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TITLE:  LAOS HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993                              
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

                          LAOS


The Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR) is a Communist, 
one-party state.  The Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) 
is the primary source of political authority in the country.  
The party's leadership imposes broad controls on Laos' 4.5 
million people.

The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) remains the main instrument 
of state control.  MOI police monitor Lao society and foreign 
nationals in Laos, and the LPRP uses informants in workplaces 
and residential communities.

Laos is one of the world's poorest and least developed 
countries.  In the first few years after the LPDR came to power 
in 1975, at least 350,000 Lao fled the country to escape the 
Government's harsh political and economic policies.  Since 
then, the Government has largely abandoned its Socialist 
economic agenda.  Economic reforms have moved the country from 
a moribund, centrally planned system to a growing, 
market-oriented economy open to foreign investment.

Even with the ongoing economic liberalization, the adoption of 
a Constitution in 1991, the death of the LPRP's longtime leader 
in November 1992, National Assembly elections the following 
month, and a government reorganization in February 1993, 
restrictions on basic freedoms have eased only a little in 
recent years.  The right to privacy and the right of citizens 
to change their government are absent.

The Constitution is the supreme legal document, but in many 
instances there is no or inadequate implementing legislation.  
Freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion are restricted in 
practice even though provided for in the Constitution.  At the 
same time, however, the Government has been working to develop 
a legal system with a codified body of laws consistent with the 
Constitution and its economic and legal reform policies.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killing by the Government in 
1993, although police were involved in one confirmed 
extrajudicial killing.  In April police in Vientiane shot and 
killed an unarmed teenager at a roadblock set up to check for 
vehicle registrations.  The policemen involved are in prison 
but have not yet been tried.  


Extrajudicial killings have also occurred in the context of the 
continuin insurgency.  Drawing primarily from Hmong tribesmen 
supported by their brethren in Thailand and abroad, the 
low-level insurgency that has existed since 1975 continued in 
1993 in spite of the December 1992 closing of a refugee camp 
near the Laos border in Thailand and enhanced Thai efforts to 
prevent use of that country as a base for insurgent attacks 
into Laos.  In 1993 there were reports of insurgent attacks to 
the east and the west of their traditional area of operations 
north of Vientiane and south of Luang Prabang.  Both sides have 
reportedly used brutal tactics on occasion, with the insurgents 
occasionally assassinating military and local officials, 
ambushing vehicles, and attacking villages.  They reportedly 
killed about 15 persons in a road ambush in April and 7 Lao 
road construction workers in May.  The insurgents, in turn, 
have claimed repeatedly that the Government employs chemical 
weapons against them, but extensive investigation of these 
allegations have produced no conclusive evidence to support 
these claims.


     b.  Disappearance

In September Vue Mai, a Hmong leader who in November 1992 had 
returned voluntarily to Laos from a refugee camp in Thailand to 
seek a settlement site for his family and adherents, 
disappeared in Vientiane.  The Government said its 
investigation produced no solid leads, and there was no 
evidence to implicate LPDR officials in Vue Mai's 
disappearance.  In 1991 Vue Mai had been evacuated from a 
refugee camp in Thailand.  A grenade was thrown at his house in 
the camp after he spoke out in favor of voluntary repatriation, 
which the Lao insurgents have opposed.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

The Penal Code prohibits torture or mistreatment of prisoners, 
and the police do not appear to use torture or abuse during 
arrest and detention.  Jail conditions, however, are harsh, and 
prisoners are routinely denied family visitations and proper 
medical care.  Prisoners in some jails reportedly must resort 
to bribing their guards to obtain food and medicines.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Those accused of hostility to the regime are subject to arrest 
and confinement for long periods.  Three former government 
officials continued to serve their 14-year sentences for 
advocating a multiparty system and criticizing restrictions on 
political liberties.  Three men who had been detained since 
1975 were serving life sentences handed down in 1992 for 
various crimes allegedly committed during their tenure as 
officials under the previous regime.  Three other officials of 
the former government continued to remain in the remote 
province where they had been detained, raising questions about 
their freedom of movement.

Reportedly in December 1992 a Lao student was detained by the 
Lao Embassy in Moscow for his alleged opposition to the LPRP 
and then flown against his will under official escort  to Laos, 
where he was detained for 7 days and then released.

