Camille Xavier, Emily Williams, Chief Judge of South Africa Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, and Emma Walsh (photo courtesy of the Centre for Human Rights)
For the second consecutive year, students from St. Thomas University were among the best at the Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Emily Williams, a fourth-year student from Halifax, NS, and Camille Xavier, a fourth-year student from Calgary, AB, finished second at the international competition, falling to Buenos Aires University in the final round.

“It feels great to finish second. I’m incredibly proud of the both of us,” Williams said. “We worked hard to prepare and we’re glad it paid off. It’s incredible that STU has been in the final for two years in a row.”

Last year, students Abbie LeBlanc and Navy Vezina were crowned champions at the event after defeating Buenos Aires University in the final round.

This year’s STU team, including coach and fellow student Emma Walsh, faced high-level competition on route to the final. In the pre-final round they took on universities from Kenya and Brazil, the University of Lucerne from Switzerland, and the University of New South Wales from Australia. After finishing as one of the top four teams, the STU duo edged India’s Army Institute of Law to earn their place in the final.

Both Williams and Xavier noted the most challenging aspect of the competition wasn’t their opponents or the quick turnaround between rounds, but managing their interaction with the judges.

“The most challenging aspect was anticipating what sorts of questions the judges would ask, and how best to answer them while still communicating the content of our arguments,” Xavier said.

In rising up to that challenge, it was skills learned at STU—in the classroom and in competing in the American Moot Court Association—that gave them an upper hand.

"The ability to think about issues in different ways and critical thinking were the most beneficial,” Williams said. “I found this skill helpful when engaging with judges questions, and I believe this helped set us apart from the other competitors.”

Williams, who is studying Criminology and Human Rights, was also named one of the top five oralists at the event.

“I had a personal goal to be in the top five speakers and I’m incredibly proud to have achieved my goal,” she said.

Experiencing Geneva, being at the United Nations human rights headquarters, and hearing from those working in the field of human rights was a bonus for the STU group, as was the affirmation of their desire to pursue law.
 
“This experience has reinforced my desire to be a lawyer and advocate. It was marvelous to meet students from around the world who are passionate about international law and human rights,” Xavier said.

“I was inspired by the conferences we had during the competition,” Williams added. “My biggest takeaway from the experience is that I truly want to be a lawyer after I graduate.”

The STU moot court experience has been made possible, in large part, thanks to a generous donation from Frank and Julie McKenna to create an endowment fund in the name of McKenna's longtime assistant Ruth McCrea.