If you have never done a Model United Nations (MUNs) conference, you might ask yourself the question whether these MUN’s everyone is talking about can actually be fun to go to. Although, this will mean that you have to do extra work in your free time, where you would rather have a relaxing holiday or work for your actual courses that you have to do?
I have been in this case and actually asked myself this question. Nevertheless, I have signed myself up, in order to fill my CV with extracurricular activities (the motivation of probably most newbies). Knowing that most of the adults, who work in the political spectrum of the European Union, repeatedly recommend MUNs, I made my way to the application form on MyMUN.
Coming to the question to which location you should go to, I could only recommend a place far away from where you have already been. Oslo was a mixture of the MUN conference and exploring the city. Because it was Oslo, I wanted to take my time to see all the interesting history and culture beforehand. Luckily, there was another person who had the same idea of exploring Oslo before the conference. Traveling with someone you didn’t know turned out to be quite an experience, helpful in adapting to a new environment and getting out of your comfort zone (a bit like the gap year feeling for 5 days again).
On the second evening, we went with the other students who came to Oslo to participate in the MUN conference. Since the price on alcohol is so immensely high everyone brought their alcohol from home, which led to funny nights at the apartment of other students from Maastricht. We went out to a bar at least once, however it turned out to be hyperinflationary expensive for everyone to have one beer.
Then, to come to the Conference itself, it was much more pompous than I expected it to be. There were numerous Committees, such as the African Union, Arctic Council and European Court of Justice. I represented the delegation of New Zealand in the United Nation Security Council, with about ten other delegates. Our chosen topic, the Yemeni crisis, created some very extensive discussion in the group of delegates. Especially the delegation of Russia, China and Egypt were very active in telling the other delegates what their opinion was about the crisis.
To conclude, I made a list of what has to be included in a successful MUN experience:
1) Find a conference at a location that you have never been
2) Travel with another person you don’t know or know very briefly
3) Take your time to see the city or new surrounding
4) Be very prepared before you go to your conferences
5) Don’t come in late or you have to dance in front of the everyone at the end
6) Be open to meet new people and make new contacts
7) Go to the socials or have a drink at a bar in the evenings
8) Come back home with a story to tell
By this point, the readers of this blog must have a basic understanding of what every MUN (Model United Nation) entails. Wild parties with crazy students, debating of the highest quality (usually) and the opportunity for students to experience an accurate simulation of political debates, where the topics are of global significance and importance. ScotMUN 2016 was all of these things and more. With the reception ceremony, the evening parties and the committees all having touches of the local Scottish and British culture, brought into the European and global context, ScotMUN was a unique, unparalleled and unforgettable experience.
Set in the beautiful Scottish capital of Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh, it can be said that the MUN was a complete success. It began on Friday, the 4th of March with an opening ceremony in the prestigious Balmoral Hotel. After a welcome speech by the Secretary General, speeches were given by Aidan O’Niell QC (Queen’s Counsel, who has litigated before the CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) and the ECtHR (European Court of Human Rights) and Catherine Stihler, who is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Scottish Labour Party. In their speeches, both guests addressed the importance of events such as this MUN, as it encourages people to learn to resolve conflicts in a peaceful and diplomatic manner, rather than resorting to force, which has often been the case throughout history, with disastrous consequences. Furthermore, both speakers noted the value of MUNs in bringing people together and uniting them for a common cause. To conclude the first evening, all students were treated to a taste of the rich Scottish culture in the form of a ceilidh, a series of traditional dances. Whilst at the beginning the delegates seemed to be all arms and legs, this soon improved and actual dancing could take place.
The first morning of actual committee sessions began in the same way most MUN mornings seem to begin. Some up bright and early and on time, others…well not. Sleepy eyes, yawns and the occasional headache where the morning story. As the delegates split up into their committees and began proceedings, the press team, which we were both part of, was quick to cover the relevant stories. With the UNSC discussing Nigeria dealing with Boko Haram, UN Women talking about female suicide bombers, and the Crisis committee being faced with a post-apocalyptic future where mankind is struggling to survive, the press team did rather have its hands full.
