Jessup: It begins now and never ends (a.k.a. ‘Moot of Moots’)

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The theme for the 2015 Compromis has been released – the Compromis will present questions of treaty interpretation and applicability in the face of changed circumstances; the propriety of counter-measures; and procedural and substantive issues raised by the secession of a province from one country and its annexation by another.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this is a direct result of what’s happening in Ukraine. That said, this promises to be one of the best Jessup problems in a while – the last two years were a disappointment. So what are the issues going to be?

The first part of the released theme talks about questions of treaty interpretation and applicability in the face of changed circumstances. This seems to be hinting at the issue of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances – a political agreement between USA, UK, Russia and Ukraine (France and China have chimed in later) that led to USA, UK and Russia assuring Ukraine that they would not threaten its territorial integrity or political independence themselves and would help it as swiftly as they can. In return, Ukraine gave up the world’s third-largest nuclear stockpile. Of course, the problem will create its own facts and provide parts of the relevant treaty (always great to moot with).

The question in my opinion will swing on the issue of whether the document is a treaty or not and whether after the performance/non-performance of a certain condition, the treaty (if it is one) is still applicable in the changed circumstances. There is substantial treaty interpretation jurisprudence, not to mention the fact that this issue of treaty interpretation and applicability has featured in previous problems. All in all, the issue should be a fairly straightforward one and an absolute delight to argue.

The second part of the theme says propriety of counter-measures. This is the wildcard. In the present, we have sanctions by various nations against Russia for its actions. The problem could play it simple and use these. Or it could complicate the type of counter-measures, for example, enter the debate of forcible counter-measures or explore procedural issues regarding counter-measures. The law on counter-measures has seen codification in the Articles on State Responsibility, however, whether some/all of it is customary in nature or not is still an unsettled question. Further, since Jessup problems limit themselves to bilateral disputes, the counter-measure in all likelihood will be one taken by one of the parties rather than their friends. This issue should test the bounds of legal creativity of teams and make them stitch together arguments from the law of counter-measures and general international law.

The last part of the theme says procedural and substantive issues raised by the secession of a province from one country and its annexation by another, read Crimea breaking away and being annexed by Russia. That’s where the easy part will end. Secession is an extremely complicated area of international law that is an amalgam of the law of self-determination, other human rights, use of force, humanitarian law, acquisition of territory, recognition of states and governments and so on. Anything can happen. This one is too hard to call and I can bet my bottom dollar that it will be even harder to pen down considering the various facets it will have and the limited words you will have (thinking of jurisdictional immunity-2012).

But if it was this easy, it wouldn’t be Jessup. The ‘moot of moots’ always has one significant internal conflict that unravels a lot of teams. The worthless ones fail at the memorial stage itself to reconcile issues. Some fall in the national rounds. Many a good team falls in the international rounds in the face of subtle and incisive questioning.

I think the conflict will arise between the first part regarding the treaty and the last part regarding secession. To take a shot in the dark, the State that argues the applicability/inapplicability of the treaty will also need to rely on the treaty to oppose/support the secession.

Personally, I wish I had another year in college. This is the problem to grapple with. Are LLM’s allowed to participate? Jokes aside, anyone who considers themselves worthy and is also objectively so (not just because your friends, mom, dad, and roommate think so) should go for it. Jessup is an experience not to be missed. The moot, the teams, the perks, the judges, the glory, and all aside, Washington D.C. has Potbelly. A sandwich chain so good that it makes any other sandwich you’ve ever had seem like garbage. Shakes so thick, they’re literally ice-cream. And hey, if you don’t like the sandwich, you’re still in D.C. representing your college and country, competing with the best, and learning more than you’d ever learn about these issues just reading the newspaper and attending IL classes in college.

Potbelly, Washington D.C.

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