Kamap Village, Toumlane District, Salavan Province, LAO PDR | Human Rights Watcher for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) | Advocacy Alert No. 04/2023 | October 16, 2023
On September 23, 2023 (local time), the governing authorities of Kamap Village, Toumlane District, Salavan Province, Laos, tore down the rice barn of a Christian family. The barn was used to store rice (food) year-round for the family.
On the following day, September 24, 2023, the village authorities destroyed the house belonging to the same Christian family. The reason for destroying their rice barn and the house was that the Christian family refused to give in to the authorities’ demand that they renounce their Christian faith. (The family adopted the Christian faith in 2018 and has continued to hold it since then. )
After their house and barn were destroyed on September 24, 2023, the family was evicted from the village and turned over to the Toumlane District authorities, who have kept them in police detention until now.
The evicted Lao family consists of 6 members:
- Mae A-neng, age 48, mother/widow, head of family
- A-neng, age 26, daughter
- A-yoi, age 24, daughter
- A-ba, age 19, son
- A-Nar, age 16, daughter/student
- A-Nute, age 13, son/student
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, 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 restriction, and limitations cannot be allowed, even for maintaining public order. In addition to the Lao government’s duty to respect every Lao person’s “absolute” right 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 the new Christian faith. They are obligated to protect the Lao Christian believers from acts of aggression from government officials or other villagers based on their decision to have or adopt 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 right of the Lao Christian family in Kamap village, Toumlane district, to adopt a Christian religion or belief,
- To protect the Lao family from all acts of aggression from the village authorities, including the destruction of their house and rice barn, as well as the eviction from their village and home,
- To investigate this incident of human rights violation per ICCPR, article 18 (para. 1),
- To punish the village authorities responsible for the acts of aggression against this Lao Christian family,
- To rebuild their house and barn that were destroyed by the village authorities,
- To release the Lao Christian family back to live in their village and home, as well as to protect them from further rights violations and discrimination, and,
- To promote the freedom of religion or belief for all the people in Kamap village and throughout Toumlane 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.
Toumlane District, Salavan Province, Laos: Top photo – Mae A-neg’s rice barn was being dismantled by Toumlane village governing authorities. Middle/Bottom photos – Mae A-neg’s house is being torn down by Toumlane village governing authorities.