Notes from the Field

From Laos: Legal Lessons from Tsunami Survivors

May 7, 2008

Lao citizens have a limited understanding of laws, citizen rights, the legal system, and the role of lawyers in their country, especially in remote areas and among ethnic populations. With a total of only about 70 laws currently on the books, the Lao government has given increased attention to improving the rule of law.

In response, The Asia Foundation recently launched a new effort to help the Lao Bar Association — a professional organization that represents lawyers throughout Laos — improve its services for poor and rural citizens and educate the public on laws and rights in Laos (click here to read more about this project).

The project is modeled after the Foundation’s Tsunami Rights and Legal Aid Referral Center (T-LAC), which provides free legal aid outreach to people in tsunami-affected areas of southern Thailand. The Center trains community members to become paralegal volunteers, enabling them to assist clients in rural areas ” oftentimes their own villages and neighborhoods– where the number of lawyers is inadequate and knowledge of legal remedies is low ” conditions which are similar to those in Laos.

To demonstrate how the T-LAC model can be replicated in a Lao context, The Asia Foundation is bringing a group of Lao legal professionals on an observation trip to Thailand, where they are meeting with T-LAC staff and with other Thai legal experts (click to read more about who they’re meeting) and conducting site visits.

Once back in Laos, the Lao Bar Association will begin to establish legal aid clinics in Champasak and Udomxai provinces, create the country’s first-ever mobile legal aid service, and train community legal educators to enhance legal education and outreach. The project is implemented by the Foundation with funding support from The McConnell Foundation.

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