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Unity in diversity. The topicality of Professor C. van Vollenhoven

On 8 February Jan Michiel Otto, professor of Law and Governance in Developing Countries, delivered the dies lecture entitled: 'Unity in diversity. The topicality of professor C. van Vollenhoven'. Otto emphasized - following Van Vollenhoven - the importance of scope and respect for the public sphere of state and law. Officials, particularly those at the top, have to perform their duties honestly and free from self-interest; and everyday citizens must exercise self-control and treat one another with humanity. These are issues on which Asia and the West may learn from one another.

Prof. Jan Michiel Otto

Van Vollenhoven

Exactly hundred years ago, on 8 February 1917, prof. van Vollenhoven - delivered his dies lecture. Van Vollenhoven, a professor from 1901 until his death in 1933, was a brilliant legal scholar who excelled in three different domains: his research on the living customary law, the adat law of the Netherlands-Indies; the country’s constitutional law; and international law. Van Vollenhoven was one of the leading authorities in the academic teaching programme for the colonial public service, ‘Indologie’, that was famous for its ‘ethical’ character. Besides law and public administration, students also studied oriental languages and customs, including Islam in its many facets. Along with all this knowledge, students acquired an open attitude. The Van Vollenhoven Instituut, led by prof. Otto has continued this valuable tradition of research on law, public administration and society in developing countries.

Unity in diversity

The dies was marked by the opening of the university-wide Asia year. Therefore Otto had derived the title of his lecture from the Indonesian national motto 'Unity in diversity' (Bhinekka Tunggal Ika). Otto showed that the rules of classical Sharia are incorporated only to a fairly limited extent in Indonesia’s national legislation. He explained how systematic research into the reality of law and governance has debunked the simplistic negative assumptions about sharia, law and the rule of law.

In addition Otto emphasized the importance of the law for peace and prosperity and - referring to Van Vollenhoven's 1917 dies address and old Asian philosophies - he warned against attempts at undermining the rule of law. Law has the capacity to promote unity in diversity and development. This calls not only for adequate norms and rules but also for respect from all of us for the public sphere of state and law, enabling office holders to work and thrive with integrity; for self-control of citizens and most of all for humanity and compassion with our fellow human beings, irrespective of their ethnic and religious background. 


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