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Sumida: “Law is Not Just Laws”

Fletcher students make their mark in international law competitions.
Left to right: Sasha Lansky, Tracy Harp, Kudrat Chaudhary, and Nourhan Tomoum

Stories of students at The Fletcher School regularly stretching beyond the requirements of their degree programs to pursue their passions and develop new skills are not uncommon, but this is one is particularly notable given that none of these students is in Fletcher’s law program. This semester, Fletcher students rebooted the school’s representation at two international law competitions: The Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court competition run by the International Law Student Association, and the Model International Criminal Court (MICC) simulation.  

Jessup is the world’s largest and oldest moot court competition and draws participants from over 680 law schools in 100 countries. For Fletcher students, it’s a unique opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of international law against students who are pursuing traditional law degrees. 

“It was pretty validating to just go up against law schools, regardless of how we ultimately did,” said Fletcher team member Ryan Fletcher (F19) (no relation to the school’s namesake). “Just to be able to compete against people who are actually getting J.D.’s was pretty reaffirming.”

The Jessup team displaying award with Professor John Creole
Left to right: Joshua Boyce, Hiroki Sumida, Alexander Henrie, Caroline Armstrong-Hall, Ryan Fletcher, Professor Cerone

The Jessup has been held every year since 1960 and is a simulation of the international court of justice. While The Fletcher School has a deep-rooted history with Jessup, Fletcher students had not participated since 2012. “It’s exciting to resurrect something that had been out of practice for a while,” said Fletcher. “It was kind of fun to be able to put [our school] back on the map.” 

All teams are given a fact pattern outlining a fictitious dispute between two states. For 2019, the dispute involved a pharmaceutical company that was culling a migratory species of yak to extract a desirable enzyme and profiting from drug sales but to the detriment of people in a neighboring state, who relied on the yak for religious and cultural practices.    

This year’s Fletcher team included two coaches, Caroline Armstrong-Hall (F20) and Hiroki Sumida (F19) who, along with competitors Ryan Fletcher, Josh Boyce, and Alex Henrie (all F19), are all MALD candidates. Despite having only three team members (meaning one orator was required to argue both sides), Fletcher advanced to the quarter-finals at the mid-Atlantic regional competition hosted by American University in Washington, D.C. In addition, Alex Henrie was awarded third place for best orator.   

“On the whole, I believe we had the best legal arguments precisely because we are a school that specializes in international law,” said Armstrong-Hall who competed in the Jessup in 2015 while in law school in the U.K. “By virtue of all these practice rounds with professors Cerone, Hannum, and Dannenbaum, I think the team really got into the nitty gritty of all the tricky issues. But then you’re up against students who have been studying law for three years and have been learning about oral rhetoric, so that was one challenge.”

In addition to coaching the Jessup team, Hiroki Sumida is part of the leadership of Fletcher's International Law Society. “Our knowledge of international law is more in depth than other law schools,” he said. “Learning law in relation to politics or economics or other subjects of international relations gives you a deeper understanding of law. Because law is not just laws. Law works in the real world.”

“It truly was a life-changing experience. Jessup made me realize I actually liked law,” said Armstrong-Hall. While their preparation for the competition was short, all team members remarked on the support they had from Fletcher professors and fellow students. “It just made me realize how much I take for granted having world renowned international law academics and practitioners here to just casually stop by for practice sessions,” said Fletcher. 

The team hopes the momentum will continue and that The Fletcher School will be represented at future Jessup Moot Court competitions.  

Switching gears just slightly but focusing on another opportunity for practical experience, in early April four Fletcher students flew to Poland to take part in the Model International Criminal Court, a Model U.N.-style simulation. 

Since 2005, MICC has been working to teach the core principles of the International Criminal Court to high school and university students, and strengthen human rights education. The Fletcher School was represented by 2019 LL.M. candidates, Tracy Harp, Nourhan Tomoum, and Kudrat Dutta Chaudhary, as well as by 2019 MALD candidate, Sasha Lansky.  

“This experience was absolutely wonderful,” said Tracy Harp. “International criminal law is a very complex, challenging area of law, and while it has elements that are similar to domestic criminal law, the crimes themselves are unique, and the modes of commission – how you can be blamed – as well as the procedural structure of the court, make it a bit of a challenge.”

Kudrat Dutta Chaudhary was appointed the presiding judge in one simulation. The exercise involved liability around autonomous weapons in the event of a malfunction. For Chaudhary, “it was intense and the judge’s training was tailored to equip us to fulfill our responsibility well. We were expected to know the case from both the sides; as a lawyer it took some time to switch from a biased mode to a completely neutral one.”

Each MICC session includes a series of trainings, discussions and workshops leading up to the trial simulation. Students come from all over the world and are divided into four teams: prosecution, defense, judges, and media. They all work together using English as the common language. “The young people who were at this MICC are truly those who will be changing the world,” said Harp, who was a member of the prosecution team. “Not just in the realm of international criminal law, but also human rights law, international humanitarian law, and comparative international law.  Seeing many different types of law represented (common law, civil law, etc.) is critical if one would like to work in a truly international organization, even if it is not ‘the law’ that you practice.”   

For more information about the Jessup and MICC opportunities, please visit Fletcher’s Master of Laws in International Law page.