There is no absolute shortage of development partner funds for Lao CSO human rights work. In fact, the supply of grant funds is greater than the number of high quality proposals submitted by Lao CSOs. One consequence of this is that a significant proportion of human rights work in Laos is carried out by INGOs. There is a constant dialogue between development partners and the INGOs and rights-focused NPAs in Laos regarding the improvements that can be made to the existing grant provision, to reduce the administrative challenge facing Lao CSOs, and to make available a greater volume of small grants, which would correspond to the capacity and current focus of activities of rights-focused CSOs.
With regard to DP grant support, Lao CSOs have focused their lobbying around proposals for a simplified application and reporting system, lower administrative, financial and technical preconditions, and a greater DP contribution to CSO management costs. CSOs could consider lobbying DPs on other aspects of their grant making. For example, Development Partners could consider inviting the Government of Laos to sit in grant selection committees. This could reduce the delays and risk of denial of permission during the implementation of CSO projects.
The rest of this section summarises the main characteristics of funding support of selected DPs.
The bilateral cooperation programme includes some funds managed by provincial authorities; Germany tries to support participatory planning at provincial, district and village level, and respect of Lao laws in planning and procurement authorities.
The German Ministry for International Development Cooperation (BMZ) in Berlin provides grant support to German CSOs for projects in Laos. Via the GIZ office in Vientiane, Germany also supports some CSO capacity building (‘incubator project’) in 2015-2016. A small number of small grants to Lao CSOs are made by the Germany Embassy.
From mid-2016 Germany’s operational support to Lao CSOs will be mostly provided via the CEGGA programme, managed by GIZ in Vientiane. This four year programme will provide small grants to Lao CSOs on a wide range of themes, with a particular attention to CSOs outside Vientiane Prefecture. Medium grants will also be provided to Lao CSOs, and possibly to INGOs working in partnership with Lao CSOs, for projects addressing the operating environment for civil society, cooperation between civil society and the National Assembly and/or the Local Assemblies, and for access to justice and cooperation between civil society and the Ministry of Justice. Some small grants may be delivered via existing re-granting mechanisms in Laos. Capacity development to CSOs will be decentralised, to INGOs with a provincial presence and/or to CEGGA field offices to be established in selected provinces. Some support will be provided to MoHA, for improvements in the CSO registration and reporting system and to improve the operating environment for CSOs, and to MoFA and MoJ to support implementation of Laos’ international human rights obligations.
The bilateral cooperation priorities of the EU are agriculture-nutrition, education and governance. Under governance, the EU is considering support to the justice sector (continuing its support to the LSMP) and public administration reform (continuing its support to the NGPAR). Some support is also provided to MoFA for activities related to the Lao-EU Human Rights Dialogue.
From mid-2016, most of the EU Delegation’s operational support to Lao CSOs will be provided via the CEGGA programme, managed by GIZ (see under Germany, above). The EU will participate in the management board of the CEGGA programme.
The EU Delegation will continue to provide grant funds under its EIDHR and CSO-LA grant programmes, with alternating calls for proposals each year. In 2016 there should be an EIDHR call and in 2017, a CSO-LA call. The minimum size of EIDHR grants is likely to be at least 200,000 EUR, while the minimum size of CSO-LA grants is likely to be at least 500,000 EUR. EU HQ in Brussels also organises ‘global’ calls for proposals, for some of which Lao CSOs are eligible. This includes an annual EIDHR call, with a wide range of priorities that is modified every year. Over a five-year period, all eligible human rights themes are likely to be included at least once. The focus of these calls is on rights issues that are not necessarily addressed adequately in Delegation-managed calls. This includes some sensitive themes. EU HQ would however not normally award a grant if the EU Delegation considered the proposed project as unacceptably risky.
In practice, the EU prefers to award a smaller number of large grants. Because of this minimum size and the administrative complexity of the grant system, Lao CSOs have mostly been successful as partners of INGOs, rather than as lead applicants.
In its bilateral programme, Switzerland supports improvements in government service delivery at district level (NGPAR), as well as the functioning of the Governance Sector Working Group. Switzerland is interested in improving the participatory aspect of District Development Fund management.
Switzerland is also supporting UNDP in the National Assembly Strategic Support Project (NASSP). This has room (in 2016) to support some forms of CSO engagement with members of the National Assembly.
Switzerland has a Lao Culture Challenge Fund (2013-2016) that provides grants for literature, art and performance projects, with a focus on Lao youth, and a Rights Link project that supports land rights and access to justice in rural areas. Switzerland has provided significant funds for CSO capacity development, through a “Support to Civil Society” project that ends in 2016. From mid-2016 Switzerland’s operational support to Lao CSOs will be mostly provided via the CEGGA programme, managed by GIZ (see under Germany, above).
Following a reorganisation of global development cooperation priorities, since 2015 Laos is no longer a priority country of French Official Development Cooperation (ODA). Nevertheless, the French Embassy hopes to continue some form of direct or indirect support to legal sector reform (France was previously a major advisor and donor in this sector). This may include continued support to the French National Judiciary School (ENM) and the CSO Doctors without Borders (ASF) for their cooperation with the Lao National Judicial Training Institute and the Lao Bar Association.
