Parliamentary question by Olivier Dupuis (NI) to the Commission and answer given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission
WRITTEN QUESTION E-1443/03
by Olivier Dupuis (NI) to the Commission
(10 April 2003)
Subject: Twenty year prison sentences for peaceful demonstration in Laos
According to the 2002 human rights report published on 31 March 2003 by the US State Department, the five leaders of the '26 October Movement', Thongpaseuth Keuakoun, Khamphouvieng Sisa-At, Seng-Aloun Phengphanh, Bouavanh Chanmanivong and Keochay, who had been arrested in October 1999 for organising a peaceful demonstration in Vientiane in support of democracy, have been sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for anti-governmental activities (sic), following a trial held in camera, and are currently incarcerated in Vientiane. Previously, it should be said, the Laotian authorities had provided other - totally contradictory - versions of the fate of the five student leaders. For example, after the authorities of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR) had denied for two years that the five student leaders had been arrested, in November 2001 the country's Foreign Minister, Mr Somsavad Lengsava, told Italian Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mrs Margherita Boniver, that the students had not yet been tried. Then, in June 2002, the chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee of the LPDR National Assembly told a meeting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg that they had been sentenced the previous year. On that occasion, he undertook to produce documentary records of the trial, a commitment which has yet to be honoured, despite repeated reminders.
Has the Commission expressed to the LPDR authorities its indignation at the severity of the sentences handed down to the students and at the way in which the whole judicial process was conducted? Has it expressed its extreme annoyance at the failure to provide it with accurate information? In the light of this series of particularly serious incidents and bearing in mind the breadth and scale of the European Union's cooperation programmes with Laos, does the Commission not think that the cooperation agreement between the European Union and Laos should be suspended, unless the LPDR authorities give a formal undertaking to review the trial of the five student leaders without delay?
Answer given by Mr Patten
on behalf of the Commission
(23 May 2003)b>
The Commission is fully committed to emphasising the need to strengthen respect for civil and political rights in Laos, including freedom of expression, assembly, association and religion, as expressed in the Community-Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR) Co-operation Agreement.
The question of the five leaders of the '26 October 1999 Movement' has been raised by the Commission in bilateral meetings with the Lao Government, as well as in other fora, but so far only limited information has been provided.
Regarding the question of a possible suspension of the Community-Lao PDR Co-operation Agreement, the Commission continues to be of the opinion that maintaining a cohesive policy of constructive political dialogue with the Laotian Government, paired with continued support to the most vulnerable segments of the Laotian population through Community-assisted development programmes, will be more fruitful than a confrontational approach.
However, should the political and human rights situation in the country deteriorate to such an extent that continued Community co-operation with Laos be put into question, the Commission will be prepared to undertake the necessary steps in order to get an agreement on the appropriate action to take.
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|Salvatore P. Capistrello||200 €|
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