• Indigenous peoples in Laos

    Indigenous peoples in Laos

Laos

With a population of just over 7 million, Laos, officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic or Lao PDR, is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in mainland Southeast Asia. The ethnic Lao, comprising around half of the population, dominate the country economically and culturally.

There are, however, some provinces and districts where the number of Indigenous People exceeds that of the Lao and where their culture is prominent. There are four ethnolinguistic families in Laos; Lao-Tai language-speaking groups represent two-thirds of the population. The other third speaks languages belonging to the MonKhmer, Sino-Tibetan and Hmong-Ew-Hmien families and these are considered to be the Indigenous Peoples of Laos.

Indigenous Peoples in Laos

Officially, all ethnic groups have equal status in Laos, and the concept of Indigenous Peoples is not recognised by the government, despite the fact that Laos voted in favour of adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Lao government uses the term ethnic group to refer to Indigenous People.

The Lao government currently recognises 160 ethnic subgroups within 50 ethnic groups. Indigenous Peoples, especially those who speak Hmong-Ew-Hmien languages, are unequivocally the most vulnerable groups in Laos. They face territorial, economic, cultural and political pressures and are experiencing various threats to their livelihoods.

Main challenges for the Indigenous Peoples of Laos

Their land and resources are increasingly under pressure from pro-investment government development policies and commercial natural resource exploitation. Indigenous People lag behind the majority Lao-Tai at all economic levels. They have worse access to healthcare, lower rates of education, and less access to clean water and sanitation.

Indigenous Peoples’ relying on unimproved or surface water ranged from between 20 to 32.5%, compared to just 8.5% of Lao-Tai, and while only 13.9% of Lao-Tai practice open defecation, that percentage rises to between 30.3 to 46.3% among Indigenous Peoples.

Laos has ratified ICERD (1974), CEDAW (1981), CRC (1991), ICCPR (2009). The Lao government, however, severely restricts fundamental rights, including freedom of speech (media), association, assembly and religion, and civil society is closely controlled. Organisations openly focusing on Indigenous Peoples or using related terms in the Lao language are thus not allowed, while open discussions about Indigenous Peoples with the government can be sensitive, especially since the issue is seen as pertaining to special (human) rights.

Possible progress for the Indigenous Peoples of Laos

A positive achievement in relation to land rights in 2017 was the enactment of the recently amended Investment Promotion Law. This law has halved the maximum investment period for new concession projects to 50 years, compared to the previous maximum period of 99 years. The new law is expected to improve the clarity and ease of doing business in the country.

Despite the lack of recognition of collective lands in the national regulatory framework, some projects have successfully carried out participatory land use planning (PLUP) in several areas of the country to secure communal land and access to forests, fallows and natural resources.

The Indigenous World 2022: Laos

With a population of just over 7 million,[1] Laos is the most ethnically diverse country in mainland Southeast Asia.[2] The ethnic Lao, comprising around half of the population, dominate the country economically and culturally. There are, however, some provinces and districts where the number of Indigenous people exceeds that of the Lao and where their culture is prominent. There are four ethnolinguistic families in Laos: Lao-Tai language-speaking groups represent two-thirds of the population.

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Indigenous World 2020: Laos

With a population of just over 7 million,1,2 Laos – Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) – is the most ethnically diverse country in mainland Southeast Asia. The ethnic Lao, comprising around half of the population, dominate the country economically and culturally. There are, however, some provinces and districts where the number of Indigenous people exceeds that of the Lao and where their culture is prominent.

Continue Reading

The Indigenous World 2021: Laos

With a population of just over 7 million,[1] Laos, officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic or Lao PDR, is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in mainland Southeast Asia. The ethnic Lao, comprising around half of the population, dominate the country economically and culturally. There are, however, some provinces and districts where the number of Indigenous people exceeds that of the Lao and where their culture is prominent. There are four ethnolinguistic families in Laos; Lao-Tai language-speaking groups represent two-thirds of the population. The other third speaks languages belonging to the Mon-Khmer, Sino-Tibetan and Hmong-Ew-Hmien families and these are considered to be the Indigenous Peoples of Laos. Officially, all ethnic groups have equal status in Laos, and the concept of Indigenous Peoples is not recognised by the government, despite the fact that Laos voted in favour of adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Lao government uses the term ethnic group to refer to Indigenous people.

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New report on indigenous peoples’ representation in aid agencies in Laos

In a recent research report launched on October 20 anthropologist Steeve Daviau examines how well the international aid community in Laos has done in ensuring that their workplaces are diverse and representative of the many ethnic groups in the country.

The overall goal of the research is to assist aid organizations in Laos to critically assess and improve their stated values, attitudes and actual progress in becoming inclusive and diverse workplaces, to better serve and represent the interests of indigenous people and communities.

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About IWGIA

IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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