What made ScotMUN 2016 unique however, was the addition of a second Crisis committee, in which delegates re-created the 2015 General Election of Great Britain, which secured David Cameron a second term as Prime Minister. Such an ambitious committee had never been created before and it was a new experience for all involved. Delegates had to take on the identity of a certain politician and were then organised into their respective parties. Once familiar with their fellow party members, delegates had to work together on an arduous two-day campaign to try and secure as many seats as possible in Parliament. Overseeing their efforts were the Crisis Co-ordinators, who evaluated their efforts and created scenarios that the political parties had to deal with. As the media plays an important role in real-life elections, three members of the Press Team were assigned to exclusively cover the General Election committee. Their role was to cover all of the Parties activities, assist the co-ordinators in creating problematic scenarios and of course stoking the fires of gossip. We can honestly say that the General Elections were an extremely successful committee and can only recommend it to any MUN. It does however, take brilliant and dedicated co-ordinators.
As the evening drew ever closer, the delegates were less focused on their work and more on the prospect of a great night out at one of Edinburgh’s most famous clubs, Cabaret Voltaire. By 9 the joint was heaving and with two Crisis Co-ordinators at the turntables making sure that the music was excellent, the party was a great success. Apparently too successful for some as it turned out…
The next morning, rumours circulated and were eventually confirmed by members of the press team in the form of pictures. Apparently, some delegates had not managed to find their beds after the club night and had instead resorted to falling asleep in the university student bar. Needless to say, these individuals were not present until late into the second day.
The second day of committee sessions continued where the first had left of. Whilst some committees had concluded with one of their two topics and were now moving on, some found this slightly more difficult and did not manage to even start debating the second issue in question. Other occurrences during the second day worth mentioning included the surprising election of Kim Jong-un as the next Secretary General of the United Nations, Emma Watson being kidnapped by terrorists in UN Women and Ed Miliband being elected as Prime Minister in the General Election committee. Staying true to the reputation of political journalism, we (the press team) could not ignore and fail to report on a certain incident that occurred at Oxford University involving Prime Minister David Cameron and a poor, innocent pig. It was unfortunate, however, that this lead to his downfall; although he was lucky that the Panama papers were not published a month earlier…
ScotMUN 2016 ended on Sunday the 6th of March with a closing ceremony for all delegates in the university lecture hall. Here, the Secretary General expressed his thanks to all delegates and his pride at how successful proceedings had been. Awards were also distributed, with the UM delegation raking up two (one of those being awarded to yours truly). ScotMUN taught us the ins and outs of working as press inside the United Nations, and exposed us to its highs and lows. From the United Kingdom declaring war on France in the Security Council (“Long Live the Empire!”) to various committees performing ceilidh dances to Uptown Funk to composing the perfect witty tweet to take down UKIP, the press team faced many exciting challenges that will prepare us for political journalism in the real world. But in all seriousness, we had an amazing time in Scotland and cannot wait to participate in the next MUN. Bring on EuroMUN!
It is not only since yesterday that the world is facing crises and upheavals. However, although scholars speak about a decrease in the number of conflicts and military interventions since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, one cannot get rid of the impression that the International Community never had to focus on so many trouble spots at the same time. Daesh, refugees coming to Europe, conflicts among the EU member states, radical Islamist groups in African and Asia, economic ups and downs on every continent, climate change – the new millennium has just begun and yet it would require a wand to solve all these problems sustainably.
At the Dutch Invitational Model United Nations (DIMUN) in Leiden 2016 on 16 January, the simulation tackled these crises respectively. With students coming from all over the Netherlands, albeit Utrecht, Nijmegen, Maastricht or Leiden itself, various different viewpoints and experiences added up to some fruitful debates which were ended successfully with the adoption of three resolutions in total. The two crises committees proved to be productive in another manner: With three Heads of States killed, the Delegate of Bangladesh kidnapped and the assassination of their chair at the end, both sub-committees can claim the highest death rate of the entire conference.
