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November 2, 2020

<Round-table Meeting>
The current situation and the challenges of Japan's legal technical assistance to Laos

-Through Civil Code drafting support-

The first Civil Code in history of Laos, with the drafting support of JICA, has been in effective since May 27, 2020. Although the Round-table Meeting below was carried out in December 2018 shortly after the Civil Code was approved by the National Assembly, to commemorate the entry into force, JICA decided to publish this article after translating the original in Japanese into English.

<Date & Venue>

Monday, December 24, 2018
Office of Supreme People's Prosecutor Training Institute Meeting Room, 2nd floor
(Vientiane, the capital of Laos)


Atsushi Ito (Tsu district public prosecutor's office, prosecutor, Former Long-term Expert for The project for promoting development and strengthening of the rule of law in the legal sector of Lao P.D.R., Former Chief Advisor) (Facilitator)

Katsunori Irie (The project for promoting development and strengthening of the rule of law in the legal sector of Lao P.D.R. Long-term Expert and Attorney)

Nalonglith Norasing (Director General, Department of Legal Review and Assessment, Ministry of Justice, Lao P.D.R.)

Douangmany Laomao (Director General, Economic Dispute Resolution Centre, Ministry of Justice, Lao P.D.R.)

Keohavong Phaipadid (Consultant and Lao-Japanese Interpreter) (Interpreter)

1. Introduction

Ito: Thank you for making time in your busy schedule to attend the round-table meeting today. The year 2018 marks the 20th year since Japan began providing legal technical assistance to Laos. On December 6, 2018, the Laos Civil Code that Japan had helped draft for about six years was approved by the National Assembly. Through this Civil Code drafting support, we would like to share the current situation, and the challenges and appeal of Japan's legal technical assistance. Today's participants include those who are familiar with the twenty years of cooperative relations between Japan and Laos in addition to the Civil Code drafting support.


Nalonglith: My name is Nalonglith Norasing. I am Director General, Department of Legal Review and Assessment, Ministry of Justice. I have been involved in legal technical assistance ever since Japan began providing support in 1998. I have also been involved in the Civil Code drafting support since immediately after its start in 2012. As a Civil Code drafting member, I was in charge of drafting Parts I and II, and also served as team leader. To give further details, Japan's legal technical assistance to Laos began in full swing in 1998. It was prompted by the then-Minister of Justice, who requested support from relevant authorities during his visit to Japan in 1996. I was also involved in his visit to Japan.

Douangmany: My name is Douangmany Laomao, Director General, Economic Dispute Resolution Centre, Ministry of Justice. My involvement in Japan's legal technical assistance is the same as that of Mr. Nalonglith. Around 1998, I came to Japan for training with the then-Deputy Minister of Justice. I studied Lao civil laws together with Japanese experts, and created a textbook on the Lao civil law. Later, I began involvement in the drafting of the Civil Code, for which I felt honored. The greatest achievement in Japan's support to Laos, I think, was the Civil Code. It has been a great pleasure to be part of its drafting. I have learned a lot by working on drafting the Civil Code together with Japanese experts. When I think back, twenty years have already passed since I got involved in Japan's support to Laos. Twenty years seemed like a long time, but it went by so fast.

Irie: My name is Katsunori Irie, an attorney. I was appointed as a JICA Senior Advisor in April 2015, and since then I have provided my support for overall legal system development to Laos including drafting of the Civil Code from Tokyo. In June 2017, I was assigned as an expert in Laos, and have been involved in support in the field of civil affairs, especially the Civil Code drafting.

Ito: My name is Atsushi Ito. I serve as Project Chief Advisor. I was appointed to work in Laos in July 2017. I am a prosecutor and am primarily in charge of the field of criminal law and legal education as well as training for the legal profession in the criminal field. As for the Civil Code drafting, I have been providing indirect support as project chief.

PhotoFrom left: Phaipadid, Nalonglith, Douangmany, Irie and Ito

2. The status of international support to legal technical assistance in Laos

Ito: The first item on today's agenda involves details of support from other donors in comparison to Japan's legal technical assistance to Laos. I would like Mr. Irie to summarize support from other donors in relation to this project as of December 2018.

Irie: I am first going to introduce the current activities of main six donors in Laos, and then the JICA project, that is, the activities of our project.