The Constitution and Penal Code contain some protection for 
those accused of crimes, such as a statute of limitations; 
however, these protections have not been effectively 
implemented.  Arrests, trials, and convictions are frequently 
not announced, making it impossible to obtain exact figures of 
the number of political prisoners.  People may be arrested on 
unsupported accusations and without being informed of the 
charges or of the accusers' identities.  Those accused of what 
the Government calls "socially undesirable habits" such as 
prostitution, drug abuse, and vagrancy are subject to arrest 
and detention in "rehabilitation centers," usually without 
public trial.  Most of those sent to rehabilitation centers are 
allowed to return home after a confinement that typically 
includes forced labor, political indoctrination, and admission 
of guilt.  

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although regulations call for judgment to be given in public, 
this amounts to public announcement of the sentence and not a 
true public trial.  There is some provision for appeal, and the 
Council of Ministers must approve death sentences.  Reportedly 
there is also high-level review of other important political 
cases.  Under the Constitution, judges and prosecutors are 
supposed to be independent and their decisions not subject to 
outside scrutiny.  In practice, the courts appear to accept 
recommendations of other government agencies, especially the 
MOI, in making their decisions.

While in theory government-provided legal counsel is available 
to the accused, in fact persons accused of crimes must defend 
themselves without outside legal assistance.  The Government 
suspended the bar in late 1992, pending the introduction of 
rules regarding the fees and activities of private lawyers.  
The few private lawyers in Laos may still provide legal 
counsel, at least on civil cases, but they may not set 
themselves up as attorneys-at-law.  In civil and commercial 
matters, the Government is promoting the rule of law, often 
with technical support from Western donors.  As indicated 
above, the Government has been developing a legal system with a 
codified body of laws dealing with contracts, companies, 
foreign investment, private property, civil procedure, 
inheritance, labor, and family, and a Penal Code.  In 1993 the 
Government began publishing an official gazette, which for the 
first time provides a systematic means for disseminating laws, 
decrees, and regulations.  Recently the Ministry of Justice 
added a fourth year of studies to the law program that trains 
the nation's future magistrates and judges.  Courts are being 
established at the district level, often for the first time. 

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
         Correspondence

Concomitant with liberalization of the economy, the Government 
has relaxed some elements of state control, including police 
monitoring of personal and business activities and enforcement 
of the nighttime curfew.  However, while the Constitution 
prohibits arrests or searches in homes without warrants or 
authorization, search and seizure continue to be authorized by 
the security bureaus themselves rather than by judicial 
authority.  The Government and the party continue to monitor 
some aspects of family life through a system of neighborhood 
and workplace committees.  The neighborhood committees have 
responsibility for maintaining public order in their 
neighborhood and reporting "bad elements" to the police.  These 
committees usually concern themselves more with street crime 
and instances of moral turpitude rather than with political 
activism.  In 1992 the MOI began making late-night inspections 
of households to insure that all those in the house were 
registered with the police.  Those found unregistered were 
often detained for several days.  The Government also began 
reinstating workers' committees among Lao employees of 
embassies and international organizations.  The committees are 
charged with conducting political training and maintaining 
discipline among employees.

The Penal Code outlaws listening to telephone calls without 
proper authorization, but the security bureaus themselves 
probably have the right to make such authorization.  As far as 
is known, monitoring of international mail and telephone calls 
continues.  Under the new land decree, the "national community" 
owns all land.  Private "ownership" is in the form of land use 
certificates.  The Government has lifted restrictions on the 
sale of such certificates and has implemented a decree to 
return property confiscated after 1975 to those original owners 
who repatriate to Laos.  However, in cases where the property 
is now used as housing by government officials, the petitions 
to have property returned remain in litigation, and the 30-some 
officials of the former government who were convicted in 
absentia in 1975 are not eligible.  A 1990 decree confiscated 
their property.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Despite the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and 
freedom of the press, the exercise of these freedoms is broadly 
controlled by the Government.  The Government reacts harshly to 
expressions of political dissent.  As noted above, three 
persons arrested in 1990 for reportedly advocating a multiparty 
system each received 14-year sentences.  The Penal Code bars 
slandering the State, including distorting party or state 
policies, and spreading false rumors conducive to disorder.  It 
also bars disseminating books and other materials that are 
deemed indecent or that would infringe on the national 
culture.  In January the Government released from jail and 
expelled from the country two Americans who had been separately 
arrested the previous fall, allegedly for having imported 
politically sensitive and pornographic materials and for taking 
pictures in off-limits areas and bearing false documents.  

