Interested in exchanging ideas and making connections, a small delegation of leaders of the ABA’s Dispute Resolution Section traveled to Vietnam last October and met with ADR professionals and members of that country’s Ministry of Justice before heading to Thailand for similar conversations with officials there. Throughout all these meetings, the delegation’s aim was to learn from others and help our counterparts in these two countries promote mediation as a way to resolve disputes in their own countries and across their borders.
Led by Dispute Resolution Section Immediate Past Chair John Phillips and current Chair Ruth Glick, the delegation included Pamela Enslen, Reginald Holmes, Philip Cottone, Charles Crumpton, and Beth Trent. ABA President Jim Silkenat also participated in the Vietnam portion of the itinerary. ADR wasn’t the only item on the agenda; in addition to attending meetings focusing on mediation, the delegation took advantage of the opportunity to indulge in cultural immersion and tours of historic sites. The group was also able to fit in an overnight cruise on the beautiful Ha Long Bay just north of Hanoi and several days on Koh Samui island off the east coast of Thailand.
In Hanoi, the delegation met with senior representatives of the Vietnam Ministry of Justice who shared insights about their current project of drafting Vietnam’s first decree establishing and authorizing commercial mediation, a project supported by the Vietnam International Arbitration Center (VIAC). The delegation also met with members of leading Vietnam law firms and the Ministry of Justice. Representatives of the VIAC and the law firms all indicated strong interest in establishing collaborative, long-term working relationships with the Section, the ABA, and ADR organizations (such as CPR, which was represented on the trip by Beth Trent) to further the development of commercial mediation in Vietnam.
Establishing these relationships and grounds for collaboration is especially timely, as Vietnam’s Ministry of Justice is in the beginning stage of drafting the mediation decree and planning ways to develop effective mediation procedures and systems. Among the interests and needs of our Vietnamese counterparts are models, guidelines, and consulting assistance in the decree’s drafting and the development of mediation systems, organizations, and agencies; procedural models, programs, and faculty for mediation training and standards; and working groups with which officials can collaborate, hold conferences and workshops, and develop pilot projects.
Mediation in Vietnam is indeed in its infancy; the country passed its first ordinance establishing and authorizing international commercial arbitration in 2003 and passed its current arbitration law, modeled largely after UNCITRAL but varying from it in significant respects, in 2010. Despite such measures, commercial arbitration is still not widely accepted in Vietnam. Most international businesses and other governments tend to favor arbitration in Singapore, Hong Kong, and occasionally European ADR centers and organizations.
In addition to enjoying fascinating discussions about the potential growth of mediation in Vietnam, the delegation feasted on wonderful Vietnamese food, took an electric car tour of the Old (French) Quarter and visited the Women’s History Museum as well as the prison where US servicemen such as Sen. John McCain were held during the war. We also spent a morning touring the food markets and taking a class in Vietnamese cuisine.
Our host in Thailand was Professor Dr. Vanchai Vatanasapt, the former Director of the Kings Institute on Peace and Democracy, which was responsible for integrating mediation as an accepted practice in both the court system and community disputes in Thailand. In addition to visiting the Chief Judge of the Office of President of the Supreme Court of Thailand, who assembled nearly two dozen other judges from their unified federal system, the delegation also spent a day on the campus of Bangkok’s beautiful Dhurakij Pundit University, talking with a variety of people about topics such as mediation, environmental disputes, medical disputes, and resolving disputes about family inheritance.
What we learned about mediation culture and practice in Thailand was very different from what we heard about in Vietnam. Largely because of the strong US influence during and since the Vietnam War, Thailand’s mediation system is well developed. Each of the 64 regional courts has its own mediation office with trained mediators. In Bangkok, the mediation office at the Supreme Court of Thailand was beautifully appointed, with spacious facilities.
Cultural tours included a visit to the Royal Palace and the Emerald Buddha as well as shopping for exquisite silk items. Several members of the group continued on to the island of Koh Samui, where we were greeted by representatives of the island’s government office and representatives of community groups and engaged in a discussion about an ongoing dispute about beach hotels’ “carbon footprint” and the impact of environmental laws on the island’s hotel industry. A full and challenging day was capped by a dinner with village leaders at the Samui Botanical Green Park that featured native dancers in full Thai regalia.
The delegation members, all of whom paid their own travel costs and expenses, learned a great deal about cultural practices and customs in Vietnam and Thailand and developed friendships and relationships with ADR leaders in both countries. We hope that such explorations continue and are pleased that future international delegations – and the possibility of a larger conference in 2015, perhaps in India – are now under discussion by the Section Council.
John R. Phillips is Immediate Past Chair of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution and a partner at the law firm of Husch Blackwell LLP in Kansas City, Chicago & St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Charles Crumpton is a member-at-large of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Council, Co-Chair of the Section’s Mediation Committee, and an attorney with Crumpton & Hansen in Honolulu, HI. He can be reached at email@example.com.