LLM Students Take on the Challenge of Oral Advocacy on the 2014 Armed Conflict in Gaza

5 May 2023

As every year and in the framework of our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights core course on international humanitarian law (IHL) given by Professor Marco Sassòli, half of the LLM class pleaded on 29 April on the 2014 armed conflict in and around Gaza, arguing that the side they represented – Israel or Palestine (which they could not select) – has respected IHL while the adverse side has violated it.

The other half of the LLM class who was not pleading could watch the pleadings and improve its understanding of the legal issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Focus on the 2014 Armed Conflict in and Around Gaza

The exercise focused on the July-August 2014 armed conflict in and around Gaza, which took place in the context of 'Operation Protective Edge'. Launched by Israel, this operation claimed many civilian victims and gave rise to numerous mutual accusations of violations of IHL.

In 2015, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry made its findings on violations of IHL and human rights committed in this conflict public and the International Criminal Court Prosecutor decided to proceed with an investigation into that situation and a Pre-Trial Chamber confirmed that the Court had the necessary jurisdiction.

In front of a jury – composed of Professor Marco Sassòli, Angelo Gnädinger, former Director-General and General-Delegate for the Middle East at the International Committee of the Red Cross, and our teaching assistant Revaz Tkemaladze – teams of two students, one team for Israel and one for Palestine, pleaded on:

  • The classification of the conflict, of Gaza as an occupied territory and the applicable law
  • The blockade of Gaza and Israel’s obligations concerning humanitarian needs
  • The targeting of persons and objects, and weapons used
  • Proportionality and precautions in attacks.

‘Students showed that they mastered the law and facts, their arguments were very convincing and most coordinated very well their interventions. Despite all the emotions linked to the context of Israel and Palestine, the presentations remained always nuanced, professional and respectful of the adverse party, while making the strongest possible legal arguments for Israel or Palestine respectively. Some were rhetorically powerful on the law but none was passionate about the cause. It is also remarkable to notice that those who are weaker in written assignments are sometimes the best in pleading’ underlines Professor Sassòli.

‘The pleadings were challenging in many regards. We already knew that there can be some vagueness around the law and its interpretation, but this is also true for the facts. Once I became accustomed to the factual context and the points where legal tensions existed were identified, everything became much clearer. I really enjoyed watching my classmates completely get into their roles. The questions of the jury were also very stimulating and allowed us to sharpen our analysis’ says Kheda Djanaralieva, a 2022–2023 LLM student.

Preparing Students to Practice IHL as Professionals

This pleading exercise challenges students not only to find creative ways to persuasively defend their clients but to also practice the art of advocacy. It also allows them to practice IHL as professionals and trains them in delivering convincing oral submissions before domestic and international courts as international lawyers.

‘Pleading is a challenging process where just presenting an unassailable legal argument is not enough. While I could sense the nervousness in teams during preparations, once the actual day came they handled it like professionals. Every pleading was a demonstration of how important it is that each party to an armed conflict abides by protections contained in IHL treaties. The students understood the complexities of this long conflict both in its legal and political dimensions. Some pleadings were completely independent of the script and presented with a lot of clarity and structure which was a real highlight. Overall, there is a deep sense of gratification when you witness how much the students grow in the process’ explains Revaz Tkemaladze.

‘Teamwork was essential throughout the whole procedure. My teammate and I really supplemented each other, something that facilitated the preparation and made it fun! The part that I enjoyed the most was the question section, in which we had to provide replies to complicated legal questions. It was fascinating that we were not only expected to give the technically ‘correct’ answer but the answer that would be in line with the client’s policy! And this is the most important lesson from the pleadings, being able to put aside your personal beliefs and develop arguments independently from them, as is often the case in real life’ says Ioannis Bamnios, a 2022–2023 LLM student.

Upcoming Pleading on South Ossetia

In two weeks, the other half of the class will plead according to the same formula in favour of Russia or Georgia concerning the 2008 armed conflict in Georgia.

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