Law students triumph at international competition

  • Date

    Tue 10 Apr 18

Rumbi Mapolisa, Rasha Mohamed and Natasha Sax

A team of Essex law students has won the distinguished Jean-Pictet International Humanitarian Law Competition, beating 47 competitors from five continents to bring the title home.

Masters students Rumbi Mapolisa, Rasha Mohamed and Natasha Sax triumphed at the week-long simulation of a fictitious armed conflict where teams apply their knowledge of humanitarian law to a wide range of role-played situations, taking on the parts of lawyers, governments and the military. 

“Competing was an exceptionally valuable experience,” said Rasha. “We met passionate humanitarians, practitioners and experts from the field, as well as aspiring future humanitarians. We were given lectures by experts in cyber warfare, international criminal law and even by a judge from the International Criminal Court. The stuff of dreams.”

“As advocates of humanitarian law, we often forget that the other side we negotiate with has different priorities. Playing different roles taught us how to find common ground.”

Dr Tara Van Ho from our School of Law said: “It is probably the fastest paced competition in the field of law, making our students' win particularly impressive.

“Students arrive with only their knowledge of the law and a sketchy idea of the kind of conflict they will address. Each morning and afternoon they receive new information, scenarios, and roles to play, requiring them to adapt their knowledge quickly.” 

Rasha Mohamed writes notes on a mirror
Rasha maps out the facts of the competition's scenario
Rasha Mohamed, Natasha Sax and Rumbi Mapolisa speaking in the final of the Jean-Pictet Competition
Rumbi, Natasha and Rasha speak on international law and cyber warfare in the final

The team travelled to Macedonia for the contest after being coached by a team of leading human rights researchers from our School of Law: Dr Daragh Murray, Dr Tara Van Ho, Vivian Ng and PhD candidate Claire Simmons.

“I was surprised at how intense the preparation was,” said Rumbi. “I was impressed by the amount of time and effort the coaching team put in – this showed a real commitment which really motivated me to try my best.”

Professor Noam Lubell, Professor of International Law of Armed Conflict in our School of Law said: “We are incredibly proud of our students this year, and are grateful also to the colleagues who made up the excellent coaching team. We regularly reach the semi-finals and finals and having last won the title 25 years ago, we are delighted to have regained the crown.” 

Dr Van Ho added: “It's the eighth time in the last ten years we've reached the semi-finals and our third time in the finals. Only one other university in the English-speaking world matches that record.”

Rumbi, Rasha and Natasha are all studying for their LLM in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and their previous experiences gave the Essex team a uniquely global view. Rumbi is Zimbabwean and worked as a refugee lawyer in Zimbabwe before coming to Essex. Rasha is Iraqi-Irish, spending half her life in Iraq and half in Ireland, and working on Yemen. Natasha is from New Zealand and worked in Iraq for three years.

“People commented on how diverse our team was,” said Rasha. “That’s what is so beautiful about Essex. We bring such a diverse range of students from across the world who can share their experiences.”

Alumni from our humanitarian law courses have gone on to work with the International Committee of the Red Cross, human rights NGOs, governments, and the UN. In October 2018, we're launching a specialist LLM in International Humanitarian Law

“Armed conflict situations are possibly the most difficult circumstances in which the capacity of the law is stretched to its limits,” said Professor Lubell. “We take pride not only in teaching our students what the law says, but also how it operates in practice.”