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MDX Law PhD student achieves a flawless online viva

Examiner says the thesis, on terror as a war crime under international humanitarian law, is "a clear and valuable contribution to knowledge... in a way that is a real page turner"

A MDX PhD student sat a flawless viva oral exam online, without any corrections requested by her examiners, soon after the start of the national lockdown.

Qurat ul-Ain’s thesis investigated the status of “terror” as a war crime under international humanitarian law. She had previously taken a first degree in Law in Pakistan, and a Masters in International Business Law at MDX.

She used Zoom for the viva, with Skype as a back-up. The internal examiner was MDX Law Lecturer Dr Cathal Doyle, the external examiner was international human rights law academic Dr Michael Kearney, formerly of the University of Sussex and now based in Cork, and MDX Law PhD programme leader Dr Alice Donald chaired the panel.

“I was very anxious as all the preparation [up to this point] was in person,” Qurat says. “I was not sure how long it would take. But everyone was so nice and kind”.

Qurat explains the background to her thesis is that in additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions, two articles prohibit “acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population”. But despite “terror” being confirmed as an international crime in customary law by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, it was not included in the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court (ICC). Qurat’s thesis explores the reasons for this, and puts forward an argument for extending the ICC’s jurisdiction to include the crime of “terror”.

She is now hoping to publish her thesis, on the recommendation of her tutors. Her interest in terrorism and the law comes partly from growing up in a family of teachers in a remote area of Kashmir, “where there is always a humanitarian crisis”. She’s always dreamed of working at the ICC or the UN.

Dr Cathal Doyle said the thesis makes "a clear and valuable contribution to knowledge, and does so in a way that is a real page turner". Dr Michael Kearney said "there’s a real strength in how comprehensive the thesis is", with "excellent... editing, style and structure".

MDX Associate Professor of International Law Dr Elvira Dominguez Redondo was Qurat’s PhD supervisor. Her Director of Studies, Senior Lecturer in Law Alessandra De Tommaso, declares he is “very proud” of her “outstanding” performance in the viva. In her approach to research, he says she demonstrated passion and “wonderfully sharp analytic ability" and he calls her choice of thesis subject “inspired”, since it is “the first substantive work of scholarship on the crime of ‘terror’ under international humanitarian law… I have no doubt that when published it will be cited by scholars for years to come”. Supervising her, “it was a joy to observe her growth as scholar,” he added.

After her experience studying on two degree programmes at MDX as an international student, Qurat praises the university library and her lecturers, and also MDX administrative staff for their helpfulness.

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