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TITLE:  LAOS HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995









                              LAOS


The Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR) is an 
authoritarian, one-party state ruled by the Communist Lao 
People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP).

The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) remains the main instrument 
of state control.  MOI police maintain order and monitor Lao 
society and foreign nationals, including foreign officials and 
diplomats.  The degree of surveillance varies from province to 
province.

Laos is an extremely poor country.  After the LPRP came to 
power in 1975, at least 350,000 people fled the country to 
escape the Government's harsh political and economic policies.  
Since 1986 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.

Citizens do not have the right to change their government.  
Even with ongoing economic liberalization, the adoption of a 
Constitution in 1991, and National Assembly elections in 1993, 
the Government only slowly eased restrictions on basic 
freedoms.  Many of the rights stipulated in the Constitution 
have not been codified with implementing legislation.  In 
practice, the Government restricts the freedoms of speech, 
assembly, and, to a lesser extent, religion, even though they 
are provided for in the Constitution.  In 1994 the Government 
eased domestic travel restrictions.  Laotians do not have the 
right to privacy and do not enjoy a free press.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There continued to be occasional killings in the course of a 
long-running, low-level insurgency north of Vientiane where the 
Hmong ethnic group predominates.  Antigovernment groups abroad 
have claimed repeatedly that the Lao Government employs 
chemical weapons against those who oppose it.  Extensive 
investigation of these allegations has produced no conclusive 
evidence to substantiate the claims.

The road ambush is a common manifestation of the insurgency.  
In May an Australian hydrologist and five Lao civilians were 
killed when their vehicles were attacked.  In June four Lao 
civilians were reportedly taken from their vehicles in an 
ambush on Route 13 north and killed.

In October two Lao soldiers shot two Hmong males when the 
latter strayed into a restricted military zone.  The Government 
arrested the soldiers, who at last report remained in 
detention.  In November the resistance reportedly killed two 
villagers for collaborating with the army.  In December unknown 
assailants killed four Lao civilian employees of the U.N. Drug 
Control Program after their vehicle was stopped in an ambush.  
It is often unclear whether the ambushers are politically 
motivated insurgents or economically motivated bandits.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

In September 1993, Vue Mai, a Hmong leader who in November 1992 
returned voluntarily to Laos from a refugee camp in Thailand, 
disappeared in Vientiane.  There is no clear explanation for 
his disappearance, and the Government has stated its 
investigation is continuing.

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

The Penal Code prohibits torture or mistreatment of prisoners, 
and the Government generally observed this principle in 
practice.  However, there were at least two incidents in which 
police may have used excessive force during arrest.

Jail conditions are harsh, but not life threatening.  Prison 
authorities deny some prisoners regular family visits, and 
medical care ranges from inadequate to nonexistent.  Inmates 
sometimes resort to bribing their guards to obtain food and 
medicines.  There is no independent monitoring of prison 
conditions.  Prison conditions for women are fundamentally 
similar to those for men.  The extent of sexual harassment in 
prison is unknown but is not believed to be a serious problem.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution and Penal Code provide some protections for 
those accused of crimes, such as a statute of limitations, but 
the Government does not fully respect these provisions.  Those 
accused of hostility toward the regime are subject to arrest 
and confinement for long periods.  Three former government 
officials are serving 14-year sentences handed down in 1992 for 
advocating a multiparty system and criticizing restrictions on 
political liberties.  The same year, three men detained since 
1975 were sentenced to life terms for crimes allegedly 
committed during their tenure as officials under the previous 
regime.  The Government claims that three other officials of 
the former government released in 1992 have chosen to remain in 
the same remote province where they and the six prisoners 
mentioned above were held.

Citizens do not have the protection of due process and may be 
arrested based on unsupported accusations, without being 
informed of the charges or of the accusers' identities.  The 
Government resorts less frequently to detention without due 
process for those accused of social crimes such as 
prostitution, drug abuse, and gambling.  Some jurisdictions are 
stricter than others in this regard.

The Government does not use forced exile as a means of 
political control.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although regulations provide for public trial, this usually 
amounts to public announcement of the sentence and not a true 
public trial.  The trial of the three former government 
officials now serving 14-year sentences was not open to the 
public and the court's verdict was announced ex post facto, 
raising serious questions about both the nature of their 
alleged crime and the apparent lack of due process (see 
Section 1.d.).  In 1994 there was at least one instance of a 
public trial of four persons accused of various common crimes.  
Politically sensitive trials have not been open to the public.

