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Laos Country Report

Country Report: Laos

May 2023

Rights group members protest outside UNHCR headquarters in Geneva as the Lao delegation has a meeting to review its human rights record January 21, 2020.Photograph: By Eugene Whong/ rfa

Laos is a one-party state ruled by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, a communist party led by Thongloun Sisoulith. Freedom House ranks Laos as "Not Free." The US State Department's Human Rights Report charges Laos with persecution of state critics by police and state security forces.

Laos has never fully recovered from the murders of the Lao royal family and the communist coup d'état in 1975. Laos sided with North Vietnam in the Vietnam War. It is one of the few countries still living under communism, though like China and Vietnam, it has a state capitalist economy.

Between 1964 and 1973, the US dropped two million tons of bombs on Laos, nearly a ton for every person in Laos. Laos is the most heavily bombed country in history relative to the size of its population.

Laos is facing severe economic distress. Government repression prevents most protests.

There is very little freedom of expression. No criticism of government authorities is tolerated. Human rights defenders are killed with impunity. Enforced disappearances are common among human rights activists and journalists.

In 2022, The Lao army confiscated 40 hectares of land in Houay Nam Yen village to build a military camp. Protesting villagers were arrested and imprisoned for over three months.

In 2022, the Lao government expropriated 3150 hectares from a village in Oudomxay province and then leased it to a Thai corporation to build a "Smart Eco City". Villagers protested, claiming they received unfair compensation, due to corruption in the forced "sale" of the village's farmland.

There is persecution of Christians in villages in northwestern Laos. Fifteen people were driven out of Mai village in Luang Namtha province when they converted to Christianity. Government relief has been denied to poor families in northern Laos unless they renounced their faith.

Genocide Watch considers Laos to be at Stage 1: Classification. Lao leaders consider Christianity to be a "foreign religion," an “us versus them” classification. There is Stage 3: Discrimination against Christians and government critics. Stage 5: Organization and Stage 8 Persecution: State police and security forces persecute, arrest, and kill government critics with impunity.

Genocide Watch recommends that the government of Laos should:

  • Stop killing and imprisoning human rights activists and protesters.

  • Release all land protesters, journalists, and human rights activists.

  • The Vientiane Agriculture and Forestry Department should stop handing land disputes to military authorities and should refer such cases to courts for resolution.

  • Respect the right to freedom of religion by preventing the persecution of Christians, believers in traditional religions, and other non-Buddhist faiths.

  • Allow non-communist parties to run in elections and hold office.

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