

We stand shoulder to shoulder with all victims of enforced disappearance in Laos and their families, and we will not stop demanding that all their cases be independently, impartially, and effectively investigated, and the perpetrators of such a serious crime be identified and held accountable in fair trials, regardless of their rank or status.

Sombath was disappeared, but our combined determination to seek truth, justice, and reparations for his enforced disappearance will never go away. Our commitment is as strong today as it was eight years ago. We are still asking “Where is Sombath?”

Background

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

Lao authorities have repeatedly claimed they have been investigating Sombath’s enforced disappearance but have failed to disclose any new findings to the public since 8 June 2013. They have neither met with Sombath’s wife, Shui Meng Ng, nor provided her with any updates on their investigation into his case since December 2017. Relatives of people who are forcibly disappeared are themselves victims of enforced disappearance and have the right to a remedy for violations of international human rights law. They frequently suffer harm, including mental anguish and material consequences, which may amount to torture or other ill-treatment.

Signed by:

  1. 11.11-Belgium
  2. Alliance Sud
  3. Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma)
  4. Amnesty International
  5. ARTICLE 19
  6. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
  7. Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances
  8. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  9. Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED)
  10. Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights
  11. Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines
  12. CCFD-Terre Solidaire
  13. Center for Prisoners’ Rights
  14. Civil Rights Defenders
  15. CLEAN (Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network)
  16. Commonwealth human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
  17. Covenants Watch
  18. Cross Cultural Foundation
  19. Environics Trust
  20. Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières (ESSF)
  21. Federación Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos
  22. FIAN International
  23. FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
  24. Focus on the Global South
  25. Four Freedoms Forum
  26. Fortify Rights
  27. Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)
  28. Fresh Eyes
  29. Fundacion Solón
  30. Human Rights Watch
  31. International Coalition against Enforced Disappearances
  32. International Commission of Jurists
  33. International Rivers
  34. Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw)
  35. Justice for Iran
  36. Justice for Peace Foundation
  37. Lao Movement for Human Rights
  38. League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran
  39. MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)
  40. Maldivian Democracy Network
  41. Manushya Foundation
  42. MARUAH
  43. Mekong Watch
  44. Odhikar
  45. Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee
  46. People’s Watch
  47. Project SEVANA South-East Asia
  48. Taiwan Association for Human Rights
  49. The Corner House
  50. Transnational Institute
  51. Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
  52. WomanHealth Philippines
  53. World Organisation Against Torture
  54. World Rainforest Movement

Individuals

Achin Vanaik

Andy Rutherford

Angkhana Neelapaijit

Anna Polony

David JH Blake

Francine Mestrum

Jesus Santiago

Katherine Bowie

Keith Barney

Larry Lohmann

Leang Bunleap

Natalia Scurrah

Nick Buxton

Nick Hildyard

Sarah Sexton

Shui Meng Ng

Soren Bo Sondergaard

Thierry Kesteloot

William Nicholas Gomes


[Statement] Urgent Civil Society Letter on Ugandan Elections

17 January 2021

[Statement] The ongoing business of strengthening the UN human rights treaty bodies

17 January 2021

[Repost] ANFREL Quarterly Newsletter – Volume 6, Issue 4 (October – December 2020)

17 January 2021

2020 Myanmar General Elections:
Election Day Peaceful, Orderly

The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) congratulates the people of Myanmar and all those who made the 2020 Myanmar General Elections a success despite difficult conditions. ANFREL found that the Election Day was peaceful and orderly across Myanmar with no major incidents reported.

As the polls were held amid the COVID-19 pandemic, health guidelines were imposed and were observed to have been implemented well, although social distancing could not be implemented in many locations because of large crowds and/or lack of available space.

ANFREL mounted an international election observation mission to Myanmar’s 2020 general elections with 13 long-term observers and eight short-term observers with additional Election Day observers, a core team based in Yangon, and four electoral analysts.

Download the interim report and the rest of this newsletter here.


