I can assure the Deputy that I am aware of and am very concerned at the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Sombath Somphone. Ireland’s diplomatic relations with Laos are maintained on a secondary accreditation basis from our Embassy in Hanoi. I have instructed the Ambassador to monitor the situation closely and to use every possible opportunity to convey my concerns to the Government of Laos.
The Embassy in Hanoi has maintained very close contact with the United Nations Resident Coordinators Office (UNRCO) and other Embassies in Laos about this case. Most recently, Embassy officials met with the UN Resident Coordinator for Laos in Hanoi on 19 September to discuss Mr. Sombath’s case. The UNRCO has reported that there is no new information on the whereabouts of Mr. Sombath, but that they are continuing to pursue the matter with the Government.
The Embassy is also working closely with the EU delegation in Laos which has been very active in raising this case with the Government on behalf of the member states of the EU and HR/VP Catherine Ashton issued a statement on behalf of the EU in December, 2012 expressing serious concern about the disappearance of Mr. Sombath. The EU also delivered a formal demarche to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on 1 February 2013 and, during the EU-Laos Human Rights dialogue on 4 February 2013, Mr. Sombath’s situation and that of other Persons of Concern was raised with the relevant Laos authorities.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution on Mr Sombath’s case on 7 February this year calling on the Laotian authorities to end the practice of arbitrary arrests and secret detention and to make enforced disappearance a criminal offence. The Parliament also called on the Laotian Government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The case was again raised with the Laotian authorities during a visit by Members of the European Parliament to Laos last month.
As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Ireland has identified the promotion and protection of Human Rights Defenders as a priority and we will continue to work actively with our partners on these important issues throughout our term at the Council including on this particular case.