Exiled democracy activist: “Lao people have no free ideas when it comes to politics”
By: Paul Millar - POSTED ON: August 31, 2016
The Alliance for Democracy in Laos is a
worldwide network of activists and non-governmental organisations
dedicated to bringing democracy to the one-party communist state. Its
president, Bounthone Chanthalavong-Wiese, spoke to Southeast Asia Globe about her ongoing campaign for change
Illustration by May Sak
How did you first get involved with the cause for democracy in Laos?
I was a Lao
student in Eastern Europe in 1990 when I made peaceful democratic
demonstrations in front of the Laos embassy. But I can’t go back to Laos
– I have been in exile here in Germany since then; here with all the
Lao people exiled together who are part of the Alliance for Democracy in
What was it that brought you to Germany in the first place?
After the peaceful demonstration in front of the embassy
in Czechoslovakia, where I studied medicine, the Lao government wanted
to arrest me, to take me back to Laos. I had only one week to go into
exile. The German government gave me a visa. Three days later I was
living in exile in Germany. Since then I have worked with all Lao people
– in Germany first, then later with Lao people living in other
What was it in the first place that made it so important to you to protest against the Lao regime?
Since 1975, the Lao regime has been a one-party communist system
And they have never accepted human rights in Laos. We all have human
rights – we have the right to free speech, to assembly, to
demonstration, to political activity. The Lao people have no free ideas
when it comes to politics in Laos, and there are maybe 18,000 Lao people
who have been arrested and persecuted. Many people. We want to change
from this dictatorial system to a democratic system.
Do you think that there is a lot of support for democratic change in Laos, on a local level?
Yes, we have many Lao people in our country who support
us. There are many people in Laos, in our homeland, who are working for a
change to democracy. In the government, or in the Communist party, they
don’t have that same need for change. But the Lao people, and some
smaller officials, they want things to change. But there’s a great deal
of corruption in the political system.
And how do you think you can mobilise that support to effect real change?
Through the internet, through our
television broadcasts in the US, we maintain direct contact with our
people around the world and in Laos. The people in Laos give us direct
information about human rights violations in the country. This contact –
and our work in social media – is now very active, and we have had a
great deal of support from the people of Laos, and from Laotians in
exile across the whole world.
Living in Germany, has the
reunification of the country following the fall of the Berlin Wall
changed the way you look at the future of the communist regime in Laos?
Yes. We’ve seen that shift towards
democracy in Eastern Europe, and it shows us that peaceful change in
Laos is possible. But we need international support. In September this
year US President Barack Obama will visit Laos for the Asean Summit.
This is a big chance for Lao people, for our country. We need all Lao
people to tell President Obama that we need change – not through war,
but through peaceful change. And we need support from international
media – Laos needs a free media now more than ever… We appeal for
international organisations, every government and parliament of every
democratic country in the world to help the Lao people and help our
movement for democracy in Laos.
US President Obama in Laos
Speeches and Panel
|Obama to Make, and Face, History in Laos|
US President Barack Obama tours Midway Atoll in the
Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Pacific Ocean,
September 1, 2016.
When President Barack Obama sets foot in Laos next week he will mark a
new experience for an American president, but he will also come
face-to-face with some old problems
Obama will become the first president to visit Laos when he attends a
meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the
While the ASEAN summit will undoubtedly focus on current issues,
Obama is likely to face the ghost of Sombath Samphone and the remains of
the U.S. Secret War in Laos.
Sombath, a U.S.-educated activist focusing on rural development, went missing in Vientiane on Dec. 15, 2012.
Even though there is video footage of Sombath’s Jeep being stopped at
a police checkpoint that shows Sombath being herded into a white truck
and taken away, the Lao authorities have arrested no one and there is
little indication a serious investigation ever took place.
While Sombath was generally apolitical, just before his abduction he
challenged massive land deals the government had negotiated that left
thousands of rural Laotians homeless with little compensation.
The deals sparked rare popular protests in Laos where political speech is tightly controlled.
Sombath’s wife Ng Shui Meng, during an Aug. 31 conference in Bangkok,
appealed to Obama and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take the
“opportunity to raise issues on Laos' human rights record and other
basic rights including opening civil society space for greater people’s
She also appealed to Obama and Ban to take up the issue of Sombath’s disappearance.
