Today, the ICJ and other human rights groups urged changes to a new law in Lao PDR that would enable violations of freedom of association and other human rights.
The groups sent an open letter to the Lao PDR Government calling for the repeal of or for significant amendments to be made to the Decree on Associations that came into force in Lao PDR in November 2017. A legal brief detailing analysis of the new law was attached to the open letter.
The letter emphasized that repeal or amendments to the new law needed to be part of fundamental reform of the framework of regulation of associations in Lao PDR, in line with international human rights law and standards.
The new law supersedes the 2009 Decree on Associations, which had already included imprecise and overly broad terms leading to arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of association, freedom of opinion and expression and privacy.
“The 2009 law had already imposed restrictions on fundamental freedoms which were clearly in contravention of Lao PDR’s obligations under international human rights law,” said Frederick Rawski, the ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “The new law makes things worse.”
In the attached legal brief, the ICJ and other human rights groups analyzed provisions in the decree which arbitrarily restrict or deny fundamental rights by giving government authorities in Lao PDR sweeping powers to, among other things,
-unreasonably control and/or prohibit the formation of associations;
-arbitrarily inspect, monitor and curtail the activities and finances of associations;
-order the dissolution of associations on arbitrary grounds and without right of appeal;
-discipline associations and individual members on arbitrary grounds and
criminalize unregistered associations and allow for prosecution of their members.
The letter concluded by urging the Lao PDR Government to respect its obligations under international human rights law by removing arbitrary, overbroad and discriminatory elements from its framework of regulation of associations.
Any regulation regime should make clear that individuals are free to form private unincorporated associations without needing to notify or register with the State.
The letter further urged that for associations wishing to acquire legal personality, the law should at most provide for automatic registration upon notification and fulfillment of simple administrative requirements, rather than a system requiring prior permission of State officials.
“The rights to form and participate in associations, to freely express one’s opinions and to lead a private life are fundamental freedoms, which the Lao PDR Government has a duty to protect, promote and fulfill,” said Rawski.
The Decree on Associations, dated 11 August 2017, came into force on 15 November 2017. Pursuant to its article 81, the new law supersedes the Decree on Associations (No. 115 of 2009) dated 29 April 2009 (‘2009 Decree’).
The new law only applies to local non-profit associations (NPAs) and does not govern international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) in Lao PDR, which are instead regulated by the Decree on International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGO) (No. 013 of 2010).
As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Lao PDR has a legal obligation to respect, protect and guarantee, among others, the rights to privacy (article 17), freedom of opinion and expression (article 19), and freedom of association (article 22), which includes the right to form and join associations, subject only to narrow restrictions.
The ICCPR also requires States to implement necessary legislative, administrative or other measures for effective promotion and protection of these freedoms.
Frederick Rawski, ICJ Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific (Bangkok), e: frederick.rawski(a)icj.org
Kingsley Abbott, ICJ Senior International Legal Adviser (Bangkok), e: kingsley.abbott(a)icj.org
Lao-Decree Associations-Advocacy-open letters-2017-ENG (open letter + briefing paper, in PDF)