VIENTIANE, Lao P.D.R--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Last week U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry questioned the Lao Government's commitment to the rule of law in relation to the unexplained disappearance of, Sombath Somphone, founder of the NGO, Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC), operating there.
"Regrettably," he said, "the continuing, unexplained disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone, a widely respected and inspiring Lao citizen who has worked for the greater benefit of all of his countrymen, raises questions about the Lao government's commitment to the rule of law and to engage responsibly with the world."
Mr. Somphone disappeared after being detained at a police checkpoint over one hundred days ago and despite numerous calls for information and offers of assistance, including from former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the Lao government has failed to provide satisfactory answers about the circumstances of Mr. Somphone's disappearance or his current whereabouts.
Recently, Lao has come under criticism not only for its human rights practices but also for its treatment of foreign investors, raising the issue of whether Lao is ready to deal with the international community at all.
Last year Sanum Investments Limited ("Sanum") and its parent company, Lao Holdings, N.V., filed international treaty arbitration cases against the Lao government for unfairly interfering with the operation of their investments, the arbitrary cancellation of valuable licenses, and the state-sanctioned takeover of one of its major investment projects, the Thanaleng Slot Machine Club in the nation's capital, Vientiane.
The Thanaleng property was earning upwards of $3 million in monthly revenues in April 2012, when Sanum's minority partner, ST Group, was assisted by police and military officials in forcibly ejecting Sanum officials from the site – a site that was providing employment to hundreds of Lao citizens at that time.
"It is very difficult to watch the Lao government behaving with such indifference. When the case of someone as well-regarded as Somboth Somphone is deliberately ignored, and when foreign investors are having their investments unjustly expropriated without compensation, it really is time that someone with the stature of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry step in to make sure that these cases of abuse do not become simple statistics." said Jody Jordahl, President of Sanum.
Lao's accession to the World Trade Organization ("WTO") on February 2, 2013 seems not to have helped, casting even more doubt about Lao's ability to integrate with the international community in any meaningful way.
"Does Lao have any intention of conforming to fundamental principles of international law, like transparency, stability or equality under the rule of law? When will it finally start honoring its treaty obligations?" Jordahl said.
Sanum and Lao Holdings continue to employ thousands of local Laotians in the country. Both companies have also commenced, and are vigorously prosecuting their claims under investment protection treaties to which Lao is a party. Arbitral tribunals have already been established to hear both claims. Awards issued by this type of tribunal are binding upon the Lao government in countries across the developed and developing worlds.