EU Raises Press Freedom, NGO Concerns With Laos

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European flags fly at the entrance of the EU Commission Berlaymont building in Brussels on May 21, 2014.
European flags fly at the entrance of the EU Commission Berlaymont building in Brussels on May 21, 2014.

The European Union says it raised concerns with Laos about media controls, registration of NGOs, and other human rights issues during a bilateral dialogue in Belgium, underscoring the need for a vibrant civil society environment in the Southeast Asian state.

The EU said that at the meeting this week its representatives again highlighted the case of disappeared Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who some human rights groups suspect may have been abducted by government-linked groups when he went missing in December 2012.

“The EU stressed the importance of a vibrant civil society environment in order to contribute to the development of an inclusive and open society,” the EU said in a statement Wednesday after the May 19-20 meeting in Brussels.

It was the fifth round of talks of an annual Working Group on Human Rights and Governance between the two countries.

“In this respect the EU expressed concern regarding the limitation of freedom of expression, particularly the freedom of the media,” said the 28-member European bloc, a leading aid donor to Laos, one of the world's least-developed states.

The EU also told Laos not to drag its feet in the registration of non-governmental organizations.

“It welcomed the commitment of Lao to improve the transparency of registration of local civil society organizations but showed concern regarding how long the registration process takes,” the statement said.

On Sombath’s disappearance, a topic which the EU raises at nearly every official meeting with Laos, the representatives told the delegation from Vientiane that his “unexplained” disappearance was “of grave concern” to the group.

Sombath went missing on Dec. 15, 2012 and was last seen stopped at a police checkpoint in the Lao capital Vientiane.

Rights groups' complaints

International rights groups have accused Laos of being reluctant to investigate his enforced disappearance, saying his case has fostered a fearful environment for activists working in the country.

In a statement this week calling for the EU to make stronger ties with Laos contingent on progress on human rights issues, the International Federation for Human Rights and its affiliate the Lao Movement for Human Rights said there had been “growing fear” among Laos’s civil society groups since Sombath’s disappearance.

The groups also warned information restrictions in Laos were tightening and the registration process for civil society groups in the country was slow and subject to interference, while Lao citizens face rampant land grabbing and restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion.

“The authoritarian nature of the one-party state in Laos suppresses any open debate of ideas which would be regarded as critical or undermining state authority,” the groups said in a new report this week.

They reported that the registration process authorizing non-profit civil society organizations to operate in Laos was painfully slow, and that at times authorities had tried to influence the membership of civil society organizations’ boards or forced some to avoid sensitive words in their names.

It warned that the Lao government was continuing to “assume more control” over the flow of information in the country and that online communications were expected to be “more efficiently filtered and controlled” following the setup of a National Internet Center in 2013 with China’s support.

Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Comments (5)

hum yai

from Vientiane 2

Choummary Sayasone and his communist party will continue corrupting of Lao people till its end if there's no political reform in the country. Lao citizens need to rise up and over throw this lawless government and put their fear behind.

May 25, 2014 12:08 PM

Anonymous Reader

Outside of Laos the Meo which is one of China's ethnic minorities have nothing to do with the internal affairs of Laos.

May 24, 2014 08:56 AM

Phou Bia

Well, thanks to concerned parties around the world for their efforts to advocate human right violations in Laos. But these external voices aren't going to be effective unless the people of Laos voice their concerns internally. The people of Laos are too afraid to do anything, and the outside world cannot do much on their behalf. Laotians silence will never bring any changes in Laos. It will always be a win-win for the LPDR.

May 23, 2014 01:42 PM

Anonymous Reader

Silent people feel powerless because they are ignorant. Ignorant people are afraid. Afraid people will take no actions. No actions mean no changes. Change is not going to change itself. Think about it.

Changes got to start somewhere.

May 28, 2014 08:34 PM


from Krypton

Laos communist government would tell you "this is our country, if you don't like it.... get the f__k out!!"

May 23, 2014 12:48 PM


from USA

Any country with a free press always has less corruption issues. Lao PDR has very little free press, and she has enormous corruption problems. It appears that Laos is being taken by a bunch of gansters.

May 23, 2014 09:56 AM

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