Partaking in the historical journey of moving human wrongs to human rights in Africa, Stellenbosch University (SU) recently hosted the African Human Rights Moot Court Competition – the largest annual gathering in Africa for students and lecturers of law.
The competition, organised by the University of Pretoria's (UP) Centre of Human Rights (CHR), involved competing law students, referred to as 'mooters', simulate a real court situation by arguing a hypothetical human rights case related to gender-based violence (GBV), gender identity, sexual minority and children rights. The mooters delivered their arguments in front of a bench of judges and prominent jurists who interrogated them on their statements.
This year, SU's Chair of Social Justice and previous South African Public Protector, Prof Thuli Madonsela, chaired the bench of judges comprising Dr Solomon Dersso, chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, Justice Angelo Matusse, previously a judge of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, Dr Robert Nanima, a member of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and Prof Laurence Burgorgue-Larsen, a judge of the constitutional court of Andorra and lecturer in international law at the Sorbonne University in Paris.
To date, law faculties of 175 universities from 50 countries across Africa have participated. They gathered in 19 countries and proceeded with moot court cases in English, French and Portuguese.
Earlier this year, 60 teams from law faculties in Africa entered the competition and battled it out until eight teams were selected for the quarterfinals in Stellenbosch. For a second year, the competition took place in hybrid mode.
At the end of the finals, the presiding judges praised the finalists for demonstrating great skills, talent and the ability to think on their feet, especially in answering the judges' questions.
One of the four teams in the finals was SU's team, Megan Roos (final-year LLB) and Shaniaé Maharaj (second-last year BAccLLB), who finished as runners-up with the partnering team from the Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique. To read more about the SU team's achievement, click here.
The winners of the competition were the combined team of the law schools of the Félix Houphouët-Boigny University in Côte d'Ivoire and Kenyatta University in Kenya.
At the official opening, Prof Nicola Smit, Dean of SU's Faculty of Law, highlighted the Faculty's excitement to host this event in its centenary year. She also said the competition would undoubtedly contribute to participants' growth as a person. “You may even find it a little challenging, but that is what good legal education is all about, isn't it?" she said.
Along with the centenary year, the event also coincided with a momentous year for UP, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the competition and the Centre's 35th birthday.
This year's event also included the renaming of the competition to the “Christof Heyns African Human Rights Moot Court Competition". Prof Christof Heyns, a renowned human rights lawyer and founding father of the competition, passed away in March this year.
According to Prof Frans Viljoen, CHR's director, Heyns is remembered for his vision of bringing law students across the continent together that has become a reality and is going from strength to strength. Except for bringing law students together, the competition is contributing to the transformation of legal education in Africa and exposing generations of young African lawyers to the African legal human rights systems.
For this reason, winning the competition is not the primary purpose, said Viljoen. The competition has rather become an important institution for the African human rights movements. “It is our shared resolve to pursue an Africa where we move from human wrongs to human rights. The competition has inspired people to take Moot's message further in their own lives," said Viljoen.
“SU's partnership is a testament to the University's shared commitment to collaborate with human rights movements and to help develop and transform Africa's legal system and discourse," said Smit. She also emphasised that SU supports an inclusive, progressive and transformative legal culture.
In a welcoming message at the opening dinner of the event, Prof Deresh Ramjugernath, SU's Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning and Teaching, welcomed moot competitions and students' benefits from participating. “Moot competitions give students on our continent a unique opportunity to experience and learn from diverse cultures, legal systems, languages and socio-economic realities," he said.
Elaborating on the benefits, he said that they promote oral communication, the ability to think on one's feet, collaborate with others and solve problems. “I am extremely thrilled about these events where students get a real, immersive action-based and experiential learning, which equips them for the experiences in the real profession," he said.
Viljoen paid a special tribute to SU's Prof Annika Rudman, whose dedication, professionalism and adjustability as the head of the Faculty's organising committee ensured the success of the 2021 Moot Competition.