MANILA, Philippines – The European Union (EU) and the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR) have joined the United States in expressing concern over the disappearance of Lao activist and Ramon Magsaysay awardee Sombath Somphone.
After the US expressed its concern Wednesday, the spokesman of High Representative of EU Catherine Aston expressed “deep concern” over the disappearance, while the UN OHCHR said it was “concerned by what appears to be the enforced disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone.”
Sombath, 62, is a much-respected development worker in Laos and among the international community. He was recently at the forefront in organizing the successful Asia-Europe People’s Forum that preceded the Asia-Europe Meeting of state leaders.
He has been missing since Dec. 15, Saturday, after leaving office. A CCTV footage showed that was stopped at a police outpost. The Lao government on Wednesday issued a statement saying it did not have Sombath in its custody and conjectured that he was kidnapped for business or personal reasons. It also said that it is “seriously investigating” the incident.
Sombath won the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership for his work in poverty reduction and sustainable development in a country that remains one of Southeast Asia’s poorest nations.
Laos is a one-party communist state which exerts total control over the media and does not tolerate criticism of its institutions.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed concern that Sombath “has been taken into custody by Lao authorities, and that he could be at serious risk of ill treatment.”