Where is Sombath?
By Walden Bello*
Sombath Somphone, a widely-respected leader in education and sustainable development in the Lao PDR, and recipient of the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, disappeared on the evening of December 15th, 2012 in the Lao capital Vientiane (see http://www.sombath.org ). CCTV footage which became available 2 days later showed Sombath being stopped by traffic police, his car driven away by an unknown person, and then Sombath being taken in a pickup by 2-3 other unidentified persons.
8PM, 3 July 2013
The Foreign Correspondents' Club of ThailandPenthouse, Maneeya Center518/5 Ploenchit Road (connected to the BTS Skytrain Chitlom station)Patumwan, Bangkok 10330
If you are a community or environmental activist who may be challenging powerful vested interests or the establishment – or very often both – in your country in this region, you face a challenge that could kill you.
Candle lighting and offering of flowers to represent messages of hope, support and remembrance from all over the world for Sombath at the Lao PDR Embassy in Makati, Philippines on the 6th month since Sombath was forcibly disappeared
On the occasion of the 6th month, on 15 June, since Sombath Somphone was forcibly disappeared, a call to send messages and prayers to remember the Lao development worker yielded messages from Asia, the US and Europe. The messages are not only about remembering what happened to Sombath but are also expressions of concern about the progress of investigation into his case, urging the Lao government to ensure Sombath’s safety return soon.
Here are the messages that were sent to Focus on the Global South through email:
Bangkok/Manila/Jakarta (15 May 2013) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Focus on the Global South, The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) reiterated their call on the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and ASEAN governments to break the silence and take action on the disappearance of Laotian development worker, educator and Magsaysay award winner Sombath Somphone.
Forced or enforced disappearance is not a new phenomenon in Southeast Asia. In the Philippines hundreds of people involuntarily disappeared during the brutal martial law regime. In Indonesia, a number of political activists were abducted during the turbulent years leading up to the fall of Suharto. In Thailand, it has been nine long years since human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit went missing. Two days from now it will be the fourth month since Sombath Somphone, or Uncle Bath to the young activists in the region, was abducted. The list goes on and on without end in sight.