Newspapers, radio, and television are instruments of the 
Government, reflecting its views.  The Government has 
traditionally sought to control the flow of information from 
abroad, and there are limitations on the importation of foreign 
publications, though some Thai and Western newspapers and 
magazines are sold.  The Government makes no effort to 
discourage reception of Thai radio or television broadcasts, 
which are widely listened to and watched in the Mekong river 
valley.  In Vientiane, the capital, satellite television
receiving dishes have proliferated in the yards of foreign 
residents and others who can afford them.  Video rental stores 
operate largely without restrictions in most Lao cities, 
although such stores are prohibited from carrying pornographic 
or politically inflammatory material.  

Academic freedom remains tightly controlled.  Lao academicians 
are sometimes denied permission to travel abroad for 
conferences or training.  The Government also restricts and 
monitors the activities of Western scholars doing research in 
Laos.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government controls and organizes most large public 
gatherings except for religious, athletic, and communal 
events.  The Penal Code expressly prohibits demonstrations or 
protest marches aimed at causing turmoil and social 
instability, prescribing penalties of from 1 to 5 years' 
imprisonment.  Unspecified "destabilizing subversive 
activities" are also banned.  Although the Constitution 
specifies the right of Lao citizens to organize and join 
associations, all associations are party controlled and 
disseminate official policy.

Contact between ordinary Lao and foreigners have increased in 
recent years as restrictions, such as the requirement for 
government approval of invitations to most foreigners' homes, 
are no longer enforced.  The prohibition against foreigners 
staying with Lao families has also been eased in urban areas, 
and the Government allows Lao citizens to marry foreigners as 
long as government approval of the marriage is obtained first.  
Marriages conducted without government approval may be annulled 
and the foreign spouse subject to fine or arrest.

Other restrictions on association with foreigners still apply.  
Government officials require government approval to travel in 
other countries.  The Government sometimes requires that 
diplomats hire domestic help only from a list provided by the 
Government.  Restrictions on foreigners traveling upcountry 
appear aimed in part at forestalling contact with insurgent 
groups or at preventing religious proselytizing.


     c.  Freedom of Religion

In official statements the Government has recognized the right 
to freedom of religion as well as the contributions religion 
can make to the development of the nation, and the Constitution 
contains provisions for religious freedom.  However, the 
Government continues to restrict freedom of religion, 
especially for non-Buddhists.  

Links with coreligionists and religious associations in other 
countries require government approval.  The Government does not 
formally ban missionaries from entering Laos to proselytize but 
almost always denies them permission to enter.  Many resident 
foreigners are active in Lao churches and provide assistance in 
setting up new churches.  The Government welcomes 
nongovernmental organizations with religious affiliations as 
long as they contribute to national development and do not 
proselytize openly.

All Christian seminaries were closed by the new Government in 
1975, and they have not reopened.  Those wishing to enter the 
priesthood must study privately with priests or ministers.  
Almost all Protestant ministers are lay preachers.  Even so, 
Roman Catholics and Protestants are permitted to worship 
openly, and new churches have opened since 1990.  About a dozen 
Catholic and Protestant churches are active in Vientiane, with 
many other churches scattered throughout the country.

Although many highland Lao are animists, and there are 
Christian and Moslem minorities, nearly all lowland Lao are 
Buddhists.  Having restructured the Buddhist organizations 
after coming to power in 1975, the Government now tolerates and 
encourages the open practice of Buddhism, and it has openly 
supported Buddhist organizations in the last few years.  
High-ranking government officials routinely attend Buddhist 
functions, and Buddhist clergy are prominently featured at 
important state and party functions.  The Government permits 
religious festivals without hindrance.  Many temples are being 
repaired and restored, and the number of Buddhist monks has 
increased in recent years; about 30,000 are now practicing in 
Laos.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government retains the right to require citizens to obtain 
official permission for internal travel, and foreign residents 
in Vientiane must obtain permission to travel outside the 
prefecture.  Similar restrictions apply to foreign tourists 
except when their travel in Laos is with an officially 
sanctioned tour group.  In contrast, most Lao may easily obtain 
passports and exit permits from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 
for travel abroad.  Border-crossing permits for Lao to visit 
Thailand are routinely available from local village committees 
for a modest issuance fee.  Travel to the United States and 
other Western countries has risen dramatically in the past 
several years.  In recent years the number of Lao emigrating to 
live with relatives abroad has increased sharply, and the 
Government does not appear to interfere with persons desiring 
to emigrate.