There is provision for appeal to the provincial courts and the 
Supreme Court.  Senior government and party officials 
reportedly also review sensitive political cases.  The 
Constitution provides for the independence of judges and 
prosecutors and protects their decisions from outside 
scrutiny.  In practice, however, the courts appear to accept 
recommendations of other government agencies, especially the 
MOI, in making their decisions.

The Constitution provides that all accused persons have the 
right to defend themselves and that the Board of Legal 
Counselors has the right to provide legal assistance to the 
accused.  The Government suspended the Board 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 for civil cases, but 
they may not establish themselves as attorneys-at-law.

Arrests, trials, and convictions are usually unannounced, 
making it impossible to obtain exact figures of the number of 
political prisoners.  However, anecdotal reporting suggests 
that their ranks, reduced substantially by the closure of 
reeducation camps in the 1980's, continued to decrease in 
recent years.  The exact number of political prisoners at 
year's end was unknown but might total several hundred.

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

Concomitant with economic liberalization, the Government 
relaxed some elements of state control, including its rigorous 
police monitoring of personal and business activities and 
enforcement of the nighttime curfew.  However, while the 
Constitution prohibits arrests or searches in homes without 
possessing a warrant or authorization, the security bureaus 
authorize search and seizure by themselves rather than by 
judicial authority.  The Government and the party continue to 
monitor the citizenry sporadically through a system of 
neighborhood and workplace committees.  The neighborhood 
committees also have responsibility for maintaining public 
order and reporting "bad elements" to the police.  These 
committees usually concern themselves more with street crime 
and instances of moral turpitude than with political activism.  
The degree of surveillance and control varies from province to 
province.

The Penal Code forbids telephone monitoring without proper 
authorization, but the security bureaus are believed to 
authorize such monitoring themselves.  Monitoring of 
international mail and telephone calls continued, although the 
increasing number of such calls limited its extent.

The 1991 Constitution stipulates that the "national community" 
owns all land.  Private "ownership" is in the form of land use 
certificates, which can be bought, sold, and transferred to 
heirs.  Many Lao who fled the country after 1975 regained 
confiscated property after demonstrating their intent to 
repatriate.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Despite the constitutional provisions for freedom of speech and 
the press, the Government exerts broad control over the 
exercise of these freedoms and has reacted harshly to 
expressions of political dissent.  As noted in Section 1.d., 
three persons arrested in 1990 after persisting in public 
criticism of party policies and calling for fundamental 
political and economic change each received 14-year sentences 
in 1992.  The Penal Code forbids slandering the State, 
distorting party or state policies, and spreading false rumors 
conducive to disorder.  It also prohibits disseminating books 
and other materials that authorities deem indecent or that 
would assail the national culture.

All domestically produced newspapers and radio and television 
are controlled by the Government.  Local news in all media 
reflect government policy; however, foreign news reports, 
including those from Western sources, are usually translated 
without bias.  In recent years the Government has relaxed 
efforts to control the flow of information from abroad, and 
Thai and Western newspapers and magazines are sold in the towns 
where there is demand for them.  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, where the majority of the Lao population lives.

In 1994 a Thai company inaugurated a new Lao-language 
television station in Vientiane, but the Government prescreens 
its programming.  The Government requires registration of 
television satellite receiving dishes and payment of a one-time 
licensing fee on their installation, but otherwise makes no 
effort to restrict their use.

In 1994 the Government announced restrictions on videocassette 
imports and exports and the opening of new video shops.  The 
Government prohibits pornographic or politically inflammatory 
videocassettes.  In November the Vientiane municipal party 
committee imposed restrictions governing the content of music 
played in night clubs and outlawed karaoke.  It took these 
steps to strengthen Lao culture against erosion by foreign 
influences, but was lax enforcing these restrictions.

The Government restricts academic freedom.  Lao academicians 
are sometimes denied permission to travel abroad for 
conferences or training.  Invitations to visit and collaborate 
with foreign colleagues must be approved by the Lao employer 
and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The Government also 
restricts 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 prohibits demonstrations or protest 
marches aimed at causing turmoil and social instability, 
prescribing penalties of from 1 to 5 years' imprisonment.  The 
Government also bans undefined "destabilizing subversive 
activities."  Although the Constitution provides citizens with 
the right to organize and join associations, all associations 
are party controlled and disseminate official policy.

Foreigners are not allowed to engage in political activity or 
religious proselytizing.  However, contact between ordinary Lao 
and foreigners has increased in recent years as restrictions, 
such as the requirement for government approval of invitations 
to most foreigners' homes, are no longer enforced.  The 
Government has eased the prohibition against foreigners staying 
with Lao families in urban areas, and allows Lao citizens to 
marry foreigners but only with prior government approval.  
Marriages without government approval may be annulled, with the 
foreign spouse subject to fine or arrest.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The Constitution contains provisions for religious freedom.  In 
practice the Government continues to restrict freedom of 
religion, especially for Christians.

Links with coreligionists and religious associations in other 
countries require government approval.  Although the Government 
permits foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) with 
religious affiliations to work in Laos, it prohibits 
proselytizing.  The Government also restricts the import of 
foreign religious publications.

The enforcement of these regulations vary by province.  For 
example, the Catholic Church is unable to operate in the 
highlands and much of the north, but Catholics can openly 
attend churches and chapels in southern Laos.  Protestants 
operate over 100 churches throughout the country.  There were 
unconfirmed reports that local authorities detained some clergy 
for allegedly criticizing other religions and harassed, 
arrested, and jailed other clergy merely because they were 
Christians.  The persistence of such reports underscores the 
continuing suspicion on the part of authorities toward the 
local Christian community.

By comparison, the Government openly encourages Buddhism and 
supports Buddhist organizations.  High-ranking government 
officials routinely attend religious functions, and Buddhist 
clergy are prominently featured at important state and party 
functions.  The Government permits Buddhist festivals without 
hindrance.

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

In 1994 the Government lifted domestic travel restrictions for 
citizens and foreign visitors except in unspecified prohibited 
or insecure areas.  Most Lao can easily obtain passports and 
exit permits from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for personal 
travel abroad.  Border crossing permits for Lao to visit 
Thailand are routinely available from local village committees 
for a modest issuance fee, and the Government does not appear 
to interfere with persons desiring to emigrate.  Except for 
around 30 persons convicted in absentia in 1975 for 
antigovernment activities, citizens have the right of return.

The stated government policy since 1977 is to welcome back the 
approximately 10 percent of the population which fled after the 
change of government in 1975.  In recent years an increasing 
number of Lao living abroad returned to visit; several remained 
to operate businesses.

Laos, Thailand, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees 
(UNHCR) are cooperating on the return of the Lao asylum seekers 
in Thai camps who volunteer to return to Laos.  This program 
includes provisions for monitoring returnees to ensure they are 
given the same rights and treatment as resident Lao.  According 
to the UNHCR and voluntary agencies, returnees are not subject 
to discrimination or persecution, and are allowed back with all 
the belongings they accumulated while outside Laos.

There were no forcible repatriations from Laos in 1994; 
however, more than 5,000 Lao voluntarily repatriated to Laos.  
No new Lao asylum seekers arrived in Thailand.

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 the public election of 
National Assembly members.  All candidates had to have the 
approval of the LPRP before they could stand for the December 
1992 National Assembly elections, no other parties were 
allowed, and voting was mandatory.  However, not all candidates 
were LPRP members and a few non-party candidates won seats.

Despite constitutional provisions for equality, women do not 
play a significant role in government.  Only 8 of the 85 
members of the National Assembly are women, the 52-member LPRP 
Central Committee includes only 2 women, and there are no women 
in the Politburo or the Council of Ministers.

Lowland Lao males dominate the upper echelons of the party and 
Government.  Nonetheless, the Prime Minister, a deputy Prime 
Minister, the Minister of the Interior, and 23 members of the 
National Assembly are believed to be members of ethnic minority 
groups.  Members of these minorities often adopt lowland Lao 
names as they are increasingly assimilated into mainstream Lao 
society, thus making it difficult to ascertain accurately the 
number of ethnic minorities in any organization.

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 
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 exchanged correspondence 
with them.

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

The Constitution provides for equal treatment under the law for 
all Lao citizens without regard to sex, social status, 
education, faith, or ethnicity.

     Women

There is no pattern of widespread domestic violence against 
women, and reportedly sexual harassment and rape are rare.  In 
cases of rape that do go to court, rapists are generally 
prosecuted.  The Constitution provides for equal rights for 
women, and the Lao Women's Union, a party-sanctioned 
organization, operates nationally to promote the position of 
women in Lao society.  However, traditional culturally-based 
discrimination persists, especially among lowland Lao and some 
hill tribes.

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 Thailand 
and elsewhere.  The Government has prosecuted some persons for 
involvement in such recruiting activities and appears willing 
to take action against organized prostitution.

Many women occupy responsible positions in the civil service 
and private business, and in urban areas their income is often 
higher than that of men.  The Family Code prohibits legal 
discrimination in marriage and inheritance.

