Hmong: Change Still Needed in Laos
Below is an article published by Radio Free Asia :
Overseas activists say human rights in Laos have improved little in recent months and years, amid calls for the release of political prisoners and for greater freedom of expression on World Human Rights Day.
"Laos is still a country where the rights to free speech and written expression, peaceful assembly, education, and a fair hearing in the judicial system are not available to all," Vanida Thepsouvanh, president of the organization Lao Human Rights in France, said in an interview.
"Religious freedom is limited for all, but especially for those who don't practice Buddhism," Thepsouvanh said. "There is only one political party, and in elections there is only one party to choose from. The Lao Constitution states that only the Lao Revolutionary People's Party is constitutional."
"In Laos, there are intelligent and good people, people who want to change Laos, to make it a civilized and prosperous country for the good of the Lao people, but perhaps the system doesn't help them to make change possible," she said.
"As I see it, a country can advance if there are some people who want to put their dreams forward, people with the courage to protest peacefully, people who can condemn corrupt leaders, wrongful elections, and injustice...I still believe there are some good people at present in Laos."
Earlier this year , overseas rights groups cited an increase in attacks by military and security forces on Laotian and ethnic Hmong civilians and dissident groups living in the jungles and mountains of Laos.
Thepsouvanh said she could not confirm the reports. "Regarding the Lao Hmong hiding in the jungle, no one knows for sure what their fate has been," she said. "Nor how many are still hiding in the jungle."
She said she hopes continued openness and economic reforms will encourage those seeking to reform Laos from within. "There is a difference between improving [the country's] image and actual practice," Thepsouvanh said.
The U.S. Congress passed a bipartisan resolution in June  calling on Laos to cease its attacks on the Laotian and Hmong people and to address the human rights crisis in Laos.
It also called on Vientiane to release Lao Students Movement for Democracy leaders jailed since October 1999 for their part in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in the capital.
World Human Rights Day has been celebrated annually on Dec. 10, in honor of the United Nations General Assembly's adoption and proclamation in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In its most recent report on human rights around the world, the U.S. State Department said Laos's record "improved somewhat" during 2007 but cited regular violations at the provincial, district, and local levels.
"Citizens continued to be denied the right to change their government. Prison conditions were harsh and at times life-threatening. Corruption in the police and judiciary persisted," the report said.
Vientiane "infringed on citizens' right to privacy and did not respect the right to freedom of speech, the press, assembly, or association. Local officials at times interfered with religious freedom and restricted citizens' freedom of movement," the report added, while human-trafficking and discrimination against minority groups also persisted.