This past March, Daniel Rodriguez travelled to Jordan and Hong Kong to serve as an instructor and a coach training teams in preparation for the annual William C. Vis International Arbitration Moot. For the past two years, Daniel, along with his co-coach Matt Brown, associate counsel for the Institute of International Banking Law and Practice, have volunteered to coach teams from Afghanistan to compete in this competition, often referred to as the “World Cup” of international commercial law.
During the inaugural year of the Afghan training program, Daniel and Matt coached just one team comprised of four law students from Kabul University. This year, three of those students, Duniya Stanikzai, Rohila Burhanzoi, and Nabila Barmaki returned to help coach the now expanded group of students representing Afghanistan. The program has now expanded to twenty students from three Afghan universities: Kabul University, Kardan University and American University of Afghanistan (AUAF).

The Vis Moot “problem” typically addresses one main procedural issue and one main substantive issue. This year the substantive issue dealt with letter of credit law and avoidance principles under the UN Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG). The procedural issue focused on the particular mechanics of emergency arbitration and other interim relief under the UNCITRAL Model Law and the rules of The ICC International Court of Arbitration.

On The Road To Hong Kong – Training And Practice In The Middle East

In preparing for the main competition in Hong Kong, which would include over 100 other teams from around the world, the three Afghan teams first traveled to Amman, Jordan to participate in a three day training workshop, followed by a two day “pre-moot,” a practice competition among the teams. Students from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Tunisia, Kuwait, Qatar, and Jordan all participated in the five day program organized by the United States Department of Commerce and sponsored by the Bahrain Chamber of Dispute Resolution.

Daniel, Matt, and Janet Checkley, a fellow attorney/consultant, led the three day training workshop for over fifty students. During this time they addressed questions regarding the substantive and procedural issues, and taught effective oral advocacy skills and techniques.

During the pre-moot competition, AUAF advanced to the semi-final round, only to be eliminated by the eventual pre-moot champion, Dar-al-Hekma from Saudi Arabia.

Competing And Learning In Hong Kong

While the other teams from the Middle East Pre-Moot competed in the Vienna arm of the competition, the three Afghan teams all travelled to Hong Kong to compete in the Vis Moot East.
Daniel and Matt accompanied the Afghan teams to continue coaching them as each team competed in four general rounds, facing teams from Russia, Australia, The United States, Japan and India, as well as many other countries.

While in Hong Kong, Daniel and Matt also served as arbitrator-judges for several rounds of the competition alongside practicing arbitrators from around the world.

As part of the competition, panels and talks were organized in the evenings to discuss various aspects of international arbitration law, with one highlight being a “Tea House Debate” over the utility/desirability of emergency arbitration. These events provided a unique opportunity for practitioners and arbitrators from around the world to frankly discuss and debate some of the novel issues currently facing the international arbitration community.

A View To The Future

The true goal of the Vis Moot is to provide a hands-on education in matters of arbitration and international commercial law, as well as to provide a forum for members of the international legal community to share ideas and perspectives on the law. In this regard, the Afghan involvement in the competition was a rousing success. That success can be measured by the fact that there are now twenty-four future (and current) Afghan attorneys who have all had the opportunity not only to explore the workings of international arbitration, but also to gain experience analyzing and employing international law to resolve a commercial dispute: experience that is especially desirable as Afghanistan seeks to rebuild itself after decades of war and conflict.

The goals for the Afghan Vis Program going forward include possible expansion to other universities in Afghanistan, with this year’s competitors stepping up to help coach and organize those teams for next year’s competition.

Worth noting is that three of the students from this year’s AUAF team will be attending schools in the United States this fall to work toward receiving L.L.M. degrees in international arbitration. Those schools include Fordham University, Columbia University, and the University of the Pacific.

As to the three women who competed last year and coached this year, all three have had multiple job opportunities in Afghanistan as a result of their experience in the Vis: Duniya will be working as counsel for the newly formed Afghan Chamber of Dispute Resolution (ACDR); Nabila will be working in the office of the President of Afghanistan; and Rohila is working with USAID/FAIDA at the Ministry of Womens Affairs and has been offered a scholarship to seek an L.L.M. in international arbitration from the Swiss International Law School.

A recent documentary film “Afghan Dreams,” which explores the path of that first Kabul University Vis Moot team has recently been featured at the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals.