BANGKOK (Reuters) - Communist Laos has shown “no political will to solve” the mystery of the abduction of a prominent social activist, a United Nations human rights official said on Monday, on the third anniversary of the kidnapping.
The United Nations and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said police in Laos refused to view new footage of the abduction of Sombath Somphone, a civil society leader who worked to promote sustainable development for the rural poor.
Laurent Meillan of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said the abduction had created “a culture of fear” among workers of non-government organizations in Laos, one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries.
“We are not aware of any progress since the government’s commitment at the U.N. Human Rights Council,” Meillan told a news conference in Bangkok, referring to an assurance by Laos to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice.
In January, Laos was assessed on its rights record and accepted some recommendations made by the U.N. Human Rights Council, including a call for a transparent investigation into the disappearance of the internationally acclaimed activist.
The Lao foreign ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Human Rights Watch said Laos’ human rights record had grown worse since Sombath’s disappearance.
“A veil of silence has fallen over Sombath’s case,” said Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director. “International NGOs working in Laos say they are sympathetic but they can’t talk about it.”
Sombath went missing in Vientiane, the capital, on the night of Dec. 15, 2012. A video previously released by authorities shows him being stopped at a police checkpoint and being led into a pickup truck.
His jeep was driven away from town by an unknown person.
But new closed circuit television footage obtained by his family and shown to reporters by an advocacy group, the Sombath Initiative, shows his jeep being driven back toward the city.
Police authorities in Laos declined to view the images, an ICJ official said.
“We have asked them repeatedly, and Sombath’s family has asked them repeatedly, to check these CCTV sites,” said Sam Zarifi of the group of jurists.
Some rights group believe Sombath annoyed someone powerful within the government, although the government as a whole has not been blamed for his disappearance.
Laos has signed, but not ratified, a global convention that protects individuals from enforced disappearance.
“I continue to be in pain everyday,” Sombath’s wife, Shui-Meng Ng, said in a message. “It is like a knife permanently embedded in my heart.”
Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez