Christopher’s LAWASIA Welcome Remarks for the 31st LAWASIA Conference, Siem Reap
November 26, 2018
 6 MLJ i
Malayan Law Journal Articles
31ST LAWASIA CONFERENCE, SIEM REAP 2018:NEW ERA FOR SOUTH EAST ASIA
Christopher Leong, President of LAWASIA
2 November 2018
- HE Ang Vong Vathana, Minister of Ministry of Justice representing Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia
- HE Ouk Savuth, General Prosecutor of Appeal Court
- Mr Suon Visal, President of the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia
- Mr Chunghwan Choi, President-Elect of LAWASIA Chairperson of the Programmes, Speakers & Papers Committee for the 31st LAWASIA Conference; and
- Dr Gordon Hughes, Chairperson of the Organising Committee for the 31st LAWASIA Conference
- Presidents and Heads of Delegation of the Jurisdictional Bar Associations and Law Societies present this evening
- Members of the judiciary from the several jurisdictions which make up LAWASIA
- Mr Horatio Bernardes Neto, incoming President of the International Bar Association
- Members of LAWASIA
- Your Excellencies
- Distinguished guests
- Ladies and gentlemen
Chum Reap Suo, Som Svakum Siem Reap, which means 'Hello, welcome to Siem Reap'.
A very good evening to all of you. On behalf of LAWASIA and its Executive Committee, It is my great pleasure to welcome you, our esteemed guests and delegates to Siem Reap and to the 31st LAWASIA Conference.
The historical city of Siem Reap is located in Northwest Cambodia on the shores of the great sweet water lake, Tonle Sap Lake, and is the gateway to the ancient Angkor complex, which includes the Angkor Wat. The site was the seat of the mighty Khmer Kingdom of the 9th to 15th Centuries. I hope that all of you, who have travelled here from near and far, have scheduled in some time to visit the Angkor complex and learn a little of the history of this region which is carved on the walls of the ancient stone buildings.
We have been brought together here following months of hard work, planning and cross-border coordination by the LAWASIA Organising Committee, its secretariat and the National Liaison Committee of the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and as a result, we are delighted to welcome our panel of distinguished international and national presenters, together with delegates and participants from some 33 jurisdictions across the region and beyond. We had envisaged that this conference would be popular and well attended; but we did not imagine that it would be so tremendously subscribed. We are indeed overwhelmed, figuratively and physically, by your presence and warmth.
The theme of our conference is 'New Era for South East Asia', and quite fitting when one considers the premise in conjunction with the conference destination, over a thousand years of heritage embodied by Angor Wat and the temple regions, contrasted with the economic shift and development spurred on by becoming one of the world's premier travel and business destinations.
The program offers a range of informative and substantive sessions, covering a diverse range of topics including: foreign direct investment and the new digital economy in Asia, business and finance, environmental dispute resolution, cross border insolvency, tax incentives, international franchising, anti-trust and competition regulations in Asia, human rights and rule of law.
There are 24 breakout sessions and three plenary sessions, which in essence fall into 3 broad categories, namely, 15 sessions on 'Business Law', five sessions on 'Bar & Professional Standards and Issues', and five sessions relating to 'Rule of Law, Environment, Human Rights & Constitutional Law'. These three broad categories substantially covers the wide spectrum of human activities and endeavour which we are concerned with in our daily and weekly lives.
I am pleased to inform you that during this term of the Executive Committee 2017-2018, we have expanded this spectrum with the establishment of four new committees. They are the 'Belt & Road Committee', 'Young Lawyers Committee', 'Constitutional & Rule of Law Committee' and 'Anti-Trusts & Competition Committee'. Please do look out for their respective sessions in the conference programme. Also, these new committees, as well as the other committees of LAWASIA, will be holding their individual annual meetings on the side-lines of the conference. These meetings are to provide an avenue for members of the committees to meet and get to know each other, for new members to get involved and to discuss their plans and events for the coming term. The schedule of the various committee meetings may be ascertained from the conference programme, and I would encourage all of you to attend the committee meeting which peaks your interests.
Ladies & gentlemen,
As many of you may know, LAWASIA was established in 1966 pursuant to a United Nations resolution at a meeting in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1964. It was at that time deemed appropriate that there should be an international law organisation covering and representing the United Nations ESCAP Region in matters of economic development, business and human rights. It is for this reason that the membership of LAWASIA is primarily from the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Region (previously known as the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East or 'ESCAFE').
It is therefore quickly appreciated that the remit and work of LAWASIA encompasses an expansive geographical area, as well as diverse issues ranging from economics and business law; professional practice and development; rule of law, human rights and the administration of justice; to the independence of state institutions, the Judiciary and the legal profession. To facilitate the work required of the constitutional mandate of LAWASIA, we have 5 LAWASIA Sections which are the:
- Business Law Section;
- Law Management Section;
- Family Law & Family Rights Section;
- Human Rights Section; and
- Judicial Section.