“On a personal level, I also hope President Obama and Secretary
General Ban Ki-moon and other ASEAN leaders will directly ask the Lao
leaders about the fate of Sombath,” she said. “Will the Lao leaders
brush off the queries by resorting to the standard response that the
police are still investigating? I don’t know, but I hope not.”
‘Pie in the sky’
While Ng Shui Meng was unsure about the Lao response, she urged the
government there to accept international aid to help solve the case.
“I hope that this time around they show some good will and some
sincerity by agreeing to accept international assistance and conduct a
serious and transparent investigation as to what happened to Sombath,”
she said. “Maybe it is pie in the sky, but whatever the response, I
cannot give up hope and I will never be deterred from my search.”
Sombath has become a symbol of the Lao government’s repression, and
his disappearance is now viewed as a warning to others to muzzle their
criticisms of the Lao government and the Lao People’s Revolutionary
Party that has governed the country since 1975.
“Since the disappearance of prominent civil society member Sombath
Somphone, the environment for civil society in Laos has only
deteriorated, with more surveillance and restrictive laws put in place,”
said Anne-Sophie Gindroz, who worked as a human rights defender in Laos
for many years until she was expelled in 2012.
“Unfortunately, this has only led to extreme self-censorship under an
increased climate of fear, making it even easier for an outsider to
keep quiet on the silent repression in Laos,” she told RFA’s Lao
Gindroz and other human rights activists hope that Obama will use his
influence to push Lao President Bounnhang Vorachith and the government
on human rights.
Daring to address human rights
“If I had just one message to Obama, it would be: If you really want
to do something useful, speak up on human rights in Laos, because no one
else will do so during the ASEAN Summit,” Gindroz said. “There is a
good reason why we do not hear about the human rights situation in Laos:
It is such a sensitive topic in this repressive state, no one dares to
Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and
Pacific affairs, told reporters that Obama plans to take up Gindroz’s
“I have no doubt that President Obama, himself, will of course engage
directly with the Lao senior officials on this important topic, make
clear that as our development programs already undertake to do, that we
seek to help improve and strengthen the institutions that protect the
rights of all citizens of the country,” he said.
Daniel Kritenbrink, the National Security Council director for Asian
Affairs, echoed that sentiment, telling reporters he is “confident that
the President will raise issues related to human rights and the
importance of a free and vibrant civil society while he’s in Laos.”
“The promotion of universal human rights remains a central element of
American foreign policy, and we continue to demonstrate that every
day,” he said.
“I think you’ll see those issues emphasized on the ground in Laos, as well.”
According to news reports, the country's new leaders may want closer
ties to the U.S., in part as a counterbalance to China’s immense
"The new government is more influenced by the Vietnamese than the
Chinese," Reuters quoted a Western diplomat in Southeast Asia as saying.
"It's never too late for a U.S. president to visit."
Laos has strategic importance to both Vietnam and China as it shares a
long border with Vietnam, giving Hanoi access to markets in Thailand
and beyond. China for its part sees Laos is a key gateway to Southeast
Asia in its "new Silk Road" trade strategy.
Chinese influence can be seen throughout Laos. Beijing funded
construction of a 20,000-seat stadium in Vientiane, and has launched a
$250 million communications satellite for Laos.
Beijing has also had a hand in building shopping malls, hotels, and
entertainment and entertainment centers, mostly on land provided by the
Chinese investment in country has reached $5.1 billion in 2014,
overtaking Vietnam and Thailand as the top foreign investor in Laos.
That investment has brought Beijing influence, but it has also raised
concerns as much of that money was eaten up by corruption and the land
used was often confiscated in the land grabs that Sombath Somphone
criticized before he disappeared.
The ‘Secret War’ in the open
Obama may have an opening to press for change in Laos, but he also must deal with the American past in the country.
In the so-called “Secret War,” a part of the conflict the between the
U.S. and Vietnam, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of
ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions from 1964 to 1973.
