'Asean must prepare a harmonised legal framework'

opinion November 30, 2015 01:00

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The Keynote opening address by Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol at the opening ceremony of the 5th Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law, Grand Hall, Plaza Athenee Hotel, Bangkok, 26 November 2015



Professor Dr Surakiart Sathirathai, President of the Asian Society of International Law,
Excellency Judge Hisashi Owada, Judge and Former President of International Court of International Justice and Founding President of the Asian Society of International Law,
Excellency Shaukat Aziz, Former Prime Minister of Pakistan,
Excellency Jose Isidro Camacho, managing director and vice chairman of Credit Suisse Asia Pacific and former secretary of Finance of the Philippines,
Excellency Judge Xue Hanqin, Judge of the International Court of Justice, former president of the Asian Society of International Law,
Excellency Dr AKP Mochtan, Asean Deputy Secretary-General,
Distinguished participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
It gives me a great pleasure to preside over the opening ceremony of the Fifth Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law, held here in Bangkok today. I would like to extend a warm welcome to all participants both from Asia and outside the region and wish you all a very pleasant stay in Thailand.
I understand that the Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law has now become one of the major gatherings of lawyers, legal scholars and professions in the Asian region. Looking at the number of distinguished speakers, lawyers and legal scholars present in this hall, I think the Conference this year can attest to that claim.  And looking at the theme, the topics and the number and the titles of all the papers selected as well as the number of participants, I shall have no doubt whatsoever in the fruitfulness and the success of this Fifth Biennial Conference.
The Asian Society of International Law albeit being founded a little later than some of its sister societies, has proved to be a very useful forum to represent the views and opinions of Asian approaches to international law and other bodies of law based on our practice and oriental custom and wisdom. The world today is both increasingly borderless and interdependent. Our daily lifestyle is increasingly international in its nature. The law today, the system of law, the approaches to different bodies of law as well as the rule of law can no longer remain strictly confined to the old paradigm of thinking. Today’s lawyers and legal scholars need to be more opening up and heedful to what is happening elsewhere around them, around the region and around the world at large. The increasing calls for the universality of the principles of several branches of law to guarantee minimum justice for people of all nationalities, races and genders are becoming more common. 
Lawyers, law makers, legal scholars and professions as well as government officials today are expected to be more cognisant and knowledgeable of the different approaches, practices and custom in the legal process and legal thinking in different parts of the world and different parts of the region. This wider knowledge and awareness are important to enable the redesign, readjustment or redrafting of new sets of law that are more universally suitable, more appropriate and more just for the society. The presence of regional societies of law and a meeting like this should therefore be more encouraged as they are becoming indispensable for the modern day legal practice, legal making and the development of law.
I am more pleased to learn that this conference also hosts a session on the Dialogue with Regional Societies of International Law where all the leaders of societies of international law from every continent will discuss their cooperation not only between themselves but with other conference participants. I believe that such an exercise that provides cooperation between societies of international law will be very useful for the development process of law, not merely international law, but the body of law as a whole for the benefit of the general public and all stakeholders. I wish to urge for more of this kind of exercise that allows for exchanges of views and practices that leads to more cooperation between different societies as well as the International Law Association in the future conferences.
From the theme of this Fifth Biennial Conference, it is assumed that Asia has been and is going through a wide range of changes in so many aspects both gradually and rapidly. For these changes to be effectively implemented, it may be necessary that some laws and legislation need to be amended, while others redrafted, accordingly and appropriately. Any newly founded regional or international integration would likewise need to be accompanied by readjustment and redrafting of pertinent law. For an economic integration, it may involve commercial and trade law, customs and excise, banking, investment and competition law, labour movements, transportation, to name but a few. For a political, social and security integration, immigration, organised crime, cultural heritage, and transboundary pollution are some of the relevant legal issues that may need to be reviewed. 
The Asean Community is an example in point. By the beginning of next year when all the three pillars of the Asean Community, namely, the Asean Economic Community, the Asean Political and Security Community and the Asean Socio-Cultural Community come into operation, all Asean member states must prepare for a more harmonised legal framework. The law concerning economic liberalisation, international trade and investment, movement of labour, and so on must get somewhat harmonised. At the same time to strengthen the other two pillars, Asean member states must strengthen the rule of law, respect for human rights and criminal justice system in order to create a stronger and more cohesive Asean society. The Asean community dynamism depends on how quickly Asean member states can adjust and harmonise their relevant legal framework.
Cyberspace is another area of the law that needs to be rapidly developed to catch up with the changes in technology and everyday lifestyle. The implementation of regional integration and the increasing importance of cyberspace mean that modern day legal transactions and activities are less territory-bound. Transboundary transactions and online electronic transactions are making the question of overlapping jurisdiction a looming and pressing legal issue for serious consideration. International legal cooperation is needed to ensure that modern day transboundary transactions are properly conducted and protected.
