Rights Groups Urge Kerry to Pressure Laos, Cambodia During Visit

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry should use his trip to Laos this week to pressure the communist government to end its restrictions on its citizens’ liberties, rights groups said.

Kerry’s two-day visit starting Monday comes as the nation takes annual chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and will host world leaders, including President Barack Obama, later this year.

“Secretary Kerry’s visit to Laos, one of the most rights repressing governments in Asean, should be the start of a strong and sustained U.S. push," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. "Demanding that Laos respect human rights should be a core part of every major meeting agenda going forward this year in Vientiane."

Robertson said Monday that world leaders should "demand Laos’ leaders end their restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, stop their crushing censorship of the media, and permit freedom of association for workers to form independent trade unions."

Kerry travels to Cambodia on Tuesday for a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen. The visits come just weeks before Obama hosts a meeting of all 10 Asean leaders in California next month, the first of its kind in the U.S.

“These high-level meetings present an opportunity to press Asean leaders on unfulfilled human rights promises,” said Charles Santiago, a member of parliament from Malaysia and the chairman of Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights. “It’s also important to recognize the concerning political trajectory across the region: democracy has taken a serious hit, and the people of Asean –- including the individuals we represent in parliaments throughout Southeast Asia –- are struggling to be heard.”

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