9 Nov 2020 - by A4ID

Asia Pro Bono Virtual Conference And Access to Justice Exchange

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to bring challenges to justice around the world, an event that took place, despite challenges is the Asia Pro Bono Conference in September 2020. Now in its ninth year the Conference launched as the Inaugural Asia Pro Bono Virtual Conference (APBVC) and Access to Justice Exchange. The Conference hosted 40 sessions across a vast variety of topics including the immigrant crisis, the state of vulnerable populations, xenophobia, human rights and labour laws. The 5-day Conference was attended by over 1,000 people, with more than 212,000 individual session accesses through social media.

As part of A4ID’s commitment to justice, rule of law and achieving the SDGs, the A4ID team took an active part in the conference and hosted two panels; one on Human Rights, the SDGs and COVID-19, and second on Ethical Business Practices. A4ID also organised a workshop on development tools for pro bono practitioners for conference participants. The virtual conference meant that A4ID’s team members from UK, Kenya and India were able to connect with pro bono practitioners and development professionals from over 55 countries across Asia and around the world.

Ethical business practices during the pandemic 

With unemployment set to rise due to the global economic slowdown, labour rights issues are likely to become even more significant challenges in the coming years. A4ID’s first panel session explored the laws and norms around responsible business practices and how pro bono lawyers can engage with the topic. Engaging with questions such as “what obligations can be pinned on the clients and buyers?” and “what reforms are needed in practice and law to ensure the SDG mandate is achieved?”

The session was moderated by A4ID’s India Project Lead, Vishavjeet Chaudhary. Speakers included Anna Kirkpatrick, Senior Associate at Clifford Chance, and Patrick Karanja, A4ID Africa Project Lead; both spoke about the work of A4ID in Africa and how partnerships and engagements with the East Africa Law Society (EALS) have had a positive impact on labour rights. Rohan Preece, Business and Human Rights Manager from Traidcraft India and Joe Tan, A4ID Pro Bono Legal Services Manager, brought a variety of examples from the field with a particular focus on the situation in India. Finally, Jayshree Satpute, co-founder of Nazdeek and a Delhi based pro bono lawyer mentioned the steps that the Indian Government is taking to ensure fair business practices. The participants gave an engaging session full of examples from their own work areas, talking about possible steps to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the on the labour market as well as the role of responsible buying practices.

Human Rights, Sustainable Development Goals and COVID-19: A truly testing tryst

In A4ID’s second panel, moderated by CEO Yasmin Batliwala, participants discussed the multiple challenges posed by the response to COVID-19 across the world, including how the rule of law can be upheld in a time when both human rights and institutions are being threatened both by the virus itself and by the emergency laws implemented to control it. Moreover, 2020 marks the start of the decade of action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, making it a critical period to accelerate responses. The health emergency and economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak has risked the progress made to achieve the goals. Without swift and focused action, the efforts to achieve the ambitious agenda by the end of the decade could be derailed.

Speakers included Maja Daruwala, Senior Advisor to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) who spoke about threats to access to justice during the pandemic, drawing on her experiences working in India during the crisis and the threats to human rights she has seen first-hand. Barun Ghimire, human rights lawyer working with iProbono and the Law and Policy Forum for Social Justice (LAPSOJ) in Nepal, talked about the response to the pandemic in Nepal, particularly from the courts. A4ID’s ROLE UK Programme Technical Expert, Adrienne Joy, outlined the different threats to justice as a result of COVID-19. She highlighted the research developed by A4ID on , in collaboration with the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law and the University of Edinburgh Global Health Academy. A4ID’s Learning and Development Officer Naomi Cantor spoke about the challenges to achievement of the SDGs as a result of COVID-19, noting A4ID’s SDG Legal Guide project as a source of information on the relationship between rule of law and the SDGs more generally.

Development Tools for Strategic Pro Bono

A4ID’s final engagement for the conference was a 2-part workshop delivered by four members of the A4ID team to introduce key development tools for each stage of a pro bono rule of law project; from context analysis and planning activities through to monitoring and adapting work based on progress made. Pre-registered attendees had submitted their responses in advance about how development tools would be useful in their work as pro bono practitioners. The workshop began with ROLE UK Programme Coordinator Abshir Weli introduced the “iceberg” model of context analysis, taking participants through assessing the underlying factors in potential projects to take into account when planning an intervention. Hannah Bowley, ROLE UK Programme Technical Specialist, followed by introducing a model of behavioural change known as “COM-B”, which can be used to understand how activities might cause change.

After a discussion session and a well-earned break, the workshop moved on to introduce and discuss two further tools. First, ROLE UK Programme Technical Specialist introduced a simple model for theories of change, guiding participants through why and how to develop the logical links between pro bono activities and broader change. Finally, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer Joely Thomas looked at methods for monitoring and evaluating activity, using “three universal questions” to reflect on work and adapt it for the future.

The workshop is an adapted version of the Doing Pro Bono the International Development Way workshops, held twice annually by the Programme team. For more information about forthcoming workshops, visit here. Check out the accompanying guide, Maximising Technical Assistance to Improve the Rule  Law.

A global event in challenging circumstances

Overall, the APBVC was a success, drawing a large number of participants and capturing the spirit of inclusive, collaborative pro bono and cultural exchange despite the virtual setting. The A4ID team enjoyed meeting and getting to know participants, and even led the UK entry for the conference’s “cultural exchange”, introducing the British love of pets to the rest of the audience.

In the closing plenary, Yasmin Batliwala reiterated the importance of compassion and solidarity in these unprecedented times: values which resonate with A4ID’s organisational mission. It is important to celebrate the responsiveness and empathy shown by the legal professional during the crisis, for it is through these actions that we keep our hope for a more equal, just tomorrow alive. The next event of the Asia Pro Bono Conference and Access to Exchange Justice will be held in 2021 in Laos, and A4ID is looking forward to playing a full and active role in what will be the tenth anniversary for this important event.