Facing Terror: The “What-if” Question
I personally must say that the crisis sub-committee of the South-Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) surprised me the most. Not only was it way less formal than I had expected from my first MUN conference with merely nine people present (including the chair); also, the discussion highlighted the problems in establishing cooperation against terrorism in a fictive world where there are no rules and even the killing of Heads of States is allowed (indeed, it is highly encouraged).
Both crisis committees were dealing with the same situation: The “What-if” question. What would you do if on 10 July 2017 Europe would be shaken by various terrorist attacks in Berlin and Frankfurt, with six suicide bombers in Rome, while the high number of refugees from the Middle East where warfare is still continuing are equally pressurizing the states to react? How would the United Nations react? And, over all, could they do something?
Although all states expressed the mutual will to find a communitarian solution and to collaborate in any possible way, a satisfying answer proved hard to be formulated. What would you do if you were a Head of State of an Asian country, being faced with these major crises? Close your borders as the Head of Sri Lanka proposed? “This is not going to work”, was the quick answer of the Afghan Delegate. Sent troops to fight Daesh? But what if your country is directly located at the epicentre of the terrorists’ actions? As the Delegate of Iran explained, “ISIS is right on our doorsteps and an excessive amount of troops will not be sufficient to solve the problem”.
The Craft of Warfare
Similar hard choices were to be faced by the students who represented the states in the UN’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, called DiSec. Here, to me it was most interesting to see how the group dynamics and the size of a group can influence the structure and content of a discussion in a fundamental way. Whereas in the crisis committee the debate began rather moderate (before the shouting and killing started after the lunch break), in DiSec, the chairs’ question “Are there any countries that wish to speak?” was answered by almost everyone raising their placards, sometimes truly battling about who is allowed to speak now. As a press person, this change of pace was a true challenge, but the new dynamism also offered a completely new insight: Namely that the proverb “to write one’s fingers to the bones” can really have a literal meaning.
DiSec had a very special approach to their topic of combatting piracy on the sea: the employment of Private Military Corporations (PMCs) was highly debated. PMCs are private firms offering security services and military capabilities as well as consultation for everyone who can pay enough present a special danger to the stabilization of war-shaken regions. With them lacking any political affiliation and hence loyalty, the craft of warfare becomes driven away from the monopoly of the state, giving war a new ugly and uncontrollable face of civilian violence.
Discussions regularly arise – and have also arisen during DIMUN – as the UN are employing PMCs as well, arguing that due to the ill-equipment of international troops and a lack of experience, the contracting of PMCs presents to be alternativeless. Struggling to formulate a resolution both allowing action against piracy and circumvent the use of PMCs, debates in the DiSec committee became very intense.
Additionally the talks gathered pace when one student from Leiden slipped into the role of a BBC reporter who had just found out that the Dutch gas and oil giant Shell was employing pirates to destroy the oil riffs of its competitors. Although the chairs had to pressurize the Delegates a bit to agree on the amendments and to bring the debates to an end, a Resolution was passed which also established regional taskforce as local solution (to know more, check out our article “The Shadow of the Seas”).
The Challenge of Women’s Rights in Saudi-Arabia
I found my last visit in the UN Council on Human Rights (UNCHR) the most interesting, although time allowed me to only witness the last 45 minutes of discussion. Yet, the committee had already agreed on a Draft Resolution and was in the middle of discussing several amendments when I entered the room.
The topic of the UNCHR was both old and new: Old, because it is generally known that women are extremely limited in their rights (they are, for example, not even allowed to leave their house without a male guard). New, because the message that women could vote for the first time in December 2015 presented an entirely new background for the Delegates of the UNCHR: How could the UN help the desert monarchy in promoting women’s rights?