And we have 13 sub-committees and six Standing Committees. We are not merely focused, we are multi-focused and multi-faceted. A look at the activities of LAWASIA for the recent terms would provide a picture of its range as follows:
- Business Law and Foreign Direct Investment forums and conferences in Seoul, Berlin, Osaka and Sydney;
- Risk Management and Professional Indemnity Insurance Conference in Hong Kong SAR; and
- Employment Law Conferences in Hanoi and Chennai.
Moving forward, we have in the immediate first half of the year ahead the:
- Employment Law Forum in Fiji in January 2019;
- Inaugural Human Rights Conference in New Delhi in February 2019;
- Business Law conference in Manila in March 2019; and
- Risk Management and Professional Indemnity Insurance Conference in Hong Kong SAR in May 2019.
Lest one thinks that LAWASIA's focus maybe in organising forums and conferences, no doubt these are important platforms for exchange of legal knowledge, and for advocacy of values and principles, we are however not so confined. LAWASIA has undertaken several missions concerning the rule of law, constitutional and institutional integrity, human rights, independence of the judiciary and the legal profession. We have in the past undertaken fact-finding missions to Nepal, Fiji, Pakistan, and more recently to the Maldives.
In addition to promoting business and investment laws, and professional standards, LAWASIA has been and will continue to go to wherever the rule of law, or the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession, or human rights and civil liberties are threatened or trampled on, and where the administration of justice is in jeopardy.
I mentioned the Maldives. I would like to take this opportunity to provide you with a brief report. It was about this time last year, at the LAWASIA Annual Council Meeting in Tokyo, the day before the commencement of the 30th Annual Conference, that the former Attorney General of the Republic of Maldives addressed our Council. He informed us of the dire circumstances in the Maldives where in the midst of accusations and concerns regarding government corruption and authoritarianism, the administration of justice was compromised; the independence of the judiciary was under attack -- where the Chief Justice and another Supreme Court justice were arrested for judgments delivered which the government disagreed with; where a state of emergency was declared (and subsequently extended); where fundamental constitutional rights were suspended; where many lawyers who exercised their calling and freedom of expression were arrested and struck off the Bar; where institutions were muzzled; where the free press and media were rendered unfree; where the rule of law was diminished.
The Council of LAWASIA had resolved to establish a fact finding team to ascertain the situation with regards the rule of law, the administration of justice, the independence of the judiciary, the wellbeing of lawyers and the state of fundamental and constitutional rights in the Maldives; and to thereafter report to the Council. The team comprised of ten members of LAWASIA from various jurisdictions, and we drew up our terms of reference for the mission.
We met and interviewed many persons in Colombo, Sri Lanka who were members of the previous government and members of parliament of Maldives, former members of the Election Commission of Maldives, Maldivian lawyers, civil society organisations, human rights activists; and corresponded with the City of Male' municipality council, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives and Transparency International Maldives. The fact finding team then proceeded to Male', the capital of Maldives, to further our interviews.
When we first planned the fact finding mission, we were conscious of the possibility that we may encounter difficulties, even arrest or detention. We made a decision that we cannot be deterred; we cannot confine ourselves from espousing on the rule of law, administration of justice, independence of the judiciary and the legal profession, and human rights from afar.
As it happened, despite our every effort to communicate with the immigration authorities of the Maldives and the open invitation by the government of Maldives to all international organisations to visit Maldives to witness the situation there, some members of the fact finding team were denied entry at Velana International Airport, detained in a secured detention facility overnight and re-routed the next day back to Colombo. We then drafted and issued a press statement, which can be found on our website.
The team remained undeterred, and continued to communicate with the Foreign Affairs Ministry and Immigration Department of the Maldives to seek entry to continue our fact finding mission. As per the proverbial tortoise that retracted into its shell when probed, there was no response from the Maldivian authorities.
As we now know, the Presidential elections in the Maldives took place last month and concluded on 23rd September 2018. The people of the Maldives turned out in record numbers to vote; and they voted for change. The new President Ibrahim Solih and his government of the Maldives is scheduled to take office on 11 November 2018.
A few weeks ago, some members of the fact finding team met with a member of the Transitional Committee of the incoming government, who is also the chairperson of the Sub-Committee for Transitional Justice and Judicial Reforms. I am pleased to inform you that incoming President Solih had conveyed his compliments and best regards to LAWASIA. I am further honoured to inform you that he has requested for LAWASIA to consider entering a formal collaboration with the incoming government to provide our input into their efforts for transitional justice, in particular for judicial reforms, the strengthening of the rule of law, re-building of the administration of justice, and for the establishment of an independent Bar association in the Maldives. I have on your behalf conveyed our willingness to participate and contribute to their efforts in their nation building in these respects.
