On 21 October, the Geneva International Model United Nations (GIMUN) organized the conference “The United Nations in our day-to-day” in Geneva. GIMUN is a student-run NGO working to promote the ideals of the UN by engaging students in educative events related to the UN and important global issues. Its main activities include the annual celebration of the “UN Day” – which marks the UN Charter’s entry into force on 24 October 1945. .
The conference aimed to provide young people the opportunity to express their visions on topical global agendas and the role of the UN in addressing the issues. This year’s conference was convened in commemoration of the 66th anniversary of the Charter, and against the backdrop of major social and political changes in many societies across the globe
During the opening ceremony, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), expressed his appreciation for young leaders’ enthusiasm to contribute to the discussions, which will determine the ever-increasingly important role of the UN in the future. He also outlined the UN’s every day operations that touch upon the lives of numerous people across the globe: every year the UN mobilizes about $7 billion in humanitarian aid to help people affected by emergencies; it assists 34 million refugees and others fleeing war, famine and persecution; it vaccinates 40 percent of the world’s children, saving two million lives; and it deploys 120,000 peacekeepers in 15 peacekeeping operations on four continents. He also underscored that promotion of peace, human rights, development, social progress and equality has been the UN’s priority pursuits for the past 66 years.
Four topics were chosen for thematic discussion, in light of their relation to global events that occurred during the past year. The themes included: (1) the role of the UN in the Arab Spring; (2) response in time of an emergency: Somalia’s famine crisis; (3) the UN’s involvement in the fight against international terrorism; and (4) the impact of the integration of a new Member State in the UN.
Below are the outlines of each panel discussion.
The role of the UN in the Arab Spring
The panel was moderated by Mehdi Ben Youssef, President of the Tunisian International Model United Nations. He outlined the different expectations people had of the UN in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. He noted that UN’s role in Egypt and Tunisia after the fall of the governments had been crucial in restoring the security of the two countries. For instance, the UN particularly showed a fast response to the Libyan refugees that flew into Tunisia. In the case of Libya, the Security Council’s decision for intervention (resolution 1973) was criticized by many, for it was only prompted by internal conflicts and refugee issues. On the other hand, it was also marked as a historical move of the UN, in contrast to slow actions or inactions taken in Rwanda and Kosovo. In general, the response of the international community and the UN has been inconsistent, Mr. Youssef explained. For instance, Russia and China have dissented to taking military actions in Syria.
Response in time of an emergency: Somalia’s famine crisis
The panel, moderated by Thierry Tardy of the Center for Security Policy in Geneva, discussed the context of the Somali famine and the UN’s response to the crisis. Dr. Tardy highlighted the political context in which the famine has developed: the long-lasting internal conflict between the transitional government and Islamist armed groups; growth of Al-Shabab forces, suspected to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda; and weak international interventions including the United Task Force (UNITAF), United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM), and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Al-Shabab has also hindered the operations of humanitarian agencies, which has aggravated the crisis. All in all, the political situations have directly impacted the population in hunger and fright, he emphasized. Participants agreed that the UN has a big role to play in providing humanitarian assistance to the population in need, yet it should also target for a longer-term solution. The weaknesses of the UN’s previous operations have generated discontent with UN’s intervention in the region, and even hostility toward humanitarian operations within some groups, including Al-Shabab. Participants highlighted that solutions should be devised with involvement of all local actors. Moreover, facilitating negotiations between Al-Shahab and the transitional government is absolutely crucial in resolving the political conflicts, participants concluded.
The UN’s involvement in the fight against international terrorism
The moderator Christina Schori Liang of the Center for Security Policy opened the session with a short presentation on international organizations’ efforts to counter terrorism. In 2006, the General Assembly enacted the United Nations Global Counter Terrorism Strategy as the first UN-level initiative. The strategy focuses not only on combating terrorism ex-poste, but also on its prevention, through addressing its fundamental causes such as poverty and State failure. Special agencies of the UN also contribute to the goal in its own way: the International Atomic Energy Agency, by countering the threat of nuclear terrorism; the International Civil Aviation Organization, by improving flights and airports security; and the Organization for the Prohibition on Chemical Weapons by inspecting the trade of chemicals worldwide. The participants also talked about the elevated security control at the international level after the 9/11 attack. Some expressed concerns on the conflict between invasion of privacy deriving from excessive control and the value of human rights upheld by the UN. Dr. Liang, however, opposed to viewing the issue as privacy invasion, suggesting that at any rate, there exists only a very low level of privacy in today’s societies due to social networks. Concerns were also raised on the difficulty of coordinating various interests of the Member States and drawing effective measures for crucial global agendas as in security issues. While acknowledging the issue, Dr. Liang highlighted the fact the UN is the only leading international organization powerful enough to set out and operate a comprehensive global counter-terrorism strategy, to which many participants agreed.
The impact of the integration of a new Member State in the UN
The panel, chaired by Adrien Evéquoz of the Permanent Mission of Switzerland, explored the (potential) effects of welcoming new Member States to the UN. He explained that the accession of a new State to the UN signifies a political acknowledgement on the State within the international community, which extends beyond meeting the technical definitions of a “State.” It requires a certain level of institutional and diplomatic capacity, and at times withdrawal of opposition of influential States. In this context, Switzerland’s accession to the UN can be viewed as a reflection of changed perceptions on a “neutral” State within the political community, Mr. Evéquoz suggested. He also noted that Palestine’s attempt to become a Member of the UN reflects the importance of being accepted by the organization, to be duly recognized as a State. In the case of South Sudan, its lack of institutional capacities has been a hindrance in advancing itself as a capable State even after its accession. The UN and its Members who have acceded South Sudan therefore should assist the institutional-building of the new State, participants agreed. In light of the attributes of the UN system as the most comprehensive global-level governance framework, the participants all in all concluded that integration of a new State into the international community connotes not merely the birth of a new State in its technical terms but also its integration into the UN.
To access a more detailed summary of each session, click here.
This article is also available in French.