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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Human Rights in Cambodia and Laos: Challenges and Opportunities

Date: 
Wednesday, December 16, 2015 - 10:00am
Location: 
2261 Rayburn House Office Building

Announcement

Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a briefing on the human rights situations in Cambodia and Laos.

December 2 marked the 40th anniversary of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, where the ruling communist party has maintained a one-party state since a coup in 1975. Next door, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia celebrated his 30th year in power in January of this year.

But these anniversaries offer little to celebrate in regard to human rights.  Both nations are in the grip of a land grab crisis, as hundreds of thousands of residents are reported to have been displaced by government, business, and foreign entities that have confiscated land and homes—sometimes forcibly or without fair compensation—to make way for development projects. In both countries, leaders have significantly restricted civil and political rights through laws, threats, and the use of force. Sombath Somphone, a Lao activist who protested the land evictions while promoting community development, remains disappeared since December 2012 when he was taken away in a truck at a police checkpoint. The leader of the opposition party in Cambodia, Sam Rainsy, was ousted from Parliament by the ruling party following defamation charges, and two lawmakers in his party were physically attacked by a mob reported to include members of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit. Such intimidation tactics are seen as part of Hun Sen’s broader campaign to suppress criticism of the government and dictate the terms of the national election in 2018.

Yet the United States’ increased focus on Asia may offer an opening to encourage change. In November, President Obama attended the 2015 Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). His visit to Cambodia in 2012, along with his recently announced visit to Laos for the 2016 ASEAN Summit—both firsts for an incumbent U.S. president— provide opportunities to raise human rights issues as the Administration undertakes a “re-balance” towards Asia.

Please join us to hear from human rights experts and members of the diaspora in the U.S. about the current challenges in Laos and Cambodia, and their recommendations as to what steps the U.S. government, and specifically Congress, may take to advance respect for and protection of the human rights in the two countries.  

The briefing will be open to members of Congress, congressional staff, the interested public and the media. For any questions, please contact Dan Aum (for Rep. McGovern) at 202-225-3599 or Daniel.Aum@mail.house.gov, Carson Middleton (for Rep. Pitts) at 202-225-2411 or Carson.Middleton@mail.house.gov, Ben Kane (for Rep. Alan Lowenthal) at (202) 225-7924 or Ben.Kane@mail.house.gov, or Abiola Afolayan (for Rep. Jackson Lee) at 202-225-3816 or Abiola.Afolayan@mail.house.gov.

Hosted by:

James P. McGovern, M.C.
Co-Chairman, TLHRC
Joseph R. Pitts, M.C.
Co-Chairman, TLHRC

Participants

Panelists

  • T. Kumar, International Advocacy Director, Amnesty International USA
  • Bounchanh Senthavong, President, Union for Lao Nation
  • John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch
  • Dr. Bob Ung, Chairman, Khmer People Network for Cambodia

Moderator

  • Morton Sklar, Executive Director, Human Rights USA

Opening Remarks

  • Rep. James P. McGovern, Co-chair, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission
  • Rep. Alan Lowenthal, Member, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission
Bios [PDF] 
114th Congress