Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 08:59 GMT

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2003 - Laos

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 14 April 2004
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2003 - Laos, 14 April 2004, available at: [accessed 31 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.

Legal restrictions42

Article 31 of the Laos Constitution states that "Lao citizens have the rights and freedom of speech, press and assembly; and have the right to set up associations and to stage demonstrations which are not contrary to the law". Nevertheless, these rights are limited by the Lao Penal Code which forbids slandering the State, distorting party or state policies, inciting disorder, or propagating information or opinions that weaken the State and participation in an organization for the purpose of demonstrations, protest marches, or other acts that cause "turmoil or social instability", providing for imprisonment of between one and five years.

Human rights movements

These legal restrictions impede freedom of expression of Lao human rights defenders. Indeed, any person who dares express positions that are contrary to official positions or ask for democratic reforms faces systematically risk of arrest and detention.

In October 1999, five members of the "Lao Students Movement for Democracy of 26th October 1999", Mr. Thongpaseuth Keuakoun, Mr. Khamphouvieng Sisaath, Mr. Seng-Aloun Phengphanh, Mr. Bouavanh Chanhmanivong and Mr. Keochay who were among a group of people who had attempted to publicly call for the respect of human rights, the release of political prisoners, a multi-party political system and elections for a new National Assembly, were arrested and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for "generating social turmoil, endangering national security". They are currently detained in Samkhé's prison, in the province of Vientiane.

Other people who participated in similar gatherings have simply "disappeared" as is the case with 15 people arrested during a demonstration in Champassak Province, in November 2000, and whose whereabouts remain unknown.43 This is also the case with about 20 civil servants, teachers and students who took part in a pro-justice and pro-human rights gathering, in Paksé (Champassak Province), in October 2001. After being detained in a detention center of the special police, they were led to an unknown place and no more information has since been available concerning their case.

Moreover, setting up human rights defence groups is still impossible. Although the Constitution provides citizen with the right to organize and join associations, in practice this right is severely restricted. The Government registers and controls all associations and prohibits associations that are critical of the government.

Social movements

Despite Lao's signature of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2000, trade union freedom still does not exist. The Laos authorities have taken no action regarding the two core International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions on freedom of association (n° 87 and n° 98).

Even though the 1994 Labour Code states that "workers and employers shall have the rights to organize and belong to any mass and social organization that has been formed lawfully" the practice shows that the government does not register worker's organizations that are not affiliated to the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU), the single national centre, which is directly controlled by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP).

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website ( was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

42. See Open Letter to the Prime Minister of the Lao People's Democratic Republic on 20th August 2003.

43. Savath Khanthong, Visiane Bouaphanh, Bounma Thavisay, Somchay Phiseth, Somphone Vongphanh, Khamphanh Nanthavong, Khampha Panya, Phetphongphanh, Khamphanh Khaosaat, Bay Vongsay, Say Kéosavang, Bounmy Namdy, Touy Vongsavang, Boungnong Vankham.

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