Independence Day: July 19, 1949
Head of state: Bounnhang Vorachit (since April 20, 2016)
Head of government: Thongloun Sisoulith (since April 20, 2016)
Political system: Socialist one-party system
Democracy Status Index (BTI): Rank 122 (of 137) (2020)
Corruption Index (CPI): Rank 130 (of 180) (2019)
According to dentistrymyth, the country of the Lao (Pathet Lao) was first mentioned in 1353 as a national entity under Prince Fa Ngum with the proclamation of the Kingdom of Millions of Elephants under the White Umbrella (Lan Xang Hom Khao).
In 1641 the Dutchman Gerrit van Wuysthoff explored the country. His travel impressions appeared in Dutch and French and are considered the first European descriptions of the country.
In the 17th century, due to disputes within the ruling family, the kingdom of Lan Xang was divided into three individual kingdoms: Luang Prabang in northern Laos, Vientiane in central Laos and Champassak in southern Laos. In the 18th century, these individual empires came partly under Siamese and partly under Burmese rule.
The French occupation began in 1867 with August Pavie’s appointment as Vice Consul. At the Geneva Indochina Conference in 1954, Laos became independent and all foreign troops had to leave the country.
In the 1940’s, the Lao Pathet Lao liberation movement, a forerunner of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LRVP), emerged under the leadership of Kaysone Phomvihane.
On December 2, 1975, the Pathet Lao took power and the “Laos People’s Democratic Republic” was established. This was preceded by a period of French colonization, a civil war with three factions in the 1960’s and 1970’s and the subsequent “Secret War”.
The country’s formal socialist orientation, mixed with the strong centuries-old Buddhist character and partly animist rituals, represents an ideological background that is difficult to grasp. Laos is between Marx and Money in the process of nation building.
Due to the break of almost six centuries of the kingdom to the socialist state, the confrontation with its own history in Laos will probably continue to be exciting, changeable and ambivalent in the future.
” Corruption is omnipresent, it has become a tradition”, residents of Vientiane are quoted as saying. Corruption losses tripled in 2017 compared to the previous year. In Laos “one fights against corruption, but not against the corrupt”. Usually only the “small fish” are arrested and brought to justice.
In 2019, members of the National Assembly criticized the pervasive corruption. Despite the promise and committed work against corruption at the beginning of his term in office, Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith has so far failed to successfully contain corruption. Without a political change, there seems to be no end to corruption in sight.
Common corrupt practices include the procrastination of official procedures, bribery, forgery of documents, changes in technical standards and project planning documents, as well as under-valuation when selling state property and incorrectly calculating services provided. In road construction, for example, the government pays 1.7 million US $ for one kilometer while the real construction costs are just 400,000 US $.
In a year by Transparency International started Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is Laos in 2019 at number 130 out of 180 with a score of 29 in the bottom quartile on a scale of highly corrupt (0) to very clean (100).
The Criminal Code continues to prohibit actions that, from the government’s point of view, defame or weaken the state. All media are strictly controlled and workers are denied their rights. The existing trade unions are not independent, but part of the central Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU) established by the party.
In its 2017 annual report, the human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) continues to criticize the restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly and the stricter controls on civil society organizations.
At the meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in January 2015, Laos had to submit a second Universal Periodic Review (UPR), in July 2015 Laos accepted 116 of the 196 recommendations and indicated that it took a different view on the remaining recommendations. According to the report, the issues of freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly require increased international attention.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticizes the common practice of locking drug addicts in rehab facilities. In 2011, HRW published a detailed report on Somsanga, a drug rehab facility in Vientiane, recommending that Somsanga be closed. The addicts are often imprisoned, mistreated, and beaten for months or even years without trial and against their will, and not given adequate medical treatment.
The cases of Sombath Somphone and Sompawn Khantisouk received special mention. Both were active in civil society organizations, Sombath disappeared in Vientiane in 2012, Sompawn in Luang Namtha in 2007.
So far, few efforts have been made to tackle the systematic human rights violations. This is also made clear in an overview of the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) on the current human rights situation in the country.