Sa Mouay District, Savannakhet Province | LAO PDR | Human Rights Watcher for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) | Advocacy Alert No. 03/2023 | October 4, 2023
On October 4, 2023 (local time), the Sa Mouay district authorities forced eight Lao Christian families (around 60 people) from their homes because they had changed to or adopted the Christian religion or belief in replacement of their former traditional spirit cults. The Sa Mouay district authorities, along with the village officials, have allegedly accused Christians of changing to or adopting a new religion or belief (Christian faith), violating the dominant village religious belief (animism or traditional spirit cults) of the majority and the village’s religious customs. The officials maintain that Lao people who changed or adopted the Christian religion or belief must be removed of their right to their homes and properties. The Christians are forced to give up their right to live in their village and be expelled.
The eight families now struggle to find materials to build temporary shelters outside their villages. The officials give the eight families 30 days to find new homes.
The Lao Constitution, article 30, recognizes the RIGHT and FREEDOM of the Lao citizens “to believe or not to believe in religions.”
The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief.”
The UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), article 18 (para. 1), specifies: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice.”
The UN Declaration of the General Assembly, 1981, article 1 (para. 1), demands: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice.”
The UN Human Rights Committee, general comment 22, explains: “Article 18 does not permit any limitations whatsoever on the freedom of thought and conscience or the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of one’s choice [para. 1]…the Committee observes that the freedom to “have or to adopt” a religion or belief necessarily entails the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one’s current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views, as well as the right to retain one’s religion or belief [para. 5].”
The Lao government is a party to all the agreements/declarations above.
The right to have, adopt, change, or replace religion or belief is an “absolute” right not to be subjected to any restrictions, and limitations cannot be allowed, even for maintaining public order. In addition to the Lao government’s duty to respect the “absolute” right of every Lao person to have, adopt, change, or replace religion or belief, they are also obligated to prevent any religious right violation from non-government, or private, actors. The Lao government is duty-bound to protect the Lao villagers who have adopted, changed, or replaced their former religion or belief with their new Christian faith. The district and village officials are obligated to protect the Lao Christian believers from aggression from other non-Christian villagers due to their decision to replace their former religion with the Christian religion or belief.
The HRWLRF urges the Lao government to respect the Lao Constitution and the Lao government-ratified UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and fulfill their duties as follows:
- To respect the right of the eight Christian families in Sa Mouay district to have, adopt, replace or change religion or belief to the Christian religion,
- To protect eight Lao families from aggression and human rights violations from other non-Christian villagers (government and non-government actors), including defamation, insult to human dignity, destruction of homes and properties, eviction, etc.,
- To investigate this incident of human rights violation per ICCPR, article 18 (para. 1),
- To punish the village authorities responsible for aggression and human rights violations against the eight families, and,
- To promote the freedom of religion or belief for all the people in Sa Mouay district.
Additionally, the HRWLRF is calling upon the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief to hold the government of Lao PDR accountable for their violation of Article 18 (para. 1) of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Sa Mouay District, Salavan Province, Laos: Representatives from eight families are attempting to build temporary shelters, outside of their villages, from materials they find in the woods, due to being pushed out from their homes after they adopted Christian religion or belief in replacement of their former traditional spirit cults (animism)