[Repost] Article by MARUAH Secretary Braema Mathi in Q1 2021 edition of “Directors Bulletin” published by the Singapore Institute of Directors

6 January 2021

This article first appeared in the Q1 2021 issue of the SID Directors Bulletin published by the Singapore Institute of Directors. Please click on the excerpt below for Braema’s full article.


[Joint statement] CSOs Condemn Targeting Killing of Afghan Activist and Call for Justice

3 January 2021

24 December 2020

We, the undersigned organisations, strongly condemn the killing of elections monitor and democracy advocate Mohammad Yousuf Rasheed in Afghanistan and urge the authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

On the morning of 23 December 2020, Rasheed, executive director of the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA), was shot by unknown gunmen in Kabul when he was traveling to his office. He later died from injuries in the hospital.

The killing and ongoing threats of violence aim at creating fear and intimidation among those promoting peace and democracy in Afghanistan. In recent months, targeted killings and threatening of prominent figures, including civil society activists, journalists and politicians have been increasing disturbingly. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded 934 civilian casualties caused by targeted killings from January to September 2020, a 39 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.

We condemn this heinous crime and stand by the people of Afghanistan in support of their aspirations for sustainable peace and democracy. It is essential for the Government of Afghanistan to conduct fair and impartial investigations into these cases and end the impunity of those responsible for the attacks.

Endorsed by,

  1. Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
  2. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
  3. Center for Monitoring and Research (CeMI)
  4. Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), Sri Lanka
  5. Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Sri Lanka
  6. Citizen Congress Watch (CCW), Taiwan
  7. Civil Network OPORA, Ukraine
  8. Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0), Malaysia
  9. Committee for Free and Fair Election (COMFREL), Cambodia
  10. European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO)
  11. Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), Pakistan
  12. Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM)
  13. Jaringan Pendidikan Pemilih Untuk Rakyat (JPPR), Indonesia
  14. Komite Independen Pemantau Pemilu (KIPP), Indonesia
  15. MARUAH, Singapore
  16. National Democratic Institute (NDI)
  17. National Election Observation Committee (NEOC), Nepal
  18. Nepal Law Society, Nepal
  19. Neutral & Impartial Committee for Free & Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), Cambodia
  20. Odhikar, Bangladesh
  21. People Network for Elections in Thailand (P-NET), Thailand
  22. People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE), Myanmar
  23. People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), Sri Lanka
  24. Perkumpulan untuk Pemilu dan Demokrasi (PERLUDEM), Indonesia
  25. Transparency Maldives (TI Maldives), Maldives
  26. Transparent Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA), Afghanistan
  27. Women Caucus for Politics, Timor-Leste

Last update: 28 December 2020 (11.30am UTC+7)


(Updated with slides) The Public Order Act and its disempowering effect on Singapore – Sunday, 20 December 2020

10 December 2020

Please click on the links below to access a copy of the slides used by the speakers during their presentation.

Presentation by Priscilla Chia – “Public Order Act – Criminalising civil disobedience?”

Presentation by Howard Lee – “The Public Order Act – Media Analysis & Impact”

Once again, we thank our speakers, Ms Priscilla Chia and Mr Howard Lee, and all participants for making time this afternoon to discuss the impact of the misuse of the Public Order Act on political and social discourse in our country.

We look forward to having you join us again at our next event. Please keep a lookout on our Facebook page or here on this website for updates.

MARUAH Secretariat


[Repost] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Press Conference Opening Statement – The Toll of 2020!

10 December 2020

9 December 2020

2020 is a year none of us will ever forget. A terrible, devastating year that has scarred so many of us, in so many ways.

At least 67 million people infected, and 1.6 million dead, in a pandemic that is far from over.

A devastating impact on countries’ economies and on employment, income, education, health and food supply for hundreds of millions of people.

A massive setback to development, to efforts to alleviate poverty and to raise the status of women and girls.

