Law student wins first prize in Red Cross Essay Competition

14 July 2015

University of Waikato student Shaymaa Arif won first prize in a national essay competition run by the New Zealand Red Cross / International Committee of the Red Cross. The subject was dedicated to measures available to prevent disappearances during armed conflict and to provide families with information about the fate of missing persons.

Participants were to use international humanitarian law (the law of armed conflict) which focuses and deals with international and non-international armed conflict.

Shaymaa says she has always been passionate about human rights, and adventure.

“In Year 10, I was sure I wanted to be the female version of Indiana Jones,” she says.

“But in Year 11, I joined Abu Dhabi Model United Nations and was put into the Human Rights Council representing the State of Pakistan. The topics were controversial, promoted human rights and I loved it.”

She says the essay competition seemed like the perfect opportunity to write about humanitarian law.

“The moment I stumbled upon this essay competition I knew I had to write about it. Humanitarian law is exactly what I hope to work with in the future and I have long been studying causes of international and non-international armed conflicts. I have written about the Palestine / Israel conflict since the age of 13. Many Palestinians in Israel are considered missing due to being imprisoned, but no formal acknowledgement is provided to their families. I have seen the trauma of the families wondering what has happened to their family member and believe that notifying families of the missing persons’ whereabouts is a vital step forward.

“The other issue I focused on in my essay was non-international conflict in Syria, although this could be considered international as many external forces are involved. The Syrian revolution, which is now called the 'Syrian Civil War', has more than 1,000,000 displaced persons and perhaps triple that number are considered missing.”

She says her own ancestry pushes her to strive for peace.

“I am an Iraqi Syrian with a little bit of Egyptian in me, and all my roots are going through this strife torn area and that really pushes me to try to promote peace and acknowledge breaches as much as I can.”

“My parents were extremely proud. My mother told me it wasn't even about winning but that I always had the drive and passion to write about topics that are beneficial to humanity. That really meant a lot to me.“

For winning the competition, Shaymaa was received entry to the Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law Conference in Wellington in July, along with travel and accommodation.

Shaymaa is studying a conjoint degree in Law and Social Sciences (Political Science) and is in her third year of studies.