LAWASIA's response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Pacific


Mr Chunghwan Choi

My thoughts and sympathies are with any one of our members directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and those who find that they are facing a period of uncertainty as a result of the evolving situation.

The emergence and unprecedented escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the way in which we all live and work. With a primary focus on ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our staff and members, the LAWASIA secretariat is now working remotely from home. While business is proceeding as usual, please accept our apologies in advance if there are any delays in our communications with you.

We have also been taking urgent steps to ensure the safety of participants and speakers at our annual international conferences. The growing spread of the disease and international travel restrictions has necessitated the postponement of a number of LAWASIA events scheduled for 2020, including the Human Rights Conference in March; Environmental Law Conference in April and Family Law and Children’s Rights Conference in July. We offer our apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused members and speakers who had already planned and booked their trips. We will continue to liaise with registrants and members about the alternative arrangements made for these conferences.

After careful consideration, LAWASIA, in consultation with the Mongolian Bar Association, has made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s 33rd LAWASIA Conference 2020, which was due to be held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia from 7 - 10 September 2020. Despite not being able to meet physically this year, LAWASIA is  excited to announce that we will organise a series of webinars during September and October 2020. This will provide our members a platform for continued collaboration and the cross-jurisdictional sharing of information despite the current challenges.

LAWASIA is aware of various laws and policies being developed and deployed internationally in an effort to halt the spread of the virus. During these unprecedented times, we are aware that unprecedented government responses may be necessary. Notwithstanding the urgent need to develop appropriate responses to the crisis, LAWASIA strongly urges all governments to ensure that any measures developed be transparent, reasonable and proportionate to responding to the crisis without unnecessarily sacrificing established principles of the rule of law, access to justice and human rights protections.

LAWASIA is also concerned to ensure that any expansion of government powers, for example through additional surveillance powers to track people’s movements; and any restrictions on human freedoms, including in relation to citizens’ ability to move freely, assemble, travel, and conduct their private business and personal affairs without interference, not become a precedent for future infringements of citizens’ rights and freedoms. Similarly, any measures to suspend or restrict the courts’ and judiciary’s ability to administer justice, must have distinct and specific periods of application.

During these extraordinary circumstances, while members of the legal profession, ordinary citizens and parliaments may be more open to accepting certain limitations on existing protections, this is not to suggest that the institutionalisation of exceptional or emergency powers over time will be tolerated. Instead, LAWASIA urges that any new measures be confined to a specific timeframe proportionate to the situation.

Despite the challenges ahead, LAWASIA will continue to devote itself to fulfilling its guiding principles of promoting the rule of law, access to justice and respect for human rights. We will continue to work with national and local lawyer organisations to promote social justice and global rule of law principles in Asia and the Pacific region. To ensure we continue to deliver the level of service our members expect, we are planning to continue to issue digital LAWASIA newsletters and magazines, with a focus on Asian lawyers’ role in responding to the pandemic, including in relation to the various legal issues arising out of the pandemic.

We are also planning to roll out webinars for our members to provide a platform to enable continued collaboration and the cross-jurisdictional sharing of information. Noting it will be difficult to physically participate in conferences and seminars for the time being, we believe we should do our best to continue performing our duties, enriching our knowledge and exchanging our experiences in this time of ‘new normal’.

I encourage you all to keep an eye on the LAWASIA website for our organisational updates and to look out for colleagues, friends and family in your community. Stay safe.

Yours sincerely,

Chunghwan Choi
President, LAWASIA