The following information reports U.S. Government priorities and activities of the U.S. mission in Laos to promote democracy and human rights. For background on Laos' human rights conditions, please see the 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
and the International Religious Freedom Report
Part 1: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives
Through diplomatic engagement, public diplomacy efforts, and assistance programs, the U.S. Government urges the Lao government to promote rule of law and good governance, including the protection of rights of all ethnic and religious groups in the country. Specifically, this includes pressing the government to put in place a process, consistent with international norms and transparent to the international community, for the safe resettlement in Laos of Hmong who left for Thailand in the hope of resettlement as refugees in a third 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 human rights issues in the country.
The United States also seeks to strengthen the emerging but very fragile civil society and continues to encourage the formation and development of locally run and staffed organizations. The country's poorly developed system of governance, dire shortage of trained personnel, and prevalence of corruption are all major challenges, which the United States addresses by sending government officials to international training to better understand international norms; presenting U.S. speakers to government audiences to address issues such as more effective and representative governance, rule of law, and multicultural education; and having U.S. officials meet regularly with Lao officials to promote better governance.
Part 2: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance
The U.S. Government supports 20 libraries and institutions in the country with periodicals and books, giving citizens free access to international news and Western media. The U.S. embassy provides information on international human rights and democracy practices and norms to university students and the general public through its Information Resource Center and two American Corners.
The U.S. embassy uses the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) to promote human rights, sponsoring government officials and other rising professionals to travel to the United States to study NGO management, ways to combat human trafficking, and monitoring and protecting ASEAN human rights, among other topics. The U.S. embassy places a priority on IVLP candidates for programs in U.S. foreign policy, human rights issues, and antitrafficking programs. In 2010 the embassy plans to send participants to four specialized IVLP focusing on issues related to the Lower Mekong Initiative. One of the four topics includes women's roles in sustainable development.
Promoting good governance is an important element of the U.S. Government's efforts to support democracy and human rights. To this end, the U.S. Embassy plans for two speaker programs in 2010. A Journalist in Residence at an American college will address members of the media, government officials, and journalism students at a series of lectures in May on the important topic of media ethics and behavior. In July an American professor of government and politics will address members of the National Assembly, the Lao Bar Association, law students, and government officials on issues pertaining to corruption, trust, and the rule of law. Building on a successful 2009 program, the embassy will host a specialist in women's health issues to present several lectures and workshops on strengthening women's health.
The U.S. embassy arranged for the first U.S. Government-sponsored English Language Fellow (ELF) in at least a decade to work at the Faculty of Education, National University of Laos. The ELF teaches improved teaching methods to students in the process of becoming the country's next generation of English teachers. Upgraded English language skills should open doors to new sources of information, allow for greater contact with international business, and improve communication capabilities, helping the next generation of leaders to interact more effectively with the international community. In addition to hosting an ELF, the embassy sponsors the largest annual training for English teachers in Laos.