Sombath Somphone, Lao NGO activist, has been disappeared since December 15, 2012. He is the founder of Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC), Vientiane, Lao PDR. He has been working for 30 years to promote sustainable development through training and educating young people.
Closed circuit video footage from police security cameras showed Mr Sombath, founder of a local non-government organisation Padetc, being stopped by traffic police at a roadside post while he was driving home from work in Vientiane, the Lao capital, in mid-December. Mr Sombath was following his Singaporean wife in a separate car but never arrived home. The government has denied he was taken into custody at the stop, which they said was a “routine” check, but grainy CCTV footage shows a man resembling Mr Sombath being driven away by uniformed Lao officials.
The UN and some western governments are preparing to put fresh questions to the Lao government over the mysterious disappearance in mid-December of the prominent education and health campaigner, after Vientiane late last week rejected suggestions by the UN of state involvement in the case.
The EU and the US have publicly called for explanation. Lady Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, last month expressed “deep concern” about Mr Sombath’s disappearance and urged the Lao government to “investigate” the case. In Washington, Victoria Nuland, state department spokeswoman, said the US had asked the government “to make every effort to locate him and figure out what’s happened”.
UN human rights officials, meanwhile, have suggested Mr Sombath was detained by the state because of his work. “We are highly concerned for his safety and believe his abduction may be related to his human rights work,” a UN human rights spokesman said in late December, noting “what appeared to be” Mr Sombath’s “enforced disappearance”, a phrase which under international law implicates the government.
In 2005, Sombath Somphone received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in recognition of his hopeful efforts to promote sustainable development in Laos by training and motivating its young people to become a generation of leaders.