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“We shall not forget” justice remains elusive ten year after Sombath disappears

Photo: Sombath Somphone & Beyond Project
Photo: Sombath Somphone & Beyond Project

Still no investigation progress in the case of the missing Laotian human rights defender Sombath Somphone. Family and activists continue to demand justice on the 10th year anniversary of his disappearance.

Sombath Somphone, the Laotian agriculture and education rights defender, was last seen being taken away in the evening of 15 December, 2012 near a police post in Vientiane. Despite the abduction being recorded by a nearby CCTV camera, nobody has been held accountable and he has never been seen since. 

Born into a farming family, Sombath pursued his study of agriculture and worked extensively in combining rural agricultural practices with development programs with the aim to alleviate poverty in Laos. He founded PADETC, a  participatory development training centre for youth and local governmental officers to learn about community-based development. Sombath received a Ramon Magsaysay award in 2005.

In October 2012, two months before his disappearance, Sombath co-chaired the National Organizing Committee for the 9th Asia-Europe People’s Forum, a civil society networks forum in Southeast Asia, which allegedly had some critical comments on the situation of development programs in Laos. Many believe it was his criticism that led to his disappearance.


Photo courtesy of the Sombath Somphone & Beyond Project


Family and activists have constantly called for investigation and remembrance of Sombath. In the 10th year since his disappearance, the network read an open letter calling for justice in front of the Lao PDR embassy in Bangkok. No representative came to accept the letter.

“We call on the Lao government to reveal the truth and bring justice to Sombath and his family. The Lao PDR government must be held accountable for its commitment to bringing the perpetrators to justice.” Stated in an open letter by the Sombath Somphone and Beyond Project, the network of civil societies demanding investigation into the Sombath case and an end of enforced disappearances.

The activities were joined by Sombath’s wife, Ng Shui Meng and other family members of similar enforced disappearance cases including Pinapa Pruksapan, the wife of Karen activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen whose death was finally confirmed after 8 years since he vanished..