While the U.S. dropped hundreds of tons of bombs on Laos, one-third
of those failed to explode, and 20,000 people have been killed or
injured by unexploded ordinance (UXO) in Laos since the bombing ceased,
according to the U.S.-based organization Legacies of War.
It’s a dark legacy acknowledged by Kritenbrink, who said the U.S.
will “continue to address directly our shared and oftentimes difficult
“Over the past two decades, the United States has invested over $100
million in Laos in UXO assistance,” he said. “We hope to build on that
commitment during the President’s trip. We also want to build a
foundation for the future. Our assistance priorities, in addition to
UXO, are focused on education, health, and nutrition.”
While the U.S. acknowledged the problem with unexploded bombs, it has
yet to address the fallout from Agent Orange and other chemical
defoliants used in Laos to kill crops used as cover by the North
According to an Agent Orange Record examination of flight records,
spray missions flown in Laos between 1965 and 1970 dumped at 537,495
gallons of the chemicals in the provinces that border Vietnam.
Dioxin, one of the chemicals in Agent Orange, has been linked to birth defects, cancer, and other diseases.
“To date the U.S. has not addressed any aspect of the use of agent
orange and other chemicals throughout Laos,” said Susan Hammond, founder
of the War Legacies Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that
supports families heavily affected by long-term impacts of the war in
“It isn’t on their radar screen,” she said. “We’re trying to put it on their radar screen.”
"Dioxin remediation is another dimension of our efforts to deal with
the legacy of the war and the after-effects of that very fraught
period," said the State Department's Russel. "It’s folded into a broader
set of initiatives whereby the United States seeks to support in a
number of ways the development and promotion of health throughout the
Lao PDR, including particularly for children inasmuch as stunting in
Laos is a particular problem."
The U.S. has paid out billions of dollars for disability payments and
health care for American soldiers who came into contact with Agent
Orange and has agreed to clean up about of about two dozen former
American military sites polluted by the chemicals, but has been silent
about the issue in Laos.
“A lot of people called Laos a sideshow,” said Jacquelyn Chagnon, an
international development specialist with the War Legacy Project. “Nine
years, 10 years of war. Is that a sideshow?”
With Obama’s visit the limelight will finally shine on Laos, but only
time will tell if it will burn like a beacon or flicker like a candle.
Reported and translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.
ADL letter to President Obama:
(Click image to enlarge)
Human rights under scrutiny in Laos ahead of ASEAN meet
BANGKOK, THAILAND – AUGUST 31:
An activist holds a protest in front of the Laos Embassy in Bangkok calling on the government to stop Human Rights violations.
Anadolu Agency: 31 August 2016
One week before Laos hosts a summit of Southeast Asian leaders,
international rights groups are demanding that Thailand’s sleepy
northern neighbor improve its human rights situation.
But while advocates have underscored the state of human rights in the
country, the wife of a prominent civil society leader who disappeared
after being arrested in Vientiane in December 2012 had more personal
“I hope [Barack] Obama, [United Nations secretary-general] Ban
Ki-moon and other leaders will ask directly Laos leaders on the case of
Sombath Somphone,” Shui-Meng Ng told a press conference in Bangkok
co-organized by several rights groups supporting the Sombath Initiative,
a project established to find the truth about his disappearance and
improve the human rights situation in Laos.
Both the U.S. president — the first to ever visit Laos — and Ban will be
in Vientiane for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
“The government continues to say it is not involved in the
disappearance and that the police continue to investigate. But I have
not been contacted for any update for two years. It is going exactly in
the way the abductors want, that is to say that the passing of time
erases the memory of Sombath,” she said.
Other speakers at the event underscored what they considered to be
the sorry state of the human rights situation in Laos, in almost every
“At the international level, while Laos has ratified seven core human
rights convention, it has failed to keep up with its reporting
obligations,” said Laurent Meillan, acting regional representative in
Southeast Asia for the U.N. High Commission on Human rights.
“We also regret that Laos has not engaged in other important human
rights mechanisms. For example, only two U.N. human rights experts have
visited the country over the past 18 years,” he added.
Human Rights Watch Deputy-Director for Asia Phil Robertson emphasized
that for the first time the ASEAN People’s Forum, a meeting of civil
society organizations held in parallel with the ASEAN summit, could not
take place in the host country.
