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What have we learned from the 2023 Moot Court Competition?

The International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Moot Competition took place in December 2023 organized by the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), with the general rounds held online and the finals conducted at Waseda University a week later. For the team, preparations began in August, when they were introduced to the field of IHL for the first time. This year, the team was composed of students with different backgrounds. Kevin is a PEAK (Programs in English at Komaba) student studying liberal arts; Fumika and Daiki are studying politics at Hongo; Mona is a master’s student at Komaba studying Human Rights.  

 

As the first step of the IHL competition, the team began untangling the moot problem—a set of facts regarding a fictional armed conflict, during which war crimes are said to be committed by a person. Next, the team needed to write two 4,000-word memorials for the defense and prosecution of the said person. These memorials contained arguments supported by a combination of case law from international tribunals and articles from international treaties, through which the team got equipped with IHL knowledge and skills to construct arguments by law. After submitting the memorials, the team had to prepare for the oral rounds, during which these arguments would be presented orally before a panel of judges. Throughout the process, the team had huge support from our Senpai (Kai, Himena, Jenna, Tim, and Chris), previous winners in the 2021 and 2022 moot court, and Professor Kihara-Hunt.




Interviews with the IHL 2023 team. (Q&A)

 

1.    Why did you choose to join this competition?


Daiki: I have been interested in how the acts of combatants are regulated in armed conflicts since I started to become engaged in humanitarian work as an extracurricular activity at the university. Although the moot problem we treated was based on a fictional story, we had the chance to know real scenarios through case studies and get insight into how the rules of war were operated in the real world.


Fumika: I have been interested in IHL since before, but the only experience I had on IHL was an IHL class in Geneva during my 1-year exchange. While there’s few class on IHL at UTokyo, I thought the competition would enable me to deepen the knowledge and see how IHL is applied to the situation.


Kevin: One of the merits that comes along with being a liberal arts student is that you get to dip your foot in various fields of study. However, it’s sometimes difficult to delve deep into a certain subject. I always knew that law – international law and global conflicts, in particular – was something I wanted to explore a bit further, and I felt that this competition was the perfect way to do so.


Mona: I have been interested in International law, but did not have chances to learn deeply about it. By joining this competition, I was able to learn not only the articles of IHL itself but also the application to concrete situations. This has allowed me to comprehend how IHL works and understand the mechanism of International Law insightfully.


2.  What were some challenges that you faced in the preparation process and during the competition?


Daiki: English. It was a bit difficult to explain all the facts and reasons in English. But I would say we did fairly well overall thanks to Senpai and the Professor’s help. Above all, it was tough for me to understand technical legal terms in English like “recklessness” or “omission”, but they helped us a lot by paraphrasing when we faced difficult expressions.


Fumika: Since I didn’t have much public speaking experience, doing oral pleadings in English was one of the challenges for me as a non-native speaker. Practicing oral pleadings was sometimes hard, but as Daiki said, hopefully, I managed to improve my skills in the end after receiving advice from the coaches and the professor.


Kevin: I had some experience with MUN (Model United Nations) and debate in high school, so I was okay with the public speaking side of things, but I definitely struggled with the research and learning moot court jargon. There were countless times where I felt like my argument made logical sense, but lacked legal basis. Also, when it came to research, something that was a bit difficult to accept was that it was never enough. Unlike a test where you can be sure you know all the material, you have to accept that you may receive a curveball question and have to improvise.


Mona: The way to present myself in front of judges. What kind of attitude should I take to speak to the judges? How do lawyers engage with the judge in the real court? How should I persuade someone who doesn't believe me? I didn’t not realize these were problems until I talked with the judges in the general round. Fortunately, I was able to find a way to present myself both aggressively and politely with the help of our teammates, coaches and professor.


