Dear MUNers, welcome to the last Fridays with MUNPlanet for the month of October. Our guest today is Benjamin Samson, a consultant in public international law from France who has been working on cases before the International Court of Justice, International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and various arbitral tribunals. Benjamin participated in several MUNs, as delegate, before going for a professional career in international law and a PhD in the subject. We talked to Benjamin about his understanding of MUNs, their importance for education and career, before pondering on the state of international law and international relations.
MUNPlanet: Benjamin, tell us something about your life path, and how you dived into the world of MUNs.
Benjamin: Hell of a question! Long story short: I am a 30 year-old lawyer. After my Master 2 (the French equivalent of an LL.M.) at University of Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, I worked for a year for a law firm which deals with sovereign debt cases. Then I started a Ph.D. at University of Nanterre in the field of international investment arbitration, which I’m still pursuing. Along my doctoral studies, I have worked and am still working on several cases before the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea as well as various Arbitral Tribunals. Just like Onur Sonat, who recently gave an interview on MUNPlanet, I can say that my “career” has been on the rise ever since my first Model UN in 2008.
The quickest answer to that question is: by chance! It was in 2008. A classmate forwarded an e-mail a few days before the deadline to apply to the 2008 edition of the Belgrade International Model United Nations (by far the best edition). I had never heard of Model UN and my English was not very good at that time but, nevertheless, I decided to apply. And about a week later I received a positive answer from you Marko, if my recollection is correct. The BIMUNexperience was so good that I decided to apply, together with other BIMUN participants, to EuroMUN which was held in Maastricht two or three weeks later.
In reality, I had a very short MUN career. Being a lawyer, I quickly turned to moot court competitions such as the Jessup Competition. This is a rather different type of competition, particularly in terms of preparation, but moot court competitions should – and sometimes are – incorporated in MUNs (see TEIMUN or PIMUN for instance).
MUNPlanet: Given your experience as delegate – what would be your most important takeaways from MUNs?
Benjamin: I see two main takeaways. First, MUNs are great opportunities to develop both your knowledge of the United Nations system and your oral skills.
MUNs force you to engage in quite intensive debates with your fellow delegates and to be very reactive in order to push forward the interests of the States you’re representing.
However, to defend efficiently your State’s interests requires some preparation. This preparation enables you to get acquainted with both the legal and political aspects the UN system. First, you need to identify the position and alliances of the State you’re representing on the issue considered during the conference. During the preparation of BIMUN 2008, I met with someone at the Embassy of the Republic of India in Paris which I represented in the General Assembly and discussed with that person the position of India on the revitalization of the role of the General Assembly.
Second, you need to become very familiar with the rules of procedure of the body you’re acting in. They’re often considered unimportant or boring. However, rules of procedure are fundamental and raising a relevant point of procedure may prove tactically very helpful during a debate.
This is equally true for drafting rules. UN language is very specific and every word has a particular political and legal meaning.
The second is more personal but no less important. I met some great people with whom I’m still friends, even though we all walked different paths. As recent as last month, we had a small BIMUN reunion with Sanja Tepavcevic in The Hague.
MUNPlanet: What is special about education at Sorbonne and University Paris Ouest Nanterre where you are currently pursuing your PhD? Can we say there is a special French legal tradition?
Benjamin: The best asset of legal education in France is the broad legal culture it offers. In five years, you cover about 30 branches of law from family law to public international law. Let’s be honest, studying security law or family law has not been the most fascinating part of my education. However, today, looking backward, I believe that it was tremendously important. A broad legal culture feeds your reflection and your imagination. Both are, in my opinion, the most important skills of a good lawyer. And, as Jean Giraudoux wrote, “le droit est laplus puissante école de l'imagination” (“Law is the most power school of imagination”).
I currently deal with international investment arbitration and it requires knowledge of public and private international law as well as public and private law in general. The basics acquired during my legal education proved useful to start my research.
In the same vein, I welcome the decision of the Professors and PhD candidates of private international law of University Paris Ouest Nanterre to join the Centre de Droit International de Nanterre (CEDIN), where I pursue my PhD and which was almost exclusively composed of public international lawyers. I now have many more opportunities to engage in very helpful discussions with private international lawyers.
However, the French legal education system needs to develop links with law firms, international organizations and private corporations. I respectfully think that too many professors, lecturers or teaching assistants have no or little professional experience. Such experience would undoubtedly enrich their teaching.
In this respect, I consider myself lucky to pursue a PhD at University Paris Ouest Nanterre. Many of the public international law professors are also practitioners. I’ve been given the chance to work with Pr. Alain Pellet (my Ph.D. supervisor), who is one the very top lawyer in the field of public international law and, with Pr. James Crawford, the best-known Counsel before the International Court of Justice. My work has considerably nourished my reflection.
MUNPlanet: You spent some decent time in The Hague as part of legal teams working on several international cases, e.g. Peru v. Chile, Costa Rica v. Nicaragua or Nicaragua v. Colombia. Does your MUN experience anyhow relate to the real-life courtroom and research?
Benjamin: Not directly, as far as I’m concerned. I studied the UN system during the preparation of MUNs, I learned the UN language and to research UN documents. This has proved useful for my work.
However, I never participated in a MUN which included the ICJ in the committees. As I said, several MUNs offer the opportunity to participate in a mini moot ICJ competition. These MUNs are more attractive for law students because there is a growing demand for these moot competitions among our students.
MUNPlanet: Maritime disputes seems to be among the leading security concerns – just think of the South China Sea. What is your take on those after working on cases before the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea?
Benjamin: Basically, the South China Sea disputes are “classic” cases of maritime delimitations. Several States claim the same maritime area, the South China Sea (map of the different claims). So far, negotiations have proved inefficient to settle these maritime delimitation disputes. The other main dispute settlement mechanism is the recourse to international courts of tribunals. The Republic of the Philippines has recently instituted arbitral proceedings against China under Annex VII of the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea (The Republic of the Philippines v. The People's Republic of China). However, China has refused to participate in these proceedings so far. China’s refusal to participate does not preclude the Arbitral Tribunal to render an Award but it sends a terrible message concerning the effectiveness of international law and its power to peacefully settle disputes. Moreover, this does not augur well for the future implementation of the Award.
For further information on the South China Sea dispute, see the debate map prepared by Oxford University Press...
[TO BE CONTINUED]
Next week we bring you the second part of the interview with Benjamin, on international legal order and MUNers in the world of law and order: "MUNers should realize that their future careers will be based on luck, which they can “provoke” by working hard, and their ability to learn from their failures, adapt and seize every single opportunity offered."
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An MUNer Who's Become a Leading UN Scholar - A Special Interview with Prof. Ian Hurd
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The First World War Centenary - A Special Interview With Prof. Christopher Clark
The First World War Centenary - A Special Interview with Miguel Angel Moratinos
Bret Stephens about The Great War, Great Journalism and Great Mindset
- "MUNs are the beginning of a long journey to making a positive contribution to the world"An MUN Sage From Istanbul - Onur Sonat On Bridges In Life and Career
Cover Image: Benjamin Samson, private archive