“The Laos government said clearly that they were going to interfere
and not allow some topics to be discussed [if the forum took place in
Laos], not only about enforced disappearances, but also about the impact
of mega-projects, about hydropower, rights of indigenous peoples and
LGBT rights,” he said.
During the course of the conference, Somphone’s disappearance was
seen as emblematic of a deteriorating human rights situation in the
country of 7 million people.
Walden Bello, a former member of the Philippines’ congress and
vice-chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights stated that the
disappearance has had a tremendous bearing on the future of human rights
and democracy in Laos.
“We cannot let it go,” he stated.
Earlier on Wednesday, two Lao migrant workers — who said they
belonged to a group called the Lao Youth Movement for Human Rights —
brought a letter to Laos’ embassy in Bangkok, emphasizing the human
rights problems they said occurred in Laos.
They were quickly surrounded by around 30 Thai police officers, but
were allowed to leave freely after delivering the letter, which they
promised to also deliver to the U.N. regional office.
The heads of government and heads of state of the 10 ASEAN member countries will gather in Vientiane from Sept. 6 to Sept. 8.
Laos became an authoritarian communist state after the Pathet Lao
guerilla movement took over the country in December 1975 after a 22-year
civil war, during which the U.S. — while fighting in its eastern
neighbor Vietnam — dropped an estimated two million tons of bombs on the
What became known as the “Secret war” left a dangerous and costly
legacy, with about 30 percent of the ordnance failing to explode.
Since 1977, political and civil liberties have been strictly limited in
the country, all local media is heavily controlled by the government,
and foreign news agencies wishing to open a bureau are told they will
only be allowed to do so if they agree to submit all stories to the
foreign ministry for prior approval before publishing.
The Alliance for Democracy in Laos at
ACSC/APF 2016 – Timor Leste
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ADL and alied organization demonstrates for freedom
in front of the Lao embassy and the Vietnamese residence
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The New Communistic Leadership in Laos
Comments by the ADL
New leaders take up their posts
Laos' new President Bounnhang Vorachit ( left ) and former President Choummaly Sayasone wave during the inaugural session of the National Assembly's 8th Legislature yesterday. -- Photo Khamphan
April 21, 2016
National Assembly's (NA) 8th Legislature began its four-day inaugural
session yesterday with members reelecting Ms Pany Yathotou to a second
term as the Assembly's President and electing Party Secretary General Mr
Bounnhang Vorachit as the head of state.
Pany, who was President of the NA's previous legislature, received
votes from almost all Assembly members present at the session.Referring
to her suitability for the post, members said she was a longstanding
and accomplished female member of the Assembly and possessed the
necessary knowledge, skills and experience to lead the legislative body.
She was also able to make clearcut decisions on the issues submitted
for her consideration.Members
also spoke of their pride that the country could elect a woman from an
ethnic group to one of the Party's highest leadership positions. This
demonstrated that the National Assembly was the highest state body and a
true representative of the people.During
their first session, National Assembly members reelected the vice
president of the Seventh Legislature, Mr Somphanh Phengkhammy. Also
elected as vice presidents were Lieutenant General Sengnuan Sayalath, Dr
Bounpone Bouttanavong, and Ms Sisay Leudethmounsone.Party
Secretary General Mr Bounnhang Vorachit was elected as President of the
Lao PDR, and Permanent Member of the Party Central Committee
Secretariat Mr Phankham Viphavanh was elected Vice President, after they
were nominated by the NA's Standing Committee.Mr
Bounnhang and Mr Phankham have been active participants in the lengthy
revolution process and have years of experience in executive positions.Mr
Bounnhang was a revolutionary activist for many years. He was formerly a
commander in the Lao People's Army, provincial Party Secretary and
Governor, minister, deputy prime minister, and Vice President.The
National Assembly also approved the election of Mr Thongloun Sisoulith
as Prime Minister, and Dr Bounthong Chitmany, Dr Sonexay Siphandone, and
Mr Somdy Duangdy as Deputy Prime Ministers.Mr
Thongloun was previously Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign
Affairs. Dr Bounthong is also Head of the Party and Government
Inspection Authority and the Anti-Corruption Organisation. Mr Somdy is
also the Minister of Finance.In
addition, Mr Khamsane Souvong and Mr Khamphanh Sitthidampha were
reelected as President and Head of Office of the Supreme People's
Prosecutor and President of the Supreme People's Court respectively.The structure of the new government remains unchanged and comprises 18 ministries and three ministry-equivalent bodies.
