By Laura Milne, Access to Justice and Pro Bono Programme Manager, Hanoi

The 2nd Annual Capacity Building –Advocacy Workshop Conference of the Asian Consortium for Human Rights-Based Access to Justice, was held in Pattaya, Thailand from 27 to 29 May 2012. While Bruce was drifting around the Red Sea attending a Conference in Jordan, I and my colleague Hien Thi Bui, travelled to Pattaya to connect with our fellow Consortium members.

The Consortium is comprised of national judicial and human rights institutions, civil society organ-isations and academic institutions from across Asia. It aims to instill a human rights-based approach in access to justice programs through capacity development and advocacy activities with access to justice practitioners throughout the region, including member organisations and outside institutions.

The 2nd Annual Capacity-Building – Advocacy Workshop Conference brought together 28 representatives from a diverse range of organizations, from the Laos Bar Association to the Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group and the Kathmandu School of Law to the Center for Asia Pacific Women in Politics based in the Philippines. Broadly speaking, the aims of the Conference were to deepen understanding of the HRBA (Human Rights-Based Approach) through knowledge sharing, increase awareness of relevant UN and non-UN procedures for improving access to justice and refining the Consortium’s role as well as work plan over next two years.

Being relatively new to BABSEACLE and Vietnam, the Con-ference was a great opportunity for me to learn about the human rights and A2J (Access to justice) situation across Asia. For example, did you know that there  are only 30 places a year available at law school in Cambodia? Or that in parts of Thailand, forest dwellers ordain trees to protect their homes? Or had you heard that the Philippine National Police Academy has its own Human rights Affairs Office? Me neither.

Capacity-Building Plans
But the Conference was not just sharing and swapping stories; we spent a considerable amount of time planning what we will be doing for the next two years to further the Consortium’s aims. Consortium members agreed that legal education must be a priority activity. While BABSEACLE’s work will continue to focus on legal education for law students, lecturers and the community, other member’s expertise lie in legal education for the judiciary,  prosecutors and the security services. The Consortium is an excellent space for legal educators to share best practices, collaborate on HRBA2J ini-tiatives and create networks of mutually supportive organ-isations.

BABSEACLE is a member of the Consortium’s Steering Committee and we also sit on the Capacity Development Com-mittee (CDC). During the Conference I had the opportunity to work with the CDC to map out the Consortium’s capacity development activities over the next year. In line with our priorities, the CDC plans to hold a series of training of trainers for non-Consortium practitioners, utilising the recently published Manual on  Human Rights-Based Approach to Realising Equal Access to Justice. While BABSEACLE clearly have  a huge amount of experience in this area, so too do other members of the CDC. The Conference hosted practitioners doing some truly inspirational work: disability discrimination cases in China, environmental law in Mongolia and legal empowerment in Bangladesh. Working collaboratively, we will not only increase awareness, understanding and practice -of the HRBA to A2J, we as an organisation will be able to learn from our Consortium colleagues to strengthen our own work.

The Consortium closed with a wonderful dinner on the final evening. I was invited to MC along with Jyoti Panday from the Nepalise National Judicial Aca-demy. I was somewhat surprised when, during my pre-dinner briefing from one of the organisers, I was told that after dinner everyone will take to the stage to perform a dance or song from their country. I nodded along in quiet disbelief. How wrong I was. Everyone got up – some fabulous and some hilarious. As MC I somehow managed to avoid the humiliation but promised to prepare something for next year. I am from the UK, land of the Morris Dancer. I just hope I can find a costume in Hanoi. Fingers crossed.