The Nelson Mandela Moot Court: an Immersive Experience in Human Rights Litigation

Charlotte Volet and Sonali Wanigabaduge, enrolled in our Master of Advanced Studies in Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law (MTJ) participated in September 2020 in the oral rounds of the Nelson Mandela moot court.

A Unique Learning Journey

While Charlotte and Sonali did not qualify for the final round that will take place in December, they had the unique opportunity to apply human rights in practice and develop legal arguments around complex cases.

‘Besides the experience students acquire in litigating human rights, participation in such moot courts also allows them to develop their public speaking skills, the art of presenting their arguments in a concise and convincing way, as well as their sense of teamwork and solidarity’ explains Pavle Kilibarda, Teaching Assistant at the Geneva Academy and coach of the team.

‘It was such an enriching experience to be a part of the prestigious Nelson Mandela Moot Court competition, representing the Geneva Academy. Arguing upon the nuances of a deeply complex human rights case study rooted in contemporary socio-political issues experienced across the world, through invoking international human rights treaties and case law that has transformed the modern world, was indeed a remarkable snapshot into the wondrous world of international human rights law. It was a beautiful learning experience and I had such a great time working with an amazing team!’ explains Sonali.

Judge's hammer with books

‘Although I am not a lawyer, it was fascinating to learn the finer points of how to litigate, in an environment similar to an international court of law. This was a precious experience to have, as I embark on a career in public international law and human rights’ says Charlotte.

Among the Top-10 Best Memorials

The memorial that Charlotte and Sonali submitted to qualify for the oral rounds won the 7th place, out of 39 memorials submitted by English-language teams.

It presented two sides of a fictitious human rights litigation – the applicant and the respondent government: students had to assume the role of both sides in order to better understand their positions and the legal issues involved.

‘This ranking is a great recognition for the work of Charlotte and Sonali and their concise and convincing way to present their arguments as well as the different legal issues involved from two different angles’ underlines Pavle Kilibarda.

A Team Spread around the World

The fact that the oral rounds took place online represented an additional challenge for all the teams who were not able to interact with each other between rounds.

‘Having to organize ourselves during the pandemic was a challenge in itself, but with our wonderful team we learned to adapt and stay connected, even though we were thousands of miles apart during the initial rounds of the competition’ tells Charlotte.

‘One of the key challenges that we had to overcome was proximity. During practices, I was quarantined at a hotel in Sri Lanka, while Charlotte, my teammate, was operating out of Montreal, Canada. Our supervisor Pavle Killibarda was guiding us through our memorials and orals whilst in Geneva, Switzerland!’ says Sonali.

‘Despite the fact that everyone was online, judges really took care to provide detailed individual feedback to every participant – we really appreciate this under the circumstances’ explains Pavle Kilibarda.

An Integral Part of the MTJ

The Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition is organized by the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, in partnership with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Two MTJ students can participate following a competitive selection process carried out by a Geneva Academy jury. This participation forms part of the Clinical Work Track of the MTJ, aimed at providing a solid exposure to practical work and situations to MTJ students.

‘Participation in this moot court allows students to put in practice the notions and legal tools they have learned in class. For students wishing to work in transitional contexts, it is an opportunity to explore issues of redress and accountability that form part of transitions following armed conflict or massive human rights abuses’ underlines Pavle Kilibarda.

MTJ students during a class