The final adaption of the Resolution which established – inter alia – an international organization to serve as a platform to inform women about their rights revealed a (in my opinion) major flaw in the voting procedure of the UN. With a two-thirds majority, the Resolution passed. However, the states that heavily opposed the Resolution where the very ones which are seen to be the main infringers of human rights: Saudi-Arabia, Sudan, Lebanon and Iran.
Useful? “This Resolution reads like a Wikipedia entry”, was the criticism explained by the Delegate of Iran. “This is nonsense” were the harsh words of the guy representing Sudan.
Unfortunately, I did not have the time to visit the Committee on Special Politics and Decolonization (SpecPol) where the topic of PMCs was further discussed. Hopefully I will be able to do so next year.
For those of you who never participated in a MUN, I can only recommend it. Although I have not been a delegate myself, standing up in front of people, pretending to be the important and distinguished Delegate of a state, writing or blocking amendments is a lot of fun (and, yes, a bit nerdy as well).
PS: Even if you are not participating in the next DIMUN – make sure you visit the beautiful city of Leiden!
In the desert state Saudi-Arabia, a traditional Islamic monarchy at the Persian Gulf, women have ever since been “chameleons” – they remain almost invisible, adapted to their social circumstances and hidden by their society behind a thousand veils. With only very limited rights to even leave their home (only with a male guard), the prohibition to work without their husband’s allowance and the subordination of females to their male relatives in all social, economic and political matters, the Gulf Kingdom has attracted great criticism from Western human right associations.
Especially the justification of these limitations on women’s rights by Saudi-Arabian leaders who refer to the Islamic law, the “Sharia”, the teachings of the prophet Mohammed (“hadith”) and the Quran, the Islam’s central scripture, has led to what Samuel Huntington once called a “clash of different civilizations”, of different moral concepts and religious attributes. Thereby, the traditional Islamic states who embrace the so-called Wahhabism, a strict interpretation of Islam, feel to be flooded by the interference of Western values and culture into their own outlines of living. Consequently, reaching international agreements in this regard is a tough business, keeping the United Nations busy with bargaining about any possible improvements.
For this reasons the UN’s Council on Human Rights (UNCHR) has scheduled a meeting to discuss this topic with the international plenary, aiming at issuing a Resolution that ameliorates the status of women within the Saudi-Arabian state.
Although a decisive breakthrough in this regard is highly unlikely, the member States of the UNCHR have designed a Draft Resolution which, if it becomes passed in its entirety, can mean a significant step towards a freer and more just Saudi Kingdom.
At the centre of Resolution 60/251 lies the creation of a new institution to “protect Human Rights, particularly women’s rights, in Saudi-Arabia” (Article 2). This institutions is supposed to be supported by the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to regard the improvement of the women’s situation on a regular basis (Article 1) as well as the launch of the position of an Ombudsman to provide a forum of interaction where women can be informed about their rights (Article 2c). Additionally, states such as the Netherlands and Sweden have tabled the open access of the Internet for women to, as the Swedish Delegate put it, “offer them an opportunity to encounter the values and culture of the Western world”.
Needless to say that these propositions faced a number of criticisms. While the Delegate of Saudi-Arabia itself expressed Saudi-Arabia concerns about the content that young women might be confronted with on the Internet, the Delegate of Iran found direct words to voice his scepticism regarding the proposed institution on women’s rights. “It looks like a Wikipedia entry”, he explained and added that the Draft Resolution would “leave lots of questions but offer only few answers”.
Caution is as well advocated when scrutinizing the coercive force of the resolution at stake. As the Delegate of the Netherlands put it, “how shall we [the UN] punish non-compliance on the side of Saudi-Arabia?” This statement appears to be even more accurate considering the rather moderate success of previous Human Right Resolutions on the behalf of women’s rights in the Gulf state.