Ministry heads are as follows:
1. Lieutenant General Chansamone Chanyalath is Minister of National Defence.
2. Major General Somkeo Silavong is Minister of Public Security.
3. Mr Khammanh Sounvileuth is Minister of Home Affairs.
4. Mr Chaleun Yiapaoher is Minister to the Prime Minister's Office.
5. Mr Sommad Pholsena is Minister of Natural Resources and Environment.
6. Prof. Dr Bosengkham Vongdara is Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism.
7. Dr Lien Thikeo is Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.
8. Mr Xaysi Santivong is Minister of Justice.
9. Dr Khampheng Saysompheng is Minister of Labour and Social Welfare.
10. Mr Khammeung Phongthady is Minister and Head of the Presidential Office.
11. Dr Khammany Inthirath is Minister of Energy and Mines.
12. Ms Khemmani Pholsena is Minister of Industry and Commerce.
13. Prof. Dr Boviengkham Vongdara is Minister of Science and Technology.
14. Mr Saleumxay Kommasith is Minister of Foreign Affairs.
15. Ms Sengdeuan Lachanthaboun is Minister of Education and Sports.
16. Mr SomphaoPhaysith is Governor of the Bank of the Lao PDR.
17. Mr Thansamay Kommasith is Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.
18. Dr Bounchanh Sinthavong is Minister of Public Works and Transport.
19. Dr Phet Phomphiphak is Minister and Head of the Prime Minister's Office.
20. Dr Souphanh Keomixay is Minister of Planning and Investment.
21. Dr Bounkong Sihavong is Minister of Health.
22. Mr Bounkeuth Sangsomsak is Minister to the Prime Minister's Office.
23. Mr Alounkeo Kittikhoun is Minister to the Prime Minister's Office.
24. Dr Souvanpheng Bouphanouvong is Minister to the Prime Minister's Office.
The National Assembly's Eighth Legislature has eight committees and a secretariat.
1. Mr Saithong Keoduangdy is President of the Law Committee.
2. Mr Bounpone Sisoulath is President of the Economics, Technology and Environment Committee.
3. Dr Vilayvong Bouddakham is President of the Finance, Planning and Audit Committee.
4. Dr Somphou Duangsavanh is President of the Cultural-Social Committee.
5. Ms Buaphanh Likaiya is President of the Committee of Ethnicity.6. Dr Buakham Thipphavong is President of the Justice Committee.
7. Khamsouk Vi-inthavong is President of the National Defence and Public Security Committee.8. Prof. Dr Eksavang Vongvichit is President of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
9. Ms Suansavanh Vignaket is Head of the Secretariat.
Les nouveaux dirigeants prennent leurs fonctions21 avril 2016
Le nouveau président du Laos Bounnhang Vorachit (à gauche) et l'ancien président vague Choummaly Sayasone au cours de la session inaugurale du 8ème législature de l'Assemblée nationale hier. - Photo Khamphan
Mme Pany, qui était président de la précédente législature de l'AN, a reçu les votes de presque tous les membres de l'Assemblée présents à la session.
8e législature de l'Assemblée nationale a commencé ses quatre jours
séance inaugurale hier avec les membres réélisant Mme Pany Yathotou pour
un second mandat en tant que Président de l'Assemblée et élire
secrétaire général du parti M. Bounnhang Vorachit que le chef de l'Etat.
