Over 70 judges and justice ministry officials from throughout ASEAN gathered at an ASEAN legal and judicial cooperation workshop in Cambodia this week for an unprecedented exchange of ideas on the Rule of Law in the ASEAN region.

Representatives from the ASEAN Senior Law Officials Meeting (ASLOM), ASEAN Member State judicial bodies, and the ASEAN Secretariat discussed challenges such as the national implementation of international treaties, the nature of ASEAN law, transnational crime, justice administration, international arbitration, and trade and investment law. The event was jointly opened by the Minister of Justice of Cambodia, H.E. ANG Vong Vathana, U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN, H.E. David Carden, and Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN, H.E. Bagas Hapsoro.

Minister Vathana commented, “As ASEAN moves toward integration we will see an exponential increase in cross-border movement of people, goods, and ideas. With this closer connectivity we will discover a new set of cross-border legal challenges, and require greater judicial cooperation.”

The first-of-its-kind, ASEAN judicial program follows last year’s 14th ASEAN Senior Law Officials’ Meeting in Phnom Penh, which recognized the need to strengthen networks among legal professionals in ASEAN, especially among the ASLOM and ASEAN judicial bodies.

“We have a unique opportunity today to assess how Rule of Law in ASEAN is developing,” said Ambassador Carden in his welcoming remarks. “Everything ASEAN is working to accomplish – economic community, science and technology collaboration, facilitation of interstate travel, and communication to name a few – depends on a strong foundation in Rule of Law by all ASEAN member states.”

In his keynote address, Walter Woon, professor of law at the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law and former Singapore Attorney General, stressed the importance of a rules-based ASEAN.

“This event has been an important meeting among various line agencies and legal professionals of ASEAN Member States, which has highlighted opportunities to build deeper dialogue and legal cooperation among ASEAN Member States in anticipation of the realization of the ASEAN Community by 2015,” said DSG Bagas. “We cannot realize the ASEAN Community unless we take constructive efforts that commensurate with the challenges that face it. The joint effort made by both the Chairman of ASEAN and the US Government in this regard is a positive step in that direction,” he added.

The workshop was organized by the ASEAN Secretariat and the Ministry of Justice of Cambodia, with support from the U.S. Government-funded ASEAN-U.S. Technical Assistance and Training Facility.