Moreover, although the majority of the Draft Resolution’s Articles were accepted with a huge majority (eight countries in favour, four countries against), also the majority of them (especially Articles 1, 2 and 8) could only be passed against the resistance of Saudi-Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Thailand and Lebanon – the very states who are seen as the core causes of infringements to women’s rights.
In December 2015, Saudi women were allowed to vote for the first time, causing the so-called “spring for women”
Although the global media reported in December 2015 that Saudi-Arabian women were now allowed to vote and to register for being voted for the first time in History, one needs to be cautious whether this proclaimed “spring for women” will present a long-lasting and sustainable breakthrough. This, however, is highly unlikely given the result of the UNCHR’s meeting. Rather, women in Saudi-Arabia might continue to hide behind a thousand veils – the chameleon is likely to re-take its previous colour of oppression.
Although piracy is an old and well-known concept with pirates even entering the entertainment sector since the famous success of “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “Captain Hook”, the organized and violent use of coercive force with which piracy boats have started to attack the shores of the Asian-African region has increased significantly since the new millennium. The Forbes magazine even estimated that robberies caused by piracy are responsible for about a fifth of economic damages that have been reported by the Eastern-African regions.
Various measures by Western and African countries that are designed to ban the problem were not able to set a decisive and ultimate sign against the buccaneers. The most famous operation, the European Union’s “Mission Atlanta” (2012) has managed to decrease the number of robberies; yet, scholars have criticized this success of not being sustainable in the long-term.
The problem of international piracy has worsened since the millennium.
Thus, the United Nations First Committee on Disarmament and Security (DiSec) has met in an extraordinary session today to create a mutual response against the ongoing assaults along the African-Asian coastlines. Especially the employment of Private Military Corporations (PMCs), private firms and security companies that provide military assistance independent of any political affiliation, are at the core of the debate. While some states highlight the UN’s necessity and alternativeless to hire PMCs as international security programmes are low-equipped and have proven ineffective in previous crises, fierce opponents to the privatization and marketization of military capabilities, namely the Lebanese Republic and Nigeria, believe that “the state should maintain a monopoly in violence”.
However, an agreement on alternatives is heavily disputed. The idea of launching an international taskforce which is supposed to operate at the Eastern-African coast and, as the Delegate of the South-African Republic elaborated, shall specialize in traineeships and information-sharing with a regionally-integrated mandate, has met equal resistance.
Opponents such as Russia, China and the Sudan have uttered the concern on the effects on state sovereignty which will be undermined by establishing international action on the territory of the respective countries without a proper UN mandate. Additionally, the Djibouti Code of Conduct has given the Delegates much content for discussions.
The Djibouti Code of Conduct is an international agreement signed by Djibouti, Maldives, Somalia, , Egypt, Eritrea, , Mozambique, , Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates which aims at increasing regional maritime security by launching common operations or exchanging law official enforcements. Central to this document is the UN’s confession to stick to international law while only intervening into local collisions in the face of an infringement of these common rules. Hence, without a mandate by the UN Security Council on communitarian intervention into the enclaves concerned, united action token would move within the grey zone of international law.
The Delegates of Nigeria (left) and Australia (right) discuss the Draft Resolution
Yet, as “the Djibouti Code of conduct only concentrates on the continent of Africa”, as pointed out by the Delegate of Italy, an operation along the Asian coasts might well be covered by the accord.
Shortly after the lunch break, however, negotiations have reached a breakthrough: The states present were able to agree on a Draft Resolution which assigns the UN the mandate to raise a “Regional Task Force for the Monitoring of Organized Crime in Piracy” (Article 7), launches the so-called “SHIP approach”, i.e. regional security by humanitarian aid, information sharing and the use of PMCs (Article 4) and allows the UN to act within the territory of the Gulf or Arden, the Cost of West Africa, the Coast of East Africa and the Strait of Malacca. The Djibouti Code of Conduct has explicitly been incorporated into the document as one of its irrefutable pillars (Article 6).
