Enforced Disappearances: the case of Sombath Somphone

Shui Meng Ng, wife of Lao disappeared prominent community development worker Sombath Somphone

Co-presented with the Sydney Social Justice Network


Introduction by Bob Carr, Professorial Fellow at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre.

Sombath Somphone, a 2005 Magsaysay Award Winner for Community and Youth Development in Laos, was enforcedly disappeared on 15 December 2012, more than a year ago. Footage from police closed circuit cameras showed that he was stopped by police at a police vehicle checkpoint, asked to get down from his jeep and taken into the police checkpoint. His vehicle was seen driven away a little later, and Sombath was driven away in another white truck. That was the last time Sombath was seen.

Since then, the family had continuously pleaded with the government to find Sombath and return him safely. Meanwhile, international human rights group like Amnesty International, the UN High Commission for Human Rights, Civil Society Organizations from all over the world, and Government Leaders from many countries, including Singapore, the EU, and the US, have also joined in the appeal to the Lao Government to investigate the case and return Sombath safely to his family. But after one year, the official Lao Government statements continued to deny its involvement, but also provided no details of its investigation.

This has led the European Parliament to issue a Second Resolution on 16 January 2014, calling on the Lao Government to “clarify the state of the investigation into the whereabouts of Sombath Somphone, to answer the many outstanding questions around Sombath’s disappearance, and to seek and accept assistance from foreign forensic and law enforcement experts’’. The EU reiterated that ‘’the lack of reaction by the Lao Government raises suspicions that the authorities could be involved in his abduction’’.

In her first public appearance in Australia since Sombath’s disappearance, Shui Meng Ng, the wife of Sombath Somphone, will talk about Sombath Somphone, the man and his work, the contextual background that could have caused his disappearance, and the impact this incident has on Lao society, and especially on Lao civil society development.

Shui Meng Ng

Shui Meng Ng is a Singaporean National and has lived in Laos with Sombath since 1986. She has a long history of involvement in aid and development issues. She was a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore from 1976 to 1986.

She worked from UNICEF in Laos, China and Timor-Leste from 1986 to 2008, and served as UNICEF Representative in Timor-Leste from 2004 to 2008.

She has a PhD in sociology from the University of Hawaii.