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Australia/Laos: Letter On the Abduction of Sombath Somphone

Australia/Laos: Australian Scholars' Letter On the Abduction of Sombath Somphone

Senator the Hon Bob Carr
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Senate
Parliament House,
Canberra ACT 2600 

June 4, 2013

RE: The 15 December 2012 Abduction of Lao National Sombath Somphone in Vientiane, Lao PDR

Dear Minister,

We, the undersigned Australian and Australia-based scholars and researchers, hereby express our grave concern over the December 15, 2012 abduction and disappearance of Lao civil society leader, Sombath Somphone, in Vientiane, Lao PDR. Mr. Somphone has now been missing for 170 days.

Sombath Somphone is internationally recognized for his highly innovative work in the field of sustainable and equitable development, notably through his leadership of the Lao civil society organization PADETC, the Participatory Development Training Center. He is one of the most outstanding public intellectuals of contemporary Laos-a person of national, regional and international reputation, and an inspiration to Lao youth. For his deep commitment and effective work on behalf of Laos' poor communities, Sombath Somphone was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005, commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize of Asia. In his Magsaysay Award citation, Mr. Somphone was heralded for "his hopeful efforts to promote sustainable development in Laos by training and motivating its young people to become a generation of leaders."

Despite the recorded and publicly available video footage of Sombath Somphone's abduction, the official investigation into his case by the Lao authorities has to date been perfunctory at best, and has raised troubling questions.

Mr. Somphone was highly visible as an organizer of the October 2012 Asia-Europe People's Forum (AEPF), which raised the level of critical debate about development issues in Laos, but which also provoked a backlash against a number of AEPF participants by some within the Lao government. Based on the weight of informed opinion and the video footage referred to above, we fear that Sombath Somphone may have been a victim of an enforced disappearance due to his work around sustainable participatory development in Laos.

Minister Carr, we would like to sincerely thank you for raising Mr. Sombath Somphone's case with the Lao Prime Minister, Thongsing Thammavong, and Foreign Minister, Thongloun Sisoulith, during your visit to Vientiane in February 2013. We recognize that important work has been going on behind the scenes at the diplomatic level.

As concerned citizens and engaged scholars, however, we have seen the limits of a quiet approach, and now appeal to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to take a more assertive stand on Sombath Somphone's disappearance, following the lead of public statements made by the United States Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor, Hillary Clinton; and the Resolution on the Case of Sombath Somphone passed by the European Parliament in February 2013.

Since Australia is a major aid donor to the Lao PDR, and recognizing the dreadful example set by the disappearance of a person whose ideals are so fundamental to the good governance, sustainability and equitable development principles underlying our aid program, we believe Australia has a legitimate public role in voicing respectful concern at the lack of proper process in accounting for Sombath Somphone's disappearance.

In particular, we call on the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia to:

1. Make a public statement about Sombath Somphone's disappearance, calling on the Lao government to do everything in its power to account for his disappearance without further delay;

2. Place the plight of Sombath Somphone at the front end of all Australian trade, investment, and donor discussions with the Lao PDR, until Mr. Somphone is located and released to his family;

3. Request the Lao authorities to publicly reaffirm the legality and legitimacy of the work being done by Lao civil society in favour of sustainable development and social justice, in order to counter the serious intimidation which has been provoked by Sombath Somphone's disappearance;

4. Continue to impress upon the Lao authorities the need to meet their obligations under International Human Rights Law, and to uphold the rule of law within Laos as affirmed under the Constitution of the Lao PDR, amended in 2003.

We sincerely thank you for your considered attention, and respectfully request your concerted action on this matter.

Signatories:

1. Dr. James Arvanitakis
Head of the Academy at UWS
Lecturer, School of Humanities and Communication Arts
Institute for Culture and Society
University of Western Sydney

2. Dr. Keith D. Barney
Lecturer, Resources Environment and Development Group
Crawford School of Public Policy
The Australian National University 

3. Dr. Ben Boer
Emeritus Professor in Environmental Law
Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law
The University of Sydney 

4. Dr. Simon Bush
Associate Professor
Environmental Policy Group
Wageningen University, The Netherlands 

5. Dr. Nick Cheesman
Lecturer, Department of Political and Social Change
College of Asia and the Pacific
The Australian National University 

6. James Conlan
Ph.D. Candidate
School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Murdoch University 

7. Dr. Daniel Connell
Research Fellow
Resources, Environment and Development Group
Crawford School of Public Policy
The Australian National University

