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First World Human Rights Moot Court argues against discrimination

Twenty students from around the world competed Wednesday in the final round of the first ever World Human Rights Moot Court in Pretoria, South Africa. The competition was organized by the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria with the support of the UN Human Rights office.

The panel of judges on the Moot Court included the Human Rights High Commissioner and other eminent jurists - © Yolanda BooyzenDiscrimination lies at the root of many of the world’s most pressing human rights issues and no country is immune from it.

Students at the Moot Court were asked to argue a fictional case on the principle of non-discrimination. Verdicts were then delivered by a panel of high level judges from international tribunals and regional human rights bodies.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay who presided over the moot said: “More than pure aspirations, human rights are real rights that can be tested in a court of law. The World Human Rights Moot Court Competition is an exciting way for students from around the world to deepen their knowledge of rights and learn from each other.”

The event was organized as part of Human Rights Day commemorations. Each year, the human rights community celebrates the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris on 10 December 1948. This year’s theme of non-discrimination is encapsulated in the slogan “Embrace diversity, end discrimination”.

Discrimination is commonly defined as any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

The Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria has a long-standing history of organizing regional moot courts. However, this was the first global moot court competition ever organized. “We are delighted by how many teams are participating this year, and many more indicated that they want to be part of it in the future. We are confident that the World Human Rights Moot will become an annual institution. It is a playful way to put some very serious issues on the table and to introduce a new generation of leaders to the dynamic nature of the human rights project”, said Christof Heyns, the Centre’s Dean.

Some 45 universities entered the competition and 10, two from each of the world’s regions, made it to the finals. A winner for each region was designated but there was no overall winner. Jonas Hertner of the University of Lucerne Law faculty, Switzerland, the winning team for Western Europe said: "I found it very interesting to meet so many young students interested in human rights work, and arguing their case so passionately... The judges came up with really difficult questions... It was interesting having such high-ranking people acting as the judges... It was stimulating to try and get the most important arguments across in 10 minutes."

Other winners included the American University in Cairo, Egypt, for Africa, the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo, Brazil, for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Institute of International Relations of Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University, Ukraine, for Eastern Europe and the National Law School of India University for Asia.

"The World Human Rights Moot Court Competition brings together students and universities and judges from around the world in an effort not only to understand how established human rights norm apply to them, but also to develop in a collective way the human rights norms of the future. This is what universality is all about, it is a combined effort”, Christof Heyns said.

Sitting on the Moot bench were High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay; Justice Arthur Chaskalson, first President of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and former Chief Justice of South Africa; Advocate Olajobi Makinwa, Head of the Transparency and Anti-Corruption Initiatives at the UN Global Compact; Justice Pius Nkonzo Langa, former Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; David Johnson, human rights expert and former Regional Representative for South Africa for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; Professor Michelo Hansungule, Professor of human rights law at the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria; Nicole Lewis, a law graduate from the University of Pretoria; Okyerebea Ampofo-Anti, a law graduate from the University of Pretoria and George William Mugwanya, a Senior Appeals Counsel at the Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

10 December, 2009