APBF 2016 Highlights

PILnet’s 3rd Annual Asia Pro Bono Forum took place in Bali on 29-30 August 2016 with over 230 participants from 24 countries, the biggest and most diverse Forum so far. The central theme for this year’s Forum was Lawyers as Innovators: Charting New Frontiers in Pro Bono, as we wanted to explore how pro bono support can be more innovative in addressing complex and persistent social justice issues like anti-trafficking, as well as exploring new channels of addressing grievances such as the emerging framework of Business & Human Rights.


Some highlights from the Forum:


Keynote Speech by Asma Jahangir

"Welcome" (From left to right: Garth Meintjes of PILnet and Asma Jahangir of AGHS Law Associates)

“Welcome” (From left to right: Garth Meintjes of PILnet and Asma Jahangir of AGHS Law Associates)

Asma Jahangir, a leading human rights lawyer and the first elected female president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, opened the Forum with her experiences performing pro bono work (video here). The work of a pro bono lawyer is not simply going to court and fighting a case. She maintained a pro bono lawyer is also an advocate for human rights.


I do not defend only Mother Theresa’s. I defend rule of law. I want to promote human rights and protect human rights.Asma Jahangir of AGHS Law Associates


Plenary Session: Is there a Business Case for Pro Bono in Asia?

This session looked at how applicable is “the business case for pro bono” to the Asia context, namely the argument that doing pro bono makes business sense for a law firm. Ultimately this is a question about what will motivate law firms and lawyers best to embrace pro bono, especially at an early stage of pro bono development. You can watch a video of the thought-provoking discussion here.


Pro bono lawyers need to work more closely with civil society organizations. If their legal background has been corporate law, they will find many differences in the values and modes of operation of non-governmental organizations. Yet the individual case may point up a cause of injustice that produces many cases. Looking beyond the individual to the underlying causes of illegality, corruption or injustice will be an essential challenge for pro bono lawyers worthy of that name.Melli Darsa of Melli Darsa & Co.


Workshops divided into three streams:

  • The issues stream discussed topics such as how the pro bono community could help vulnerable groups seek fair and equal opportunities and the role of lawyers in business and human rights.
  • The regional stream explored the pro bono experience in a variety of regions: Australia, Indonesia, India and China.
  • The know-how stream reviewed creative ways to create more impactful pro bono collaborations involving multiple stakeholders, how to develop a pro bono practice within your firm, and filling gaps in the supply of pro bono services and community needs.
  • For more information please see our agenda.


SparkTalks by Maria Cecilia Flores-Oebanda and Vitit Muntarbhorn


“SparkTalks” (From left to right: Vitit Muntarbhorn of Chulalongkorn University and Maria Cecilia Flores-Oebanda of Visayan Forum Foundation)


A modern-day abolitionist and freedom fighter from the Philippines, Ms. Flores-Oebanda told poignant stories from her 25 years of experience in anti-trafficking (video here). Vitit Muntarbhorn, an international human rights expert, shared five snapshots from his life that have brought him to this point in his life and the lessons to be learned from these moments (video here). From his time as a teen volunteering with senior citizens to his experience helping refugees crossing the border of Cambodia, Professor Vitit connected these moments with the recurrent thought:

Let us not wait in the wings for the wind to change because we are and will be that wind of change.Vitit Muntarbhorn of Chulalongkorn University


Closing Remarks with Todung Mulya Lubis and Michael Kirby

"Closing Remarks" (From left to right: Todung Mulya Lubis of Lubis Santosa & Maramis and Michael Kirby, the Former Justice of the High Court of Australia)

“Closing Remarks” (From left to right: Todung Mulya Lubis of Lubis Santosa & Maramis and Michael Kirby, the Former Justice of the High Court of Australia)


Todung Mulya Lubis, a revered human rights activist from Indonesia, emphasized “it is our duty as members of the legal profession to provide pro bono legal assistance to those who are in need” and called on bar associations to play a bigger role to support advocates in doing pro bono (video here). Michael Kirby, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia, wowed us with his speech “20 Big Ideas on Pro Bono Lawyering: Boring, Bold and Brave,” listing 20 ideas from speakers and comments that he had marked down during the Forum (video here).


Other Forum Highlights:

Please take a look at our reports highlighting Business & Human Rights and on creating lasting impact with Indonesian partners for more highlights from the Forum.