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The Rule of Law is Universal

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IMAGE: Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan »


Last week over 5,300 lawyers gathered from around the world in Tokyo for the 2014 Annual Conference of the International Bar Association. There were participants from 33 countries representing every continent on earth and making it one of the largest gatherings ever of international legal professionals who provided a wealth of knowledge on the most important issues in legal practice and the latest developments in the law today. The showcase sessions focused on ‘The Convergence of Business and Human Rights’ even as an enriching legal experience building cross-border connections and promoting the harmonisation of laws across borders  was available to all whilst in the process also developing the independence of the legal profession and encouraging information sharing, all amidst countless social events and unique attractions. The key note speaker Shinzo Abe,the Prime Minister of Japan, opened the ceremony in the presence of their Imperial Majesties Emperor Akhito and Empress Michiko at the Tokyo International Forum. May Agbamuche-Mbu reports on the opening ceremony from Tokyo.

Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan opened this year's IBA Annual Conference by emphasising that the international community must work together to support the rule of law. He said that the term ‘rule of law’ has its origin in Western civilisation but that the idea is universal and by no means limited to the West, as its concept is also embedded in the spiritual traditions of many Asian countries. The reason he noted, dates back to ancient times well over a thousand years ago when similar concepts to the ‘rule of law’ were already in existence. The ‘rule of law’ is universal he said and at its root is always the warm and caring heart so the rule is therefore imbued with a deep love of humanity. He further added that the law represents the morals and norms of society, created through consensus among people who work together and are bound by their shared love of humanity and that in all human societies there is always the law and power is always the servant of the law. Interestingly, that statement might be considered the reverse case in certain jurisdictions today.

Prior to the 20th century, violence had yet to be universally condemned in the international community, with wars and oppressive colonial rule accepted as part of the norm. It was only in the mid-20th century that war came to be condemned and a new international community was created based on the charter of the United Nations. It was therefore unsurprisingly in the same century that nearly all former colonies around the world achieved their independence.

Japan Abe said is engaged in broad diplomatic efforts that seek to realise the rule of law in the international community by supporting the development of legal systems in other countries, mainly on the Asian continent. These efforts have not been limited to government ministries and agencies such as the Ministry of Justice, Foreign Affairs and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency but have truly been an 'all Japan effort’. Furthermore Japan isparticularlyparticipating in international efforts to aid women striving to gain further skills and also in the protection and promotion of women’s rights.

On April 1 2014, the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (The Hague Convention) entered into force in Japan and the country is actively involved in initiatives to resolve the issues of child removal, in accordance with international rules. The Prime Minister further emphasised his country's commitment to democracy, basic human rights and the rule of law which he said they are purposely engaged in, with strenuous efforts being made to develop attorneys capable of playing a role on the front line of the international legal community, even as he stressed that he would like Japan to continue to work to establish and further strengthen the rule of law in the international community.

Shinzo Abe in conclusion said that the abiding lesson we can draw from the experiences of the 20th century is surely the importance of the rule of law which represents the rule for democracy, basic human rights and peaceful conflict resolution. He further added that together with the members of the IBA and respective governments, should let the powers that be exercise their leadershipwisely as they seek to establish the universal ‘rule of law’ on this earth.

The IBA is Committed to Upholding the Rule of Law Worldwide  
Their Imperial Majesties Emperor Akhito and Empress Michiko of Japan completed the high–profile line up that opened the IBA Annual Conference last Sunday 19th October. This was the very first IBA Annual Conference attended by the host country’s Head of State and Prime Minister and as such signified the elevated level of  importance and respect placed on the legal profession in Japan. As the local newspaper reporters covering the opening ceremony confirmed, their Majesties are not seen out that frequently these days. The IBA President Mr. Michael Reynolds delivered part of his speech in excellent Japanese in welcoming his special guests and the 6,300 delegates from around the world.  He stated that this conference was the largest ever in the Asia Pacific region and further added that the IBA had especially focused this year on emerging markets, with the  MINT countries (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) being  especially recognised as increasingly important economies on the world's stage and that the IBA had particularly encouraged lawyers from these countries to be in Tokyo to benefit from the business  opportunities on offer and the international contacts they willassuredly make. He additionally highlighted the IBA’s efforts in Myanmar and Cuba. In Myanmar the IBA is helping lawyers establish an independent bar association and Mr. Reynolds went on to quote Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese opposition politician of world renown and chairperson of the National League for Democracy, who at an event in Naypyidaw, Burma's capital, said that 'a country cannot have economic development without the establishment of the rule of law, and that cannot happen without a nationwide independent bar association.' The IBA president then talked about his meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi where she told him how the IBA could help the cause of the rule of law and the legal profession which has suffered so grievously under 40 years of military dictatorship during which time much of the legal infrastructure of the country has been defaced. As an unfortunate result, she felt, young students had little or no wish to become lawyers. Expectedly, since then the IBA has been especially supportive, providing material assistance, training lawyers and judges and now most importantly, it is providing step by step assistance in setting up an independent national bar association in Burma.

The IBA's support has also been extended to Cuba now that limited economic reforms are taking place in the country and as a direct result of Mr. Reynolds' visit to Havana, Cuba's capital, early in the year the IBA has reached out to lawyers’ organisations in Cuba to help them reconnect with and re-integrate into the international legal community.

IBA President Reynolds also confirmed the launching of two presidential task forces, the first being on Human Trafficking, addressing the appalling problem and degrading menace of this form of modern slavery and investigating how the law can be changed to ensure that the traffickers are held suitably accountable and their victims similarly empowered through better access to justice. The other task force, on Climate Change, Justice and Human Rights, brings together leading experts and practitioners in the fields of environmental law and human rights. A comprehensive report has now been produced and was presented at a showcase session, with presentations by Al Gore, former US Vice President and Mary Robinson former President of Ireland and a UN Special Envoy for climate change who inspired the launch of the task force two years ago.

The IBA, as was often stated, is resolutely committed to upholding the rule of law worldwide by working with many of the most gifted, internationally minded lawyers to improve legal systems across the globe and work with legislative bodies to elevate standards of practice. Since 2008 the IBA has committed $8 million from its reserves to this very cause. Mr. Reynolds reiterated, quite aptly, that without an independent Bar Association there can be no rule of law. This we know too well, coming from a jurisdiction such as ours.
In closing, Mr. Reynolds shared something Nelson Mandela had said about that difficult journey that lay aheadwhich he felt could be a guiding light to us all: "I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way but I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”

Article Credit: Thisdaylive

Updated 4 Years ago

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Tags:     Shinzo Abe     IBA     Foreign Affairs     Japanese International Cooperation Agency     Empress Michiko