Amnesty International Report 2006 - Laos
|Publication Date||23 May 2006|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2006 - Laos, 23 May 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/447ff7ae1a.html [accessed 7 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
The internal armed conflict with predominantly ethnic Hmong rebel groups continued. The fate of hundreds of Hmong civilians who surrendered to the authorities was not known. At least four prisoners of conscience remained in detention and one long-term political prisoner died in prison. Reports of torture and ill-treatment continued. An increasing number of death sentences were handed down, but no executions were known to have been carried out. Two people were sentenced to prison terms for refusing to renounce their religion, and suppression of religious practice continued in several provinces.
Assessment of the human rights situation was hampered by continuing restrictions on freedom of expression and severe limitations on access by independent observers and human rights monitors to the country.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended in January that domestic violence and rape be made criminal offences in Laos.
In June Laos ratified two International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions for ending child labour. However, Laos still did not ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it had signed in December 2000.
The World Bank gave the final go-ahead to the Nam Theun 2 dam project, despite continuing concerns raised by environmental groups on its possible impact on the thousands of people needing resettlement and the livelihoods of many others.
Opium poppy cultivation and opium production continued to decline substantially, as Laos moved towards the goal of becoming opium-free by the end of 2005. However, concerns arose that this had resulted in an estimated 65,000 members of upland Lao communities being displaced to areas where their basic needs were not met.
Ethnic Hmong conflict
Covert visits by international journalists to rebel areas occasionally highlighted the plight of ethnic Hmong rebels and their families in the decades-old internal armed conflict. Attacks by the Lao military on rebel groups and their families were reported.
Groups of ethnic Hmong civilians, including women, children and elderly people, surrendered to the authorities throughout 2005 because they were unable to find food in the jungle and lacked basic medical care. It was unclear what became of them. In June a group of 173 surrendered to the authorities at Chong Thuang village in Xieng Khouang province. The surrender was witnessed by two US nationals from the US-based Fact Finding Commission and two ethnic Hmong US nationals supporting the Hmong. The four were subsequently arrested and deported. The surrendering civilians were taken away by soldiers and their fate and whereabouts remained unknown. In October it was reported that two individuals in Chong Thuang village were arrested and tortured and another was unlawfully killed by Lao military and police in connection with the surrender.
Despite a public statement by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the UN was ready to provide humanitarian assistance to such groups, the authorities made no requests, and UN agencies were not given access.
In October, 242 Hmong people in around 43 families surrendered in Bolikhamxay province. They reportedly received virtually no humanitarian assistance. The authorities denied that surrenders of people from ethnic Hmong rebel groups had taken place, claiming that they were local people not connected to rebel groups.
The internal conflict continued to cause hundreds of ethnic Hmong to flee to Thailand, where they joined other Hmong refugees. At the end of 2005 more than 6,000 Lao Hmong were living in Phetchabun province.
In February a long overdue report from Laos was considered by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The Committee reiterated calls for the authorities to allow UN agencies access to areas where members of ethnic Hmong groups in conflict with the authorities have taken refuge, and to provide emergency humanitarian assistance.
Prisoners of conscience Thongpaseuth Keuakoun and Seng-aloun Phengphanh remained in detention in Samkhe prison. They were among five members of the Lao Students' Movement for Democracy arrested in October 1999 for attempting to hold a peaceful demonstration in Vientiane and were reportedly sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. The identity of two other members of the group, Keochay and Bouavanh Chanhmanivong, continued to be disputed by the authorities; they were reportedly sentenced to five years' imprisonment and due for release in October 2004. However, there was no confirmation of their release. The fifth group member died in detention in 2001 following torture by prison guards.
Pangtong Chokbengboun, who was seriously ill but denied appropriate medical treatment by the authorities, died in detention in March. His co-detainee Sing Chanthakoummane remained in detention in harsh conditions. Both men were arrested in 1975 and detained without charge or trial for 17 years for "re-education" before being sentenced to life imprisonment after an unfair trial in 1992.
Freedom of religious practice
Despite the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, several denominations faced varying degrees of harassment and persecution, particularly evangelical Christian groups. There were reports of Christians being subjected to harsh treatment and forced to renounce their faith.
- Eleven men from the ethnic Bru minority were arrested in Houeihoy Neua village, Muong Phine district of Savannakhet Province, while taking part in Easter celebrations in March. Nine were released after signing renunciations of their faith. They had reportedly spent 48 hours in a rice plantation with their hands tied and without food or water. Two others – Khamchanh, a former village chief and local Communist Party member, and Vanthong – were subsequently sentenced to three years' imprisonment on charges of possessing illegal weapons. The real reason for their imprisonment appeared to be their refusal to renounce their faith.
Laos retained the death penalty for a wide range of offences and an increasing number of death sentences were imposed. Twenty-six people, including one woman, were sentenced to death for drug trafficking offences, bringing the number of people on death row to at least 60.
No executions were known to have taken place.