Marty Bergoffen's blog

MLN Sends Mekong Lawyers to U.S. Law School

This summer, two participants in the Mekong Legal Network (MLN) will travel to Washington, DC to attend the Summer Program in Environmental Law at American University’s Washington College of Law (WCL). The lawyers are Nitaya Wangpaiboon, who defends human rights in Chiang Mai, and Jingjing Zhang, a top environmental lawyer in China. With help from WCL's Prof. David Hunter, the Director of the Summer Program, MLN has secured scholarships for their course of study.

The WCL Summer Program in Environmental Law focuses on important, timely international issues such as Climate Change Litigation, International Business and the Environment, Environmental Compliance & Enforcement, and International Law of Biodiversity. In addition, the Mekong lawyers will spend a week in ERI’s Washington office, learning about U.S. and International NGO operations and meeting with ERI’s allies. They will finish their US Summer Tour with one week of legal English training at WCL’s Summer Legal English Institute, and will enjoy the 4th of July in the U.S. Capital.

In addition, MLN is helping a Lao colleague gain a scholarship to join WCL’s Master of Law program in International Environmental Law. He is the only known public interest lawyer of the 100 lawyers in the Lao Bar Association, and earning an LLM would provide a significant boost to public interest and environmental law -- and the promotion of the rule of law -- in the Lao PDR. . . .

500 villagers take action on International Rivers Day

On March 13-14, I traveled to Mae Sob Moei, on the Thai Burma Border, at the confluence of the Moei and Salween Rivers. March 14 was International Rivers Day, and every year the local villagers gather at this beautiful junction of rivers and mountains to celebrate the source of their livelihoods, and to urge Thailand and Burma to call off their plans to build dams on the Salween River.

There were about 500 people there, from all along the Salween River; from the China Border in Shan State to the mouth of the Salween in Moulmein. There were also activists from the Mekong River in Thailand, telling their stories of flood and drought due, they believe, to upstream Chinese dams. The opportunities to share information and plan future collaborative activities were numerous. There is no doubt that this annual event strengthens the local communities’ will and contributes to a more sustained and coordinated approach to the concerns of impacted riparian communities.

Monks Praying on the Salween RiverMonks Praying on the Salween River On Saturday night, there was a concert and cultural exchange, with each ethnic group sharing a song or a story on a small stage. The musical style ran the entire spectrum, from quiet solo acoustic on traditional instruments to loud raucous Thai Electric Rock & Roll. All of the music was well-performed and well-received, and the crowd really took the stories to heart.

On Sunday morning a Ceremony to Celebrate the Salween River was held, with monks offering prayers, local and national human rights officials speechifying and offering their plans for action, and an opportunity for NGO’s throughout the region to learn and share . . .