Press Release: The Sombath Initiative

The Sombath Initiative has issued a letter to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop calling for increased pressure on the Lao government to more seriously address the disappearance of Sombath Somphone and related issues during this week’s Australia-Lao human rights dialogue.

Publicly launched in December, 2014, The Sombath Initiative seeks to resolve the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, and to carry forward his ideas and ideals. Lee Rhiannon, the Senator for New South Wales, serves on its Advisory Board.

The letter urges the dialogue be used to raise questions for which there have yet to be satisfactory responses. These include why there have been no updates on the investigation into Sombath’s disappearance for over 18 months, even thought Lao authorities insist they are actively pursuing the case.

During the recent United Nations Universal Periodic Review for Laos in Geneva, Australia called on Laos to “Conduct an urgent and credible police investigation into Mr Sombath’s disappearance and communicate the findings, including to address any suspicions of government involvement in his abduction.”

The letter also asks why the Lao government, which aggressively solicits international aid, including significant contributions from Australia, is steadfastly refusing assistance for this investigation.

The full letter is below.  See for more information.

Contact: [email protected]




                                                            02 March 2015


The Honourable Julie Bishop

Minister of Foreign Affairs

PO Box 6022

House of Representative, Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600 AUSTRALIA


Re: Australia-Laos Human Rights Dialogue


Dear Minister,

Firstly, allow us to commend the Australian government’s previous efforts regarding the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, including Robert Carr’s raising the issue with Lao authorities in February, 2013; the Parliamentary motion calling for a credible investigation on 26 March 2014; and most recently, Australia’s recommendations made at the Lao PDR’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva on 20 January 2015.

We request that you continue these efforts during the upcoming Australia-Laos Human Rights Dialogue to be held in Canberra next month. Specific issues or questions put to the Lao delegation could include:

  • Given assurances by the Lao government that it continues to take the investigation into Sombath’s abduction seriously, why have there been no updates, either public or private, in over 18 months?
  • Why did the Lao government ask for suggestions regarding the case at the recent Universal Periodic Review, while ignoring all those made previously?
  • Why does the Lao government, which actively solicits international aid in nearly every other sector, steadfastly refuse assistance for this investigation?
  • How is the international community to believe the Lao government will earnestly address more complex human rights issues, while it ignores this most prominent one?
  • When will the Lao government ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance as it agreed to do in the previous cycle of the Universal Periodic Review?
  • When might the Lao government extend an invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, or the Rapporteurs on the Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association and the Freedom of Opinion and Expression?
  • When might the Lao government ease restrictions on civil society and related institutions, and allow human rights organisations to operate within the country?

Those familiar with the Universal Periodic Review indicate it is rare for individual cases to be raised. Yet Sombath Somphone was directly included in recommendations by Australia and nine other nations, with an additional five countries making specific reference to cases of enforced disappearance.

It is clear that the Lao government would like the case of Sombath Somphone’s disappearance to also disappear. However, its centrality to the broader context of human rights and civil society in the Lao PDR mandates that should not be allowed to happen.

For these reasons, we sincerely request that you and your government firmly raise these issues at every opportunity during the upcoming Australia-Laos Human Rights Dialogue.



The Sombath Initiative


The Sombath Initiative was publicly launched in December, 2014 with two main objectives: 1) To resolve the case of Sombath Somphone’s disappearance, and 2) To carry forward Sombath’s ideas and ideals. Members of the Advisory Board include:

▪ Walden Bello, Member of the Philippine House of Representatives, Akbayan Party

▪ PaulEmile Dupret, Political Advisor, European United LeftNordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)

▪ Murray Hiebert, Chair of Southeast Asia Studies, Center for Strategic & International Studies

▪ Angkhana Neelapaijit, Founder, Justice for Peace Foundation

▪ Lee Rhiannon, Senator for New South Wales, Australian Greens Party

▪ Charles Santiago, Member of Parliament, Democratic Action Party, Malaysia; Chairperson, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

▪ Ng Shui Meng, spouse of Sombath Somphone

Note: Members serve in a personal capacity. Professional affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.