Mekong Region Legal Studies

Cambodia - Guangxi - Laos - Myanmar - Thailand - Vietnam - Yunnan


CMLC’s Mekong Region Legal Studies Program (MRLSP) brings together students from throughout the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) for collaborative study of subjects of domestic, comparative and international law, with the goal of preparing future lawyers and other professionals to serve vulnerable or disadvantaged communities in Southeast Asia. The MRLSP leads students to a better understanding of the social and economic development challenges confronting the peoples of the GMS, the national and transboundary conditions that perpetuate such challenges, and the role of law in helping individuals and communities overcome such challenges.   Secure livelihoods, clean environments, and genuine economic progress can be realized by weaker segments of societies only if the law, and well-trained ethical legal practitioners, can play a role in guiding, protecting and lifting communities.   The MRLSP endeavors to cultivate a cadre of professionals who will work in government, for civil society organizations, or as private lawyers helping to mitigate, if not solve, the myriad of problems facing the peoples of the region.   

CMLC launched its first experimental implementation of the MRLSP during spring semester 2016 (in cooperation with Thailand’s Thammasat University, Faculty of Law, Lampang Campus). Studying in English, students jointly attended four challenging courses over the course of the semester (tested courses are marked with a * in the course list below), learning as much from each other as they did from MRLSP’s outstanding lecturers. This initial pilot was attended by two students from China, two students from Myanmar, two students from Thailand and two students from Vietnam. The program was praised by the attending students, who remain in contact and represent our first cadre of connected professionals working in the GMS. Our second pilot was completed at Thailand’s Khon Kaen University, Faculty of Integrated Social Sciences, Nongkhai Campus (autumn semester 2018), with 15 students: Three Cambodians, two Chinese, two Lao, two Myanmar, two Thai and four Vietnamese. All students attending the MRLSP experiment pilots had at least three-years legal training in their home countries, most already at graduate level, positioning the students to gain the most from the MRLSP curriculum.  The two semester pilots were a great achievement, but also an important learning experience for making improvements going forward.

Having successfully completed two semester pilot programs, CMLC now endeavors to grow the MRLSP into a innovative graduate degree program related to law in the GMS.  Indeed, CMLC expects to launch a M.A. Degree Program in Mekong Region Law and Development at KKU’s Nongkhai Campus as early as Autumn 2023.  Developments at Khon Kaen University bode well for achieving this goal.

The Faculty of Integrated Social Sciences is now merged into KKU’s Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies (IS-KKU).  A supportive IS-KKU is eager to launch the new Masters-level degree program. IS-KKU has now formalized its long-standing cooperation with CMLC: A Memorandum of Understanding between the parties was finally signed in June 2022. The parties are already working on an implementation agreement for funding and operation of the M.A. Degree Program in Mekong Region Law and Development, and have started the process for applying for curriculum approval at KKU. 


(Approvals Pending)

The prospective M.A. Degree Program in Mekong Region Law and Development is dedicated to the study of the role of law in the social and economic development process in mainland Southeast Asia.  While the development process offers the promise of improved livelihoods for many individuals and communities in the Greater Mekong Subregion, if not managed properly, it also presents perils of exploitation, dislocation, environmental degradation, lost opportunity, and other negative outcomes for these same persons/communities.. Vulnerable populations are often at a disadvantage in the development process (whether involving community-based changes or individuals pursuing self-advancement) and need trained practitioners (lawyers, public administrators, social scientists, community/international development experts) to guide them on how to protect themselves and achieve better results as societies move forward.  Khon Kaen University’s Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies’ prospective M.A. Degree Program in Mekong Region Law and Development endeavors to train professionals as to the relevance of and best application for law in the process of social and economic development, so that they may better serve the interests of such needy individuals and communities.  

Conducted in English, the M.A. Degree Program in Mekong Region Law and Development offers training in a unique international, practically-focused learning environment.  All courses are attended by an international cohort of public-service oriented students drawn from throughout the Greater Mekong Subregion and beyond.  Since many social and economic problems are shared in each GMS country, or manifest in cross-border contexts, the logic is to train future experts on a regional, rather than purely national basis. This dynamic international learning environment allows students to share experiences, compare both national and transboundary conditions, and develop broader perspectives on finding creative solutions for mitigating/solving problems faced by individuals and communities in the GMS.  The M.A. Degree Program in Law and Development introduces the student to the legal systems and national conditions of each GMS country, as well as the unique richness of the broader Mekong Region, providing a unique framework for discussing and analyzing social and economic challenges common to all GMS countries, and engaging with “law in the development process” on a deeper and more comprehensive level.

