St. Thomas University students take home top prize in international law competition

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WATCH: Students from St. Thomas University have won the top prize in the Nelson Mandela Word Human Rights Moot Court Competition in Geneva, Switzerland. Global’s Adrienne South reports – Jul 24, 2017

Two students from St. Thomas University have won the “Olympic Games of Human Rights” at an international law competition in Switzerland.

Abbie LeBlanc and Navy Vezina are the first Canadians to compete in the Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Competition, and won it all, despite having no formal law education.

“It’s kind of only settling in now like we actually won the competition and it’s kind of a big deal,” said LeBlanc.

“The whole moment felt like it was in slow motion,” said Vezina.  “I was so happy, I was so proud.  Abbie and I just kind of gasped… it was a crazy feeling.”

LeBlanc and Vezina attend St. Thomas University and are currently working on their undergraduate degrees.  Despite there being no law program at the university, they said that they taught themselves international law.

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“This is a predominately self-taught project,” said Vezina.

The pair are part of the university’s Moot Court club and said they were part of a team of six who worked on a written submission starting in January. They found out in June they were in the top 25 in the world and would be heading to Geneva, Switzerland.

“We had three weeks to get it all together and then head to Geneva to compete,” said Vezina.

The pair had to compete against students from Oxford and Yale Law schools and both agreed the experience was “nerve wracking” and rewarding.

“What kind of shook me was not when we actually won, but when we found out we qualified for the finals because we knew when they announced it that they had a rule that the two finalists couldn’t be from the same UN region,” said LeBlanc.

With the region encompassing the United States, western Europe and Australia.

LeBlanc and Vezina said they reached out to the school’s director of the Human Rights Department once they found out they had made it to the next step of the competition in Switzerland.

The director, Dr. Amanda DiPaolo, who also heads the Moot Court program, said she’s extremely proud of the pair, and the entire team which includes Emily Williams, Brianna Matchett, Camille Xacier and Emma Walsh.

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“It’s hard to put it into words actually because I’m so proud of them,” said DiPaolo.

She said more than 100 schools submitted briefs and it’s a “very big deal” that the team was able to go.

“Most of these kids were in their final three years of their law programs, and to finish ahead of Oxford University and to go head-to-head against Yale Law School and to completely demolish their arguments, it’s something that I will never forget as a professor watching my students be able to teach themselves that sort of law and to go in there and to perform at such a high level,” said DiPaolo.

LeBlanc and Vezina won the final round against third year law students from the University of Buenos Aires. They each won a scholarship to the human rights implementation at Switzerland’s University of Lucerne for next summer.

The pair says they will now focus on getting ready to compete with STU’s American Moot Court team in the fall.


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