8. Jessie Connell
Ph.D. Candidate, Mekong Research Group
School of Geosciences
The University of Sydney 

9. Olivia Dun
Ph.D. Candidate, Mekong Research Group
School of Geosciences
The University of Sydney 

10. Dr. Robert Costanza
Chair in Public Policy
Crawford School of Public Policy
The Australian National University 

11. Dr. Robert Cramb
Reader in Agricultural and Resource Economics
The University of Queensland 

12. Dr. Simon Creak
Associate Professor
Kyoto University, Japan 

13. Dr. Wolfram Dressler
Associate Professor
Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group
Wageningen University, The Netherlands 

Formerly Senior Lecturer, Anthropology
School of Social Science
The University of Queensland 

14. Dr. Nicholas Farrelly
Research Fellow, School of International, Political and Strategic Studies
The Australian National University 

15. Dr. Colin Filer
Associate Professor, Resources Environment and Development Group
Crawford School of Public Policy
The Australian National University 

16. Dr. Robert Fisher
Senior Lecturer, School of Geosciences
University of Sydney 

17. Dr. Graham Fordham
Medical Education Unit
College of Medicine, Biology and Environment
The Australian National University 

18. Dr. Tyrell Haberkorn
Research Fellow, Department of Political and Social Change
The Australian National University 

19. Karen Hansen
Post-Graduate Student (Master of Asia-Pacific Studies)
The Australian National University 

20. Dr. Budi Hernawan
Post-Doctoral Fellow
Regulatory Institutions Network
College of Asia and the Pacific
The Australian National University 

21. Dr. Holly High
Senior Research Fellow
School of Social and Political Sciences
The University of Sydney 

22. Dr. Philip Hirsch
Professor, School of Geosciences
The University of Sydney 

23. Dr. Nerida Jarkey
Senior Lecturer, School of Languages and Cultures
The University of Sydney 

24. Dr. Brenda Kranz
International Development Manager – Southeast Asia
Office of Vice-Chancellor and Principal
The University of Sydney 

25. Dr. Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
Senior Fellow, Resources Environment and Development Group
Crawford School of Public Policy
The Australian National University 

26. Dr. Chris Lyttleton
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology
Macquarie University 

27. Dr. Sanghamitra Mahanty
Senior Research and Teaching Fellow
Resources Environment and Development Group
Crawford School of Public Policy
The Australian National University 

28. Daniel Marks
PhD. Candidate, School of Geosciences
University of Sydney 

29. Dr. John F. McCarthy
Senior Lecturer, Resources, Environment and Development Group
Crawford School of Public Policy
The Australian National University 

30. Dr. Sarah Milne
Post-Doctoral Fellow
Resources, Environment and Development Group
Crawford School of Public Policy
The Australian National University

31. Dr. Sverre Molland
Lecturer, Anthropology (Development Studies)
College of Arts and Social Sciences
The Australian National University

32. Dr. Lesley Potter
Visiting Fellow
Resources, Environment and Development Group
Crawford School of Public Policy
The Australian National University 

33. John Reid
Senior Lecturer, School of Art
he Australian National University 

34. Natalia Scurrah
Researcher, School of Geosciences
University of Sydney 

35. Dr. Sarinda Singh
Post-Doctoral Fellow
School of Social Science
The University of Queensland 

36.  Mattijs Smits
Ph.D. Candidate, School of Geosciences
University of Sydney 

37. Dr. Martin Stuart-Fox
Emeritus Professor, School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics
The University of Queensland 

38. Dr. Danielle Tan
Research Fellow, International Institute for Asian Studies
Leiden, The Netherlands 

Formerly Post-Doctoral Fellow
Department of Political and Social Change
Australian National University 

39. Dr. Jonathan Unger
Professor, Department of Political and Social Change
Head, Contemporary China Centre
The Australian National University 

40. Sri Wahyuningroem
Ph.D. Scholar, Department of Political and Social Change
The Australian National University 

41. Dr. Andrew Walker
Professor, Department of Political and Social Change
Deputy Dean and Associate Dean (Education)
College of Asia and the Pacific
The Australian National University 

42. Dr. Doracie Zoleta-Nantes
Research Fellow, Resources, Environment and Development Group
Crawford School of Public Policy
The Australian National University 

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

ENDS

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