LLM Pleadings on Gaza: Applying IHL to Real-Life Situations

3 May 2022

As every year and in the framework of the core course on international humanitarian law (IHL) given by Professor Marco Sassòli, 20 students of our LLM in IHL and Human Rights – half of the class – pleaded during the entire day of 30 April on the 2014 armed conflict in and around Gaza, arguing that the side they represented – Israel or Palestine – has respected IHL while the adverse side has violated it.

Preparing Students to Practice IHL as Professionals

This exercise allows students to take the law out of IHL textbooks and apply it to real-life situations. It also prepares them to practice IHL as professionals and trains them in delivering convincing submissions before domestic and international courts as international lawyers.

‘This is a challenging task as not all situations fall freely within the legal dichotomies in existing IHL treaties. Students showed their creative thinking to apply IHL norms skillfully and strategically in favour of their clients, and improved their oral advocacy and team-working skills’ explains Revaz Tkemaladze, Teaching Assistant at the Geneva Academy and a doctoral student at the University of Geneva.

‘The pleading exercise pushes students to look at different issues with a critical eye by weighting the strengths and weaknesses of each argument and sensitising them to the opposing points of view. In order to perform successfully, students have to master not only the law but also the historical context. They, therefore, confronted a plethora of literature available on their respective topics and delivered a very convincing performance. I am sure that many of them will become successful legal advocates’ he adds.

Interested LLM students who were not pleading had the possibility to watch their peers and improve their understanding of the legal issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Focus on the 2014 Armed Conflict in and Around Gaza

The exercise focused on the July-August 2014 armed conflict in and around Gaza, which took place in the context of 'Operation Protective Edge' launched by Israel, claimed many civilian victims and gave rise to numerous mutual accusations of violations of IHL.

In 2015, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry made its findings on violations of IHL and human rights committed in this conflict public and the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided to proceed with an investigation into that situation and a Pre-Trial Chamber confirmed that the Court had the necessary jurisdiction.

In front of a jury composed of Professor Marco Sassòli, Professor Robert Roth from the University of Geneva and Revaz Tkemaladze, teams of two students pleaded on:

  • The classification of the conflict, of Gaza as an occupied territory and the applicable law
  • The blockade of Gaza and Israel’s obligations concerning humanitarian needs
  • The targeting of persons and objects and weapons used
  • Proportionality and precautions in attacks
  • Potential war crimes and the interplay between the crime against humanity of apartheid and the law of occupation in the proceedings before the ICC.
LLM students during the pleadings on Gaza

‘The students could neither choose their partner nor the side they were representing or the issue they were pleading about. This is often so in professional life – and it adds to the challenge – but the students perfectly lived up with it’ explains Professor Sassòli.

‘All pleadings were good, many were very good, and some were really excellent! It is interesting to note that some students who were weaker in written assignments were excellent and vice-versa. Students showed that they mastered the law and facts, their arguments were very convincing and they coordinated very well their interventions. Despite all the emotions linked to the context of Israel and Palestine, the presentations remained always nuanced, professional and respectful of the adverse party’ he adds.

Upcoming Pleading on South Ossetia

In three weeks, the other half of the LLM class will plead according to the same formula in favour of Russia and Georgia concerning the 2008 South Ossetia armed conflict.

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