In August 2005, in front of an audience in Manila, Lao development worker Sombath Somphone received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership.
Known as Asia's Nobel Prize, it showed that Sombath's work was appreciated not just by the people of Laos but across the region.
The award recognised Sombath's "hopeful efforts to promote sustainable development in Laos by training and motivating its young people to become a generation of leaders".
But much of that hope has now been lost. Rather than mentoring a new generation of Lao community leaders, Sombath is missing - a victim of enforced disappearance - and Lao civil society is fractured and fearful.
An enforced disappearance takes place when a person is arrested, detained or abducted by the state or agents acting for the state, who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their fate or whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.
And this serious human rights violation, recognised as an international crime since the aftermath of World War II, is ongoing as long as Sombath's fate and whereabouts remain unknown.
'Clouded in secrecy'
|Laos activist's disappearance still unsolved|
Taken from beside a police post in the Lao capital Vientiane on December 15, 2012, no one has seen or heard from Sombath since. Two years on, his family and friends continue to push for answers and his safe return.
Many suspect it was Sombath's work empowering communities across Laos that led to his enforced disappearance - the authorities' attempt to suppress an emerging civil society.
The Lao authorities' investigation into Sombath's case - if any genuine investigation has in fact occurred - has been clouded in secrecy, and they continue to reject outside offers of help.
Back in 2005, the region was quick to celebrate Sombath’s achievements. But the muted response to his enforced disappearance from governments across the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) speaks volumes about the bloc’s severe limitations when it comes to human rights.
ASEAN’s Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) was established in 2009 to "promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN".
We would assume that the enforced disappearance of a prominent member of civil society would be of great concern for everyone in ASEAN - just the type of case that AICHR should take on, pressing the Lao authorities for answers and undertaking its own investigations.
Indeed, Amnesty International understands that in May 2013, during an AICHR meeting in Jakarta, Brunei Darussalam's representative - the Commission's Chair at the time - made the unprecedented move of informally asking the other ASEAN representatives whether AICHR should discuss Sombath's case.
But the Lao representative responded with an emphatic "no", and under AICHR's debilitating "consensus" rule that was enough to forestall any discussion, let alone action.
In the meantime, as we approach the second anniversary of Sombath Somphone's enforced disappearance, individual governments across ASEAN should take action where AICHR will not.