Students normally spend their summer holidays working a part time job, travelling overseas or hitting the beach.

Eve Bain and Hayden Dempsey spent their summer a little differently – researching and debating war crimes.

The Victoria University of Wellington students were chosen to represent New Zealand at the Asia Pacific regional IHL Moot Court competition, after winning the New Zealand leg of the contest last year.

The moot, held in Hong Kong in March, is a mock judicial proceeding where top law students argue cases of international humanitarian law (IHL) as though they were real court cases.

IHL, known as the ‘law of war’, protects people who are not participating in the conflict and regulates how weapons are used.

Topics discussed at this year’s moot included genocide, attacks on hospitals, and the use of autonomous weapons – what Hayden calls “killer robots”.

The issues might sound far-fetched, but are pulled from real current events. Only a few months ago, hospitals in Syria and Afghanistan were bombed, while the BBC has reported a South Korean company has designed weapons that can identify and hit a target without human intervention.

The Kiwi team was competing against the best young lawyers from Australia, Iran, India, China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

To prepare for the tough competition, Hayden and Eve spent months researching, memorising previous cases, formulating arguments and predicting counter-arguments, helped along by coaches Conor Donohue, Teja Kandarpa, Joanna Mossop and Associate Professor Alberto Costi.

Often, this meant spending their summer days researching, sometimes until 11pm. Eve even started dreaming about the cases, waking up still debating the legal definition of inducing genocide.

However, despite the hard work involved, the two thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the event.

The confidence, practical experience and knowledge, along with future career opportunities, gained through the moot were priceless, Eve says.

“I feel more confident in my ability to research. I know I can teach myself something and debate it if I need to.

“I think it’s changed my life. So many opportunities come from it.”

It was also valuable meeting other young people with similar interests and career aspirations, she says.

Red Cross helps raise awareness of IHL and humanitarian principles through campaigns and educational programmes. The annual Moot Court competition is part of this work.

Eve and Hayden believe it’s important to raise awareness about IHL, and hope to inspire other young lawyers to get involved in the field.

“I think there’s more at stake than, say, contract law. With contract law, you might lose a contract, but with IHL, there’s people losing lives,” Hayden says.

New Zealand IHL moot court competition

Together with ICRC, New Zealand Red Cross held the fourth New Zealand International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Moot Court Competition in Wellington in December 2015. It will take place again in late 2016.

Please contact your law school to find out how you can represent your university in 2016. For further information about eligibility and details about the competition, contact ihl@redcross.org.nz.