Please indulge me a moment to introduce to you the members of the fact finding team. They are:
- Prashant Kumar, Immediate Past President of LAWASIA and President Elect of the Bar Association of India;
- Doug Humphreys, President of the Law Society of New South Wales;
- Upul Jayasuriya, Past President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka Prof Yasushi Higashizawa, Prof of Law, Tokyo University;
- Dato Ariff Yusuf, former judge of the Court of Appeal Malaysia;
- Gregory Vijayendran, President of the Law Society of Singapore;
- Dr Gordon Hughes, Past President of Law Council of Australia and Past President of LAWASIA;
- Michael Tidball, Secretary General of LAWASIA; and
- Kate Hewson, Legal Officer of LAWASIA.
I wish to commend their steadfastness in the face of difficulties and adversity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There are many jurisdictions where the rule of law, administration of justice, independence of the judiciary and legal profession, human rights and civil liberties are under challenge. They are those who think and act on the basis that 'might is right', but history has shown and thus it will continue to be that eventually it is 'right which is might'.
For all of these jurisdictions, Lawasia must be as a lighthouse -- a guiding light for those in troubled waters, as a harbour for those in need of safe refuge and haven, and as a fearless advocate for those who are voiceless. The association and its members must be as beacons for those who are in the dark face of the abyss where the rule of law is threatened, where human rights and human dignity are trampled. Do not be deterred for the lack of immediate results, for one day, perhaps at a time beyond you, right will prevail because there were those of you who gave those in the dark face of the deep, illumination, hope and the will not to give up.
Permit me to read to you an excerpt of my message in the latest edition of the Asian Jurist, a LAWASIA publication:
If you are in an environment where you have to fight for or defend the rule of law, then it is, by definition, a challenging environment. You must find strength from your convictions and your colleagues. You must know you are not alone in the fight; there are those who came before you and there will be more to follow. Your task is to be in that line, knocking on the door when your time comes and stepping aside for the next in line when you tire. But there must be that line.
One day, that door will open; and in the meantime, 'dum spiramus tuebimur' -- which means -- while we breathe, we shall defend.
It is an express object of LAWASIA to uphold and defend the rule of law. In this quest we must be fearless. We at LAWASIA do not seek to traverse only the well-trodden path, we seek also to make our own trails.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Governance and human development are not only about economics and business progress, individual or collective prosperity, and it is not just about food in the belly; all of these are no doubt important, and yet it must also be about the quality of human development and societal growth.
Providing bread feeds the body but does not develop the mind nor nourish the soul. Economic development and wellbeing must be accompanied with a progressive environment, democratic space, and respect for civil liberties, human rights and human dignity.
You would thus note that this conference culminates on 5th November with the plenary session titled 'Business, Human Rights & the Environment in South East Asia'.
The conference offers a unique opportunity to not only examine the varied challenges that confront today's lawyers, but to also celebrate the collective achievements of the regional legal profession. Alongside this, the conference provides an exceptional opportunity for networking, making key contacts, fostering current relationships as well as developing new ones.
As I had alluded to earlier, it takes a combined effort of many people working together to create an event such as this. To that end, I would like to express my sincere thanks to Mr Suon Visal, President of the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia, his colleagues Mr Koy Neam and Mr Vicheth Akara Prom, together with the local bar members for their support, engagement and generosity as local hosts.
I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the LAWASIA Organising Committee and Dr Gordon Hughes AM, Chair of the Organising Committee, together with Mr Chunghwan Choi, President-Elect and Chair of the Program, Papers and Speakers Committee together with its members Eric Yang and Steven Thiru, for their hard work in ensuring that this conference remains highly participatory and relevant to those present. Last but not least, our appreciation also to the Secretariat staff of LAWASIA and Michael Tidball, the Secretary General and Magdalena Malota, our General Manager.
Equally, I would like to acknowledge and express our sincere gratitude to the distinguished judges, lawyers, academics and industry leaders who have joined this conference as speakers, moderators and sessions chairs, for giving their time and resources to attend and to contribute so that others may benefit. A warm thank you is also extended to all the sponsoring organisations for providing their generous financial support.
Lastly, on behalf of LAWASIA and the conference organising committee, we extend our thanks to all the conference participants. We welcome you to Siem Reap and hope that this year's conference will challenge and inspire you through insightful discussions from diverse perspectives, through collaboration and friendship.
I hope to have the opportunity to meet each of you in the course of the next few days. I know that there are hundreds of you, and if by happenstance I have not been able to hold your hand in person and thank you, know that I have already done so from my heart.
Thank you and have a wonderful stay in Siem Reap.