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Hong Kong: making a career of humanity

22-05-2007 Feature

On one weekend in early spring this year, a person visiting Hong Kong University might have overheard some curious conversations on campus.

" How can you say, " rumbled a male voice, " that General Ready is the superior of Colonel Doddy, the Manchaca military adviser? "

" Your Excellencies, the superior-subordinate relationship can be established on the basis of de facto control. This standard has been applied by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Akayesu case. " The young woman answered firmly, in English that, unlike the first speaker's, was slightly accented.

The scene was the first round of the Fifth Red Cross International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Moot. Mingdi Yuan, a postgraduate law student from Nankai University in China, was answering the moot court judge's questions. She and Suyu Chang, another student from the same university, were playing the role of applicants in the moot court case. Their opponents, the responders, were from National Taiwan University.

Mingdi and Suyu had been preparing for this competition since last December, when they received the case. " In the beginning, I was a bit nervous, " Mingdi said. " But our teachers helped us a lot during the training which lasted for two months. When the competition began, we felt more confident. " Mingdi and Suyu finished among the top five applicants, the best showing by a Chinese team since 2004, when Chinese universities began to take part in the Red Cross IHL Moot. 

The two-day competition drew 16 teams from across the Asia-Pacific region; four of these were from China. The teams were given a fictitious moot court ca se to work on. Each team was assigned the role of applicant or respondent and had to prepare a " memorial " and an oral presentation. Participants debated the issues of torture, attacks on civilians, misuse of the Red Cross emblem and other matters related to IHL.

The first Red Cross IHL Moot was held in 2003. According to Wilson Wong, Deputy Secretary-General of the Hong Kong Red Cross, " Living in an affluent city, young people in Hong Kong do not know about war and the meaning of humanity, and they have no idea of the origins of the

Red Cross Movement. " At the prize-giving ceremony for this year's IHL Moot, the Hon. Sir T L Yang, former Chief Justice and Chairman of the Hong Kong Red Cross, said, " War, for many people, is a piece of news, a computer game or just an action movie. Yet, in reality, war means destruction, suffering and death. " (This information was retrieved from the website of the Hong Kong Red Cross.) The first Red Cross IHL Moot in 2003 was contested by only two teams and both were locals, Hong Kong University and Hong Kong City University. However, the number of participants has grown every year, from 2 to 6 to 11 to 14 in 2006.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been actively involved in the competition since the third Red Cross IHL Moot, becoming one of the main hosting parties. " The ICRC provides technical and financial assistance for most of the competitions, " said Umesh Kadam, the ICRC's regional legal adviser. " This year, the ICRC provided financial assistance to 14 of the16 teams that took part. We expect to promote awareness of IHL in the younger generation of law students so that elements of it can be incorporated into their studies. "

China has sent teams to Hong Kong every year since the second Red Cross IHL Moot. Wenqi Zhu, professor of international humanitarian law at Renmin University, has taken te ams to the competition twice. He thinks that it is a valuable experience for Chinese students. " The moot court is a very demanding competition and, therefore, they should have benefited tremendously from it, " he said. Although Renmin University failed to place in the top five, Zhu was satisfied with the performance of his students. He admitted that his expectations had been modest. " We have no books on international humanitarian law, " he said. " And we don't have qualified specialists on this subject. It has become a big problem for us to find good professors. Finally, there are the cultural differences. Western ideas about humanitarianism are very different from Chinese ones. "  Xu Ying, a postgraduate law student from Peking University, said, " The moot court tradition does not exist in China. And we do not have many opportunities to practise, compared with the others. "  

Most of the participants this year had won moot court competitions at home. For example, this year's winners, the University of Sydney, were the mooting champions of Australia. To qualify for the competition in Hong Kong they had had to win a number of domestic competitions. Their experience was very much in evidence this year as they carried away four prizes: for Winning Team, Best Mooter, Honourable Mention and Best Memorial. Following the Hong Kong competition, they were the Australian representatives at the Philip C. Jessup Moot Court Competition, which was held at the end of March in the United States. This is widely regarded as the most prestigious competition of its kind. Odette Murray, who was named best mooter, praised the performance of the team from Nakai University in China. When she learnt that there were no national moot court competitions in China, she suggested that they be organized as soon as possible.

The ICRC's regional legal adviser said that the ICRC was planning to organize, together with a Chinese university, a national IHL moot court competition in China. The top three teams at the competition would be eligible to participate in the Red Cross IHL Moot next year. 

Although the fifth Red Cross IHL Moot lasted only two days, its impact on the participants was considerable. It did more than strengthen their grasp of IHL. Some of the participants might have been inspired to contemplate a career in humanitarian law. As Martin Luther King, the American civil-rights activist, has said, " Make a career of humanity…and you will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in. "