Lawyers and legal experts these days are burdened with the tasks of ensuring that law can catch up with all the changes in economic, political, social and even cyberspace changing landscape. Law must be kept alive and must change with the changes. It is our responsibility as lawyers and legal scholars to ensure that citizens and the society will not become victims of archaic and outdated law and pieces of legislation simply because lawyers, legal experts and law-makers fail to realise the important linkages between all the changes and the law. 
I hope that this conference will serve as a wake-up call for all concerned to remind all lawyers and those in the legal professions of their duty to keep the law in line with all the changes for the benefit of our people. But that having been said, it must be emphasized also that the private sector, all stakeholders and the rest of the public must also be parts of such a process. The public and private participation in law-making process and the promotion of justice in the social system is an important ingredient for a healthy society and social harmonisation. And on their part, governments of all nations, too, must be quick to respond and expedite the necessary amendments of the law whenever they will benefit their people. 
As we are referring to all the changes in Asia, today, Asia remains a continent where a majority of countries and the population are still poor and developing. Today, Asia stands as one of the continents that will greatly benefit from the recently adopted United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or SDG, which, for the first time, stipulate the nexus between the rule of law and sustainable development. Goal 16 specifically deals with peace, justice and strong institutions. For sustainable development to be attained, there must be the promotion of inclusive societies where access to justice for all is equally available. The rule of law and sustainable development is proved to be significantly interrelated and mutually reinforcing both at national and international level. 
Earlier in June this year, the Asian Society of International Law and Thailand Institute of Justice or TIJ successfully organised the Inter-Sessional Conference on the nexus between the rule of law and development in Asia. I believe the report and the outcome of that conference will provide a good reference whenever we address the questions of law and the changing landscape in Asia. It reiterates how the rule of law enables a society to achieve sustainable development while its citizens enjoy the basic and fundamental human rights. I wish to urge those of you who are interested in this matter to consider the report and the discussions of this Intersessional Conference and help disseminate the thoughts and the ideas concerning the rule of law and sustainable development both at policy level and non-policy levels.
But in reaching for sustainable development and in changing the law adaptable to the changing political and economic landscape, we also have the responsibility to ensure that the marginalised will not get further pushed to the fringe or the edge of the society. All efforts must be made to bring sustainable development to the marginalised groups and to enable them to gain proper access to justice, rule of law and the right to development. My work in the Office of Public Prosecution has brought me to experience on countless occasions the hard life of the rural countrymen and women whose hardship has been exacerbated day by day by the lack of access to justice, misallocation of natural resources and human rights abuses. 
The reform of criminal justice institutions can also help to further uphold the rule of law and contribute towards sustainable development. The United Nations has been very instrumental in adopting standards and norms in this regard. The adoption of the UN Rules for Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders, also known as the Bangkok Rules where I happened to be actively involved, the UN model strategies and practical measures on the elimination of violence against children, and the UN Guiding Principles on Alternative Development, which is aimed at addressing illicit cultivation of narcotic crops could further advance the Goal 16 of the UN SDG.
But the relation between law and sustainable development is not confined merely to Goal 16 of the SDG. In almost every one of the 17 SDG goal targets, law must also be an important element to ensure the achievements of the SDG. Poverty and hunger eradication, climate change, inequality reduction, and gender equality are issues in other Goal Targets of SDG that require appropriate adoption of law for effective implementation. Economic growth that could produce sustainable development must be the growth based on equitable access to justice and must not be impeded by transnational organised crime, narcotic drugs and the lack of rule of law. I take note with great pleasure that the topics of discussions for this two-day conference also cover so many of the SDG issues. While the SDG is expected to bring about changes in Asia and the world, appropriate adjustment of the law will help make those changes possible.
I am also pleased to learn that alongside this Fifth Biennial Conference, the AsianSIL Youth Forum is also organised with law and non-law undergraduate students from 14 Asian countries. During the AsianSIL Intersessional Conference where a Youth Forum was also organised, I stressed the importance of the voices of the youth. The participation in this Youth Forum should allow them to be exposed to new ideas and knowledge.  They should be allowed to exercise their own wisdom to come up with their own recommendations, suggestions and innovative thinking. The mix of law and non-law students will make their recommendations even more interesting and more realistic. I hope that an activity like a youth forum during important law conferences like this present AsianSIL Biennial Conference will also help instil and cultivate the culture of lawfulness among the younger generation to help achieve sustainable development as envisaged in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
I shall eagerly look forward to the recommendations of the Youth Forum and the conclusion report of this Biennial Conference with great interests.
Finally, I wish to congratulate the Executive Council of the AsianSIL and the Organising Committee of this Conference for making this Biennial Conference such an interesting and landmark event. I am certain that the Bangkok Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law will further enhance the opportunity for cooperation amongst Asian and non-Asian lawyers and scholars to work together for the development of law that appropriately responds to changes for the benefit of peace, prosperity and sustainable development of all mankind.
On that note may I declare open the Fifth Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International law and wish the Conference every success.
Thank you very much for your attention.