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IHL and the humanitarian challenges created by war: 1st Moot Court competition for East African universities


 The ICRC recently organised the first Moot Court competition for East African universities in the Tanzanian city of Arusha, the home of the    UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda     (ICTR). During the week-long event, student teams from five Kenyan and one Tanzanian universities were introduced to International Humanitarian Law and the humanitarian challenges created by war. The climax of the contest was the final held in a courtroom of the ICTR under the chairmanship of one of the Tribunal's most senior judges. For the ICRC, the Moot Court was part of its world-wide efforts to promote awareness of the international laws protecting victims of armed conflict and imposing limits on the behaviour of combatants. Florian Westphal from ICRC Nairobi reports:  

Yet again trouble is brewing in Western Bellitia as Parabulem government troops and fanatic rebels come to blows in a conflict fuelled by religion, territorial ambition and ethnic hatred. Confusion and chaos reign: thousands of civilian victims are trapped by fighting while the whole region is inexorably drawn into the maelstrom of war. What can be done about the crisis in Parabulem?

Obviously, Parabulem and Bellitia do not exist; they are part of a conflict scenario the ICRC created for its first Moot Court competition in East Africa held in Arusha from 20 to 24 November 2001. This scenario inc luded many characteristics of real conflicts around the world: a government facing a rebel force supported by a neighbouring country, the deliberate targeting of civilians by combatants, the use of land mines and child soldiers and, finally, the intervention of a regional military force.

While knowledge of International Humanitarian Law was an important part of the contest, the students needed more than good legal minds. " We were also looking for qualities such as creativity and imagination, " says Vincent Bernard, the ICRC's Nairobi-based communication delegate. " The students had to deal with difficult, new situations, meaning they had to master not only the law but also be aware of the humanitarian and political dimensions of armed conflict. "

 Facing Pazuzu  

'Hail Pazuzu','Pazuzu, help us defeat our enemies'- every meeting of the high command of the Parabulem rebel force starts with an invocation of the powers of their god, Pazuzu. The encounter with'ICRC representatives'i.e. the student competitors was no exception. Straight away the contestants faced a difficult choice: should we also pray to Pazuzu or remain seated, risking the wroth of the fanatical rebels. The aim of meeting the rebels was to negotiate access to civilians trapped in the areas they control. But instead of listening to the ICRC's arguments, the'rebel commanders'- in fact, ICRC and ICTR staff - presented the students with a list of'humanitarian'demands including supplies of vodka and teargas! In this situation, the contestants had to prove their negotiating skills, adapting to their interlocutors without, however, compromising the ICRC's position as a neutral and impartial organisation. " We could not believe it when we came in the room " , said one of the students. " The exercise took us completely by surp rise and we really had to think on our feet. But it was great fun. "

The second test came when the students faced a'press conference'as representatives of an international NGO called'Humanitarian Watch'. In front of critical, at times also aggressive'journalists' - in fact, the jury members -, they had to accurately explain the conflict in Parabulem in legal terms, outlining the relevant treaties of International Humanitarian Law and proposing how the war crimes committed by the conflict parties should be dealt with. This gave the students the chance to show that they had understood the role the law plays to reduce suffering during armed conflicts, and the complexities involved in trying to implement it.

 Handling the big occasion  

For the final, students from Nairobi University and United States International University, also from the Kenyan capital, squared up in a real courtroom of the ICTR where, during a visit two days earlier, they had watched the trial of a Rwandan genocide suspect. In front of a jury of ICRC and ICTR lawyers, presided over by the Tribunal Vice-president, Judge Erik Mose, and watched by an audience of about 50, the contestants argued over how post-conflict Parabulem should deal with the legacy of the war. The question was whether to recommend extradition of the exiled former president of Parabulem for an alleged massacre of civilians by his security forces. The teams'brief was to look at legal arguments as well as the implications for peace in a country where the situation remains unstable and political and ethnic divisions run deep. As always, the jury faced a tough decision, but in the end the Nairobi University Law students were awarded the top prize of book vouchers worth nearly 200 US Dollars.

Announcing the winners, Judge Mose said he had been highly impressed by the qu ality of argument presented by the students. " You belong to the generation we are looking at " , he told the participants. " In situations like this we see how well prepared and eager you are. I think you belong to part of the great human rights movement, the great International Humanitarian Law movement. It is people like you who contribute to progress. "

The students'verdict on the Moot Court competition was overwhelmingly positive. " It was wonderful, we are ecstatic, " said Collins Odongo of the Nairobi University team - a sentiment echoed by his team-mates, Bonnie Okumu and Elisha Ongoya. Many students said the Moot Court had opened their eyes to new areas of international law and the international criminal justice system, and inspired them for the future. But the Moot Court was also hard work. " No disrespect to our lecturers " said Alan Hicks of the United States International University in Nairobi, " but this week we faced a lot more pressure than we usually do at college. "

For the ICRC, this first Moot Court was an encouraging experience, which it hopes to repeat during years to come. " This was a kind of pilot phase, " said the Regional Delegate in Nairobi, Vincent Nicod. " We'll look at it and see how we can extend it " . The idea is to try and involve universities from other countries, for example Ethiopia, Rwanda or South Africa in the next competition of this kind.

Meanwhile, Parabulem and Belitia look ahead to an uncertain future...