The M.A. Degree Program in Mekong Region Law and Development avoids preoccupation with law in the abstract or law as representing aspirational goals to be achieved when conditions later permit.  Rather the Program teaches how law and legal systems actually operate in the various GMS countries and the cross-border context.  The Program endeavors to prepare professionals to work with the law equipped with full knowledge of operating constraints–transboundary or national–engendered by actual conditions of the GMS countries.  By knowing the role and use of law in the development process, and the actual conditions facing individuals and communities in achieving fairness and improved results in the development process, graduates of the M.A. Degree Program in Mekong Region Law and Development can go on to make real contributions as government officials, NGO workers, or individual lawyers/development practitioners regularly serving disadvantaged individuals and communities in the region.

Proposed Courses

Although the M.A. Degree Program in Mekong Region Law and Development remains a work-in-progress, CMLC envisions a curriculum which offers 1) sufficient training in GMS country political, economic and, of course, legal systems, 2) law courses focused on livelihood challenges in the GMS and 3) skills development for professionals to help people manage such livelihood challenges.  Five of these courses are fully developed, with complete syllabi and set course readings; four of which have been tested with students in the two experimental semester programs outlined above (again, marked with an * in the list below).  Some of the courses listed below were suggested by our former students for future programs.  All proposed courses are subject to modification or substitution depending on student demand or prospective employer preferences (surveys are being circulated to assess program attractiveness, content and sustainability).  For now, CMLC is promoting a curriculum composed of the following courses:

Survey of Mekong Region Countries: Society, Economy, and Political Systems (3 Credits)

This course endeavors to equip the student with a basic understanding of the social structures, economies, and political systems of Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam as to orient the student to the similarities and differences of each country in the Greater Mekong Subregion.  Quick histories of each country are explored, with a focus on the geography, demographics, culture, and religions of each country and how these factors forged the modern states of the region.  The economic and political systems of each country are compared as to provide the student better context for later investigating legal and development challenges facing each country and the Mekong Region as a whole.

Introduction to the Chinese Legal System (3 credits)*

This course explores the fundamental structure and operation of the Chinese legal system, offering a critical perspective on the development of law in China and providing students with the basic training necessary to later work with Chinese law on a deeper and practical level. The course covers the historical development of the Chinese legal system, the relevant institutions responsible for the formation and application of law in China (and associated legislative and judicial processes) and issues of Chinese law, society, and culture.  Subjects also include constitutionalism in China, Chinese administrative law, Chinese overseas direct investment, Chinese family law, women and the law, and lawyering in China.

Comparative Study of Mekong Region Legal Systems (3 Credits)*

This course introduces the legal systems of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, offering a comparative perspective on the various ways that legal systems develop. Students will learn the sources of law for each country and each country’s institutional framework for both the formation and implementation of law. Emphasis is on common problems affecting the development and operation of the legal systems in all these countries and different methods for solving social conflict.

Comparative Public Procurement Law (3 Credits)*

On average, government procurement represents 20% of a country’s economic activity. Moreover, public procurement is a key method by which governments provide public services to communities, and link communities to the broader economic development of a country. This course employs case law analysis to demonstrate the similar legislative frameworks, but very different operating environments, for public contracting in the U.S., China, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and other countries. Students not only learn the basics of government procurement law, but also explore very different administrative systems. Topics include coverage of government procurement law, authority of government agents, ethical rules and counter-corruption in government procurement, social policies in government procurement, choice of procurement procedures, bid challenges, contractor debarment, and issues of public contract performance.

Project Design and Writing Grant Proposals for Funding (3 Credits)*

Lawyers and development professionals are expected to contribute to the public good.  Some meet this obligation by simply representing underprivileged groups at no charge (pro bono).  Others prefer to work for NGOs on law related projects or other public service initiatives. Some even develop their own projects to better society. This course introduces the student to the process of developing projects that improve the livelihoods of disadvantaged individuals and communities.  Specifically, students will learn how to identify social problems in need of resolution and how to develop effective and sustainable strategies to solve or mitigate the impact of such social problems.  Students will also learn the basics of drafting a grant proposal for funding to successfully implement their designed projects, including drafting a compelling mission statement, creating a realistic budget, reporting back to funders, and measuring project outcomes.

Civil Society Organizations and Public Participation in Development (3 Credits)

This course examines the role played by civil society organizations and other groups and individuals in the social and economic development process.  Focus is on the rules governing the establishment and operation of CSOs in Mekong Region countries, fundraising restrictions, compliance issues, and CSO representation of community interests. The subject is approached from both technical and contextual perspectives, with a focus on the different operating environments for CSOs in the region.  Rules governing how and when public groups can participate in decisions and controversies relating to industrial, infrastructure or other development projects are emphasized, as well as strategies for improving outcomes for impacted communities.

