Lao PDR reports on elimination of racial discrimination

February 29, 2012

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today considered the combined sixteenth to eighteenth periodic reports of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Introducing the report, Chaleun Yiapaoheu, Head of the Lao Delegation, Minister of Justice and Chairman of the National Committee on Reporting under the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said 49 ethnic groups lived in Lao People’s Democratic Republic in peace and harmony, all equal under the Constitution. The Criminal Code now listed discrimination based on ethnicity as an offence. The National Growth and Poverty Eradication Strategy focused on rural development, reduction of economic gaps and relocation of people from remote areas to new villages. The Land Titling Project had produced tangible results that ensured all Lao persons had the right to own land. Equal employment opportunities for all ethnic groups were ensured, and people from smaller ethnic groups were given priority for jobs in most major development projects. Following anthropological research on ethnic groups in the country, the Government found that allegations of maltreatment and discrimination against the Hmong ethnic group were groundless, and aimed at destroying the good image and continued efforts by the Government to cooperate with the international community in the promotion and protection of human rights.

During the discussion, Committee Experts asked what concrete steps had been taken to adopt a general definition of racial discrimination into the legal system. Experts raised issues of discrimination and violence against population of ethnic groups, in particular against the Hmong community and compensation for ethnic groups who were victims of mining activities. The Committee expressed concern about the Government’s re-settlement policies and inheritance traditions that discriminated against women. Experts also raised access to education for children from ethnic minorities and asked whether the education system taught the culture and languages of ethnic minorities. The fight against human trafficking and corruption was discussed, as were institutional developments, including whether the Government planned to establish a National Human Rights Institution.

In concluding remarks, Regis De Goutte, Country Rapporteur for the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, said that the Committee would make recommendations on access to healthcare for vulnerable groups, establishment of a National Human Rights Institution, elimination of any restrictions on freedom of expression that might still exist, the need to define racial discrimination more broadly than just in the Criminal Code, and on the need to collect statistics on the complaints and causes of racial discrimination.

Chaleun Yiapaoheu, concluded the interactive dialogue by thanking the Committee Experts for their constructive remarks and saying the Government would consider their recommendations and continue its efforts for the effective implementation of the Convention.

The Delegation of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the National Assembly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Lao Front for National Construction, the Ministry of Education and Sports and the Permanent Mission of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. today, when it will consider the combined thirteenth to sixteenth periodic reports of Qatar (CERD/C/QAT/13-16).

Report

The combined sixteenth to eighteenth periodic reports of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic can be read here: CERD.C.LAO.16-18

Presentation of the Report

CHALEUN YIAPAOHEU, Minister of Justice and Chairman of the National Committee on Reporting under the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said 49 ethnic groups lived in Lao People’s Democratic Republic in peace and harmony, all equal under the Constitution. The Committee’s previous concluding observations and recommendations, of 2005, had been translated into the Lao language and widely disseminated in the country, and had prompted new laws and legislative amendments, such as the Criminal Code, which now listed discrimination based on ethnicity as an offence. The Constitution of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic prohibited racial discrimination and guaranteed the equality of all individuals without distinction of race or ethnicity. All citizens had the rights of equal treatment before the courts, to physical inviolability and to freedom of movement and residence within Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The National Growth and Poverty Eradication Strategy focused on rural development, poverty eradication and reduction of economic gaps, and relocated people from remote areas to new villages. While doing that, the Government paid great attention to create understanding among different ethnic groups. The right to nationality, education, healthcare, freedom of opinion, expression and religion, as well as freedom of assembly and association, were provided for all Lao people in the Constitution, regardless of their ethnicity. The Family Law defined the right to marriage without any prohibition against mixed ethnic marriages.

The Land Titling Project had produced tangible results that ensured all Lao persons had the right to own land, without discrimination based on race or ethnicity in the official certification of land ownership. The right to inherit was guaranteed, although inheritance traditions varied across ethnic groups, some of which favoured men over women. All cultural and mass media activities which were detrimental to national interests or the traditional culture and dignity of the Lao people were prohibited. Equal employment opportunity for all ethnic groups was ensured, and people from smaller ethnic groups were given priority for jobs in most major development projects. Anyone could form and join trade unions without discrimination on the basis of ethnicity. All ethnic groups had the right to protect, preserve and promote the customs and cultures of their own tribes, and to participate in the cultural life of the country. Human rights information was disseminated through mass media, seminars and workshop, at local and national levels. Following anthropological research on ethnic groups in the country conducted by the Government, it was found that allegations of maltreatment and discrimination against the Hmong ethnic group were groundless, and aimed at destroying the good image and the continued efforts by the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to cooperate with the international community in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Questions from Experts 

