Bangladesh: humanitarian law in action
Absence of condemnation, circumstantial evidence, hate speech v. the right to expression … young lawyers battle it out in packed court rooms, deploying legal lingo, compelling arguments and swirling black gowns. Court clerks pass messages between the judges and the lawyers, while timekeepers ring their bells.
No, not a scene from some law-themed TV show. Just the South Asian round of the eighth Henry Dunant Memorial Moot Court competition held in Dhaka on 12 and 13 October. The teams from Bangladesh, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka had already won national mooting contests in their home countries. Now they were doing battle on the international stage.
The ICRC launched the Henry Dunant Memorial Moot Court Competition in 2001, to promote the understanding and practice of international humanitarian law (also known as the "law of armed conflict") among law students. Named after the founder of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the contest has flourished over the last decade, and is now one of the biggest and most prestigious moot court competitions in Asia.
Emraan Azad is a third-year law student. He volunteered as a court clerk for the competition, and found the experience gratifying. "A court clerk has the most privileged position in the mooting competition, because he or she can observe things up close while maintaining the decorum of the court room. It was an opportunity to learn about the professional etiquette of the judges, the different presentation styles of the mooting teams and their responses to the judges' questions."
This year, arch cricket rivals India and Pakistan made it to the finals of the South Asian event, taking turns as prosecution and defence. As always, the case was fictitious. This time it involved proving charges of genocide and war crimes against a head of state. After a gruelling hour of debate and rebuttal, the National Law University of Delhi emerged as winners of the South Asia title.
Dhruv Sharma, a twenty-year old mooter from the winning team, said they had been aiming for the coveted trophy right from the start. Winning it earned them a very special welcome back home. "We were thrown into a fountain after winning the national round. They didn’t do that this time for fear of dengue, but the reception we received on campus was great! Our friends brought pastries and there were hugs all round."
Mock trials are a vital learning experience for students working towards their law degrees, challenging participants to research and prepare a case, and present it in a comprehensible and logical manner before real judges. Often, the judges critique the mooters right away to test their nerves and their analytical capacities, helping the budding lawyers improve their advocacy skills.
Sandesh Sreshtha from Nepal’s Kathmandu School of Law won the title of “best researcher.” During the weeks leading up to the competition, Sreshtha had buried himself in the Geneva Conventions, case law, statutes and journals. For him, the main challenge was establishing whether the case was an internal or an international conflict, as different bodies of international humanitarian law apply in the two situations. His advice to upcoming legal practitioners: "you need to know and understand your law and you need to choose the most relevant legal instruments."
The National Law University of Delhi and Pakistan College of Law will lock horns again at the Asia Pacific stage of the competition in Hong Kong early next year.