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The Worst of the Worst 2012 - Laos

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 4 July 2012
Cite as Freedom House, The Worst of the Worst 2012 - Laos, 4 July 2012, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis 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.

Population: 6,259,000
Capital: Vientiane

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 6
Status: Not Free

Ten-Year Ratings Timeline for Year under Review
(Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Status)
Year Under Review2002200320042005200620072008200920102011

2011 Key Developments: Laos held elections in 2011 for its one-party legislature, which reelected Choummaly Sayasone for a second term as the country's president. Popular anger over plans for a major dam on the Mekong River in Laos led a four-country regional body to postpone approval for the project, but construction activity reportedly continued during the year. Meanwhile, a group of ethnic Hmong refugees who were repatriated from Thailand in 2009 and 2010 remained missing despite inquiries by foreign diplomats.

Political Rights: Laos is not an electoral democracy. The 1991 constitution makes the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) the sole legal political party and grants it a leading role at all levels of government. The LPRP vets all candidates for election to the National Assembly, whose members elect the president. In 2011, the legislature was increased in size from 115 members to 132, supposedly to make it more inclusive, but the body continues to hold little real power. Corruption by government officials is widespread, and laws aimed at curbing corruption are rarely enforced. Government regulation of virtually every facet of life provides corrupt officials with ample opportunities to demand bribes.

Civil Liberties: Freedom of the press is severely restricted. Any journalist who criticizes the government or discusses controversial political topics faces legal punishment. The state owns all media. While very few Lao have access to the internet, its content is not heavily censored because the government lacks the capabilities to monitor and block most web traffic. Religious freedom is tightly constrained. Officials continue to jail Christians or expel them from their villages for proselytizing. Several Christian pastors were arrested in Khammouan Province in early 2011, and advocacy groups reported that Lao and Vietnamese troops had killed four ethnic Hmong Christians living near the border in April. Academic freedom is not respected. University professors cannot teach or write about democracy, human rights, or other politically sensitive topics. Government surveillance of the population has been scaled back in recent years, but searches without warrants still occur. The government severely restricts freedom of assembly. Laws prohibit participation in organizations that engage in demonstrations or public protests, or that in any other way cause "turmoil or social instability." While Laos is home to some domestic nongovernmental welfare and professional groups, they are prohibited from pursuing political agendas and are subject to strict state control. All unions must belong to the official Federation of Lao Trade Unions. The courts are corrupt and controlled by the LPRP. Security forces often illegally detain suspects; poor prison conditions and the use of torture remain serious problems. Discrimination against members of ethnic minority tribes is common. The Hmong, who fielded a guerrilla army allied with U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, are particularly distrusted by the government and face harsh treatment. All land is owned by the state, though citizens have rights to use it. On some occasions, the government has awarded land to certain citizens with government connections, money, or links to foreign companies. With no fair or robust system to protect land rights or ensure compensation for displacement, development projects often spur public resentment. The 2011 decision to delay approval for the Xayaburi dam was considered a milestone for environmental protection and resettlement rights in Laos, but it had little practical effect, as work reportedly continued on the project. Gender-based discrimination and abuse are widespread, and thousands of women and girls are trafficked each year for prostitution. However, the government has made some improvements in combating trafficking over the last five years, including closer cooperation with neighboring governments. A record 33 women were elected to the National Assembly in 2011.

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