2020 has taken its toll not only across all regions and virtually all countries, but also on the full range of our human rights, be they economic, social, cultural, civil or political. COVID-19 has zeroed in on the fissures and fragilities in our societies, exposing all our failures to invest in building fair and equitable societies. It has shown the weakness of systems that have failed to place a central focus on upholding human rights.

Recent weeks have seen extraordinary progress in vaccine development. This is testimony to the ingenuity and determination of humans in a time of crisis. But vaccines alone cannot resolve the pandemic, or heal the damage it has caused.

States need not only to distribute these vaccines equitably all over the world – they need to rebuild economies, repair the damage done by the pandemic, and address the gaps that it has exposed.

We face three very different possible futures:

  • We can emerge from this crisis in an even worse state than when it began – and be even less well prepared for the next shock to our societies.
  • We can struggle mightily to get back to normal – but normal is what brought us to where we are today.
  • Or we can recover better.

The medical vaccines that are being developed will hopefully eventually deliver us from COVID-19, albeit not for many months yet. But they will not prevent or cure the socio-economic ravages that have resulted from the pandemic, and aided its spread.

But there is a vaccine to hunger, poverty, inequality, and possibly – if it is taken seriously – to climate change, as well as to many of the other ills that face humanity.

It is a vaccine we developed in the wake of previous massive global shocks, including pandemics, financial crises and two World Wars.

The name of that vaccine is human rights. Its core ingredients are embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 72nd anniversary we celebrate tomorrow, on Human Rights Day. The Universal Declaration is made actionable through the obligations that almost all States have undertaken by ratifying one or both of the International Covenants spanning all five areas of human rights.

The Universal Declaration also gave birth to other important international treaties to better protect the rights of specific groups such as children, women, people with disabilities and migrant workers; and ones aiming to tackle forms of discrimination which lead to the greater inequalities, poverty and lack of development that have fed and fertilized the socio-economic devastation caused by COVID-19.

COVID-19 has shone a stark spotlight on our failure to uphold those rights to the best of our ability, not just because we couldn’t, but because we neglected to – or chose not to.

The failure of many countries to invest sufficiently in universal and primary healthcare, in accordance with the right to health, has been exposed as extremely short-sighted. These vital preventive measures are costly, but nothing like as costly as failing to invest in them has proved to be.

Many governments failed to act quickly or decisively enough to halt the spread of COVID-19. Others refused to take it seriously, or were not fully transparent about its spread.

Astoundingly, even to this day, some political leaders are still playing down its impact, disparaging the use of simple measures such as wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings. A few political figures are even still talking casually of “herd immunity,” as if the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives is a cost that can be easily borne for the sake of the greater good. Politicizing a pandemic in this way is beyond irresponsible – it is utterly reprehensible.

Worse still, rather than bringing us together, the response to the pandemic has in some places led to further division. Scientific evidence and processes have been discounted, and conspiracy theories and disinformation have been sown and allowed – or encouraged – to thrive.

These actions have plunged a knife into the heart of that most precious commodity, trust. Trust between nations, and trust within nations. Trust in government, trust in scientific facts, trust in vaccines, trust in the future. If we are to bring about a better world in the wake of this calamity, as our ancestors undoubtedly did in the wake of World War II, we have to rebuild that trust in each other.

It has been shocking, but sadly not at all surprising, to see the disproportionate toll of COVID-19 on individuals and groups who are marginalized and suffer discrimination – in particular people of African descent, those from ethnic, national or religious minorities, and indigenous peoples. This has been the case in some of the world’s richest countries, where the mortality rate of some racial and ethnic minorities has been up to three times that of the overall population.

When COVID-19 hit, members of discriminated groups and indigenous peoples were over-exposed to contagion because of their low-paid and precarious work in specific industries. Many of the people we suddenly started to recognize and refer to as essential – health care workers, cleaners, transport workers, shop employees – come from such minorities.