The stated government policy since 1977 has been to welcome 
back the approximately 10 percent of the population who fled 
after the change of governments in 1975 (except for the 30-some 
persons convicted in absentia; see Section l.f.).  Since 1988 
thousands of Lao living abroad have returned to visit family 
and friends.  A number of Lao have returned to investigate 
business possibilities, and several have remained to operate 
businesses.

Almost 19,000 Lao have voluntarily returned to Laos since 1980 
under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for 
Refugees (UNHCR), including some 4,200 in 1993.  Perhaps 
another 30,000 have repatriated without official involvement.  
About 30,000 Lao refugees and asylum seekers remain in 
Thailand; and another 1,700 in China.  

Laos, Thailand, and the UNHCR are cooperating on a phased 
return of the hilltribe Lao remaining in Thailand who wish to 
return to Laos.  This program includes provisions for the 
careful monitoring of returnees to ensure they are given the 
same rights and treatment as resident Lao.  

According to the UNHCR and voluntary agencies that work with 
it, returnees have not been the subject of discrimination or 
persecution and are allowed back with all the belongings they 
accumulated while outside of Laos.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Citizens do not have the ability to change their government 
despite constitutional provisions for secret ballots and 
universal suffrage in the public election of National Assembly 
members.  The Assembly elects the President, and it is 
beginning to assert itself on matters that do not affect the 
fundamentals of the political system.  However, because the 
LPRP continues to dominate government and politics, there is no 
structured way in which citizens could remove the LPRP from 
power.  Its primacy is set forth in the Constitution.  All 
candidates for the National Assembly election in December 1992 
had to be approved by the party, no other parties were 
permitted to organize, and voting was mandatory.  Nevertheless, 
the Assembly does include a number of non-LPRP members.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

There are no domestic human rights groups.  Any organization 
wishing to investigate and publicly criticize the Government's 
human rights policies would face serious obstacles, if it were 
to be permitted to operate at all.  Laos generally does not 
cooperate with international human rights organizations.  The 
Government has, however, permitted visits by officials of 
international humanitarian organizations and has communicated 
with them by letter.  

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

     Women

There is no pattern of widespread domestic or culturally 
approved violence against women, and reports of sexual 
harassment are rare.  But lowland Lao and especially some 
hilltribes tend to hold women in lower esteem than men.  
Traditionally, women in Lao society have been subservient to 
men and have often been discouraged from obtaining an 
education, in part because some families tend to keep 
school-age daughters at home to tend to domestic duties.  The 
Government claims a higher percentage of girls are in school 
now than before 1975 and that women are being encouraged to 
assume a greater role in economic and political activity.  The 
Government relies on the Women's Union and youth organizations 
to educate girls and young women against the schemes of 
recruiters for brothels and sweatshops in Bangkok and 
elsewhere.  Many women occupy responsible positions in 
government and private business, and in urban areas their 
income is often higher than that of their husbands.  Yet only 7 
of the 78 members of the National Assembly are women, the 
53-member Central Committee has only 2 women on it, and there 
are no women on the Politburo or Council of Ministers.

     Children

Physical abuse of children is rare, although many drop out of 
school at an early age, and children commonly work on their 
families' farms and shops.  The Government is concerned about 
the welfare of Lao children, but in light of many pressing 
demands on very limited resources, it has not committed the 
funding or personnel needed to implement its good intentions 
effectively. 

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Approximately one-half of the population is ethnic Lao, also 
called "lowland Lao," and most of the other half is a mosaic of 
upland hilltribes.  There are also ethnic Vietnamese and 
Chinese, particularly in the towns.  Their rights to Lao 
citizenship are uncertain as long as the law on nationality, 
which would convey that right, remains unimplemented.  The 
Constitution provides for equal rights for all minorities, and 
there is no legal discrimination against them.

