The Lao People's Democratic Republic is an authoritarian one‑party state ruled by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party. The central government's overall human rights record improved somewhat during the year, but violations occurred regularly at the provincial, district, and local levels. The government continued to deny citizens the right to change the government. Prison conditions were harsh and at times life-threatening. Corruption in the police and judiciary persisted. The government infringed on citizens' right to privacy and did not respect the right to freedom of speech, press, assembly, or association. There were no domestic nongovernmental human rights organizations. Trafficking in persons, especially women and girls for prostitution, remained a problem as did discrimination against minority groups such as the Hmong. Workers' rights were restricted. The constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, authorities, particularly at the local level, interfered with this right.
Through diplomatic engagement, public diplomacy efforts, and assistance programs, the U.S. government urges the government to promote rule of law and good governance, including the protection of rights of all ethnic and religious groups in Laos. Specifically this includes pressing the government of Laos for increased transparency regarding the resettlement of ethnic Hmong from Thailand and remote areas in the country; visiting resettled Hmong villagers to assess their well-being; traveling to provinces in order to assess conditions on the ground, including the human rights situation; and meeting regularly with other members of the international community to discuss the human rights situation.
The Embassy supports 17 libraries and institutions in Laos with periodicals and books, giving citizens access to international news and western media. Internet traffic on the Embassy website, which includes links to U.S. Department of State reports and other U.S. government information, is up 160 percent from 2006. The embassy provided information in English and Lao on international practices and norms in the areas of human rights and democracy to university students and the general public. To mark World Press Freedom Day 2007, U.S. officials discussed media freedom in the United States, including press freedom guarantees enshrined in the First Amendment, with a group of college students at the Lao-American Center on May 2. U.S. officials used the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) to promote human rights, sponsoring Lao officials' visits to the United States in 2007 to study aspects of the U.S. judicial system and investigative journalism, among other topics. The embassy prioritizes IVLP candidates for programs in U.S. foreign policy, human rights issues, and anti-trafficking programs. The embassy hosted a series of workshops to teach employees of the Lao government, the National Assembly, the National University, and research institutes to conduct research on legal and judicial issues using the Internet.
A former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom visited the country to raise a broad range of human rights and religious freedom concerns directly with key senior government leaders during a January 14-17 visit. The former ambassador-at-large also highlighted the need to expand protection of religious freedom to rural areas when speaking to a large group of officials in a presentation at the Institute of Foreign Affairs. Staff delegations from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Budget Committee also raised human rights issues, as well as the need for greater government transparency during their visit. Two U.S. political science professors visited the country in October and led a program focused on "Human Rights Institutions and Comparative Government." The professors spoke to approximately 60 officials from various ministries and institutes, 70 National University of Laos students at the Institute of Foreign Affairs, and senior representatives of several government ministries about international human rights institutions and the different government structures in nations around the world. One of the presentations focused on "Institutions of Human Rights: A Comparison of Tribunal Justice." During their visit, the two professors also conducted a roundtable discussion on human rights institutions, tribunal justice, and the legal frameworks in Laos with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Faculty of Law, Public Prosecutor's Office, Supreme People's Court, and the National Assembly. The professors' presentations are available on the embassy's website for subsequent access by a broader Lao audience.
The embassy, in collaboration with the Secretariat to the Lao National Steering Committee on Human Trafficking, hosted an important program June 11-20 on Trafficking in Persons in the country. A U.S. professor led a series of workshops, lectures, and roundtable discussions on human trafficking issues for audiences totaling more than 150 government officials, NGO leaders, and students. At the workshops, the professor reviewed the internationally-accepted definitions of trafficking and described the dynamics, causes, and impact of human trafficking on individuals and communities. Workshops in Vientiane and in Savannakhet attracted audiences from the Lao National Steering Committee; the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Public Security, and Labor and Social Welfare; the Lao Women's Union; the Lao Youth Union; and other organizations.
The United States consistently presses the government to allow the development of domestic associations and NGOs. In 2007, the embassy undertook a major program to translate Lao laws into English and international laws from both English and French into Lao. This greater access to a broad range of international laws is designed to help government officials, members of the National Assembly, and members of the Lao Bar Association and domestic legal institutions better understand international legal norms. Promoting good governance is an important element of the U.S. government's efforts to support democracy and human rights. The U.S. government funds a program that is working to strengthen women's political leadership by encouraging public awareness of the value women bring to government, pressing the need to promote decision making that is responsive and accountable to women, and providing training to improve women's capacity to shape policy processes and outcomes. Another U.S. government-sponsored project seeks to improve the livelihood of women in three northern provinces and also attempts to expand the role of women in community decision making.
The U.S. government presses the Lao Front for National Construction, the government body overseeing religious issues, to resolve cases of religious intolerance by local officials. U.S. officials used their working relations with provincial and central government officials to bring these cases to the attention of authorities, which often results in a more expeditious resolution of problems. The United States raises the need for the government to allow international monitoring of the prison system. U.S. officials meet frequently with members of international organizations and with other concerned embassies to discuss strategies for convincing the government to open its prison system to outside monitoring. The U.S. government also closely follows the cases of known political prisoners, using official meetings to raise its concerns with the government.