Monday, April 11, 2005

Coming full circle in Washington DC

Ah, Washington when the cherry blossom is in bloom: when it can be a sunny balmy 21 degrees one day and belting with rain the next.

My time in DC (I got back on Wednesday) was something of a homecoming. The last time I was there, nearly a decade ago, I was a law student competing in the Jessup International Law moot. It was an astonishingly stressful week, but which culminated in my team reaching the grand final. Presenting arguments before the Whewell Professor of International Law at Cambridge (now my supervisor), a judge of the International Court of Justice and a prosecutor from the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal was exhilarating. We lost to the State University of Mexico, but managed to walk away with a number of prizes other than the runners-up trophy.

I had never studied international law before the gruelling four months of my life that the Jessup moot eventually consumed. Part of the thrill of even being at the international rounds was that they were held in conjunction with the American Society of International Law conference – the academic conference in the field. People you though of as names on a textbook were all there, milling about, talking.

So, returning to go to the ASIL conference as a PhD student from Cambridge was accompanied by an odd, quiet sense of having come full circle. I wasn’t at all hyped about the Jessup dimension to proceedings until a Canadian friend and fellow Cambridge-Phud type convinced me to go see the final. Not only had she done the international rounds of the Jessup the same year as me, but the problem this year overlapped with both our research interests (the law of the sea, piracy, terrorism and State responsibility).

When we arrived, we wound up watching the final in an overflow room on a giant screen: the big advantage of this being we got an extremely good view of the advocates and close-ups on the judges during questions. What really got me though, was the grand final was an Australian (UQ) against a Malaysian team. There was a strong sense of déjà vu, as I and the Canadian sat and muttered and twitched and whispered comments on points of law to each other. We left satisfied as to which team had won, and decided to look up the result on the web later.

Curiously, I also wound up staying in much the same district, Adams Morgan near Dupont Circle, as I had last time I was in DC. Not a lot appeared to have changed, but with my “native” (Belgian and Australian) guides to the city, the night life was certainly a lot more interesting. But more of that later.

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