This piece was written by Akanksha Singh, a third-year (2015-2020) student at the Gujarat National Law University, who was a quarter-finalist at the World Rounds of the International Criminal Court Moot Court Competition 2017.
“Hey, do you think we still have a shot at individual speaker citations?” he asked me hesitantly before we left the apartment. Somehow, I forced the words “Of course” out of my mouth, knowing that they had failed to create the reassuring effect I had hoped they would.
Doing the International Criminal Court Moot has been, without a shadow of doubt, the most exhausting and yet exhilarating experience of my life. I doubt that it is luck, but I cannot help but feel incredibly lucky to have done this moot at a time when my university has provided the most conducive atmosphere by putting me in the company of dedicated individuals with impeccable skills and flair. I have seen a change in the approach towards moots in the past few months. When we returned victorious from Frankfurt, ELSA, Stetson and others, it reinvigorated every person on campus by giving us pure, unadulterated joy. These champions were the giants on whose shoulders we stood; looking beyond our previously narrowed horizon with a sense of assurance that everything was within reach, if we just tried.
There has been a fuller realization of the fact that mooting extends above and beyond one sentence in your CV which your might be elided by your potential employer. My experience has left me with too many thoughts, emotions, and lessons. Although my mind is running is faster than my fingers can type due to the sheer volume of information I want to put down, I will restrict myself to why everything that ICC taught me has made me a better law student and person.
Lesson 1: Do it for the love of the law
I joined the ICC team late in November. I was two months behind on background reading and I was hopelessly lost during the first few meetings over Skype. I read hundreds of pages and still felt unable to formulate a proper understanding of a concept that I could recite to my team. But it took me about a week and a half to fully realize that international criminal law was the most exciting thing I had ever read. The hours devoted to research increased and time allocated to breaks during my internship reduced. My head would be bursting with questions and propositions which had to be effectively addressed by indulging in my favourite activity-reading. There were nights I could not get a wink of sleep because I was curious and answers had to be found. I think that was the very best part- furiously applying my mind to a matter irrespective of whether it led to satisfaction or frustration.
I cannot describe the joy of a breakthrough. How pieces come together after having looked at the same provision for weeks and collecting information from every source you could find or how facts had a different meaning every other month. I had never imagined that a simple academic exercise could actually give rise to an insatiable thirst for knowledge. The one thing that remained constant from memo submission to World Rounds was that each member in the team was driven by their love for the subject matter. Trust me, nothing else, not even the prospect of victory, can hold your interest in a moot as long as this. When I was initially told that I would learn more from a moot than in a classroom, I was quite dismissive of it. But from where I stand now, I have never had more clarity about pursuing law.
Lesson 2: Place your faith in people, not the odds
This particular lesson is drawn from the experiences of both Han Solo and me. If you would have told me at the time of memo submission that we could even make it past preliminary rounds at the nationals, I would have laughed. And you could have expected a similar reaction (or worse) if someone had conjectured that we could break to the World Rounds. But each time self doubt and cynicism began to take a toll, people came through.
I don’t think I will ever forget the night of memo submission. The luxury of ease of doing work was steadily replaced with nail-biting anxiety as time slipped away from us. I shifted uneasily in my chair every two minutes as Arvind and I desperately attempted to re-draft an entire issue. In that moment, I resented every argument I had with an intransigent teammate and each moment not spent working. But evening brought magic- a citation army had assembled on the third floor of the library composed of batch mates, seniors, juniors. It did not matter if I had never spoken to some of them before, people worked intensely to alleviate our fears and burdens like the moot was their own. They worked with no other incentive but to ensure our success. After tears had been shed and prayers made we submitted our memorials and ease crept back in (eventually). The gratitude I felt is inexplicable. This is my favourite part about mooting and my university; not the memo submission, but the unsaid rule that an army must aid any and every team till they make it over the line.
