Motion for a resolution on Laos: notably the cases of Somphone Phimmasone, Lod Thammavong and Soukane Chaithad – B8-2017-0517

The European Parliament,

having regard to its resolution of 13 June 2017 on Statelessness in South and South East Asia;

having regard to the 1997 EU – Lao PDR Cooperation Agreement;

having regard to the 2013 – 2017 EU-ASEAN enhanced partnership;

having regard to the 2014 – 2020 EU Multiannual Indicative Programme for Lao PDR;

having regard to the EEAS Delegation to Lao PDR Statement on World Freedom of Press Day 2017;

having regard to the UN Special Procedure communications on Lao PDR;

having regard to the July 2017 submission from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights on human rights in Laos;

having regard to the 2017-2021 Decent Work Country Programme for Lao PDR;

having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948;

having regard to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966;

having regard to the ASEAN Charter;

having regard to the constitution of Lao PDR;

having regard to Rules 135 of its Rules of Procedure.

A.whereas Laos has a one-party system and is governed by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party; whereas the formation of other political parties in Laos is subject to criminal prosecution;

B.whereas Lao nationals Somphone Phimmasone, Lod Thammavong and Soukane Chaithad disappeared in March 2016 after returning to Laos from Thailand to renew their passports;

C.whereas they were subsequently charged and found guilty of criticising the Lao government while abroad, based on their online activities and participation in a peaceful demonstration outside the Lao Embassy in Bangkok in 2015; whereas their sentence followed a public “confession” on state television;

D.whereas reportedly Somphone Phimmasone received a 20 year prison sentence and was fine 210 million kip, Lod Thammavong received a 12 year prison sentence and was fined 110 million kip, and Soukane Chaithad was given a 16 year prison sentence and fined 106 million kip;

E.whereas the People’s Supreme Court in Vientiane has publically denied any knowledge of the case;

F.whereas civil society activist Sombath Somphone was stopped by Vientiane police in 2012 and has not been accounted for since; whereas Kha Yang, a Lao ethnic Hmong, was forcibly returned twice to Thailand despite being granted UNHCR refugee status; whereas Polish national Bounthanh Thammavong was jailed in 2015 with a four and a half year jail sentence for online criticism of the government;

G.whereas Laos has signed but not ratified the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances;

H.whereas there is a lack of media plurality in Laos and existing media output is strictly controlled by the State; whereas the 2008 Media Law was amended in November 2016 to further prevent media criticism of government policies, and require journalists to submit reports to a government censor before publication;

I.whereas there are low levels of internet connectivity in Laos but growing online monitoring by the Lao government; whereas in 2015 the government enacted a Law of Prevention and Combatting of Cyber Crime with vaguely-defined criteria for criminal activity; whereas there have been multiple cases of individuals targeted by the government for posting criticisms of the government on social media;

J. whereas heavy restrictions are placed on civil society space in Laos; whereas Laos held the Chair of ASEAN in 2016 but cancelled its hosting of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/People’s Forum to avoid foreign NGO criticism of Southeast Asian governments;

K.whereas serious drug-related offences carry a mandatory death penalty sentence; whereas suspected drug offenders are arbitrarily detained in drug detention centres without due process; whereas in 2012, 12 UN agencies issued a joint statement calling for the drug detention centres to be closed;

L.whereas the 8th EU – Lao PDR Joint Committee and the 7th Laos – EU Human Rights Dialogue took place in February 2017 in Vientiane.

1.Strongly condemns the charges, verdict, imprisonment and fines levelled against Somphone Phimmasone, Lod Thammavong and Soukane Chaithad, and calls for their immediate release;

2.Is extremely concerned at the use of politically-motivated criminal charges and restrictions of freedom of speech, association and peaceful assembly in Laos; calls on the government of Laos to fully uphold its international commitments in this regard;

3.Is gravely concerned at widespread human rights abuses including enforced disappearances and lack of fair trials; calls of the Lao authorities to meet its international human rights obligations by immediately accounting for the whereabouts of missing individuals including Sombath Somphone and providing details of the charges and evidence brought against imprisoned activists; further urges the Lao government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances;

4.Is further concerned at restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly of Lao nationals living abroad; calls on the Lao authorities to respect and uphold the rights of its nationals abroad including the right to freedom of expression;

5.Reiterates that a thriving civil society is necessary in fostering democracy and the protection of human rights; calls on the government of Laos to adhere to its constitutional requirements on fundamental freedoms, to cease imposing restrictive measures on the conduct of civil society organisations, and to take steps towards ensuring civil society is able to operate in a safe, pluralistic and independent space in Laos;

6.Strongly emphasises the importance of a free and independent media, including the ability of national and foreign media to operate independently of the Lao authorities; recalls that the ability of the media to criticise and hold the government to account is a necessary element of democracy and freedom of expression; calls on the Lao authorities to ensure journalists are able to operate without fear of intimidation, harassment, criminal charges or enforced disappearances; urges the Lao authorities to repeal the restrictive measures of the 2008 Media Law and to revoke requirements for journalists to pass through a national censor;

7.Supports efforts to increase levels of internet connectivity in Laos; recalls that improved internet access should provide greater diversity in access to information and independent media; urges the government of Laos to foster an environment supportive of freedom of expression and to cease the monitoring and targeting of individuals online; urges the government in this regard to repeal the repressive elements of the 2015 Law of Prevention and Combatting of Cyber Crime;

8.Calls for the Lao authorities to implement the recommendations of the 2012 UN agencies’ joint statement on compulsory drug detention centres including their closure; further calls for an investigation into allegations of arbitrary detention, torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment in the centres;

9.Calls on the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the Commission to urgently raise issue of Somphone Phimmasone, Lod Thammavong and Soukane Chaithad with the government of Laos;

10.Calls on the EU Delegation in Laos to continue to raise these issues, in particular the cases of jailed and missing individuals, with the Lao authorities;

11.Calls on the EEAS to put the issues high on the agenda of future meetings of the EU – Lao PDR Joint Committee and of the next ASEM Summit to be held in Brussels in 2018;

12.Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Government and National Assembly of Laos, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the Commission, the European Commission, the Governments and Parliaments of the EU Member States, the Secretary General of ASEAN, and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.

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