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Australia: 2014 Asia Pacific IHL Moot winner - Q+A

25-03-2014 Interview

University of Adelaide students Mark Giddings and Tomas Macura (pictured right) were the winners of this year's Red Cross Asia-Pacific Moot Court Competition on International Humanitarian Law (IHL), held in Hong Kong recently. Over three days, students from 24 regional universities took part in the fictitious trials dealing with cases anchored in the reality of conflict and violence. The event, organized by the Hong Kong Red Cross and the ICRC, together with two major local universities, included a judging panel with 95 distinguished judges and lawyers from the region. Here we speak with Mark Giddings about his Red Cross moot experience:

How did you hear about the moot competition and why did you decide to enter?
One of our lecturers at Adelaide University, Associate Professor Dale Stephens, organizes international law moot competitions within the university every year, which is how I heard about IHL mooting. The university also introduced us to the Australian Red Cross IHL Moot Competition, which is held yearly as part of the Australian Law Students’ Association (ALSA) conference program. After we won the Adelaide University comp, we then went on to the ALSA – Australian Red Cross IHL Moot. Sixteen teams participated in the national round in Australia in 2013 and as winners we got the chance to compete in the Hong Kong moot.

This year's moot competition explored a range of themes including the legality of attacking medical units during armed conflict, and the use of autonomous drones as weapons of war. What did you learn from covering these themes?
We focused on some very contemporary and cutting-edge issues of IHL, like the use of autonomous weapons, and also some fundamental issues such as the protection of medical units. Those contemporary issues were critical to explore because of the changing nature of armed conflict. The Geneva Conventions were written many years ago, and did not contemplate technical advancements in weaponry, such as autonomous drones. And these weapons are going to play a very important part in military operations in the future. It is important to think about how a legal regime that was set up last century needs to be developed so it can be applicable to new means and methods of warfare. For example, the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols were written with the assumption that humans are the decision makers when using weapons of war. Weapons in development, such as drones with the ability to attack without human input, pose a number of difficulties for IHL. E.g., who would assume legal responsibility for a lethal decision made by an autonomous drone?

What are some of the challenges you faced as part of the moot? 
I think the biggest challenge was preparing the written memorials. In the lead up to the competition I had a lot of commitments - studying and work. I am completing a technical qualification to become a lawyer, while working as a law clerk in Adelaide, so it was hard to find time to complete the research. The oral submission in the final round of the competition was also quite challenging. We had only 30 minutes to prepare for this round. During our presentation the judging bench was also quite interventionist. The judges intervened to pose about 20 questions during our final submission; they were really trying to challenge us!

What will you take away from the competition? How has it influenced your views about armed conflict and IHL?
It is very good practice in advocacy. Many of the judges were professional barristers, so the advice and feedback we received from them is going to be very useful in improving our own advocacy. As part of our IHL course at Adelaide University we had already considered some of the moot issues, such as the use of autonomous weapons. However, the main issue that influenced me was not autonomous weapons, but learning about the protection of medical units in conflict situations.  This is something you don't hear much about; I was not aware that violence against health care was such a problem in contemporary warfare. I also wasn’t aware that there is such a complex regime for the protection of medial units. It’s essential that the red cross emblem is protected if impartial medical care is to be provided to civilians and combatants in armed conflict situations.

What tips do you have for others interested in entering the competition?
I would encourage those interested to definitely do the competition. It’s very interesting and the case is well planned. It’s a real challenge but very rewarding to consider the problem. My advice to teams who want to do well in the advocacy round is to commit time to understanding the principles of the law and the issues that have been discussed rather than focusing too much on the technical provisions. For example, you might have 20 treaty articles that provide technical requirements for protection of medical units, but your advocacy should focus on the principles of why these medical units should be protected in certain circumstances. Understand the meaning of these articles - but don't rely on memorizing them - and then engage the judges in a conversation about the principles. 

It is also important to be as prepared as possible. Think about the possible questions that might come up.  If you move yourself away from the technical provisions, and have an understanding of the principles of the law, you can apply this knowledge to a range of prospective questions. It’s difficult to apply technical provisions to different questions because you have to remember the wording and the numbers. But if you research the principles, you should be able to apply them in many different circumstances.  If there is a question you cannot answer, just accept that and tell the judges the facts of why it’s difficult to respond, put forward the best points that you can, and then move on to your stronger arguments.

For more information on the yearly Red Cross Asia Pacific IHL Moot Competition see here


12th Red Cross Asia Pacific IHL Moot participants 

2014 Asia Pacific IHL Moot winners Tomas Macura and Mark Giddings
© ICRC / Y. Sun

12th Red Cross Asia Pacific IHL Moot participants 

Announcement of the general round: eight teams that entered the quarter-final round exchanged their memorials on stage
© ICRC / Y. Sun

12th Red Cross Asia Pacific IHL Moot participants 

Group photo after the semi-final round in front of Hong Kong High Court
© ICRC / Y. Sun