Anyone who’s been following the news or lives and works in the world of development in Laos has heard of the disappearance of well-respected community leader, teacher and humanitarian; Mr. Sombath Somphone. The founder of PADTEC Laos, a participatory training center focused on sustainable development, has been missing since December 15, 2012. Sombath’s wife Ng Shui Meng, family and friends have tirelessly asked for the community-at-large to help find his whereabouts.
There’s been increasing media coverage from Vientiane Times to The New York Times. Mr. Sombath’s colleagues, human rights activists, and public officials of neighboring countries have organized efforts asking for the international community to mobilize and help bring pressure on the government of Lao PDR to investigate his disappearance.
Below is a great list of 8 things you can do to get involved from our friends at www.sombath.org. They have been closely monitoring the situation as the attention grows and updates come in. I added two more things you can do to further the conversation on a local level with your Lao community members and public officials.
8 things you can do
1. Sign the Avaaz petition, click here:
2. Like the ‘Find Sombath’ page at FaceBook:
3. Send a letter to the Lao Embassy in your country:
4. Send an SMS to members of the Lao National Assembly:
5. Print and display a missing person poster in English or Lao:
6. Organise public discussions on Sombath’s disappearance
7. Keep Sombath in the news, send information to the press
8. Lobby and pressure your government and parliamentarians
a) Make full use of the information at this website. Copy the text, use the photos and share the links. You can make a difference.
b) Points to consider for your communications:
- Express your concern for Sombath’s safety and security.
- Appeal to the Lao Government to do all that is possible to ensure the safe return of Sombath to his family.
- Emphasize the good work that Sombath has done for his country, as an educator, a community development worker and a peace practitioner.
- Note the relationship between economic development and human rights. A modern country is one that respects the rights of all citizens.
- Mention that the continued disappearance of a well-known and much-loved person like Sombath could affect the international image of Laos, with possible consequences for investment, tourism, and foreign aid.
c) Here is an example of an SMS message you could send:
“Respected educator, peace practitioner STILL MISSING since Dec 15, 2012. PLEASE HELP TO FIND HIM. See www.Sombath.org for information.”
In addition, I encourage the Lao American diaspora to:
9. Engage your local Lao community leaders to make them aware of Mr. Sombath’s disappearance, contact human rights organizations, write to your congressmen, and send letters to the U.S. Secretary of State to remind them of Mr. Sombath’s case and to keep the pressure up on the Lao PDR government. By spreading the word on the importance of Sombath Somphone’s work and what he means to the people of Laos, we can continue highlighting this issue. He is a highly respected NGO worker and his disappearance is of concern to everyone globally. Email a letter with a copy of this ‘get involved’ list and petition.
10. Hold a prayer vigil at your local Wat (temple), church, or any faith-based place of worship. In times of great sadness and tragedy, the Lao are known for bringing together the community in the power of collective compassion and positive energy.
Aside from the suspicions of political involvement, diplomatic implications, and personal opinions; we have to remember that a leader known and loved by many is missing. As the world turns the spotlight towards Laos, Mr. Sombath’s case is seemingly becoming the symbol of the fragile progressive state of Laos and the longer we wait for the government’s response, the more the level of concern from the international community (as well as its foreign investors) grows.
Let’s find Mr. Sombath safe and bring him back home.
Articles on Mr. Sombath Somphone’s disappearance:
- The Curious Case of Sombath Somphone – http://thediplomat.com/asean-beat/2013/01/09/the-curious-case-of-sombath-somphone/
- Rights Groups Push for ASEAN Action on Missing Lao Activist – http://www.voanews.com/content/rights-groups-push-for-asean-action-on-missing-lao-activist/1581255.html
- Laos Clarifies Activist Case to UN – http://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/sombath-somphone-01042013170238.html
- Is Laos Losing Its Way? – http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323482504578229201146424908.html
For more, make sure to check out www.sombath.org for the most up-to-date news.