They were also under-protected because of limited access to health-care and social protections, such as sick leave and unemployment or furlough pay. They were less able to isolate themselves once infected – due to inadequate living conditions, limited access to sanitation, the inability to work from home. This meant the virus could spread much more easily within their communities, and from those communities back into wider society.

Over the past 11 months, the poor have become poorer, and those suffering systemic discrimination have fared worst of all.

Children in homes with limited or no Internet access or computer equipment have fallen behind in their education, or dropped out of it altogether, with girls especially badly affected. In terms of basic economic security, employment, education, housing and food, the pandemic is having a negative impact that is so vast and so wide-ranging it is almost impossible for us to grasp its enormity.

Had adequate social and economic protections been in place for a much higher proportion of the world’s population, in poor countries and in rich ones – had we applied the human rights vaccine – we would not be in such a bad state as we are today. COVID-19 has very clearly demonstrated that inequalities and discrimination not only harm the individuals who are directly affected, and unfairly impacted – they create shock waves that ripple across the whole of society.

This was shown most graphically when the coronavirus ripped its way through shockingly ill-prepared and underequipped institutions such as care homes for older people and people with disabilities, orphanages, migrant dormitories and prisons. A compelling case, if ever there was one, for better regulated institutions and increased alternatives to incarceration.

Those who were most critical to saving lives were themselves inexcusably put at risk, with shortages of masks and protective clothing as the pandemic surged through the wards. Health workers are only some 2-3 percent of national populations, yet they comprise around 14 percent of COVID cases reported to the WHO.

The impact on women has been particularly devastating. Because of the horrendous increase in domestic violence all across the world, and because a large proportion of women work in the informal sector and in health care. And because many were left with no choice but to withdraw from the labour market in order to care for children no longer able to go to school, and for older people and the sick. In some areas, women’s rights risk being set back decades, including through more limited access to sexual and reproductive rights.

If we are to recover better, women will need to play a much greater role in decision-making and priority-setting. It is no coincidence that in a world where so few countries have women leaders, several of the countries viewed as having handled the pandemic most effectively were in fact led by women.

Discrimination also lies at the heart of another of 2020’s defining features, when racial injustice and police brutality were brought sharply into focus by the killing of George Floyd and the worldwide protests that followed. In many countries, we saw a burgeoning realization of persistent racial injustice and systemic racism, raising unresolved histories of racist oppression, and demanding far-reaching structural changes.

In countries in conflict, COVID has added an additional layer to already multi-faceted human rights calamities. In Yemen, a perfect storm of five years of conflict and violations, disease, blockades, and shortage of humanitarian funding, set against an existing backdrop of poverty, poor governance and lack of development, is pushing the country remorselessly towards full-scale famine. There has been no shortage of warnings about what will happen in Yemen in the coming months, but a distracted world is doing little to prevent this very preventable disaster.

Rights to free expression, to assemble and to participate in public life have been battered during the pandemic. Not because of warranted restrictions on movement to constrain the spread of COVID, but by the actions of some governments taking advantage of the situation to shut down political dissent and criticism, including by arresting civil society actors and journalists. Some appear to have also been using COVID fears and restrictions as a way to tilt elections in favour of the ruling party.

The contribution of civil society to surviving the pandemic and recovering better once it is over, will be absolutely vital, and the curtailing of civil society’s contributions is one of the surest ways of undermining that recovery, by removing one of the key remedies.

The pandemic has left us exposed, vulnerable, and weakened. Yet, in its devastation, it has also provided clear insights on how we can turn disaster into an opportunity to reset our priorities and improve our prospects for a better future.

Even with stretched resources, the main ingredient that we need to build that future is political will. The will to put our money where it is most needed – not wanted, needed. The will to fight corruption, because in many countries, even very poor countries, there is more money available, but much is lost when it goes straight into the pockets of a few. We need to address inequality, including with tax reforms that could help fund major socio-economic improvements.