3.  What were some of your important takeaways and memorable parts of the whole moot experience for you? 


Daiki: Mutual help. We were given different issues to tackle within the competition, but we could help each other in many ways. Especially for the Oral rounds, we could advise how to quickly respond to the questions from judges based on personal experiences and knowledge. Also, we learned some tips to become a good speaker from YouTube seeing how Barack Obama performed in front of an audience in English.


Fumika: I think I got more patient. There was no end to the research at the preparation phase, and I had to receive much advice from coaches at every practice. Facing these, I sometimes felt like giving up, but it was worth experiencing. I am sure that this will contribute to any of my future work.


Kevin: Although it’s something you hear every now and then, participating in this competition made me truly understand just how important communication skills and appearing confidence are. We obviously spent a lot of time researching, formulating our arguments, and making sure that we knew the moot problem inside and out – however, we also dedicated a significant chunk of our time to making sure we spoke in the right tone and used the right words to make sure we sounded confident. Even the best-prepared arguments don’t mean anything if you can’t communicate them properly.


Mona: The solidarity for one goal. It felt so good to compete together with our teammates. We exhausted all of our efforts to “fight”. We “fought” together to win, to become better “lawyers” or “prosecutors”, and to improve ourselves. We are very good friends now.


4.  How has the competition changed you?


Daiki: We learned how a good team could be built based on competition. It has been only about 10 years since this IHL community was created at U-Tokyo, Senpais have won the competitions repeatedly and have passed down their experience from their team to the next. This succession has created a strong bond and led to huge success in this community. The competition gave me insight into the way of thinking about team building.


Fumika: I’m not really sure if I changed a lot through the competition, but getting aware of how I do (and cannot do) time management during the semester, and getting able to deal with it is one thing.


Kevin: I’ve become more aware of the severity of certain ongoing global issues. Before this competition, I didn’t even know that there were bodies of law that served to protect civilians or dictated the rules of war. Having been through the competition, however, it’s become easier for me to view ongoing situations such as the Russia-Ukraine war and Israel’s war on Gaza through a more analytical lens — it’s helped me to better understand just how inhumane these conflicts are.


Mona: First, I felt I managed to get through the entrance of the field of International Law by learning IHL in this competition. This has further helped me to develop my research at graduate school. Second, I got to know the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) and its role in humanitarian aid. This also brought me to the internship in the Japan Delegation of ICRC in the following months. Third, I came to realize how important it is to learn about IHL and ICRC, for everyone, to understand the ongoing conflicts and humanitarian crises in the world.


5.  What advice would you give to future competitors?


Daiki: I think IHL has a lot of limitations as well as possibilities in the real situation. Some might join this competition hoping that IHL could save more people, but others might join just out of academic curiosity about international law. Whatever the reasons, this opportunity will give you a lot of opportunities to improve yourself and work for the people you care about in the future.


Fumika: If you have any bit of interest in IHL, just do it. In terms of an academic perspective, I believe joining a moot competition is a good way to start or deepen the study in this field. It is totally different from just reading and remembering things from a textbook, which is often the case in the normal curriculum at university. In addition, learning it with peers is also another advantage for moot competition. You can actively study IHL and discuss it.


Kevin: Just give it a try. I’m sure you won’t regret it. It’s an amazing opportunity to learn about a completely new field of study, expand your network, and interact with people you usually wouldn’t meet at the university. IHL may seem like an intimidating topic to approach at first, but you’ll have amazing teammates, a group of experienced coaches, and of course, Professor Kihara-Hunt who will be with you every step of the way.


Mona: This will be a perfect chance for you to learn about IHL, as it is difficult to gain comprehensive information and knowledge about IHL both at university and in society. Even if you might not use IHL in your study or career life, it is definitely essential and worth it to understand IHL, as the armed conflicts and humanitarian crises are still ongoing in Palestine, Ukraine, Myanmar, Philippines, Syria, Yemen, DRC, Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia… We hope one day, the peace will come, and IHL and ICRC will no longer be needed. Want some more information? Please go to the ICRC website: https://www.icrc.org/en



(Photo: ICRC)

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