Microcredit and Financial Inclusion (3 Credits)

A significant barrier to economic gain for disadvantaged communities is the lack of individual access to participate in formal financial systems.  This course looks at solutions to this dilemma, including private microcredit, government-sponsored lending schemes, village cooperative lending structures, collateral alternatives, and ways to strengthen the general creditworthiness of underserved individuals.  Students will also learn about different microlending practices, the varied types of microcredit institutions, the unique regulatory mechanisms governing microlending, and related areas such as microinsurance and microguarantees.  The course also examines the problem of loan sharks and black-market lending, exploring ways to protect economically distressed people from predatory lending practices.

Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development (3 Credits)

Problems of environmental degradation, deforestation, water pollution and unregulated resource extraction remain a continuous risk for vulnerable populations throughout the Greater Mekong Subregion.  This course scrutinizes the nature and extent of this problem for Southeast Asian countries, investigating solutions which offer fairer and more sustainable methods for improving the livelihoods and economic conditions for affected communities. A comparison of the advances in environmental law in each Mekong Region country is conducted, and overall trends towards implementable models of sustainable development are explored.

Migrant Labor Law and Problems of Human Trafficking (3 Credits)

Difficult economic conditions continue to propel individuals to travel far from home for economic opportunities rendering workers at risk due to inadequate labor protections, housing dilemmas, exploitation, and even slavery.  This course delves into the problems facing migrant laborers, particularly transnational migrant laborers, who must navigate uncertain and dangerous conditions when seeking to improve their lives and those of remaining family members.  Issues relating to labor brokers, host country labor and immigration rules, home and host country efforts to protect migrant workers, rules of repatriation, and joint country efforts to manage the flow of workers are explored. Particular emphasis is placed on efforts to solve the problem of illegal border crossings and victimization through human trafficking. 

Agriculture Law: Representing Rural Communities (3 Credits)

This course surveys the host of legal and economic challenges faced by rural communities and how lawyers and development professionals can help improve conditions for farmers.  Focus is on land tenure issues; commodity price instability; access to water and other faming inputs; financial management in agriculture; and adapting to climate change.  Students will learn how to become better advocates for protecting the interests of those engaged in agriculture.

Independent Research (6 credits)

Students in the M.A. Degree Program in Mekong Region Law and Development must each complete a substantial research paper investigating and analyzing a specific legal problem in the social and/or economic development process in the Greater Mekong Subregion. 


Riparian Law and Managing Shared Water Resources (3 Credits)

Border Trade (3 Credits)

Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons, and Statelessness (3 Credits)

Protection of Wildlife (3 Credits)

Introduction to International and Community Development for Lawyers (3 Credits)

History of the Law and Development Movement (3 Credits)

Regulation of Extractive Industries (3 Credits)

 When Investor-Regulator Meets Community:  Negotiation and Dispute Resolution in the Development Process (3 Credits)



We need your help in making sure that the M.A. Degree in Mekong Region Law and Development provides students with an unparalleled study experience that reinforces the student’s commitment to serve the public good.  Students need scholarship support for a study path that commits them to a life of public service.  Innovative course development requires funding to ensure course content that is enlightening and empowering.  And funding is also needed to bring in the best professors to teach these courses. Your help will have multiple impacts, as each student/course supported later translates to an individual or whole community whose livelihoods and environments are protected and improved.













 All MRLSP course stress law in context; teaching students to serve as lawyers for disadvantaged individuals/groups and vulnerable populations with respect to how law actually operates in the various Greater Mekong Subregion countries, identifying, but not relying, on the aspirational components of how law should be, as taught in many Asian law school curricula. A comparative and cross-border focus underlays all MRLSP courses.

Students attending the MRLSP do so at no expense to the student. CMLC provides all funding for their participation, including housing and a very humble living stipend, so that students are not denied this innovative learning opportunity just because they lack adequate funds. CMLC hopes to continue this scholarship support as the MRLSP transforms into a two-year degree program, targeting 20 students for full scholarship, and reasonable tuition fees for another 20 students who otherwise do not qualify for assistance. Outside financial support for this initiative is thus indispensable, so please donate.

The MRLSP appreciates any support, financial or in-kind, for developing course materials and identifying and/or sponsoring legal experts to come teach in the MRLSP. Finding qualified professionals to teach the above enumerated courses is obviously a challenge, but one worth overcoming to train a new era of lawyers who can adequately and ethically represent disadvantaged communities, solving or mitigating impacts from the extraordinary problems facing the peoples of the GMS. Providing support for curriculum development and visiting faculty eases pressures on China-Mekong Law Center, sustaining student scholarships for worthy Mekong Region law students. Over time, local faculty will develop the skills to teach these high-level courses reducing reliance on visiting experts.

We hope you agree that the Mekong Region Legal Studies Program is a unique and valuable learning opportunity for the future stewards of the Greater Mekong Subregion. Please help us bring this opportunity to as many GMS students as possible. Thank you.

Please help us bring this opportunity to as many GMS students as possible

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