The first donor is (1) the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It has long been providing support to the Legal Sector Master Plan (LSMP), a Lao government policy which aims to "create a state based on the rule of law by 2020." UNDP is still continuing support activities which include the enhancement of people's access to justice and their legal consciousness. Together with the EU and the Swiss government, (2) the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) has been active in the enhancement of good governance as well as people's access to justice, just like UNDP. The next donor is (3) Luxembourg Agency for Development Cooperation (LuxDev). With the National University of Laos and other organizations as its counterparts, it provides support primarily in the field of legal education. The Agency also provides support to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) in addition to the National University of Laos. (4) The Asia Foundation (TAF) has been providing support to enhance people's access to justice just like UNDP and GIZ by establishing legal aid offices in various regions of Laos. (5) The Ministry of Justice of Vietnam has been mainly providing support for enhancing the skills and abilities of the NIJ instructors and staff, and improving the curriculum. (6) The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank (WB) Group, provided support for drafting the Securities Part of the Civil Code, which will be mentioned later as we discuss the next agenda item, the Civil Code drafting support. Lastly (7) JICA has provided various support, including this project. Focusing on basic civil and criminal laws, JICA has provided support with a goal of developing core professionals in the legal sector. As part of such efforts, active legal professionals (prosecutor and attorney) were stationed in Laos. JICA's support is tailored to respect Laos' independence.

Nalonglith: Let me add a little to Mr. Irie's statement. First, let me share why Laos requested legal technical assistance from various donors including Japan. Laos shifted from a centrally-planned economy to a market-oriented economy when an economic reform policy called Chintanakan Mai (New Thinking) was introduced in 1986. This policy change came with three problems in the legal sector: (1) The court and prosecutors' office, which are supposed to be judicial organs, were under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, an administrative organ. This indicated the judicial system was underdeveloped. (2) Laws and regulations in relation to the economic field were not fully developed. (3) We had a shortage of qualified personnel who could draft laws and administer the legal system. To solve these problems, Laos established a constitution to separate judicial and administrative organs. Further, with support from Vietnam, the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Mongolia, the US and Australia, Laos drafted laws and developed human resources in the legal sector. When Laos first began receiving legal technical assistance from various countries, Japan was not among them. Then, in order to accelerate the pace of reform, Laos was advancing legislation on economy with support from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and UNDP. Taking the opportunity of a visit to Japan by the then-Minister of Justice in 1996, Laos requested legal technical assistance from Japan. Subsequently, Japan began providing its support to Laos in full swing in 1998. Since then Japan has provided us with ongoing support for 20 years up until 2018. During this period, various donors I mentioned earlier have also provided support in the legal sector. Although I did not include this earlier, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) are also donors to the Lao legal sector. However, Japan is the only country that has provided ongoing support for the last 20 years.

Ito: Thank you, Mr. Nalonglith. Then could you share your views on how Japan's legal technical assistance differs from that of other donors?

Nalonglith: Japan's support focuses on Human Resource Development. Earlier, I mentioned three problems the Lao legal sector was facing in 1986. The most serious problem of all was the shortage of qualified personnel. Japan provided support that focused on this problem. Although support for developing the judicial system and drafting laws, which was provided by other donors, is also important, the system and laws are meaningless if there is no one who can administer them. After understanding this perfectly, Japan has spent many years helping with the development of such legal personnel. Textbooks and handbooks on laws we have completed for the last 20 years with support from Japan are used at Lao judicial organs such as the court, prosecutors' office, bar association, and Ministry of Justice, as well as the National University of Laos and NIJ in the legal education field. They have been an invaluable aid in developing legal personnel. As just described, Japan's legal technical assistance was suited to the circumstances in Laos, and it was the support we needed most.

Douangmany: Japan sent legal experts to Vientiane to stay for a long period of time. There they provided support after having examined Laos themselves to find out what was missing in Laos. In order to solve this problem, Japanese experts started with the introduction of the fundamentals of laws including Japanese laws, legal theory and teaching methods. Then, together with the Lao people, they examined laws and legal theory which would suit Lao society, and which would be needed to solve problems in Laos. Other donors usually drafted laws and prepared textbooks in advance, and provided them to us to translate and use. They never told us how to use them or how their use would help solve problems. Japanese experts started with the basics and found solutions together with us. This encouraged us to improve our ability to think for ourselves, and also helped us to build our confidence. I believe the confidence we have built led to the establishment of the first-ever Civil Code in Laos.

As Mr. Nalonglith also mentioned earlier, Japan's support is ongoing. Thanks to Japan's 20 years of commitment, many Laotians have learned a great deal from Japan. As part of Japan's support, our people also went to Japan for training. They received lectures from and exchanged views with Japanese experts, which helped them to develop their legal views. Furthermore, having observed firsthand Japan's advanced practices, they received concrete ideas that could improve practices implemented in Laos.

PhotoRound-table meeting

3. Japan's Civil Code drafting support

Ito: Let's move on to today's main agenda, Civil Code Drafting Support. From now, Mr. Irie will ask you questions regarding this topic.

Irie: In our understating, Civil Code drafting officially began in June 2012. On the other hand, I heard there had been already a Civil Code drafting plan in Laos prior to that time. So, my question is, when did Laos actually start thinking about drafting a Civil Code, and why did it decide to request the support of Japan?

