This month marks the second anniversary of the unexplained disappearance of one of Laos' most respected civil society figures. Sombath Somphone was abducted by unknown assailants on the evening of December 15, 2012, from a Lao police checkpoint in Vientiane and hasn’t been seen since. This deplorable act was recorded on Lao government surveillance cameras.
From a poor farming family, Sombath was educated in the U.S., attending high school in Wisconsin, then earning degrees at the University of Hawaii. He founded the Participatory Development Training Center in 1996; its projects range from organic farms to model rural schools to enlisting monks in helping fight drug abuse among youth. In 2005, he won the Magsaysay Award, Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The United States remains deeply concerned over Sombath’s fate and the chilling message it sends other members of civil society who work to improve the lives of their countrymen. Our nation’s thoughts are with Sombath’s family, friends and the countless others in the international community who have been inspired by his exemplary leadership and devotion to his country.
The United States welcomes recent statements by the Lao President, Prime Minister, and others expressing their concern over Sombath’s disappearance. We reiterate our call for the Lao government to conduct a full, thorough and transparent investigation, and to take all measures necessary to solve the case and ensure Sombath’s safe return to his family.