Mr Shanmuga Kanesalingam, Co-Chair of the LAWASIA Human Rights Committee

The 4th LAWASIA Human Rights Conference 2023 was held in early September in Fukuoka, Japan. The LAWASIA Human Rights Committee Co-Chair, Shanmuga Kanesalingam, gave the following welcoming remarks:

After the challenges of the past few years, we are very thankful to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (“JFBA”) and the Fukuoka Bar Association (“FBA”) for organizing this physical conference in this beautiful city.

We very much appreciate the efforts of the hard working and dedicated team from both these bar associations, led by our former LAWASIA Human Rights Committee Co-Chair Professor Yasushi Higashizawa.

Given the range of rights issues facing us, the conference organizers had a difficult task in selecting topics for this important conference. Somehow, they have arranged panels with a diverse range of sessions on very topical issues not just in Japan but across the world, and come up with a fantastic line up of eminent speakers.

So, domo arigato gozaimasu – thank you very much – to all in the organizing team.

Thank you also to all the speakers who have come from near and far to  speak, and to all the participants who have taken time off from their busy schedules and family commitments to join us here over this weekend.

This conference comes at a very important time for those of us in this region. We are seeing the rise of authoritarian moves by governments all over the world.

In Asia and the Pacific, we frequently hear the argument that human rights is a Western concept. Nothing can be further than the truth. In all countries, there is a tension between the majority members of a community suspicious of a minority of people who are different or do not follow society’s norms. But more and more countries now recognize that it is only by ensuring that all individuals enjoy basic human rights that can we have a just society.

LAWASIA is commonly perceived as an association made up mostly of corporate and commercial lawyers. It has in fact had a long and proud history of working to advance human rights. For instance, in Manila in 1995, it was the LAWASIA Human Rights Committee who created the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, a group now having formal recognition in the ASEAN Charter. It is a testament to the institutional strength of LAWASIA that it has stood fast over all these many years, speaking out against injustice and helping to promote and protect the rule of law.

Most of us must balance our corporate or commercial work, which pays the bills, with pro bono human rights work. But speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that assisting someone suffering from a human right violation gives you a sense of personal satisfaction that cannot compare to commercial work. 

I would ask all of you who have come here to not just treat this as a one time networking opportunity.

In each panel session, I would urge speakers to consider giving LAWASIA a task to do, and to give recommendations on what tangible efforts we can do as lawyers to improve the problems you identify.

The LAWASIA Human Rights Committee also has a blog. The URL is very easy: it is

We invite contributions on areas of human rights practice that you think should be shared with the wider LAWASIA community.

Tell us what we can do, and please join us in helping to promote human rights in this region.

Thank you, and I wish all of you a fruitful, educational and enriching conference.