Republic of Korea: international humanitarian law moot court competition

22-12-2010 Feature

Before a panel of judges, sixteen students from seven universities in the Republic of Korea acted as prosecuting and defence counsel for a commanding officer charged with violating international humanitarian law in a fictional armed conflict.

Her face serious and focused, the student begins to argue her first case in a courtroom scenario. "Your honour, if it may please the court…," she begins, before listing the war crimes allegedly committed by the accused.

The first mock trial experience for many of the students, the Second International Humanitarian Law Moot Court competition took place on 9 October 2010 at the Kyunghee University Law School in Seoul. It was organized jointly by the law school, the Republic of Korea National Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"We are very happy that many more students and judges have taken an interest in the competition than last year," said Kim Yong Hyun, Secretary General of the national Red Cross Society. "We hope that this competition will help promote awareness of humanitarian issues and of IHL."

The winning team, from Ewha Women's University, will participate in the Ninth Asia-Pacific Red Cross International Humanitarian Moot to be held in Hong Kong in March 2011.

Lessons about team spirit and confidence were two key aspects of the moot court experience for Choi Yu Jung, a member of the winning team.

“This was my first time in a moot court situation, and it was very hard for me to speak because of the non-stop questions from judges. But I soon got used to the atmosphere,” explained the 22-year-old law student from Seoul, who was later named one of the best mooters in the event. “It's very important to believe in your co-counsel in the courtroom, because your partner is all you can rely on in what is something of a lonely battlefield.”

Judges for the competition included "real" judges, law professors and legal practitioners.

One of the judges commented: "Future lawyers can find an expression of human dignity and humanitarian values through the competition, while those currently practicing law can renew their passion."

The competition was many students' first close encounter with IHL, and they worked hard on preparing their cases long before the day of the event.

"I had to put lots of time into studying customs, conventions and cases. And preparing the speeches was much tougher than I imagined," said Choi Chul Ho, a 30-year-old law student from Anyang City. He would later be named one of the two “Best Mooters” of the competition.

Winning team member Hyunkyung Shin said it was her curiosity about humanitarian law that prompted her to take part.

“The IHL Moot Court was a chance for me to explore another legal field. It's hard to experience this in depth with the university curriculum,” said the 21-year-old, who is studying law at Ewha Women's University. As an aspiring lawyer who hopes to specialize in public and private international law, she felt the experience of playing roles in a courtroom scenario would help her future career.

Preparing the case had taught Kim Woo Joo, a 28-year-old law student from Pusan, that applying IHL is not always a simple matter. He was part of the second-placed team from Sungkyunkwan University.

“Presenting the case helped me to appreciate how difficult it can be to persuade people,” he explained. “I was both thrilled and nervous about presenting a case before the court.”

Photos

During the semi-finals, a member of the prosecuting team responds to a tough question from a judge. 

During the semi-finals, a member of the prosecuting team responds to a tough question from a judge.
© ICRC / C. Lee

In a semi-final round, the prosecution makes its case against the accused, who has been charged with causing unlawful death and injury to civilians, violating one of the main principles of IHL; that of distinguishing combatants from the civilian population. 

In a semi-final round, the prosecution makes its case against the accused, who has been charged with causing unlawful death and injury to civilians, violating one of the main principles of IHL; that of distinguishing combatants from the civilian population.
© ICRC / C. Lee

Judges discuss the performance of two teams. 

Judges discuss the performance of two teams.
© ICRC / C. Lee

All rise as the judges enter the courtroom for the final round. 

All rise as the judges enter the courtroom for the final round.
© ICRC / C. Lee

The audience listens attentively during the final round of the competition. 

The audience listens attentively during the final round of the competition.
© ICRC / C. Lee