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Liberal International Congress, Robert Woodthore-Browne reports from Manilla

June 25, 2011 3:51 PM

Liberal International held its 57th Congress in Manila from 16-20 June, the first time a full congress has been held in Asia.

Organised in conjunction with the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats with great assistance from the local office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, the congress theme was the hugely appropriate, for the region and elsewhere: Human Rights and Trade"

Sadly Jeremy Browne, the Liberal Democrat Foreign Office minister who covers both the Far East and human rights, was not available to give a keynote speech on the subject because of parliamentary duties.

The Lib Dem delegation was led by myself as international relations committee chair, supported by international office head Paul Speller, Phil Bennion, Jo Hayes and Washington-based LIBG member Tom Pereira.

If the delegation was smaller than usual, this was due to timing in the academic schedule, and the cost, since all Lib Dem delegates bear the whole of their travel and registration expenses personally.

Delegates were bussed to the Malacanang Presidential Palace to hear an excellent dissertation on liberal governance by recently elected Filipino President Benigno (Noynoy) Aquino III, the president of the Philippines Liberal Party.

Delegates attended from Latin America, the Middle East, Africa , Asia, North America and Canada. Asian representation was, of course the strongest, with Thailand having a Liberal prime minister, Indonesia a Liberal president, and Taiwan a candidate for the presidency, who was recently in London, who has every prospect of winning.

Asian MPs were also present from Sri Lanka and Malaysia, as well as representatives from the exiled Burmese opposition and MPs from Cambodia (one exiled, one still fighting at home). Dr Chee Soon Juan, the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, who suffers from persecution in this highly undemocratic state, was awarded the 2011 Freedom Prize and spoke to the Congress by video phone link, and Ang Saung Suu Kyi of Burma had recorded a message.

Senior Liberals from every continent participated in theme-related panels. There were, as usual, a large number of resolutions and amendments, which can be found on the Liberal International website.

Paul Speller negotiated hard for a statement welcoming the recent accord between Hamas and Fatah as a basis for a peace agreement with Israel and improving the prospects for residents of Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli delegation found itself able to support the final compromise text.

Bureau elections were hotly contested. Hans van Baalen MEP (VVD Netherlands) was returned unopposed as president for the second of a potential three 18 month terms. Nick Clegg joined the list of vice-presidents for the first time. I switched from a vice presidency to become a joint treasurer with Senator Art Eggleton, a former minister and Toronto mayor from the Liberal Party of Canada

The next LI executive committee meeting will be held in London on 14 October of this year, hosted by LIBG, followed by a full day seminar on 15 October on the highly topical theme of The Responsibility to Protect, for which a theme paper is being prepared by Jonathan Fryer, sponsored by LI Patron and life-long Liberal, Richard Moore. Speakers will come from all continents.