(Tokyo) – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan should raise concerns about the enforced disappearance of a prominent civil society leader in the prime minister’s meeting with Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong at the Japan-Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International Japan, Mekong Watch, Empowerment For All Japan, and two other Japanese nongovernmental organizations said today in a joint letter to Prime Minister Abe.
The Japan-ASEAN Summit, scheduled from December 13-15, 2013, falls during the one-year anniversary of the abduction and forcible disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a recipient of the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership. Sombath was taken into custody by authorities at a checkpoint outside a police station in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, on December 15, 2012.
“On the one-year anniversary of Sombath Somphone’s abduction, Prime Minister Abe should break Japan’s public silence and call upon the Lao government to reveal the truth about Sombath’s fate,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director. “Japan’s words carry weight since it is the largest donor to Laos. Prime Minister Abe should use this leverage to send a strong message to the Lao leadership that it needs to stop ignoring the pleas to reveal what happened to Sombath.”
Since Sombath’s enforced disappearance, the Lao government has failed to conduct a serious investigation, despite widespread regional and international calls for accountability. Japan’s public silence on the Sombath case sends precisely the wrong signal to the Lao government, suggesting that its inaction is acceptable to Japan, the organizations said.
Consistent with its stated commitment to diplomacy based on the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law, the groups said, the Japanese government should take leadership in sending the message to the Lao government and other ASEAN member states that the protection against enforced disappearances is a concern not only of the government involved but of the broader international community.
“Japan should work with other international donors to make clear that they will not let this rest until the Lao government provides full information regarding Sombath’s case,” said Hideki Wakabayashi, secretary general of Amnesty International Japan. “The Lao government also needs to bring all those responsible for his enforced disappearance to justice.”