The French Embassy manages a Social Development Fund (FSD), which provides small grants to Lao CSOs with a simplified application and reporting procedure and some coaching. Grants in 2010-2014 were for amounts of 20-80,000 USD. Priorities for 2016-2017 include the integration of vulnerable categories of citizens, and capacity development for CSOs and their networks. The FSD may award 5-7 grants every year.
Following the termination of bilateral support to Vietnam, Luxemburg is considering opening an Embassy in Vientiane, or at least posting a development cooperation diplomat here. This is likely to lead to an increase in bilateral cooperation. Luxemburg has been supporting legal sector reform, including support to the National University of Laos for human rights education and for its clinical outreach programme, which sends students to work with village and district mediation structures. The bilateral cooperation programme includes some funds managed by provincial authorities; Luxemburg tries to support participatory planning at provincial, district and village level, and respect of Lao laws in planning and procurement authorities.
The Luxemburg Embassy in Hanoi has traditionally provided a small number of small grants to Lao CSOs. This volume is likely to increase with the expected transfer of development cooperation coordination to Vientiane.
Although the United Kingdom (UK) has an Embassy in Vientiane, there is no bilateral aid programme for Lao PDR. The Embassy may obtain funds from HQ for work with the National Assembly.
A small number of small grants are awarded every year, to universities and to Lao CSOs, for projects related to education, culture and human rights.
Following parliamentary success for right-wing politicians, cuts to the foreign aid budget, and disappointing results from 12 years of support to MoFA on human rights issues, Finland has reduced its aid to Laos. There is no country programme, and Laos is addressed as part of a Mekong regional programme managed from Bangkok. The main focus of Finnish development cooperation with to Laos is forest sector management. This includes issues of strengthening law enforcement and combatting corruption.
The Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Helsinki provides some small grants to Finnish CSOs that operate in the Lao PDR. The Finnish Embassy in Bangkok does not offer grants to Lao CSOs.
Between 150 and 180 INGOs have occasional or ongoing activities in Laos. Almost half, including almost all of the most active ones, are members of the informal but government-tolerated Lao INGO Network. INGOs manage a significant amount of the donor funds ultimately targeting Lao CSOs, and play an important role both in obtaining this funding for the sector, and in managing the strict contractual obligations; something most Lao NPAs still find very difficult. INGOs also bring to Laos a smaller amount of private funds, collected from citizens and to a much lesser extent companies in their home countries. Estimates of the total funds mobilised by INGOs for projects in Laos vary considerably, but most estimates are in excess of USD30m/year.
Rights-focused CSOs should not remain focused on the availability of grant funds, but should also consider increasing their dialogue with development partners regarding other aspects of their support for human rights. Let us briefly consider three such opportunities: DP commitment to Rights Based Approaches, as well as the European Union countries’ collaborative Roadmap for Engagement with Civil Society and country-level Human Rights Report.
Most Development Partners present in Laos have formerly adapted a Rights Based Approach. Many have also adopted formal strategies for mainstreaming specific rights themes – such as children’s rights, gender equality, and disability – into their development cooperation work. These at a minimum require more structured dialogue with rights holders and with CSO intermediaries, and the identification of measurable results relating to the rights of citizens, not only the capacity of Government of Laos. For example, the EU has committed itself to ensuring that 2/3 of new programming worldwide will be relevant to human rights objectives and to identifying the gender impact of all programming, as well as country-level strategies. CSOs could invite Development Partners to explain how their existing support in Lao PDR reflects these approaches, and to become more consistent in their implementation. Development Partner staff interviewed for this study expressed low levels of familiarity with their organisations’ strategies and declared human rights objectives, and admitted that programming often fails to fully reflect the strategic frameworks in place. By assisting and encouraging Development Partners to be more consistent in their Rights Based Approach, CSOs could obtain a significant leverage – influencing large volumes of development aid with only a modest ‘investment’ of human and financial resources.
Although the Australia and EU Human Rights Dialogues with Laos are diplomatic and largely confidential processes, CSOs can engage with these Development Partners to ensure that they take civil society concerns into account, and to encourage the maximum transparency of the process, compatible with the diplomatic objective of the process.
The EU Roadmap for Engagement with Civil Society. Introduced in 2012, this is a tool that the EU and Member States use to identify and monitor progress regarding the enabling environment for civil society. It reflects:
- The importance of CSOs as proposers and implementers of EU co-funded projects through which the EU and MS address their development cooperation objectives
- A range of human rights issues of concern to the EU, including the rights of association and free speech, which are necessary for CSOs to work well, as well as gender equality, children’s rights and other rights issues for which the active engagement of CSOs is a precondition for progress.
The Laos Roadmap (covering 2014-2017) was updated at the end of 2015 as part of the EU Mapping Study of Civil Society in Lao PDR.  A second generation of Roadmaps is expected to cover the years 2018-2020. These are expected to have more standardised results indicators, to allow regional and global comparison, as well as more regular reporting, to encourage EU and MS staff in each country to use the Roadmap more systematically and give it a higher priority. CSO engagement with the EU and MS during 2016 could therefore focus on the monitoring of the Roadmap, and identification of priorities for the 2018-2020 period.