What you need to know
Under LPRP rule, human rights violations are rampant in Laos, but they receive little attention around the world. The upcoming elections are unlikely to change this, either.
By Malaak Jamal and Jenny Wang
Authoritarianism in Laos is at the root of illegal land grabs, land grievances, and ongoing human rights violations. The upcoming elections in Laos are unlikely to change this. International business stakeholders, however, can do more to support local communities and uphold fundamental human rights.
The Lao government will hold National Assembly elections on February 21. Parliamentary elections take place every five years, but are neither free nor fair. The government has boasted of voter turnouts in previous elections.
Laos, or the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), is ruled by a fully authoritarian regime, according to the ’s political regime analysis. The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) is the only political party recognized in the Lao Constitution.
With its people silenced, the Lao government often puts forward policies without thinking about the consequences. Eager to boost the economy, the government decided to , but local communities, most affected by new development projects, are left to their own devices to .
As international businessmen rake it in, hunger and food insecurity are a threat to millions in Laos. But when Lao people protest against these projects, they risk being harshly punished, , or by the government.
In 2019, Lao environmentalist for speaking up for flood victims and criticizing the government’s response to the crisis on Facebook. In the same year, seven activists for planning a pro-democracy rally in Vientiane.
Under LPRP rule, human rights violations are rampant, but they receive little attention around the world. As activists work to raise awareness, international businesses in Laos — in accordance with international law — must actively ensure they are not being complicit in abetting the LPRP’s authoritarian regime.
According to the , business enterprises are obliged to “to respect, protect, and fulfill fundamental human rights” throughout their business practices. They must first familiarize themselves with international standards on human rights, including the and the , before clinching business deals with the Lao government.
Corporate stakeholders must engage in thorough risk analyses and robust social impact assessments of their investments in Laos. Moreover, international businesses based in a member state of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development should also refer to the , which emphasizes the importance of human rights due diligence and remedying adverse human rights impacts.
To prevent potential negative impact on the local communities, business stakeholders should orchestrate efforts to increase public knowledge of rights and legal resources at a grassroots level. They should help create a publicly available database to document land concessions and monitor illegal land grabs in Laos.
These initiatives will help build transparency and raise awareness about how foreign investment sustains human rights abuses in Laos. International business stakeholders and their global platforms have the potential to galvanize positive change in Laos if they commit to proper due diligence and respect the concerns of local communities.
As polls open for the National Assembly elections, keep in mind that these elections are neither free nor fair. The world must remember the human rights defenders and dissidents who have been silenced and disappeared for speaking up. At a time of rapid infrastructure development in Laos, business leaders must recognize that more can and should be done to protect the lives of those most affected by their investments.
TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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