LLM Students Plead on IHL Violations in Gaza and the West Bank

24 April 2024

As part of their core course on International Humanitarian Law (IHL), given by Professor Marco Sassòli, 20 students of our LLM in IHL and Human Rights took part in pleadings on 20 April on the current armed conflict in and around Gaza and the West Bank. The students were randomly assigned a side to represent – either Israel or Palestine – and were obliged to argue that their side had respected IHL while the adverse side had violated it. The choice to undertake this exercise on a current, ongoing armed conflict, was a decision voted by the students, and is the first time this has happened in this class.

Focus on Issues of Humanitarian Importance

In front of a jury composed of Professor Sassòli and teaching assistant Revaz Tkemaladze, teams of two students pleaded on:

  • The classification of the conflict, of Gaza as an occupied territory and the applicable law
  • The humanitarian needs
  • The targeting of persons and objects
  • Healthcare and deprivation of liberty
  • The humanitarian situation in the West Bank

These issues were selected to offer each side possible legal arguments, where other practices could not have been justified under international humanitarian law by the party responsible.

Preparing Students to Practice IHL as Professionals

‘This exercise challenges the students to not only think of the creative ways in which they can persuasively defend their clients, identifying the facts they need to make their legal arguments, but to also practice the art of advocacy. Presenting arguments with vigor and strength requires a combination of different skills. It also presents an opportunity to practice IHL as professionals and trains them in delivering convincing submissions before domestic and international courts as international lawyers’, noted Revaz Tkemaladze.

Professor Sassòli reflected, ‘I admired the quality of most of the arguments, but above all the fact that the students accepted to take part in this exercise in the current tense atmosphere, calmly but professionally arguing on behalf of a party to the conflict for which they do not necessarily have sympathy and which they perhaps consider responsible for the current situation. These students understood something what is rarely understood in relation to the current war: even those fighting for the best cause must respect international humanitarian law.’

Revaz Tkemaladze continued, ‘Despite the intensity of the LLM program and multitude of other assignments going on in parallel, the students showed their full dedication to this activity and excelled in their pleading presentations. The complexity of this pleading cannot be underestimated as it required understanding of both historical events and evolving situation on the ground, as well as tackling complex legal questions surrounding siege and urban warfare or interplay between the law of occupation and the law governing the conduct of hostilities. To accomplish this, they researched through the plethora of legal and factual material, such as reports, commentaries, articles, blog posts, findings of international organizations, domestic and international court decisions and parties’ actual pleadings. The submissions were well-researched and nuanced, exceeding our expectations.’

Interested LLM students who were not pleading had the possibility to watch their peers and improve their understanding of the legal issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Upcoming Pleading on South Ossetia

In mid May, the other half of the class will plead in a similar way in favor of Russia or Georgia concerning the armed conflict in Georgia in 2008.


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