The 5th Sombath Somphone Public Lecture

12 November 2022

Satherakoses-Nagapradipha Foundation, Klong San, Bangkok

The 5th Sombath Somphone Public Lecture was an activity organized collectively in partnership the Connecting the Commons Project and Right livelihood College (Bangkok Campus). The Sombath Letcure was also a part of 10 Years’ Commemoration of the forced disappearance of Sombath Somphone in Vientiane, Laos. There were many different groups or individuals who would like to support in organizing or participating in any event/panels/ or other activities to commemorate the tragic disappearance of Sombath, such as, Sombath Symposium organized by Focus on the Global South 2 December, Panel Discussion and Press Conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) on 13 December, and Celebration of Sombaht’s Legacy in NongKhai organized by Spirit in Education Movement (SEM) on 15 December.

Annual Sombath Somphone Public Lecture by Rachagopal PV

“…What I’ve learned from the Sombath story and earlier from Gandhi: promotion of non-violence will save the world. People keep asking why violence is increasing. If you feel violence, violent behavior will increase. If you feel non-violence, non-violent behavior will increase. You continue to feed violence. The kind of innovation and investment that is required in a violent world is non-violence.

Violence will win over us, unless we teach young people the importance of living in a nonviolent society. There are three actions that attempt to create peace, so on three fronts. The first aspect of co-creating peaceful means is education. Education is essential because I believe that the problems in the world arise from highly educated people who sit in high positions. They act in the name of development that leads to the oppression of marginalized people. For example, in the name of developing an island and coastal tourism industries. causing the inhabitants to be pushed out of their land; dam construction deprives farmers of the land. These actions are born out of formal education, and these educated people act on behalf of development in marginalized areas. To prevent such a change from occurring, it should start with the education system that will instill non-violence in society. The second aspect is an economic system that does support violence. For example, 1% of people are rich, but 99% are not rich and many live in slums. That’s inequality and oppression. Economic inequality is a serious challenge. Some groups cannot access fundamental rights, causing 99% of people to suffer. Therefore, supporting a peaceful economy or nonviolent economy is essential to go along with the development of peaceful ideas at the school level or in the education system that nurtures the new generation into society.

Finally, what can we do to achieve what was mentioned in the first two points, namely, the third aspect of changing the state to non-violence? Because the state possesses a monopoly over violence. When various events occur, the state often uses force to solve problems. For example, by sending soldiers or police to negotiate if there is conflict. However, negotiations are not discussions but directives or orders. True politicians are responsible for solving problems through sincere negotiation, not by sending the cops in. Discussions must be the basis for solving the problem, not the exercise of authority. The important thing is to have glasses of nonviolence when looking at things and learn how to avoid violence. So, what we want is to have a Ministry of Peace. Several ministries are set up in each state to deal with various matters, but very few have a ministry dedicated to real peaceful resolutions. Thank you for this evening because so many people suffer stress and violence. Today it’s important to us to discuss how we can transform the state from being violent to non-violent so that many activists worldwide who are fighting for Peace can continue their work without becoming victims of state violence. Thank you very much.”

A few remarks by Shui Meng Ng

Respected Mr Rajagopal PV, respected Ajarn Sulak, Hans and Wallapha, friends and supporters.

I am very honored to be given an opportunity to say a few words at this event, “Connecting the Commons” and the Annual Sombath Lecture. I am thankful to the organizers to dedicate “The Sombath Lecture” every year in December to remember Sombath’s enforced disappearance since 2012. 

It’s been 10 years since Sombath was disappeared in front of a police post. Now 10 years have gone by and the Lao authorities have continued to deny that they disappeared Sombath, despite concrete evidence.

That is the tragedy, injustice and impunity that I have to endure over the past 10 years.  None the less to commemorate Sombath’s 10th anniversary this December, I have informed all of Sombath’s friends, partners, supporting organizations that despite the tragedy of Sombath’s disappearance, we must not dwell on this tragedy. Instead we must use the event to celebrate his legacy, his values, and his lifelong work to improve the lives of ordinary people using principles of sustainable livelihoods and appropriate education, especially for the young.

As a poor farm boy growing up in a small village in Laos, Sombath understands very well the value of food systems: where food comes from, how the land, the water, and how the entire ecological systems are connected. He always teaches how we must work to sustain the health and durability of our food sources upon which all people, especially rural people, depend for their lives. From practical experience and not just theory, he learned from young, the wisdom of the “Commons” and believes the need to connect people with the same values and respect for our planet in order to fight against the rising tide of political domination, corporate greed, consumerism, and inappropriate use of the media for the interest of the rich against the poor.

Sombath always argues that our world has enough resources to provide for everyone, but we just use our wisdom and insight not to give in to our own greed, and the values of the global system that promulgates the insatiable need of accumulation and growth for the few at the expense of the majority. Sombath believes in working closely with different groups and organizations that shares the same values, especially with Arjarn Sulak’s organizations such as SEM and INEB, and also other organizations that promotes connecting our Commons for the common good. He has, for more than 30 years, used the lessons learned from others to apply appropriately to his community development and youth education activities. Unfortunately his life and work has been cut short by his enforced disappearance.

But I am comforted by the fact that many people both in Laos and outside Laos still carries on with Sombath’s work in their own organizations and networks, such as the work of “Towards Organic Asia”. All such work and activities will ensure that more and more people become aware of our common destiny as human beings living on our common planet. It also bears testimony that Sombath’s life and work continues despite his disappearance.

For this reason, I am most happy that for today’s Sombath Lecture, we will have the honor to hear from Mr Rajagopal PV, Asia’s leading proponent and practitioner of land rights on the topic of “Land Rights and Food as a Commons”.

I wish you all a very successful meeting.

Thank you.

Shui Meng Ng (wife of Sombath Somphone)

12 November 2022

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