LAO PDR: Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discusses Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Italy with NGOs

Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination

27 February 2012

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an interactive dialogue with non-governmental organizations from Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Italy. The reports of those two countries will be reviewed by the Committee this week.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic raised a number of issues concerning the situation of indigenous minorities, saying that the Hmong population faced systematic violence and discrimination by the Lao Government. Deforestation was affecting the rights of indigenous people. Ethnic minorities were often subjected to forced displacement. Young girls and women faced a high risk of sexual trafficking.

Speaking about the situation in Italy, non-governmental organizations raised the issue of discrimination against Roma people and other migrants and asylum seekers. There was no legal aid provided to migrants and asylum seekers. There was also a lack of will from the authorities to address hate and racist speech efficiently. Children were also victims of discrimination in Italy and in order to eliminate regional inequalities, the State should describe the basic level of children’s rights to be respected throughout the territory.

Speaking during the discussion were representatives from the Alliance for Democracy in Laos, Indigenous, Congress of World Hmong People, Hmong Chaofa States of Laos, Fondazione Basso, Sezione Internationale, Volontariato Internationale per lo Sviluppo, Gruppo di Lavoro per la Convention on the Rights of the Child, Associazione Antigone, Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione, Open Society Justice Initiative, and Unione Forense per la Tutela dei Diritti Umani.

The next meeting of the Committee will take place on Tuesday, 28 February at 3 p.m. when the Committee will begin its consideration of the combined sixteenth to eightieth periodic report of Lao People’s Democratic Republic (CERD/C/LAO/16-18).

Statements on Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Alliance for Democracy in Laos said that the Lao Government violated several articles of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. There was no political freedom or free elections in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The Constitution of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic stated that the ruling party was the main political party. On the situation of women in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, women were often victims of sexual exploitation, forced labour, and human trafficking, and often contracted sexually transmissible diseases. A high number of young people faced unemployment, and therefore turned to violence, or tried to move to neighbouring countries. This situation led to an increase of human trafficking.

Indigenous said that deforestation was a giant issue affecting the rights of indigenous people. The lack of freedom of expression constituted one of the main issues in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and was a major violation of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. There was also a lack of information on the international convention ratified by the Government, and the population was therefore not aware of its rights.

Congress of World Hmong People said that massacres and murders of indigenous Hmong people, including women and children, were still ongoing in the Xaysombun Administrative Zone territory in the Phou Bia Mountain area. Poisonous chemical agents had been used against Hmong people, including children, leading to severe health consequences for the population. The goal of those attacks, led by the Laos Army and Vietnamese Military battalions, was to wipe out the Hmong in the region completely by 2015. The social and cultural rights of the Hmong people were constantly threatened.

Hmong Chaofa States of Laos said that it had evidence of systematic violations of the rights of the Hmong people living in the jungle, including murder by the Government.

Questions by Experts

REGIS DE GOUTTE, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Lao People’s Democratic Republic, asked what were the ethnic communities represented by the non-governmental organizations that took the floor. He also asked for more details about cases of rape and abuse perpetrated by the Governement in 2004, and about the official inquiry concluding that those allegations were false and only intended to discredit the image of the Government. He then asked for details on the trafficking of young girls in Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Mr. De Goutte also asked for more details about whether or not the Government planned on establishing a national human rights institution. He asked about forced displacement of ethnic groups for the realization of economic projects.

A Committee Expert asked whether the Government of Lao People’s Democratic Republic recognized in its legislation the concept of indigenous peoples. Another Expert asked about the situation of Hmong refugees in the country. The Hmong population were historically the minority the most subjected to racial discrimination. Many Hmong people had been displaced and now lived in difficult conditions.

Response from Non-Governmental Organizations

Alliance for Democracy in Laos said that there were 50 ethnic groups in Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and that it had a mandate to represent them all. A national human rights institution would be an important mechanism for the protection of the rights of the Lao people, but nothing had been done so far.

On the recognition of the concept of indigenous peoples, a speaker said that the Government did not recognize this concept, although many people did consider themselves as indigenous.

Hmong people had been forcibly displaced for the construction of a dam. This had been done disregarding the rights of minorities and disregarding the impact of this construction on the environment. Indigenous people living in the mountains or the forest were often displaced and deprived of their traditional ways of life.

For more details, see the OHCHR website here.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sengathit Keota
    Mar 09, 2012 @ 16:29:27

    I would like to post the Article from Asia Times on 2 February 2012:

    Off the air in Laos
    By Beaumont Smith

    VIENTIANE – Amid an unprecedented flurry of public debate and critique of government policies and actions, Lao authorities abruptly canceled a popular call-in radio program in late January without any public explanation.

    The program, Talk of the News, ran for four consecutive years and encouraged the public to comment on issues of the day through often anonymous phone calls. The host, Ounkeo Souksavanh, an urbane ex-print journalist found himself uniquely enmeshed in the Lao population’s complaints and grievances.

    Social justice, overt corruption and land grabs were daily fare on Talk of the News, a rarity in Laos’ authoritarian context. While many wondered when the boot would drop on the program, Lao listeners had grown accustomed to this point of light in the

    otherwise drab government-controlled media landscape.