Similarly, richer countries need to help poorer countries survive this crisis and recover better. Repairing the frayed system of multilateralism will be essential to manage the recovery. The work must begin at home, but leaders in powerful countries need to once again recognize that, more than ever, our world can only meet global challenges through global cooperation.

Narrow nationalistic responses will simply undermine collective recovery. The first test of this will be our ability to ensure that new COVID vaccines and tools reach everyone who needs them. The pandemic has highlighted over and over again that no one is safe until everyone is safe.

Will we seize this moment to devise ways to recover better? Will we properly apply the human rights vaccine that can help us build more resilient, prosperous and inclusive societies? Will we take the immediate necessary steps to combat the biggest existential threat of all, climate change?

Let’s hope so. Because if we do not, especially with regard to climate change, 2020 will simply be the first step on the road to further calamity.

We have been warned.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville – + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.orgor Ravina Shamdasani – + 41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.orgorLiz Throssell– + 41 22 917 9296 / ethrossell@ohchr.orgor Marta Hurtado – + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org

Tag and share – Twitter: @UNHumanRights and Facebook: unitednationshumanrights


[Repost] Southeast Asian Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief – Newsletter | July – December 2020

10 December 2020

MPs call for ASEAN’s joint action on freedom of religion or belief in Southeast Asia

On 2 December, parliamentarians from Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Thailand came together to discuss ways to increase collaboration to advance freedom of religion or belief in Southeast Asia. The parliamentarians are part of the Southeast Asia Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (SEAPFoRB), a working group of parliamentarians committed to improving freedom of religion or belief in the region. 

Among the many issues, parliamentarians discussed the rise of religious intolerance, hate speech and violent extremism, the discrimination and persecution of religious minorities, increased ethnoreligious nationalism, and the politicization of religion. Some challenges have worsened during the COVID-19, particularly scapegoating and hate speech against religious minorities, and increased restrictions on religious worship under the pretext of social distancing, SEAPFoRB members said. 

The SEAPFoRB virtual meeting 2020 was hosted by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB) 

Read the statement here.

For the rest of the newsletter, please click here.


[Repost] UN Human Rights – Civil Society Weekly Update 47 (2020)

23 November 2020

We have extracted some interesting excerpts from UN Human Rights – Civil Society Weekly Update 47 (2020):


We are pleased to share with you a set of indicators developed by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association, M. Clément Voule, which were launched on the 7th month anniversary of the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic by WHO. These indicators aim to measure State’s compliance with international standards regarding civic space, peaceful assembly, and political participation during public health emergencies.  These indicators are available in the following formats: 

1)      10 printable assessment cards:  they can be used by field presences and civil society actors to measure the degree of conformity of measures taken by governments to tackle COVID19 and their impact on the civic space in general. They are available in English, French and Spanish and downloadable under toolbox section here.

2)      An online survey (in ENGLISHFRENCH and SPANISH). Field presences and civil society can carry out their assessment online and share their results with the Special Rapporteur preferably before 30 November 2020. The results of this survey will be fed into the preparation of a dedicated report on “protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests during crisis situations”, which the Special Rapporteur was tasked with by Resolution A/HRC/44/L.11 adopted at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council. This report will be presented to the HRC in June 2022. 


In its Resolution 44/7, the Human Rights Council requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to consult Member States and other relevant stakeholders in order to prepare and submit to its forty-seventh session an analytical study on the promotion and the protection of the rights of older persons in the context of climate change.  Accordingly, we would welcome your inputs to the study by e-mail to bschachter@ohchr.org and miyer@ohchr.org by no later than 31 December 2020. We would also welcome your kind assistance in circulating this call for inputs as widely as possible within your networks.  In formulating inputs, you are welcome to respond, as appropriate, to the attached questionnaire. For environmental considerations, electronic submissions are encouraged and we ask that responses not exceed five pages. Please submit contributions in MS Word or compatible format in either of the official working languages of the United Nations (French or English). Inputs received will be posted on our website.