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Courting the world

From Afghanistan to Mexico and Iran to Macao, the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition is reaching every corner of the globe.

Zahra could hardly believe she had finally made it to the Jessup International Rounds in Washington, DC, representing Tehran University. But when she heard her team announced during the opening plenary session and more than 800 students and coaches stood to applaud, it hit home. As she followed her three female teammates to the stage, proudly waving the Iranian flag, Zahra thought of the many challenges her team had faced—scarce legal resources, unfamiliar oral advocacy methods, language barriers and nightmarish travel logistics. Zahra and her team had overcome these obstacles and had become the first team to represent Iran in the Jessup Competition.


In the future, world leaders will look at each other differently for they will have first met here as friends.

In 2013, more than 85 jurisdictions were represented by 572 teams in the Jessup Competition. It is by far the world's largest moot court competition, and it continues to grow, adding teams from three to five new countries to the Jessup list each year. Jessup teams now come from every corner of the globe, and recent years have seen countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Macao, Nepal, Nigeria, Palestine, Sierra Leone and Tanzania participate for the first time.

Now in its 55th year, former Jessup competitors all over the world are serving in foreign ministries as government officials and prominent judges, practitioners and scholars. Singapore is a stellar example, where the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Attorney General, Minister of Foreign Affairs and members of the highest appellate court in the country are all former Jessup competitors.

The United States is well represented, with nearly 130 teams competing in six regional rounds, which is fitting given the Jessup's origins in 1959 as an intramural match between law students at Harvard University. Today the Russian competition is the largest single national round, with nearly 50 teams from across Russia competing, followed by China, which has more than 40 teams participating.

Professor Bruno Simma, former judge at the International Court of Justice and a judge of prior Jessup Championship Rounds, notes, "I have watched the Jessup grow since my first involvement in the early 1980s as an advisor in Germany. This growth is significant because the skills the students learn through the Jessup will make them better lawyers. But more importantly, the Jessup creates a community of people who will work in the field of international law. They will have this shared experience that can help shape who they become and how they view others."

Students in conflict zones often have to overcome severe adversity to compete in the Jessup. In 2010, students representing three universities in Afghanistan were preparing for the first Afghan national competition when their hotel was attacked. A car bomb exploded outside as terrorists burst into the hotel lobby and stormed room to room firing on people hiding under furniture and in closets, including the students. When the ordeal was over, the students unanimously decided to continue with the competition. They felt the Jessup was too important, and they believed being able to relay their experience of competing in the International Rounds in Washington, DC to their fellow Afghan students was a serious responsibility. Their courage and persistence paid off—by 2014, the Afghan national rounds had grown to 12 teams.

The Jessup has also grown in Iran since its first team in 2013—three teams competed in 2014. Each of the 2013 team members is actively involved with the development of Jessup in Iran, and although Zahra is currently pursuing her LL.M. at Harvard University, she is in touch with the new teams and helps where she can. "Participating in the Jessup was an amazing experience that taught me so much," she reflects. "I think it is important for students in Iran and all over the world to have the same wonderful opportunity."

Number of Jessup teams

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