LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights: What our Alumni Say

27 January 2022

Eliška Mocková graduated from our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in 2019. Coming from the Czech Republic, she currently works for the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), in one of its field offices (on the photo, Eliška is the second one from the left, with HRMMU colleagues).

In parallel, she is also pursuing a PhD in international humanitarian law and international criminal law and is an IHL lawyer (reservist) in the Czech Army.

Prior to moving to Ukraine, Eliška worked as a lawyer in the UN Czech National Monitoring Mechanism (Ombudsperson’s Office), assessing the state’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

In her free time, Eliška likes playing piano, singing, running, reading and watching various series.

In this interview, she tells about the programme and how she uses the knowledge and skills acquired at the Geneva Academy in her work.

What are the Strengths of the Programme?

For me, one of the best things about the LLM is the pragmatic and practical way in which the Geneva Academy’s professors approach international law.

I obtained a law degree at a more legally conservative university in Prague, where perspectives rather differed from Geneva.

At the Geneva Academy, the law does not exist in a vacuum and for itself but is taught in its relevant social contexts, such as an armed conflict. Furthermore, the professors are open about the fact that as international law practitioners, we often do not act neutrally, as servants of the law, but to reach certain goals. Which holds true, even if the goals are good, such as to protect civilians or to promote human dignity. Lastly, the professors do not claim to have all the answers; on the contrary, they very much focus on the gaps and controversies. They do not waste time on simple things, which one can learn from books and they equip students not only with knowledge but also with practical skills. In a sense, the Geneva Academy really helps to grasp the functioning of international law.

How was Teaching?

I would like to be original, but the teaching at the Geneva Academy can really be best described as intense. It is also very personal – the professors and the teaching assistants know you and quite often help you to develop your interests beyond the curriculum, based on your own interests, for example by recommending relevant literature. They are also very open to communication. Here, it essentially does not happen that someone would ignore emails from students, or that a professor or an assistant would rush from the lecture without addressing all the questions.

Your Best Memories of the Programme?

There is plenty to choose from. It could be very easily the lectures by Professor Marco Sassòli, seminars with teaching assistants, the IHL Talks, or participation in the Jean-Pictet Competition on behalf of the Geneva Academy.

However, to be honest, my favourite memory is an evening in an unnamed pub in Geneva with my best friend I met at the Geneva Academy. We spent hours discussing legal and moral aspects of autonomous lethal weapons (LAWs) after a lecture on LAWs with Professor Sassòli on that day. After those years, we still did not come to an agreement, but we had a lot of fun. The people you will meet at the Geneva Academy will impress you, teach you and some of them will stay with you, hopefully, for the rest of your life.

What Did it Bring to your Career?

After more than two years, I still keep discovering how much I gained throughout my studies.

The LLM helped me to understand the most current international legal debates, while also building a very solid understanding of the foundations of several branches of international law. It is an advantage for any even remotely related work position. Towards the end of my studies, I was very exhausted and lost a perspective on all the benefits that the Geneva Academy gave me. With time passing by, I can appreciate it more clearly. Knowledge, skills and a deeper understanding of the world around us, the world as it is and as it could be.

Do you Use what you Learned in Class in your Work?

I do. It was so in my previous work at the Czech UN Monitoring Mechanism of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. And it is even more true at my current work for the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

Thanks to the Geneva Academy, I can orient easily in the international landscape, I understand the relevant instruments, mechanisms and their limits, the actors, and the right language of international law. All of that would be much more difficult without the Geneva Academy.

Would you Recommend It?

Yes, I would. But with a caveat.

The Geneva Academy will give you a lot, but it will also require a lot from you. Hence, make sure that you are prepared for it. It takes a lot of energy and the intensity of the programme can be demanding, especially if you do not take care of your physical and mental health, or if you have other difficulties in life.

Personally, I have struggled at the Geneva Academy with coming from a socially disadvantaged background and felt very much like an imposter because of that. I obtained a scholarship from the International Bar Association that made it possible for me to think about the Geneva Academy. However, as an EU citizen, I could only apply for a partial scholarship. Hence, I had to take a loan and lived on a very small budget. For example, I had to commute a long time from my basement room in France, came often late because of traffic issues, ate not so well and not so much, skipped a lot of opportunities to socialize, etc. When my laptop broke before the final exams, I was completely desperate. My replacement laptop, borrowed by the Graduate Institute, failed me in the middle of the IHL exam. During such an intense programme, things like this matter a great deal. On the other hand, sometimes the struggles make an experience unique and valuable. Looking backwards, I am very grateful that I have had the opportunity to go through it all.

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