10/13/2015, 00.00
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Vientiane cancels ASEAN NGO meeting

Laos is slated to host next year’s ASEAN summit. Civil society organisations were set to meet on the sidelines to discuss land and minority rights as well as forced disappearances. However, mentioning issues “deemed sensitive” raises fears, NGO committee says.

Vientiane (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Laos will host the ASEAN summit next year but decided against holding the meeting of civil society organisations (CSO) in Southeast Asia, a Laotian official said, citing security risks and inadequate resources as reasons.

For human rights activists, the main reason for this lies in the authoritarian nature of the Laotian state, which brooks no criticism.

Maydom Chanthanasinh, head of the Lao CSO Committee, said that a regional steering committee of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) People’s Forum (APF) would decide next month which country will host the next CSO meeting in lieu of Laos.

Last April, Laos put pressures on its CSOs not to raise human rights issues at the 2015 APF held in Malaysia. Topics especially worrying Lao officials include land seizures, the impact of dams on the environment and local populations, ethnic minority issues, and forced disappearances.

“The Lao government sent fake NGOs [nongovernment organizations]—sort of like state enterprise NGOs—to join the APF meeting in Malaysia, but we knew that they had come from the Lao government,” said Phil Robertson, Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch

One of things Laos has tried to do is to remove the name of Sombath Somphone from the list of unsolved human rights cases. Somphone, a Laotian civil rights activist and the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award* recipient, disappeared on 15 December 2012, after he was taken into police custody.

In light of this, “There should be no illusions about the reality of the prevailing fear within Lao society [of] mentioning issues that are deemed sensitive,” said the Regional Steering Committee of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference in a ‘Statement of Concern’ issued on 10 September.

* Instituted to honour the late Filipino President Ramon Magsaysay, the Ramon Magsaysay Award has often been considered the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

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