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UP wins Hong Kong’s mock court battle on human rights

26 July 2017

Law students from the University of the Philippines bested rivals from the National University of Singapore in the grand final. Photo from Hong Kong Unison

Law students from the University of the Philippines bested rivals from the National University of Singapore to emerge as champions in the inaugural Pan-Asian Human Rights Moot Competition held at the University of Hong Kong on June 20-30.

The event was the first international mooting competition that focused on the rights of ethnic minorities and served as a platform for law students from Asia-Pacific to debate the region’s emerging human rights norms.

Organizers HKU Centre for Comparative and Public Law and Hong Kong Unison, selected the UP group and six other teams from law schools in Australia, China, Hong

Kong and Singapore for the two-day oral rounds of the competition.

The inaugural competition focused on the education system in the fictitious state of  Serenatia, leaving teams to examine whether it contributes to the marginalization of its ethnic minorities, and in violating its international human rights obligations.

The Moots raised issues of equal access to education and the systemic racial segregation that ethnic minority children face in public schools. This put Hong Kong’s own education system under scrutiny in light of the many parallels between the city’s educational provisions for ethnic minorities and those described as prevalent in fictitious Serenatia.

The teams from UP, NUS, Singapore Management University and Peking University advanced to the semi-finals on June 29. The UP team then faced NUS in the grand final and was declared the champion after an intense competition.

UP also won for Best Memorandum (Applicant) while Peking University was awarded the prize for Best Memorandum (Respondent). Aaron Yoong from the Singapore Management University was chosen as the Best Oralist.

The arguments and questions raised by the judges centered on whether language serves as a proxy for discrimination in the education system on a prohibited ground, such as ethnicity or race.

If so, as some of the teams submitted, the implementation of Serenatia’s parallel track policy to stream students on the basis of linguistic ability into separate schools would

constitute discrimination. Pressed on whether this was direct or indirect discrimination, the teams struggled to grasp the legal complexities of the Serenatian policy.

Teams representing the Applicant argued that the Respondent state’s educational policies amounted to unlawful racial discrimination and violated the Respondent state’s own legislative provisions and international human rights treaty obligations.

These policies include admission-based disparities, segregation under the parallel track policy, and the preference given to the linguistic majorities in sitting for the dominant-language exam, which is a prerequisite to university admission.

Zervos, the chief judge for the grand final, commended the UP team for presenting with confidence and smoothness a challenging and complex case. But he expressed surprise that neither UP nor NUS replied to his question whether the policies violated the law.

Overall, based on the Moot problem, the judges expressed concerns over the potentially detrimental implications of an education system that resulted in racial segregation and effectively denied ethnic minorities the “ticket” to higher education.

Another judge in the grand final, Gladys Li, SC, encouraged the mooters to balance the facts with the law. The crux of the case, she said, is that “we are all born unequal.

We cannot change the circumstances where we are born,” and that “the reality is the education gap for the wealthy and the poor is enlarging.”

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