HE Mekong Region Law Center held its inaugural meeting in Phnom Penh from June
"The Mekong Region Law Center is an initiative of the legal
communities of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos PDR, and Vietnam," said a statement from
the Asia Foundation, sponsor of the event.
The Center's charter says that
it "is being established by and for the legal communities of Cambodia, Laos,
Thailand and Vietnam."
The Minister of Justice Chem Snguon said: "The
Center will be a unique organization. It hopes to have a presence in each of the
countries in the region. It will be a contact point for the exchange of
information and ideas."
The Minister of Justice of Thailand Sawai Pattano
said: "The Center will bring lawyers together from the United States, Europe and
the region in order to lay a firm and sustainable basis for law in the
Co-Premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh was the keynote speaker for
the four day event. His Excellency Samdech Hun Sen, the Second Prime Minister
attended the welcome reception.
The First Prime Minister sounded a note
of caution in his address. He told the gathered delegates: "Dialogue is
important. We must discuss legal problems, we must learn about each other's
legal systems. We can learn from each other.
"But we are not attempting
to impose our law on any other country. The role of law is not simply to bind
the region together. Law should not tie us together, but instead should free
"In this region, there can be no benefit from attempting to impose
harmonization of law from above. Our friends in Europe are attempting this in
the context of decades of cooperation.
"However, in this region each
country has its distinct national identity. We must look to law as a means to
protect our identities, at the same time as it provides a framework for
international and regional cooperation."
An additional goal of the Center
is to promote the rule of law in the region by training specialists and
improving the flow of legal information in the region.
Dr Richard Blue,
Asia Foundation's Representative in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam said: "Prince
Ranariddh's concerns have been the concerns of each country as they have thought
through whether they want to involved in an undertaking of this nature.
"But given the global and regional dynamics, these countries have a
choice either to join the world or to remain isolated."
also said: "The adoption of the rule of law is also seen as important for
ensuring sound governance, and for protecting the peoples' rights however they
"Developing the rule of law will take time. It will require
patience and endurance. For it is not like some kind of light switch which may
be turned on or off. That task is great. But we can help each other by
Three of the four Mekong countries, Cambodia,
Thailand and Vietnam signed a Memorandum of Understanding and Charter on the
third day. Laos will be an Associate Member, the Laotian delegation
The Asia Foundation has already funded Center sponsored
training programs. The most recent was a two week Contract Drafting course held
Donors to support the Center in its next phase of
development are being sought, Dr. Blue said. Delegates were told that Canada,
Australia, Japan, the United States and the Asian Development Bank have been
approached for support.
Delegates expressed the hope that as many as five
donor countries could be found to fund the Center, but the active participation
of the Mekong countries is seen as critical to the Center's viability.
Blue said: "If there is no Asian commitment and Asian involvement we won't do
it. But the leaders of each of the four Mekong countries face the same problems,
in the last 3 years all of them have re-written their constitutions, three of
them are trying to rewrite their laws in light of their shift from centrally
controlled economies to free market economies.
"Regular and systematic
legal support and training will be essential to their development and their
relationship with international institutions."