Two days before nationals were scheduled to begin, I had lost my voice. I thought that the key to performing well would be practicing till my body revolted. In hindsight, it was a terrible decision that I consciously avoided later. Preparing without a coach turned out to be a lot tougher than I had originally reckoned because the feedback from grilling sessions was mixed and left us more confused than sorted. By the weekend, we had made it to the semi-finals which would ultimately decide whether we would get to compete in The Hague. I was quaking in my worn out shoes as I cleared my throat to start speaking but surprisingly enough, it did not quiver. Each question had a carefully tailored answer that my team and I had spent weeks on. We got through every tricky argument that day because of the unquestioning faith I had reposed our collective efforts as a team. Precarious arguments phrased delicately after lengthy discussions won the day for us. I stood my ground and tried to, in the most polite manner possible, inform a judge when he was mistaken because my team would not have had it any other way. So when they announced that GNLU had qualified for the World Rounds, I was too numb to move and it took the biggest hug to jolt me back to reality.
At the Hague, I watched my teammates argue with aplomb and receive the much deserved appreciation. We argued unflinchingly before people who were directly involved in the cases we relied on, whose books we were citing. The thumb rule of mooting for me has been ‘Confidence Sells’ and any confidence that we displayed was a result of arduous practice, words of encouragement, and the all the hope in the world. But I learnt so much more from opposing teams- skill, flair, creativity, craftiness. I saw students my age advocating with such passion that I was filled with equal parts awe and envy. I met a French team at the ICC party that had faced a fate similar to ours in the competition but with spirits higher than even the winners. So on the coldest beach I had ever stepped on I learnt how to deal with loss gracefully. Despite all of my anti-social antics, people continue to surprise and inspire me.
Lesson 3: Accepting that you’re a part of something bigger
Maybe it is difficult to string the sentences to describe how heartening it was to feel included in the larger scheme to better the world, one small insignificant step at a time, but I’m trying nevertheless. Carsten Stahn delivered the opening address at Leiden University and set the theme that echoed in every speech that followed over the next five days- “The future of international criminal law is in safe hands.” A person like me would generally deride these platitudinous remarks but as I scanned the eager faces in the room, the urge to mock subsided and I was just spurred on to do better. This feeling was only reinforced when Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor, delivered an impassioned speech, urging us to strengthen the framework which is barely keeping the ICC in place. He left us with words of profound importance, “Remember you humanity, and forget everything else. Law is better than war.”
Have you ever felt like you could conquer everything? Because in that moment, everyone in the hall did not just want to win the coveted championship title but wanted to contribute to the international community. My love for international law has only grown from my first year but it not was not before this moot that I ever seriously considered associating myself with the field. Getting through each round was tasking but reassuring that students from across the world felt so strongly about justice (be it for the victim or perpetrator or a combination of both). It dulled the voices that had told me that law and justice did not exist on the same plane. I dreaded turning on my laptop to finally close all tabs after we did not make it past the quarter finals. However, that feeling dissipated as soon as we entered the grand structure that was the International Criminal Court. All of the accumulated research did not come to an end with our stint at The Hague. I still sit down every single day trying to plug the loopholes in our arguments or (unrealistically) the Rome Statute because honestly, both of these things could use more work.
This moot changed my perspective in a lot of ways and perhaps the most important thing I took away was that it was important to direct your energy towards making an actual difference. Hence, aside from the short term satisfaction of having exceeded our own expectations in terms of performance, it reinvigorated my sense of purpose.
Lesson 4: There is no substitute for hard work (I needn’t elaborate on this because we got where ever we did because we measured our words, not the hours of work.)
I think it is time for me to conclude my ramblings with the sincere hope that everyone who decides to moot finds themselves overwhelmed with its returns the way I was with ICC.
That novel-esque first sentence at the beginning has a lovely follow up because about an hour later, I had proved myself a soothsayer and my teammate was Best Defense Counsel. Incidentally, we only found that out standing in our favourite place in Netherlands- Albert Heijn supermarket. I celebrated the way Ben Ferencz did at the conclusion of the Einsazgruppen trials and to quote him, “I went home and I went to sleep.”
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