    Summoned by the director of Lao National Radio, Ounkeo was told that Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Bosengkham Vongdara had issued the cancellation order. “I was shocked. I had no warning,” said Ounkeo. “Suddenly I was told by the head of national radio that he had been told to cancel my show. I think the order came from high up in the Ministry of Information and Culture,” Ounkeo said.

    “I take my program from the daily news. I open the show by reading out segments from the Lao press and then open the lines for people to comment. Recently people have been saying strange things. When many nightclubs were re-opened, someone called to say, ‘well what do you expect – you know who owns them’ and then he hung up.” The rub was that they are likely owned by senior government officials.

    “Later, someone called me and warned me not to give space to the public. But it’s an open line program, so people complain about many things; the Vietnamese taking land from veterans for a golf course, the loss of farming land on Don Chang [an island outside of Vientiane]. What can I do?”

    Hopes that Laos may emulate Myanmar’s recent tentative moves to greater press freedom, or that the ruling Communist Party might begin to move towards more enlightened policies, have been snuffed out with the program’s closure. The cancelation and continued human-rights abuses indicate that democracy is still elusive.

    “Who [demanded the closure] is not the issue here, but there is no legal reasons at all. There is no warning about the mistakes. This case reflects that the Lao government limits on people’s freedom expression [and is] violating the national constitution. It expresses that the power belongs to only the government. In fact that the constitution says power belong to people, by people and for people [sic]” one anonymous fan posted to the program’s website.

    Many Lao used the anonymity of radio to bring into question what one long time Vientiane observer has called “patrimonial politics”, referring to the dominance of several influential families in Laos’ politics and economy.

    Some suggest the last straw may have been a live-to-air interview with a delegation of farmers from the Boloven plateau, a well-known coffee growing region in the south. They insisted that a Vietnamese coffee company had been given permission to plant 150 hectares of coffee.

    Over time, however, the area had expanded into 1,000 hectares. The farmers alleged the district governor had taken bribes from the company to look the other way, and that he had recently been seen driving a new luxury car, which they insinuated was part of his pay-off.

    That particular program attracted a huge audience and might have contributed to the subsequent deluge of the National Assembly’s hot-line with similar land-grabbing complaints.

    Before the program’s airing, Ounkeo had already achieved a degree of Robin Hood-like fame for giving voice to poor versus rich social justice issues. For instance, he took his microphone into the city’s jail to interview a woman wrongly accused of arson following a neighborhood feud with a wealthy Lao family. The woman was subsequently released.

    The show’s cancelation caused unprecedented commentary among Laos’ online community. Members of Lao Links, a Lao language online bulletin board, expressed dismay and regret that “society won’t be able to listen to this program anymore because it is as same as a big microphone to speak out about social problems”, one online contributor wrote.

    “It’s the hot issue on Lao Links right now,” engineer Khantone Soumiphone said. “We are all wondering why it happened and we are very concerned. It was the only source of interesting news and discussion about important development issues … The government says it is pro-development but closes the only program that discusses the results. It doesn’t make sense.”

    After the program’s closure, Ounkeo held discussions with European Union charge d’affaires Michel Goffin, who apparently told him that the issue of press freedom would be raised at the forthcoming 9th Asia-Europe Summit (ASEM) to be held in Vientiane in November. Goffin did not answer this correspondent’s request for confirmation that he made the comment.

    Ironically, some of the complaints raised on Ounkeo’s radio show were about the agricultural land on Don Chang. A luxury hotel is scheduled to be constructed in time for the ASEM meeting on land that previously provided much of Vientiane’s fresh produce.

    Meanwhile, less than a week after the program’s cancelation, the front page headline in Laos English language daily newspaper, Vientiane Times, announced that the party was poised to “bolster propaganda at grassroots level”.

    The Ministry of Information and Culture’s Propaganda and Training Board is “to accelerate the establishment of mobile propaganda teams … to penetrate grassroots communities”. The new propaganda drive, some suggest, is a government reaction to the open public hostility to its policies and actions often aired on Ounkeo’s program.

    Those grievances are apparently mounting. It is an open secret that many Lao provinces still function as modern-day fiefdoms for Lao political leaders to extract money and privilege. “Gate keeping, influence peddling and rent seeking are national sports disguised as development,” said agro-economist Jeff Casey from Bangkok.

    While Laos’ gross domestic product has grown in recent years, so too has the national Gini coefficient, a statistical measure of economic inequality. Laos remains one of the world’s poorest countries and mushrooming mansions owned by government officials and the sheer number of new luxury cars on Vientiane’s roads have raised uncomfortable questions about who are the real beneficiaries of the communist leadership’s development agenda.

    Some Lao residents believe that the party is rattled by the spate of demonstrations against official abuse in neighboring Vietnam and the rise in local complaints lodged via the National Assembly’s hot-line. Most of those complaints have focused on a lack of government transparency, particularly on land issues, and systemic corruption that Ounkeo’s program not so subtly suggested taints all levels of government.

    Beaumont Smith is a freelance journalist.

    (Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

    Reply

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