REGIS DE GOUTTE, Country Rapporteur for the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, regretted the long period since 2005 when the State party had not submitted any periodic reports. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic had 6.44 million inhabitants. Within that population, 67 per cent were Buddhist, 20 per cent were Animist, 1.5 per cent were Christian, 8,000 were Baha’is and 550 were Muslim. The main issue was integration of ethnic minorities living in rural areas, and the displacement and re-localization policies. The Committee was concerned about the situation of the Hmong persons who had fled from the Country in 1975, then were brought back in 2009. Reports suggested persistent discrimination and ill-treatment against Hmong persons. The declaration made by the Head of Delegation in his presentation of the report was not in line with those reports.

There had been an improvement regarding cooperation with other treaty bodies, and involvement of civil society in that process, the Rapporteur said. Had any non-governmental organizations been consulted in production of the periodic report? The Committee asked about the implementation of freedom of expression, the fight against corruption, and establishment of a National Human Rights Institution. The protection against racial discrimination in domestic law was still not sufficient, particularly because of the lack of formal definition of racial discrimination. Two provisions of the Criminal Code referred to ethnic groups, but those provisions did not meet the requirements of the Convention. The language spoken in tribunals was Lao. Was interpretation provided free of charge for parties who did not speak the same language, and was legal advice also free?

The inquiry into allegations of rapes of Hmong women by agents of the National Army on 19 May 2004 concluded that those allegations had just been invented to ruin the image of the Army. Was the inquiry impartial? Many non-governmental organizations, including Amnesty International, reported cases of arbitrary detentions and ill-treatment for detainees and political prisoners.

The Rapporteur said the reports mentioned compensation for ethnic groups who were victims of mining activities, and asked whether the groups benefitted financially from mining activities. The Rapporteur asked about inheritance traditions that discriminated against women, and also for examples for mass media activities that had been prohibited because of their detriment to national interests or to the traditional culture and dignity of the Lao people.

Positive measures taken by the State to ensure that members of minority groups had access to jobs, health services, illiteracy, education of ethnic groups and dissemination of the Convention were all raised by the Rapporteur. He said that low numbers of complaints in cases of discrimination were not necessarily a good sign, and could on the contrary reveal the lack of an effective complaint procedure or information on the rights of victims.

An Expert said it was interesting to see that the Government had analysed the ethnic make up of the country. There was a definition of racial discrimination in the Criminal Code, but it should apply to other parts of the legislation and to all elements of political and social life. The periodic report did not cover Article 4 of the Convention which should be better expressed in legislation. An Expert raised concerns about the high illiteracy rate. Reports mentioned a reduction in numbers of the Hmong minority – was the government aware of such phenomenon, and could the Delegation explain more about the resettlement policy? It was hard to believe populations gave their consent to be removed from their homes in remote areas.

Several Experts said that they were pleased to hear that the National Assembly was chaired by a woman from an ethnic minority, and asked if there were any women judges or any women in the army, and what measures had been taken to address the specific vulnerability of women from ethnic minorities.

An Expert regretted the lack of definition of racial discrimination in the legal system. The ethnic minority schools were referred to by another Expert, who requested assurances that those schools did not hide an attempt to assimilate ethnic minorities. She asked how the subject of history and the multi-ethnic nature of the country were taught to children.

Response by the Delegation

CHALEUN YIAPAOHEU, Minister of Justice and Chairman of the National Committee on Reporting under the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said that court interpreters were provided free of charge for people who did not speak the official Lao language, prosecutors from ethnic minorities could offer assistance, and legal aid was also available for free for any person who asked for it. Every administration office could receive complaints or petitions, and people could complain to administrative courts about decisions by the public administration. People could also complain to the National Assembly via mail or phone.

Members of the Hmong ethnic groups held important positions in public administration and other key fields, such as education. There were 49 ethnic groups in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and respect among those groups was an important principle. There was no concept of majority and minority in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. If there was a conflict involving racial discrimination, mediation was often the way to solve it.

A delegate confirmed that the Government had invited the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to visit last year. Recommendations made by Special Procedures were being implemented, and the Government was considering inviting the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly to visit the country. There was no universally accepted definition of indigenous people. The concept of indigenous people was not used by the Government. The concept of ethnic groups having a large or small population was sometimes used, but concepts of ‘minority’ and ‘majority’ were never used because they contradicted the historical background of the country.

The Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic addressed the question of migration of the population with great attention and care. One aspect was the voluntary movement of population who wished to leave remote areas, although the Government attached great importance to the development of rural areas. Another aspect was the policy of establishing developed villages, and re-settlement of some members of the population as a development measure. That policy allowed the State to provide access to health care for people who could not benefit from such services while living in remote areas. The Government was aware that the implementation of developed villages involved re-settlement of the people and protection of the cultural identity of ethnic groups, and did provide financial compensation. The policy allowed ethnic groups to finally enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights. The Government was well aware that development was not to be pursued in violation of civil and political rights.

Freedom of expression was guaranteed under the Constitution, and included freedom to access domestic and foreign media. The printed press was a really fast growing sector in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. A delegate said that education and dissemination of the Convention was taken seriously by the Government. Several seminars and workshops had been organised on the topic. All ethic groups had the right to preserve and protect their cultural identities. Racial discrimination was considered a crime and was punished by law. The Government was in the process of strengthening the many human rights committees already established. The establishment of a National Human Rights Institution imposed constraints, and to ensure compliancy with the Paris Principles would require substantial financial resources, which the Government could not provide at the moment.

On the issue of the repatriation of the Hmong illegal migrants, a delegate said that some Hmong people repatriated from Thailand wanted to return their homeland, so they had been provided with free transportation. Others did not know where to go, so the Government provided them with accommodation and facilities, building entire villages with all the living infrastructure they needed. Regarding the allegations of rape of Hmong women by the armed forces, a delegate said that there were no fundamental facts or details that could prove those crimes did happen. On allegations of murder of Hmong children, he said that investigations had been conducted, in which several persons from the Hmong community took part. No evidence had been found to suggest involvement of State officials.

Primary education was mandatory for children from six to ten years old. The literacy rate was 87 per cent and the Government aimed to reach 95 per cent by 2015. Education was for all, without discrimination, but particularly for girls and children from small ethnic communities. Children who could only attend schools far away from their villages had free accommodation provided, as the Government could not afford to build schools in all villages. Any language could be used for teaching that would help students understand. Recruitment of women and of people from ethnic minorities as teachers was promoted.

Questions from the Experts

An Expert said it was normal and important to give children the opportunity to learn the official language of their country, but they should also have the opportunity to study their mother tongue, because it was the only mean to preserve languages and to avoid them being lost.

The Rapporteur asked about unemployment levels, and said it seemed that young people from the Hmong population were particularly affected by unemployment. He also asked about efforts to combat human trafficking and corruption.

There was a lack of inclusion of the population of ethnic minorities in the political process, an Expert said. It seemed that the investigation into allegations of murders of children by the armed forces had not been conducted impartially, as the investigation had been conducted by members of the armed forces.

An Expert asked whether there was an academy responsible for moving the Lao language from an oral language to a written one, and whether there was a project to build a Nation-State through the language. Did the Government have a policy regarding Lao-based transnational corporations implementing activities abroad that led to racial discrimination?

Response by the Delegation

The Government would examine the Expert’s comments and reflect them in future legislation. A delegate said that the national language was as important as ethnic languages, and school was an opportunity for persons from ethnic groups to learn other languages. A precise unemployment figure could be provided at a later date.

Concerning trafficking of persons, there had been a growth of international movements of people, which could have negative aspects and lead to human trafficking. No country was spared that phenomenon. To address the transnational problem, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic worked in collaboration with its partners from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The Government was currently working with Thailand to repatriate victims of trafficking. There were no statistics to show which ethnic group was most affected by human trafficking – all groups suffered.

The Head of Delegation told the Committee that stopping corruption was on the Government’s agenda. Efforts undertaken to fight corruption included adoption of a new law, and establishment of a Committee to implement it. Efforts were being made to improve national institutions in order to help them address emerging issues, such as corruption or human trafficking. There was no dominant position for any ethnic group in the society.

Regarding transnational corporations, the Government had adopted a law that provided financial compensation for victims of human rights violations caused by the foreign activities of Lao-based enterprises.

Concluding Remarks

REGIS DE GOUTTE, Country Rapporteur for the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, thanked the Delegation for the interesting and constructive interactive dialogue. He said that the Committee would make recommendations on access to healthcare for vulnerable groups, establishment of a National Human Rights Institution, elimination of any restrictions on freedom of expression that might still exist, the need to define racial discrimination more broadly than just in the Criminal Code, and on the need to collect statistics on the complaints and causes of racial discrimination.

CHALEUN YIAPAOHEU, Minister of Justice and Chairman of the National Committee on Reporting under the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, thanked the Committee Experts for their constructive remarks. The Government would consider the recommendations made by the Committee and continue its efforts for the effective implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Source

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