These fruitful discussions were yet disrupted by breaking news provided by a BBC reporter who revealed recent findings that the Royal Dutch Company Shell, an international giant in gas and oil distribution, has hired pirates along the Eastern-African coast deliberately to endanger its competitor’s oil riffs. Although some accusations to the Netherlands to investigate this occurrence have induced the Kingdom to assure that it would “take full responsibilities for recent actions if they are proven to be true” caused a short deviation from the actual gist of the debate, the Italian Delegate hinted to the tabled Draft Resolution as a document which “has been designed to tackle such issues together with the International Maritime Bureau (IMO) to fight such events. This is a resolution which should have been passed already”, he added.
The current Draft Resolution has great chances to pass with a huge majority as estimation suggests a two-thirds approval.
Although debates are still going on, the ball has started rolling. Now, the hope remains that, this time, it will bring the solution sought.
After the severe terrorist attacks in the inner city of Berlin and on the World Bank in Frankfurt in Germany yesterday, 10 July 2016 which were followed by six suicide bombers’ attacks in Rome, the International Community is shaken by the repercussions of these events: With varying opinions the extent to which the Member States’ reaction to the refugee crisis that reached its peak in October 2015 is to blame for this lack of internal security in the EU, a significant re-awakening of right-wing nationalism throughout Europe and flows of refugees continuing from the crisis regions in the Middle East, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has gathered today in an urgent session to react to the situation. The discussion centres around two core questions of how to cope with the new pressurizing refugee crisis while counteracting to the Islamic State (in Arabian: “Daesh”) in an effective way.
However, although all members of the SAARC are heavily impacted on by the current situation with especially Iran, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan being located at the epicentre of the conflict, the debate is heated up and the negotiations arduous as the perspectives about how to take actions vary widely. Thein Sein, the Head of State of the Republic of Myanmar, sees the responsibility for establishing an effective response at the core of the strongest and most developed countries, respectively.
Currently, the proposition of the Head of State of India, Nerenda Modi, to launch a taskforce to manage the refugee situation and to fight back Daesh, has gained a lot of approval. Yet, although all member countries have expressed their support for such an operation, tensions have arisen between the Delegates of India and Myanmar about the exact amount of military capabilities that are going to be provided by the SAARC’s members.
Moli has already confirmed the contribution of soldiers and the acceptance of a significant number of refugees, while simultaneously providing financial support. However, Sein has attacked this proposal as being too small. With this amount of contributions, the Head of State explained that this accounts for “a minuscule amount of India’s entire army – a ridiculous number”.
Additionally, the Head of State of the Maldives, Abdulla Yaameen, has voiced scepticism about whether the power of Daesh can be diminished through military means alone. “ISIS is right on our doorsteps”, the Delegate cautioned, “and an excessive amount of troops will not be sufficient to solve the problem.”
Next to the pressure imposed upon the SAARC by Daesh, the movements of territorially displaced persons have given the Heads of States lots of concerns. As all Asian states are in deep economic crisis and face refugee problems and internal violence themselves, the Member States feel not prepared enough to face this situation. Protectionist measures such as the closure of borders as proposed by the Delegate of Sri Lanka have already been rejected by Afghanistan as “simply not feasible”.
Nevertheless, the foundation-stone for the SAARC’s taskforce has already been laid: Although the mandate will still be subject to further intense discussions, the political will to mobilize the Asian countries’ forces has been set at the heart of the Directive. Whether this will be sufficient to at least lessen the consequences of the current crises remains to be seen. Yet, the Asian countries have just offered an effort to stabilize the region of the Middle East, to step back from their role as a side player in world politics and to provide the world with a new spark of hope. And this is very much needed right now.
Background: After several terrorist attacks overall in Europe, tensions all over the world have heated up. In Berlin, this even led to violent riots.
Background: After several terrorist attacks overall in Europe, tensions all over the world have heated up. In Berlin, this even led to violent riots.