Vientiane (AsiaNews) - The government of Laos has failed to address the country's systemic human rights problems, Human Rights Watch (Hrw) said today in a critique of Lao's human rights record submitted to the United Nations. Hrw highlighted several human rights issues that deserve international attention, including severe restrictions on fundamental liberties, absence of labor rights, and detention of suspected drug users without charge in abusive drug centers.
Laos will appear for the country's second Universal Periodic Review in October 2014 at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Of particular concern is the forced disappearance of civil society leader Sombath Somphone (pictured), in Vientiane in December 2012 after he was stopped by the police. "The Lao authorities are defying international concerns - said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director Hrw - by ignoring calls to respond to the activist enforced disappearance."
The Lao government has not made tangible changes toward meeting commitments made during its first UPR session in 2010. Laos should ratify core international human rights conventions; end restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and the media; and bring its labor laws and regulations into line with core labor standards of the International Labor Organization. People involved with unauthorized public protests have been sentenced to long prison terms. "Lao people fear their government because they know officials can act with near total impunity" Robertson said.
However, persecution and human rights violations also occur because of faith, especially against Christians. Three Laotian students, aged between 14 and 15 years, were unable to take their final exams at the end of the school year because of their Christian faith. The incident occurred in Savannakhet province, in central Laos, scene of previous incidents of abuse and marginalisation against the Christian religious minority.
When the Communists took over in 1975, they expelled foreign missionaries and placed the country's Christian minority under strict controls. Religious practice has been restricted ever since. Most Laotians (67 per cent) are Buddhist out of six million people. Christians make up about 2 per cent - of these Catholics are 0.7 per cent. Protestants are especially targeted for religious persecution. AsiaNews has covered similar cases in the past, including farmers deprived of food for the faith as well as clergymen arrested for their activities. Since April 2011, things got progressively worse after protests by Hmong groups were violently suppressed.