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Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition

Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition took place at the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland between July 15 and 20, 2018. Students from all universities in the world were invited to argue a hypothetical human rights case before a panel of top international lawyers. This year it was particularly special due to the anniversary of many milestones of human rights: Nelson Mandela Centenary 2018 which celebrated 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela, 10 years since the inception of the Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition, and 70 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Although the UDHR seems to be old or outdated, it is not.  It is everyone’s job to make sure the next generation takes up the cause and mooting is one such endeavor.

Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition was established to train law students to use various human rights systems. The competition is open to undergraduate and master’s degree students from all institutions of tertiary education in the world. Written on a cutting-edge topic currently debated, the hypothetical case operates as the basis of the competition. As an attorney representing both the respondent state and the applicant, students argue the merits of their cases by writing two memos and preparing oral pleadings in front of a panel of eminent human rights experts at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, acting as an international court of justice.

The moot involves a written round after which teams are selected for the oral round. Teams argue a hypothetical case on issues of international human rights law in either English or French as if it will be adjudicated by a hypothetical International Human Rights Court, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other applicable (such as regional) human rights instruments. A winner is announced for each United Nations world region – North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Asia, and Oceania.

The moot has been created, designed and organized by Professor Dr. Christof Heyns since its inception. Dr. Heyns teaches human rights law at the University of Pretoria and is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. He also teaches human rights law in the Masters’ programme at Oxford University, is an adjunct professor at the American University in Washington DC and was a visiting professor at the University of Geneva in 2016. Heyns was UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 2010 – 2016. During 2016 he chaired the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi. He holds degrees in law and philosophy from the Universities of Pretoria, the Witwatersrand, and Yale Law School. He has been a Humboldt Fellow at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg and a Fulbright Fellow at Harvard Law School.

1) You have mentioned the contest is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, what motivated the University of Pretoria to start such a renowned contest?

We saw with earlier moot competitions that we had organized that moots are a very powerful tool for human rights education. We want to make sure some of the most talented young people in the world get exposure to the UN human rights system.

2) Throughout these years, how many university students have participated? How many countries? Who stood out more?

We have been going for ten years, and there is approximately an average of 30 teams (two students per year) participating every year. Therefore, that would come across 600 students since 2008.

3) Where do you see the contest and the Centre for Human Rights within the next 5 years?

We are introducing the other UN languages. Hence, within five years from now, we hope the contest will be presented not only in English and in French, but also in Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Arabic, with simultaneous translation.

4) How do you think we can keep Nelson Mandela’s legacy alive worldwide?

The moot is one important way to keep Nelson Mandela’s legacy alive worldwide. Besides, giving the chance for students to participate in any UN language will maximize its significance.

5) In your opinion, who are other human rights advocates that are the role models for the next generations?

Few people will ever have the visibility and recognition of Nelson Mandela. However, there are many human rights defenders worldwide who, every day, push for the protection of human rights where they work.

6) What are the international organizations that support the contest?

The United Nations is the key partner, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). We also get funding from the Global Human Rights Campus, the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN in Geneva, and the South African Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva.

Nelson Mandela used to say that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” and that is exactly the objective of the Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition. This moot sheds light on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and teaches the upcoming lawyers indispensable learning lessons on the value of human rights. To check this year’s winners, click on

This blog post was written by Patricia Zanini Graca. Patricia is a first-year graduate student at Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Patricia graduated in Business Administration and she holds an MBA in Business and Marketing. Patricia is a UN Digital Representative at the Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, the Executive Director at the Journal of Diplomacy, and the director of International Affairs at the Graduate Diplomacy Council. She specializes in International Organizations and Global Negotiations & Conflict Management.

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