Mandela Moot Court: A Rewarding Experience of Human Rights Litigation

After passing the first round and qualifying for the competition’s final stage, Helmer Jonelid and Edward Millet – enrolled in our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights – reached in the final rounds of the Nelson Mandela Moot Court , that  took place in Geneva from 18 to 21 July 2022. 

'The Nelson Mandela World Human Right Moot Court Competition was a unique experience for Ed and Helmer to learn about very different issues and how each human rights body in the world addresses them. I had already participated as a student and as a coach, and for the third time I corroborated how much a team can learn when preparing the memorials and the pleadings. In addition, it is reassuring to see how many excellent students are getting ready to be human rights lawyers all over the world.

The amount of hard work Helmer and Ed put, despite having many obligations at a time – such as internships and exams – never ceased to amaze me. I am very grateful for the opportunity to coach and get to know these two incredible human rights advocates. The moot court put them and every participant through the difficult exercise of pleading for both the alleged victims and the State in a short period of time, and they not only did this but managed to grow with every practice and round. The judges both during the preparation and the moot, together with the incredibly well-prepared teams we faced, made this possible.

In that sense, I could not help but mention the support we received from my colleagues, the teaching assistants and staff at Geneva Academy, as well as from former and current students. I also want to highlight the very helpful feedback we received both from former participants I met during my previous involvement in the moot and from the distinguished judges at the open practice. I am sure Ed and Helmer will never forget this experience.' Underlines Katia Rosenblat, Teaching Assistant at the Geneva Academy and the team’s coach.

Developing Legal Arguments on Contemporary Human Rights Challenges

Helmer and Edward had to argue – both for the applicant and the respondent – on cases involving complex issues around extraterritorial jurisdiction, due process, abortion laws, torture, the interplay between international human rights law and international humanitarian law, the law of the sea and refugee law. ‘Participation in the Nelson Mandela Moot Court allows our students to apply the legal concepts they have learned in class to contemporary human rights cases and challenges and develop legal arguments around theme’ explains Katia Rosenblat.

' I cannot see how my time at the Academy could have had a better ending (well, apart from winning). For us to be able to showcase everything we have learned and practiced during the last semester (and really during this whole programme) and for that hard work to take us all the way to the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room at the UN headquarters here in Geneva was quite frankly surreal. I feel blessed to have been able to argue pertinent human rights issues with such brilliant students and judges, including former UN special rapporteurs and judges of the different regional human rights courts. But most importantly, at the end of the day, as soon as we stepped out of our roles, we could all have a laugh together. I look forward to working together with every single one of them in my professional life.

Finally, I am glad that the Academy allows students to advance their advocacy skills not only through participation in this competition but throughout the entire programme (not least during the pleadings organized by prof. Sassòli). After all, it is not enough to have the law on your side, you also have to be able to argue why this is so. But as recognized by the highly distinguished panel of the final session as well as keynote speaker and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Nada Al-Nashif, there is no need to falter – the participants of the Mandela Moot show that the future for human rights advocacy is bright.' Says Helmer Jonelid.

"Participating in the Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Competition was a perfect complement to my LLM studies at the Academy this year, giving Helmer and myself a chance to put our academic studies into practice with a phenomenal real-world written and oral advocacy experience. 

The competition is set up in order to draw on human rights jurisprudence and legal instruments from all around the world, making the competition truly holistic with regards to the world of international human rights law. I valued the chance to build on my studies in IHRL with Professors Clapham and Gaggioli during the year, digging deeper into case law from the African and Inter-American systems as well as considering ‘soft law’ instruments and political declarations. The hypothetical case at stake - vastly wide-ranging in its scope - also called for an interdisciplinary approach to international law that drew on IHL, refugee law and other areas, which the Academy course was perfect in preparing me for. 

The chance to write submissions and plead on behalf of victims and the State was a unique opportunity that allowed us to think around the strengths and weaknesses of legal argument on topical, emotive issues in contemporary human rights - from the right to abortion, to human rights in armed conflict and the separation of families in asylum settings. 

A special mention must go to Katia, our coach, who worked tirelessly to feed us Inter-American case law and cake, to schedule advocacy practice sessions with a stellar range of advocates and experts - including a number from her alma mater in Buenos Aires - and to expertly manage the whole process from start to finish. We are also grateful to the Academy for providing space to work together and support during the competition finals."underlines Edward Millet

A Yearly Involvement

Participation in the Nelson Mandela Moot court forms an integral part of the LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and of the Master of Advanced Studies in Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law: every year, two students can participate in this moot court following a competitive selection process carried out by a Geneva Academy jury. Helmer and Edward have been working and preparing for this mot court almost since the beginning of the academic year – first working on their written memorial and then preparing for the preliminary and final rounds. ‘This involves a lot of dedication, time, research and hours of work that add to an already very intense programme. Besides the intensive learning experience, Helmer and Edward have also learned how to work as a team, how to put forward legal arguments and how to look at an issue from different angles and opposing points of views’ says Katia Rosenblat.

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