     Children

Violence against other persons, including children, is 
prohibited by law.  Reportedly physical abuse of children is 
rare.  Government expenditures are inadequate for children's 
basic health and educational needs, and Laos' limited resources 
do not suggest any rapid expansion of funds to meet those needs.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Constitution provides for equal rights for all minorities, 
and there is no legal discrimination against them.  However, 
societal discrimination persists.

Approximately half the population is ethnic Lao, also called 
"lowland Lao," and most of the remainder is a mosaic of diverse 
upland hill tribes who are Lao citizens if born in Laos.  There 
are also ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese minorities, particularly 
in the towns.  The implementation in 1994 of the 1990 Law on 
Nationality provided a means for these Vietnamese and Chinese 
minorities to regularize Lao citizenship.  While the Government 
encourages the preservation of minority cultures and 
traditions, minority tribes have little voice in government 
decisions affecting their lands and the allocation of natural 
resources.  Hill tribe interaction with the Government is 
limited by poor transportation and communication links and a 
shortage of government resources.

The Hmong are the largest and most prominent highland tribe.  
They split along clan lines during the Vietnam war:  many were 
strongly anti-Communist while others sided with the Lao and 
Vietnamese Communists.  The Government repressed many of those 
who fought against it, especially those perceived to be still 
resisting its authority.  Reports of abuse, discrimination, and 
heavy-handed tactics continue to emanate from Hmong who live in 
or near areas of armed resistance.  Nevertheless, an increasing 
number of Hmong who fled the country after 1975 have 
repatriated to Laos without suffering persecution.

     People with Disabilities

With donor assistance, the Government is implementing limited 
programs for the disabled.  The law does not mandate 
accessibility to buildings or government services for disabled 
persons.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

Although the Constitution provides citizens with the right to 
organize and join associations, the party controls all 
associations and all conform to official party policy (see 
Section 2.b.).

Subsistence farmers comprise an estimated 85 percent of the 
work force.  The State employs the majority of salaried 
workers, although this is changing as the Government reduces 
the number of its employees and privatizes state enterprises, 
and as foreign investors open new factories.  Under the 1990 
Labor Code, labor unions can be formed in private enterprises 
as 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.  Most of the FLTU's 80,000 members 
work in the public sector, overwhelmingly as public servants.

Strikes are effectively, but not categorically, forbidden and 
none occurred in 1994.

With advice from the International Labor Organization (ILO), 
the Government revised its Labor Code in an effort to clarify 
rights and obligations of workers and employers.  The 
Government agreed to the posting by the ILO of a foreign expert 
to work with the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare.  The 
extent to which the FLTU is free to engage in contacts and 
affiliate with foreign labor organizations is unknown.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

There is no right to organize and bargain collectively.  The 
Labor Code stipulates that disputes be resolved through 
workplace committees composed of employers, representatives of 
the local labor union, and representatives of the FLTU, with 
final authority residing in the Ministry of Labor and Social 
Welfare.  The incidence of labor disputes is low.  The 
Government sets wages and salaries for government employees, 
while management sets wages and salaries for private business 
employees.

The Labor Code stipulates that employers may not fire employees 
for conducting trade union activities or for lodging complaints 
against employers about labor law implementation or for 
cooperating with officials on labor law implementation and 
labor disputes.  Workplace committees are one mechanism used 
for resolving complaints.

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.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Under the Labor Code, children under 15 may not be recruited 
for employment.  However, many children help their families on 
farms or in shops.  The Labor Code accordingly provides that 
younger children may work for their families, provided they are 
not engaged in dangerous or difficult work.  Such employment of 
children is common in urban shops, but rare in industrial 
enterprises.  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), safe working conditions, and higher 
compensation for dangerous work.  The Code also provides for at 
least 1 day of rest per week for employees.  Employers are 
supposed to cover all expenses for a worker injured or killed 
on the job, a requirement generally fulfilled by employers in 
the formal economic sector.  The daily minimum wage is $1.39 
(1,000 kip), which is insufficient to provide a decent standard 
of living for a worker and family.  Most civil servants face 
the problem of inadequate pay.  However, few families in the 
monetized economy depend on only one breadwinner.  Some 
piecework employees, especially on construction sites, make 
less than the minimum wage.  Although workplace inspections 
reportedly increased, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare 
lacks the personnel and budgetary resources to enforce the 
Labor Code effectively.

The Labor Code has no specific provision allowing workers to 
remove themselves from a dangerous situation without 
jeopardizing their employment.

(###)

[end of document]

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