Se référant à son
aptitude pour le poste, les membres ont dit qu'elle était une femme
membre de longue date et accompli de l'Assemblée et possédaient les
connaissances nécessaires, les compétences et l'expérience pour diriger
le corps législatif. Elle a également été en mesure de prendre des
décisions sur les coupes à blanc questions soumises à son examen.
membres ont également parlé de leur fierté que le pays pourrait élire
une femme d'un groupe ethnique à l'un des plus hauts dirigeants
positions du Parti. Cela démontre que l'Assemblée nationale était la
plus haute instance de l'Etat et un véritable représentant du peuple.
cours de leur première session, les membres de l'Assemblée nationale
ont réélu le vice-président de la septième législature, M. Somphanh
Phengkhammy. Aussi élus vice-présidents étaient le lieutenant-général
Sengnuan Sayalath, Dr Bounpone Bouttanavong, et Mme Sisay
général du parti M. Bounnhang Vorachit a été élu président de la
République démocratique populaire lao, et membre permanent du Comité
central du Parti Secrétariat M. Phankham Viphavanh a été élu
vice-président, après qu'ils ont été nommés par le Comité permanent de
Bounnhang et M. Phankham ont participé activement au processus de
révolution longue et ont des années d'expérience dans des postes de
Bounnhang était un militant révolutionnaire pour de nombreuses années.
Auparavant, il était un commandant dans l'armée populaire lao,
secrétaire provincial du Parti et gouverneur, ministre, vice-Premier
ministre et vice-président.
nationale a également approuvé l'élection de M. Thongloun Sisoulith en
tant que Premier ministre, et le Dr Bounthong Chitmany, Dr Sonexay
Siphandone, et M. Somdy Duangdy comme vice-premiers ministres.
Thongloun était auparavant vice-premier ministre et ministre des
Affaires étrangères. Dr Bounthong est également chef du Parti et de
l'autorité d'inspection du gouvernement et l'Organisation de lutte
contre la corruption. M. Somdy est également le ministre des Finances.
outre, M. Khamsane Souvong et M. Khamphanh Sitthidampha ont été réélus
en tant que Président et Chef du Bureau du Procureur suprême du peuple
et président de la Cour populaire suprême, respectivement.
La structure du nouveau gouvernement reste inchangé et se compose de 18 ministères et trois organismes ministériels équivalent.
têtes du ministère sont les suivantes:
1. Le lieutenant-général Chansamone Chanyalath est ministre de la Défense nationale.
2. Major général Somkeo Silavong est ministre de la Sécurité publique.
3. M. Khammanh Sounvileuth est ministre de l'Intérieur.
4. M. Chaleun Yiapaoher est ministre au bureau du Premier ministre.
5. M. Sommad Pholsena est ministre des Ressources naturelles et de l'environnement.
6. Prof. Dr Bosengkham Vongdara est ministre de l'Information, de la Culture et du Tourisme.
7. Dr Lien Thikeo est ministre de l'Agriculture et des Forêts.
8. M. Xaysi Santivong est ministre de la Justice.
9. Dr Khampheng Saysompheng est ministre du Travail et des Affaires sociales.
10. M. Khammeung Phongthady est ministre et chef du bureau présidentiel.
11. Dr Khammany Inthirath est ministre de l'Energie et des Mines.
12. Mme Khemmani Pholsena est ministre de l'Industrie et du Commerce.
13. Prof. Dr Boviengkham Vongdara est ministre de la Science et de la technologie.
14. M. Saleumxay Kommasith est ministre des Affaires étrangères.
15. Mme Sengdeuan Lachanthaboun est ministre de l'Éducation et des Sports.
16. M. SomphaoPhaysith est gouverneur de la Banque de la RDP lao.
ADL Demonstration against the Vientnamese occupation of Laos at the US/ASEAN Summit
President Obama is about to host a cavalcade of dictators in Southern California.
Monday and Tuesday, Obama will meet heads of state from the 10 Assn. of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries at the Sunnylands estate in
Rancho Mirage, marking the first U.S.-ASEAN summit to be held on
American soil. Obama will focus on deepening political and economic ties
to the region, primarily to bolster his Trans-Pacific Partnership trade
agreement and form buffers against China’s growing regional clout.
human rights groups have noted that only three participating countries —
Indonesia, the Philippines, and arguably Singapore, a de facto
one-party state — will be represented by elected leaders. They have
raised concerns that the meeting could serve as an endorsement of
Obama knows that human rights are under assault in Southeast Asia; the
question is whether he’s going to say or do something about it,” John
Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a
statement on Wednesday. “The risk is that the Sunnylands summit will
empower and embolden ASEAN leaders who have been responsible for jailing
journalists, cracking down on peaceful protesters and dismantling
democratic institutions after coups.”
