During the week 28 August-2 September 2016, the joint efforts of PILnet and BABSEA CLE and its consortium partners produced the 2016 Asia Pro Bono Forum followed by the 5th Asia Pro Bono Conference under the banner of the Asia Pro Bono Exchange.
A feature of the week was the diversity of activities, sessions, attendees and the range of related workshops. This was the largest gathering of people to date getting together to talk about all things pro bono in the Asia region. Large law firms attending included Ashurst, Clayton Utz, Clifford Chance, Collins Biggers & Paisley, DLA Piper, Herbert Smith Freehills, K & L Gates, King Wood Mallesons, Maurice Blackburn, Reed Smith, Ropes & Gray, Linklaters, Russel Kennedy, Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom together with a number of Indonesian firms including Oentoeng Suria & Partners, Ivan Almaida Baely & Firmansyah Law Firm (IAB&F), Melli Darsa & Co, Assegaf Hamzah & Partners, and many from Indonesian legal aid organisations (LBHs). There were also a great number of persons from NGOs working in the region, legal professional associations, academics, clearing houses, disadvantaged community members, and students. A greater representation from Hong Kong, China and India than at previous Asia pro bono conferences was evident.
It was not possible to attend everything and so highlights are necessarily personal. Amongst these were:
- The Workshop on Thematic Human Rights Topics From Around the Asia Region hosted by Bali based NGO, Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) who educated all those present about the principles of Transitional Justice in the wake of massive human rights abuses with a call to support survivor’s associations. This workshop also discussed better regional cooperation with detail provided on how to participate in UN processes by Ms Heisoo Shin, a member of the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), Ms Nahla Haidar, a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Mr Tae-Ung Baik, Expert, UN Committee on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. It ended by showing a remarkable film about the reunification of the children taken from Timor to Indonesia during the long military occupation, some after more than 30 years, and long believed by their parents to be deceased.
- The opening address of the Asia Pro Bono Forum by Asma Jahangir, president of the Bar Association of Pakistan who reminded us that pro bono lawyering can be dangerous and it is still vital that lawyers do take on ‘unpopular cases’ when justice is at stake.
- The roundtable on Growing Pro Bono in Indonesia which produced the ‘photo of the conference’ with all three splinter Indonesian bar associations joining hands under the banner of Justika.com, a new online portal where citizens can find a legal aid’ lawyer appropriate to their problem. Such a facility has not previously existed in Indonesia. Many ‘legal aid’ lawyers in Indonesia are remunerated little if anything for their services. Was this the power of pro bono unifying the Bars? Only time will tell.