LAOS AND “NORMAL TRADE RELATION”: LETTER FROM THE LAO MOVEMENT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE FORUM ASIA-DEMOCRACY TO Mrs DOBRIANSKY, US UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE
|FORUM ASIE DÉMOCRATIE
FORUM ASIA DEMOCRACY
LAO MOVEMENT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
MOUVEMENT LAO POUR LES DROITS DE L'HOMME
For the kind attention of Mrs Paula J. Dobriansky
Under-Secretary of State for Global Affairs
Copy to Mr Lorne W. Craner
Assistant Under-Secretary of State – Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Paris-Brussels, 24 February 2003
Madame Under-Secretary of State,
through your Ambassador in Vientiane, Douglas Hartwick, the American Administration has clearly announced its intention to grant the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) the benefit of Normal Trade Relations (NTR), despite the extremely unfavourable opinion of the vast majority of Lao-Americans and of the community of Lao refugees around the world.
On behalf of the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) and the Forum Asia Democracy, we are writing to express our solidarity with all those who oppose the award of NTR status to the Lao Communist regime while the leaders of the state party of the LPDR have not provided tangible, significant and above all verifiable proof of their efforts in the field of democracy and the respect of human rights and liberties.
In view of the annual reports published by the Department of State on the situation of human rights in Laos, there is no need to remind you of the dictatorial nature of the regime that has ruled the country since 1975, nor to list the numerous serious and repeated violations of the political, economic, social and religious rights of the Lao people, whatever their ethnic origin.
In this context, can the United States - on the point of fighting for freedom, democracy and justice in the world, and the main hope for Lao democrats both inside and outside the country - grant NTR to the Vientiane regime without in exchange demanding significant guarantees in terms of its will to allow the country to move towards freedom, democracy and national reconciliation?
Has the international community not already given too many "presents" to the Communist regime: hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, debt relief, donations in kind? To offer the regime NTR status without obtaining anything in return would seem in the eyes of the Lao people to be a "reward" for the dictatorship, repression, torture, violation of human rights, social injustice, abuse of power, and corruption in which the leaders of the Communist Party have long become expert.
The award of NTR status to neighbouring countries - in particular Burma, Vietnam, and Cambodia - has not brought real and verifiable beneficial effects in the field of human rights.
For the LMHR and the Forum Asia-Democracy, without genuine democratic reforms, without true political liberalization, without freedom of opinion, of opposition and of the press, without transparency in the management of the economy, NTR status will only benefit the leaders of the state party and a few foreign businessmen corrupted, to a greater or lesser extent, by the regime.
This is why we believe that the Vientiane regime must first make significant "gestures" to deserve NTR status, in particular by releasing - immediately and unconditionally - the prisoners of opinion whose only "crime" is to have denounced, in a peaceful manner, the iniquity or even simply the general drift of the regime and to have called for the respect of the fundamental rights, social justice, and the introduction of a multi-party system.
These peaceful opponents include the two leaders of the “Social Democratic Party”, Mr Latsamy KHAMPHOUI and Mr Fèng SACKCHITTAPHONG, detained for the last 12 years in inhuman conditions in Camp no. 7 (north), where their colleague Thongsouk SAYSANGKHI has already died.
They also naturally include the five leaders of the 26 October 1999 Movement, arrested during the peaceful march held that day in Vientiane and not heard of since. Thongpaseuth KEUAKOUN, Khamphouvieng SISA-AT, Sèng-Aloun PHENGPHANH, Bouavanh CHANMANIVONG and KEOCHAY, symbols of struggle for young people and democrats in Laos, did nothing but express the discontent of the people in the face of injustice and corruption, and their desire for change to allow the Laotians to elect their leaders freely and to contribute to the development of the country.
Hundreds of other persons are detained because of their opinions or their beliefs, and the names of some of them have already appeared in the reports published since 1975 by the Department of State.
In the eyes of the LMHR and of the Forum Asia-Democracy, the unconditional release of these opponents will constitute the first proof of the sincerity of the Communist regime, which cannot restrict itself to leaking partial and unverifiable, or even contradictory and thus false information about the fate of these opponents, detained in breach of the laws and the Constitution of Lao PDR, as well as of the international Conventions ratified by Laos.
Another "gesture" to contribute to national reconciliation would be to put an immediate end to all acts of violence against the ethnic or religious minorities in the country, and to honour the memory of the victims of repression during the early years of the Communist regime.
Almost 30 years later, it would, in fact, be time to grant these thousands of victims - including King Sri SAVANG Vatthana, Queen Khamphoui, Crown Prince Vong SAVANG, ministers, generals, functionaries, politicians, and students - a dignified burial, and to allow their families to express their grief by paying religious tribute to their dead.
Madame Under-Secretary of State,
Against the Communist leaders of Lao PDR, whose cynicism and dishonesty you more than anyone else are aware of, NTR status remains one of the last peaceful weapons of pressure for those who aspire to freedom, democracy and justice, which have always constituted the foundations of the American nation.
In the name of these values - which the LMHR shares and strives, along with others, to promote peacefully in Laos - we would ask you to take full account of our appeal before granting the Lao Communist regime Normal Trade Relations, whose main objective is to favour freedom, democracy and development in the world.
Without freedom, without democracy and without national reconciliation among Laotians, development cannot be achieved in Laos, a country that unfortunately remains among the poorest on the planet, after 27 years of Communist rule and despite the billions of dollars in loans and aid granted to the regime.
The LMHR and the Forum Asia-Democracy hope that this appeal for help, launched in the name of a people without rights and without a voice, will be heard and listened to.
Thank you in advance for your attention.
|Vanida S. Thephsouvanh
President of the LMHR and
Vice-President of the
Honorary President of the
candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize
|Vo Van Ai
President of the Forum Asia-Democracy, President of “Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam”
member of Parliament
Leader of the Opposition
President of the
Rappresentative of the National Council for the Union of Burma
President of “Solidarité Chine”
membre du Parlement
du Royaume du Cambodge
President of the
National Council of East-Turkestan
Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
Secretary of the Transnational Radical Party, Member of the European Parliament
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