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Mekong law center starts up

Mekong law center starts up

T

HE Mekong Region Law Center held its inaugural meeting in Phnom Penh from June

17-20.

"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

region."

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

us.

"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."

Prince Ranariddh

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

are defined.

"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

exchanging experience."

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

announced.

The Asia Foundation has already funded Center sponsored

training programs. The most recent was a two week Contract Drafting course held

in Vietnam.

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.

Dr

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."

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