BANGKOK: The European Union (EU) must make the strengthening of bilateral relations with Laos contingent upon the Lao government's ability to make tangible progress in addressing key human rights issues, FIDH and it member organisation, the Lao Movement for Human Rights, said today.
The two organisations made the call in a briefing paper titled 'Laos: The government's failure to reform and address serious human rights issues call for EU action.' The briefing paper was released ahead of the 5th Laos-EU Working Group on Human Rights and Governance, which is set to be held in Brussels on May 19.
''The EU must use all political tools at its disposal to ensure that the Lao government adopts a credible, time-bound, and measurable action plan aimed at addressing key human rights issues. Foremost issues include rampant land grabbing and restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion,'' said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.
FIDH and LMHR also urge the EU to exert more pressure on the Lao government for a thorough and credible investigation aimed at determining the fate or whereabouts of civil society leader and human rights defender Sombath Somphone and other victims of enforced disappearances.
''The Lao government has repeatedly ignored the numerous calls made by the EU to address the issue of enforced disappearances. It's time for the EU to step up pressure on Lao authorities and warn them that the failure to properly investigate cases of disappearances and hold the perpetrators accountable will have serious ramifications on bilateral relations,'' said LMHR President Vanida Thepsouvanh.
FIDH and LMHR call on the EU to prioritise assistance to Laos that supports and protects civil society, human rights defenders, and vulnerable communities. This is essential to help Lao civil society to counter and dissipate the growing climate of fear fuelled by the disappearance of Sombath.
FIDH and LHMR also demand that the EU pay particular attention to land rights issues. Land confiscation and forced evictions related to development and infrastructure projects have already resulted in displacement, environmental degradation, and loss of livelihoods in many areas of the country.
Trade and investment agreements that do not address responsible development and corporate accountability will only exacerbate the situation. FIDH and LMHR believe that it is essential for the EU and Laos to include human rights safeguards and redress mechanisms for land rights violations among the key elements of future bilateral economic agreements.