Decade on, wife of missing Laos activist says no closer to finding answers

Decade on, wife of missing Laos activist says no closer to finding answers

BANGKOK, THAILAND — The wife of a missing Laos activist said Tuesday that a decade on she was still no closer to finding answers over his disappearance as more than 60 human rights groups condemned Vientiane’s inaction.

Sombath Somphone, an award-winning campaigner for sustainable development, vanished on 15 December 2012 after police pulled over his vehicle at a checkpoint in the capital.

The case shone a spotlight on the reclusive communist nation’s poor human rights record, but campaigners condemned on Tuesday the lack of significant progress on the case.

“I may not even get any answers by the end of my life,” his wife Shui-Meng Ng said, adding she last received an official update in 2017.

“But I just hope the memory of Sombath, especially what he has done, who he is, continues to live on,” the 76-year-old said, speaking in Bangkok on the 10th anniversary of his disappearance.

“I don’t want to keep dwelling on the sadness of what happened,” said Ng.

She recalled how her “farm boy” husband would bring her fruit freshly picked from their garden, telling her: “See what I found, let’s have some mango for breakfast.”

Ng, who worked for the UN children’s agency UNICEF in Laos and East Timor before publishing a book on Sombath’s life last year, said her husband’s mentorship of thousands was his most important legacy.

“This is what sustains me,” she said.

But she said in Laos, “You don’t hear his name being spoken much. People don’t want to talk about it because they are afraid they will invite the unnecessary attention of the government.”

Also speaking in Bangkok, Andrea Giorgetta, head of the International Federation for Human Rights’ Asia desk, said the Laotian government “has in fact engaged very actively in suppression of public discussion of Sombath.”

In a joint statement, 66 international rights groups characterised Vientiane’s lack of response as “a catalogue of apparent inaction, negligence, cover-ups, and misleading statements”.

They said there was “an overall lack of political will to effectively address Sombath’s enforced disappearance”.

Ng added that she hoped European leaders would raise the case with their Southeast Asian counterparts at a Brussels summit this week.

Laos has denied any connection to the case, raised directly with the government during United Nations human rights reviews in 2015 and 2020.

Vientiane did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment.


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