Nalonglith: Ever since 1986 when Laos shifted its economic policy to a market-oriented economy, we had wanted to draft a Civil Code. However, Laos did not have the ability to codify several hundred clauses into a single code at that time. Laos first enacted specific laws regarding civil affairs including property law and contract law in the 1990s with support from the World Bank and other organizations. Laos did not have a proper theory of civil laws then, and many specific laws which were enacted with support from various donors resulted in inconsistency or overlap among those laws. Because of this, in the early 2000s, talk of codifying specific civil laws into a Civil Code emerged again. Many people in the Lao judicial circle simply thought that we could make a "Civil Code" by compiling many civil laws which already existed in Laos. This idea was especially prominent among people who were called "authorities." On the other hand, Japan's legal technical assistance had already begun at that time, and Japanese experts were engaged in studies to understand the fundamental principles of Lao civil laws. Some members of the Ministry of Justice, including myself, who were involved in Japan's support to Laos, knew that the Civil Code could not be established by simply compiling existing civil laws. We explained to the "authorities" in the Lao judicial circle that existing civil laws were not enacted based on a consistent theory of civil laws, and such laws could not be compiled into the Civil Code. We further explained what the ideal Civil Code was supposed to be: It should suit the Lao society, and be systematically organized based on a theory of civil laws; as for certain problems, they could be solved in a consistent, uniform and continual manner according to the Civil Code. As a result, in 2009, the Lao government held a meeting on the Civil Code and decided to include the enactment of the proper Lao Civil Code by 2015 in the legislative plan.

This is the background for drafting the Civil Code. Next, I am going to explain why Laos appealed to Japan for support in drafting the Civil Code. The first reason is that Japan is an Asian country and has distinctive practices just like Laos. For the same reason, we feel the Japanese people are similar to the Lao people. The second reason is that Japan also enacted the distinctive Civil Code under Western influences, and Vietnam's Civil Code is based on Japan's Civil Code. The idea of a Civil Code is Western, not Asian. We thought Japan's experience of having established the distinctive Civil Code under Western influences would benefit the introduction of the Civil Code in Laos. In addition, Laos and Vietnam have a close relationship. The fact the Vietnam's Civil Code was enacted with support from Japan was another reason why we requested Civil Code drafting support from Japan.

Douangmany: In addition to Mr. Nalonglith's explanation, Japanese experts were very helpful. Before we began drafting the Civil Code, we studied the Lao civil laws with them. As we considered the issues concerning the Lao civil laws, Japanese experts shared the idea of the Japanese civil laws as well as civil laws of other countries. They never imposed their ideas or those of other countries on us. Instead they respected the distinctive idea of Lao civil laws, and thought about problems with the Lao civil laws together with us.

Irie: Thank you for sharing in detail the background for drafting the Civil Code and the reasons for requesting support from Japan. Lastly, what would you like to happen regarding Japan's support in the future?

Douangmany: I think it will be important to have our people understand the Civil Code. In other words, the diffusion of the Civil Code will be vital. The Civil Code should be used by all sorts of people in a society based on a unified understanding. It should be used in settlements in rural communities and in business situations in the capital, Vientiane, based on the same understanding. I would like Japan to provide support for the dissemination of the Civil Code. With the enactment of the Civil Code, some systems relating to the Civil Code will require revision. For example, the registration system needs to be amended in line with the content of the Civil Code. The system may even need to be entirely revised. I hope Japan will lend a hand in the amendment of relevant laws and in the improvement of relevant systems as well.

Nalonglith: I would expect Japan to provide support in three areas. The first one is the dissemination of the Civil Code, as Mrs. Douangmany just mentioned. The second one is the correction of disparities between the central and local regions. Japan has been providing support basically in the capital, Vientiane. Policies decided on in the capital spread to local regions. This is our system. So Japan's support is efficient in this perspective. However, disparities between the central and local regions in Laos are huge. If possible, I would like Japan to focus more on activities in local regions, as other donors have been doing. Lastly, besides the Civil Code drafting, I would like to continue learning more from Japan about how to deal with problems facing the legal sector in Laos. Some examples include court trials and investigation practices using fact-finding and evidence-collection methods. I would like to revise our civil procedure law and criminal procedure law, which only some judges and prosecutors can understand, to establish a code just like the Civil Code. The code should be administered in an unified manner for every citizen with the same understanding. We also need to develop systems for execution of judgement and sentencing. Further development of legal personnel will also be required. Some of these are my opinions, but I do hope and expect that Japan will assist in these three areas.

This is based on the article published in the March 2019 issue of Houritsu no Hiroba.
The original article is in Japanese.


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