Diplomatic sources claim that at a recent dinner, the minister of foreign affairs of Laos, Thongloun Sisoulith, waxed indignant about America’s abduction of hundreds of individuals from around the world.
A bit late to winge about extraordinary renditions to Guantanamo, you may say. But Thongloun apparently adheres to his country’s national credo, perhaps best conveyed by its official name, the Lao PDR, affectionately translated as “in Laos, Please Don’t Rush”.
He has clearly taken his time, in this case around a decade, to condemn the inhumane kidnapping and subsequent torture of these hapless and largely innocent men.
Most of them were snatched on the street at nighttime, driven off to a military airport with a bag over their head and flown out of the country.
Imagine – going out on a dark night for some tea and pita bread, and waking up shackled inside a small outdoor cage in an isolated corner of the Cuban jungle.
Many could not stand the ensuing interrogations and committed suicide, others were flown back months later and deposited on the same street corner. Having spent several days at Guantanamo and witnessed the horrific conditions and barbaric treatment of the abductees, I can understand the belated outrage allegedly expressed by Thongloun.
But why now? Well, there is an obvious reason: It is because this week marks the one-year anniversary of the extraordinary rendition of the noted Lao agronomist Sombath Somphone, 61, by Thongloun’s state police.
Like those poor Guantanamo-bound wretches, Sombath was also accosted on the street at night – in fact, thanks to a CCTV camera, it is known that he was stopped at a police checkpoint in Vientiane at 6.03pm.
It was December 15 last year, and Sombath, something of a government irritant due to his community development activism, has not been seen since. Of course, his seizure is a piffling affair compared to what the United States and its allies get up to in that regard – they seem to follow Stalin’s adage: one abduction is a tragedy, several hundred is a statistic.
Western human rights groups have naturally taken up Sombath’s case and given it a global profile.
Amnesty International’s Rupert Abbott said: “The international community should demand that Lao authorities return Sombath and respect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”
Well, sure, and Australia should win the World Cup next year.
Thankfully, here in Southeast Asia, Sombath’s abduction is something of a big yawn – or, as shown by Thongloun’s outburst, a chance to highlight the staggering hypocrisy of countries complaining about it.
Consider the way Western politicians have accused Lao officials of telling “ridiculous lies” in relation to the disappearance of Sombath.
Yes, they have lied, and yes, two wrongs don’t make a right; but keep in mind that few people lie more often and more gratuitously than European and American governments.
Remember the tall one about Iraq having WMD, and all the others from Iran-Contra to not spying on allies like Angela Merkel and Lee Hsien Loong.
Remember also that Laos has signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted by the United Nations in 2006.
The United States refuses to sign this convention, saying it does “not meet our expectations” – in other words, it would stop them abducting people on the street at night.
Unfazed, Human Rights Watch has urged Vientiane’s colleagues in ASEAN to publicly raise their concerns about Sombath’s enforced disappearance.
Really, HRW can go stick a banana up its bum. The fact is that Thongloun has got his priorities right, and it is tempting to suggest a silver lining to Sombath’s despicable abduction and probable murder by the minister’s security goons.
For it reminds us of a greater evil conducted by the cruel and hypocritical leaders of countries who castigate Laos over this incident.
Shame on them, they should put their own house in order before they attack others.