Here’s a list of the authoritarian leaders who will attend:
Hun Sen, Cambodia
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. (Tang Chhin Sothy / AFP/Getty Images)
Sen, 62, has ruled Cambodia for 30 years, making him Asia’s longest
serving ruler. A former commander in the Khmer Rouge — a murderous
regime thay killed nearly a quarter of the country’s population in the
1970s — his security forces have imprisoned critics, executed political
opponents and embarked on systematic campaigns of torture, killing and
land confiscation. He has said he wants to lead till he’s 90.When
Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with Hun Sen in January, he
praised Cambodia’s recent economic growth but also admonished the
Cambodian government on its human rights record, saying that
improvements would be necessary to “to fulfill the potential” of
bilateral relations with the U.S..
Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. (Sakchai Lalit / Associated Press)
Prayuth, 61, took power in a military coup in 2014, he has shuttered
outspoken media and detained activists for the slightest acts of
dissent. He has also burnished a reputation as an eccentric strongman,
replete with long, nonsensical televised rants. In the fall, he told an
audience that he once doused himself in holy water to ward off curses
the U.S. still looks to Thailand as an ally, Prayuth has taken a sharp
turn toward Beijing — last year, Bangkok formally handed at least two
Chinese dissident refugees and 100 persecuted Uighur Muslims back to
China, where rights groups say they could face unjust imprisonment and
Najib Razak, Malaysia
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. (Mohd Rasfan / AFP/Getty Images)
62, Malaysia’s Prime Minister since 2009, passed a controversial new
security law in December that gives him unchecked powers to crack down
on all perceived threats to “socio-political stability,” possibly
including protests. Last summer, he was embroiled in a major financial
scandal after he failed to account for $700 million in his bank account,
raising concerns that he embezzled the money from a state fund.
Hassanal Bolkiah, BruneiSince
1968, Bolkiah, 67, has been the sultan and leader of Brunei, a tiny,
conservative, Sunni Muslim nation on the island of Borneo. As the
absolute monarch of an oil-rich state, he is one of the world’s
wealthiest men, with an estimated net worth of $20 billion (in 2009, he
reportedly spent $21,000 on a haircut).
2014, Bolkiah put the country under sharia criminal law, decreeing that
citizens can be put to death for blasphemy and insulting verses of the
Koran. Adultery and homosexuality are punishable by stoning. This past
December, he banned celebrations of Christmas in public spaces including
city streets and shopping malls, warning that celebrators could face
five years in jail.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei. (JHoang Dinh Nam / AFP/Getty Images)
Thein Sein, Myanmar
Myanmar President Thein Sein. (Nyein Chan Naing / European Pressphoto Agency)
opposition National League for Democracy party, led by Nobel laureate
Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide election victory in November. Yet the
summit was planned before her victory, and Thein Sein, an unelected
former military officer who has helped oversee Myanmar’s recent
democratic reforms, will be representing the country at Sunnylands. He
will step down in late March.
Choummaly Sayasone, Laos
Laotian President Choummaly Sayasone. (European Pressphoto Agency)
79, the head of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party — the landlocked
country’s only legal party — presides over one of the world’s most
repressive states. The communist government censors the Internet,
detains activists without due process and strictly censors the media.
Journalists can be sentenced to 15 years in prison for writing critical
recently bought a house with a $615,000 garden, according to a report
by Radio Free Asia, a U.S. government-funded news service. (In 2013, the
country’s per capita income was $1,450). The party replaced Choummaly
as its top leader during a twice-a-decade party congress last month, and
he will soon step down after almost a decade in power.
Nguyen Tan Dung, Vietnam
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. (Andrew Taylor / Associated Press)
66, is one of the most powerful leaders in Vietnam’s ruling Communist
Party, along with General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong. Over two five-year
terms as prime minister, he has gained a reputation as a pro-business
reformer and champion of closer ties with the U.S.. In January, he was
sidelined at a Communist Party internal election, leaving Trong as the
party’s top official.
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