SLU LAW Students Gain Experience in International Humanitarian Law

March 23, 2015


Second-year law student Katie Burke and first-year students Ryan Alban and Ryan Reed spent months gaining unique knowledge in international law, diplomacy and conflict resolution as they prepared for and participated in the American Red Cross’ Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law Competition, held March 14-17 in Chicago.

The Clara Barton Competition is a simulation-based, experiential legal competition designed to expose rising professionals to the practice of international humanitarian law and to real world challenges facing IHL practitioners during armed conflict.

After applying in the fall, the team started preparing in earnest in January, meeting twice a week, including for four hours on Saturdays. Away from the team, they each were assigned an area of international humanitarian law to research and teach the others for the competition.

The students’ commitment to the competition – and each other – became even more obvious when they dedicated their spring break in the Vincent C. Immel Law Library studying and applying the Geneva and Hague Conventions, U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, and The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and all of its protocols.

“We had a large amount of information in front of us, but most of the time went into connecting these different sources together to form a coherent body of law,” said Reed.

Reed, who chose to attend SLU LAW partly because of the Concentration in International and Comparative Law, hopes to work with an international focus after he graduates. While an undergraduate student at Kansas State University, he spent two years on a mock trial team and credits that experience with helping him prepare for the Clara Barton Competition.

For Burke, it was her experience working as a legal assistant for an immigration attorney prior to law school that influenced her decision to join a competition team at SLU LAW. “After spending nearly two years working on daily basis with individuals who had survived armed conflicts and witnessed unimaginable atrocities, I became interested in the topic of international humanitarian law.” She hopes to work as an immigration attorney for the federal government after graduation.

In addition to the countless hours spent practicing and preparing, the team built extra camaraderie in January when they drove to Nashville to attend an IHL workshop organized by the American Red Cross. “This helped us get to know each other better as well as get a leg up on the competition,” said Alban.

Alban spent time participating in Model U.N. at Webster University, but often found himself relying on the training he received in the U.S. Army to help prepare him for the competition. He served as an active duty infantry officer in the Army's elite 10th Mountain Division from January 2011-September 2014, where he was deployed once to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He has also served as a heavy weapons platoon leader, plans officer and air operations officer.  He hopes to eventually work in the U.S. Attorney’s office.

As for the four-day competition, Alban described it as intense and jam-packed. “The simulations were realistic, and we served in many different roles applying international humanitarian law, including as press secretaries for a prime minister, prisoner of war camp commanders and ambassadors to peacekeeping negotiations. We also made a lot of friends from law schools across the United States and Canada.”

The SLU LAW team was just one of 16 teams selected through a rigorous application process. This was the first time SLU LAW participated in the competition.

“I thoroughly enjoyed coaching the students,” said their coach Ira Trako (’11), assistant director of the Center for International and Comparative Law. “I was fortunate to have a team of students who were committed to represent SLU LAW in the best light. Our students were eager to learn the laws, practice the simulations and improve their advocacy skills.”


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