Around 4,500 Hmong asylum-seekers were returned against their will from Thailand to Laos. Lao authorities continued to severely restrict freedom of expression, assembly and association, with no independent media permitted. Lack of access by independent human rights monitors hampered assessments of the human rights situation. Natural resource management and land redevelopment led to evictions and a government official said land disputes had emerged as the country’s most pressing problem.
On 25 September Laos ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and the UN Convention against Corruption. A government decree on registering domestic associations took effect in November, allowing the formation of a civil society for the first time.
Chronic malnutrition remained high, with half of rural children under five years chronically malnourished, and an even higher number in isolated areas and among non-Lao-Thai ethnic groups.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
In December, Thai and Lao authorities co-ordinated the forcible return of around 4,500 Lao Hmong people from Thailand. An unknown number had gone to Thailand to seek asylum, but were not given the opportunity to register their claims with UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and were forcibly returned. A few hundred returnees were resettled at designated sites, including Phalak village in Kasi district, but the whereabouts and wellbeing of the majority were not known. No independent observers were allowed unfettered access to the returnees, and resources to cope with the large influx were inadequate.
Freedom of expression
The government strictly controlled public debate, including in the media and on the internet.
- After 10 years in prison, three surviving pro-democracy activists from the so-called October Protests continued to be held in Samkhe prison despite being due for release on 25 October. Authorities said the men had received a 20-year sentence.
- On 2 November, security forces rounded up over 300 farmers and others who had planned to protest over loss of land and lack of economic and social support. All but nine of those arrested were released. The fate and whereabouts of the nine were unknown.
A de facto moratorium on executions remained in place and no executions were reported. However, secrecy remained tight around its application.
- A British woman arrested in 2008 for suspected drug trafficking had faced a mandatory death sentence. Following an unfair trial, a court in Vientiane sentenced her to life imprisonment after it was revealed that she was pregnant, as stipulated in domestic law. She was subsequently transferred to the UK to serve the sentence.
Despite widespread secrecy, reports emerged about continued harsh conditions in Lao prisons and police detention centres. There was a shortage of food and clean water. Guards beat prisoners as punishment, and wooden shackles were used on some prisoners.
Freedom of religion
According to reports from Savannaketh and Saravan provinces, local officials tried to force Christians to recant their faith. Interrogation, death threats and harassment were among the methods reported, and it appeared that recent converts to Christianity were particularly targeted.