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The 17th Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Moot

6-9 March 2019, Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Red Cross International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Moot was an eye-opening and challenging experience. It was a unique opportunity to deepen our knowledge of a rich and vital area of international law, and build connections with practitioners and like-minded students across the region.

From December 2018 to March 2019, we were faced with novel legal issues, and were able to meet and be judged by some of the sharpest IHL minds in the region.

The 17th IHL Moot problem concerned an autocratic leader charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court. To prepare, we researched issues at the cutting edge of IHL and human rights law, including enforced disappearances, the status of non-state armed groups in IHL, whether attacks were disproportionate, and whether a head of state could be held responsible.

Faced with facts that could be interpreted in several different ways, we discovered further questions the more we worked on it. This was especially true of the competition week itself, as we faced off against teams from various countries and legal systems, who all had different perspectives and arguments to offer. Probing questions from judges, many of whom worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), caused us to re-examine our legal tests and their origins.

After two and a half months of preparing written and oral submissions, the competition week in Hong Kong was fast-paced and highly engaging. Each day we travelled to the Hong Kong University campus or the nearby Hong Kong Red Cross headquarters for moots and activities. A highlight of the week was a simulated war zone activity, requiring all students to participate in highly realistic role play as civilians in an armed conflict. Working our way through a crumbling schoolroom, a government hideout and a highly questionable people-smuggling truck, we ended up in a detention centre, all the while immersing ourselves in the harsh realities of warfare.

We were faced with the difficult choices civilians must make in conflict, such as trading belongings for assistance, deciding whether to take arms, and even whether to kill our companions to prove allegiance. This highlighted the desperation of the warzone and the need for humanitarian actors, despite the limitations they often face in doing their work.

Throughout the week we also heard and asked questions from leading experts in IHL, including from the ICRC and the International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia. During a careers panel, we also heard from both an ICRC legal advisor and a field officer who had spent time in Afghanistan and other war zones. Their contrasting experiences highlighted the multifaceted work of the ICRC and the many theoretical, legal and practical challenges of work in IHL.

Our team was proud to have made it to the quarter-final rounds, and inspired by the many people we met throughout the process. We could not recommend this enough to any motivated law student wanting to find out how far their degree could take them.

— Siobhain Galea and Daniel Westbury 

Each year, Australian Red Cross sponsors an Australian team to participate in the Hong Kong Red Cross International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Moot – an inter-university competition for the Asia Pacific region.  The participating team is selected from the grand final round of the Australian National IHL Moot Competition, which is co-hosted by Australian Red Cross and the Australian Law Students’ Association (ALSA) in July.

Learn more about the ALSA competition »
Learn more about the Hong Kong competition »