The Government attempts to integrate the hilltribes through 
voluntary programs and to overcome traditional antagonisms and 
prejudice between lowland Lao and minority groups.  While the 
Government encourages the preservation of minority cultures and 
traditions, minority tribes have virtually no voice in 
government decisions affecting their lands and the allocation 
of natural resources.  The party and the Government continue to 
be dominated by lowland Lao males, though efforts have been 
made to include minorities in the political and governmental 
elites.  The Minister of the Interior is a member of an ethnic 
minority, but there are no minorities represented on the 
Politburo and only five on the Central Committee.

The Hmong, the largest highland tribe, are split along clan 
lines.  During the Vietnam war, many were strongly 
anti-Communist while others sided with the Lao and Vietnamese 
Communists.  The Government has repressed many of those who 
fought against it, especially those perceived to be still 
resisting its authority.  On the other hand, many Hmong who 
supported the Lao Communists before 1975 today occupy important 
positions in the Government, and an increasing number of Hmong 
who fled the country after 1975 have repatriated back to Laos 
without suffering persecution by the Government.


     People with Disabilities

There is no outright discrimination against people with 
disabilities.  Neither is there any government assistance, save 
for casualties of the revolutionary war that brought the 
Government to power.  Typically, the family and the community 
take responsibility for the disabled.  Unless severely 
disabled, such children attend public schools despite the 
absence of special facilities for them.  Provision of 
accessibility for disabled persons has not been manadated 
legislatively or otherwise/

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

Although the Constitution provides citizens the right to 
organize and join associations, all associations are party 
controlled and disseminate official policy (see Section 2.b.).

An estimated 85 percent of Lao are subsistence farmers.  Among 
salaried workers, the majority are employed by the State, 
though this has been changing as the Government privatizes 
state enterprises and encourages private investors to open new 
factories.  In response to the emerging private sector, the 
Government in 1990 adopted a Labor Code that permits labor 
unions to be formed in the private enterprises so long as they 
operate within the framework of the officially sanctioned 
Federation of Lao Trade Unions (FLTU), which in turn is 
controlled by the LPRP.  The extent to which the FLTU is free 
to engage in contacts and activities with foreign labor 
organizations is unknown.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

There is no right to organize and bargain collectively.  Wages 
and salaries for government employees are set by the 
Government, while wages and salaries for private business 
employees are set by management.  The Labor Code stipulates 
that disputes should be resolved through workplace committees 
composed of employers, representatives of the local labor 
union, and representatives of the FLTU, with final authority at 
the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare.  The incidence of 
labor disputes has risen with the increase in foreign 
investment.  There are no export processing zones.


     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Labor Code prohibits forced labor except in time of war or 
national disaster, when the State may conscript laborers.  In 
practice, however, prisoners in work camps must do manual 
labor, including growing their own food.  They are routinely 
required to work on nearby state and private enterprises 
without wages. 

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Under the Labor Code, children under 15 may not be recruited 
for employment.  Because many children help their families on 
farms or in shops, the Labor Code allows younger children to 
work for their families, provided they do not engage in 
dangerous or difficult work.  Employment of children in 
industry is not widespread, although it is common in urban 
shops.  The MOI and Ministry of Justice are responsible for 
enforcing these provisions, but enforcement is ineffective 
owing to a lack of inspectors and other resources.  Education 
is compulsory through the fifth grade, but this requirement is 
rarely observed in the rural areas or among the urban poor.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Code has provisions for a broad range of worker 
entitlements, including a workweek limited to 48 hours (36 in 
dangerous activities) and safe working conditions.  The Labor 
Code requires employers to provide a safe work environment and 
offers special compensation for dangerous work.  Employers are 
supposed to provide all expenses for a worker injured or killed 
on the job.  The government-stipulated daily minimum wage is 
$1.39 (1,000 kip), effective December 1992, which is 
insufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a 
worker and his family.  However, almost no families in the 
monetized economy depend only on one breadwinner.  Some 
piecework employees, especially on construction sites, make 
less than the minimum wage.  In April the Ministry of Labor and 
Social Welfare announced that employers would have 30 days to 
comply with Labor Code provisions on minimum wage, overtime, 
leave, social security, and health care, and that it would 
periodically inspect workplaces to ensure compliance.  Despite 
its intentions, the understaffed Ministry lacks effective 
enforcement mechanisms, and the Labor Code is not effectively 
enforced.


[end of document]

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