Representing Cambodia for the first time ever, a five-person team of law students is to head to Washington today for an international competition in resolving disputes among nations.
The 50th annual Jessup International Moot Court Competition, the world’s largest mock trial competition involving students from 500 law schools around the world, will judge competitors’ legal arguments concerning a fictitious dispute at the International Court of Justice, a UN body created to resolve disputes among member states.
Khun Sonita and Sreng Nearirath, law students at the Royal University of Law and Economics, who competed last year at the USAID-sponsored client counseling competition, said they were proud to represent their nation.
“This is not just about competition. It is key to unlocking the door for the next generation of students to go,” Khun Sonita said.
According to organizers, this year’s competition, which begins Sunday, involves issues such as humanitarian intervention, the confidentiality of evidence, sexual harassment by UN peacekeepers and the legality of capital punishment. Participants will be called on to argue both sides of the dispute.
Two former ICJ presidents, Dame Rosalyn Higgins and Judge Stephen Schwebel, will attend. Sreng Nearirath said the team, which also includes students Piseth Panha, Soy Kimsan and Vireak Thirith, wasn’t optimistic about their chances due to disadvantages such as a lack of research material and reference works on international law.
“I feel excited,” she said. “We feel we’re making history.”
Shona Grundy, a lawyer assisting a defense team at the Khmer Rouge tribunal and one of two foreign lawyers who coached the Cambodian team, said the Cambodian team began preparations in September and submitted written arguments in January.
“Nothing like this has ever happened before in Cambodia and hopefully the interest generated in and the achievement of this year’s team will inspire many more young Cambodian law students to also take part in the wonderful world of Jessup,” she wrote in an e-mail.