This report provides a country update on religious freedom conditions in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. In 2016, the Lao government updated its regulation of religious freedom with the Decree on Management and Protection of Religious Activities, known as Decree 315. Despite the clarifications this decree provided, as well as efforts by the central authorities, religious freedom conditions in Laos remain of concern. All official faith communities must keep active communication with local and central religious authorities to function and operate, including in appointing leaders and in organizing faith-based activities. Unofficial faith communities struggle to obtain government recognition, and therefore legally cannot operate. This report examines the ongoing issues and barriers Laos faces to realize its international commitments to freedom of religious and belief.
Throughout 2017, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has promoted its 50th year of existence, marked on August 8. The regional bloc comprising 10 countries has grown and integrated in ways hardly dreamed of five decades ago. But to this day, ASEAN lacks cohesion on human rights issues and, in particular, has a flawed record protecting freedom of religion or belief, both as a collective regional bloc and as individual Member States.
The report documents ASEAN’s and the Member States’ approaches to the freedom of religion or belief, underscores the religious freedom-related challenges in the region that transcend country borders, and emphasizes the strategic importance of robust U.S. engagement on these issues with ASEAN as a collective and the 10 individual Member States.