In the early hours of a cold winter‘s morning in February 2015, the MUNAM delegation assembled at Munich‘s main bus terminal to head to their third (well, officially second) Model UN Conference, the annually held MainMUN at Frankfurt‘s Goethe University. At 200 participants, MainMUN represented the largest conference for the delegation so far, and the six hour bus trip passed in a flash of nervous anticipation, excitement, last-minute speech writing, and annoying fellow passengers with our incessant talk about politics (a surprisingly ungrateful attitude when you consider the price of newspapers these days).
After settling in to a hostel in downtown Frankfurt, delegates quickly had to switch into diplomat-gear: ties (and even some bowties) were tied, appropriately coloured pocket squares were selected, final opening lines memorized, and the delegation headed to the Goethe University campus.
MainMUN 2015 was held under the motto `UN at Crossroads‘, discussing and attempting to find solutions for pressing issues such as the safety of journalists, the fight against epidemics, the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and the growing impact of environmental issues on global peace. The conference‘s opening ceremony did its part in setting the mood for the weekend ahead. Speeches by Kofi Annan biographer and UN- specialist Friederike Bauer, as well as by Consul General of the US in Frankfurt, Kevin Milas reminded delegates that the importance of the issues discussed at the conference extended well beyond the walls of their respective conference rooms (and that you can smuggle rats on airplanes in diplomatic pouches, but that is a different story). Milas even explicitly expressed his “deep appreciation for [our] dedication to a common cause – a better world for all of us.“
After these words of inspiration, the delegates headed off to their first committee session. The MUNAM delegation was well represented across all Committees (General Assembly, Human Rights Council, United Nations Development Program, and Security Council) and prepared a broad range of topics. I represented the Federative Republic of Brazil at the HRC, with four other MUNAM delegates representing Namibia, India, Mexico, and Kenya respectively. Roughly thirty members in total, we were prepared for some fierce debate and were not disappointed. „Not much gets done in the first session of committee, anyway.“ Well, the HRC clearly proved that this is just an urban myth. With the Charlie Hebdo attacks still so fresh in everyone‘s minds, the committee decided very quickly to put „The Safety of Journalists and Protecting the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression“ first on the agenda, leaving „The Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples“ to be discussed later, or never, as we thought, judging from our previous MUN experience. How wrong we were! Due to the awesomeness of the Council, we went straight into substantial debate in the second hour of session. During that first session, debate mostly focused on threats of terrorism to journalistic work, but this debate proved too problematic and quickly fractured because many delegations present were unable (or unwilling) to accept and make use of the term `terrorism‘.
The second day was clearly the busiest at the HRC, with debate intensifying around two main issues that were debated in countless moderated and unmoderated caucuses: what does “freedom of expression and opinion“ mean and how can it be guaranteed while still paying consideration to national security issues (looking at you, China!) and whether journalists needed special protection in zones of armed conflict. Because the general speaker‘s time was constantly set at 2 to 3 minutes throughout the whole weekend, there was usually time for questions after speeches, provided that, of course, the delegation was open for questions, which many were not (looking at you again, China!). Speaking of questions, Friday‘s Expert Sessions with Dr. Theodor Rathgeber, an expert on human rights and indigenous peoples at the University of Kassel and Prof. Dr. Martin Welker, expert on journalism at the Braunschweig Institute of Technology, provided a welcome opportunity to ask questions that came up during debate but could not be answered by the committee, which the council greatly profited from.
Back in formal session, the MUNAM ladies, so fierce that even Beyoncé would probably have turned green with envy, handed in the first working paper, aptly titled „Ladybug“, at 5 o‘clock on Friday. This provided the basis for debate the next day, and the committee began to split in different interest groups, with developing and newly-industrialized countries focusing more on ensuring the safety of journalists in conflict zones, and developed countries focusing on issues of impunity concerning violent crimes committed against journalists. In spite of these difficulties, the HRC managed to almost pass a resolution before lunch. Instead, as it turned out, it passed a resolution instead of lunch.
During voting on the resolution, an event that would go down in history books as the Great HRC Food Crisis, occurred, when the committee took its obligations so seriously that it went into clause-by-clause voting right before lunch break and ended up missing lunch, because the General Assembly delegates had been so exhausted from having to prepare three topics instead of just two that they wolfed down all the food, not leaving any leftovers. Our honorable (and adorable) Chairs, proved, however, that they could handle crises better than the Security Council and ordered pizza for the whole committee. This also prompted the first recorded instance a delegation moving for an unmoderated caucus for the purpose of having pizza.
The second crisis that was overshadowing our work was the #socialmediawar that was declared by the Security Council on the Human Rights Council, but which was clearly won by the HRC, where delegates proved they were not only brilliant at debate, but also at multitasking, by raising placards with one hand and tweeting with the other.
Saturday saw the beginning of debate on the second topic: the Promotion and Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This topic, more than the other, showed the committee how frustrating debate can be when it goes round in circles and no agreement can be reached. The committee spent hours trying to define the term „indigenous peoples“, having difficulties to draw a clear line separating it from ethnic minorities, which was in turn utilized as a political weapon by some delegations to call out China on its treatment of minorities. Nevertheless, two working papers („Babykitten“ and „Panda“) were handed in at 10 a.m. on Sunday, which is quite an achievement for delegates who were still recovering from the previous night‘s social events. However, the committee did not reach a resolution in this matter, perhaps afraid of missing out on lunch again.
To tie up some loose ends, the delegation of the Federative Republic of Brazil would like to end this report with a poem from one of Brazil‘s finest poets. Thank you MainMUN!
„When the Portuguese arrived
In a heavy storm
He clothed the Indian
What a pity!
If it had been a sunny morning
The Indian would have undressed
The Portuguese.“ – Oswald de Andrade, “Mistake of the Portuguese“ (from Minor Poems, 1925)
– written by Lisa Hönig