4 February 2010
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference to Announce Launch of 2010 Global Model United Nations


The 2010 Global Model United Nations Conference, to be held in Malaysia this July, would reinforce the Organization’s efforts to build bridges between cultures, officials of the world body, the Permanent Mission of Malaysia and the Commonwealth Secretariat announced today.


“It is crucial to engage young people in the issues of the day, including the subject of tolerance, respect and the need for dialogue,” Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said at a Headquarters press conference.


The event, to feature university students between the ages of 18 and 23, would simulate a high-level General Assembly dialogue, Mr. Akasaka said, noting that many young people were already highly attuned to diversity, tolerance and the multiple problems affecting the world.  Student leaders were already coming up with solutions.  “We want to tap into this synergy,” he said, adding: “I have no doubt that the actual United Nations will have much to learn from this year’s Model United Nations.”


Under the theme “Towards an Alliance of Civilizations: Bridging Cultures to Achieve Peace and Development”, the Global Model United Nations Conference -- the second after the 2009 debut event in Geneva -- will take place in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, from 28 to 30 July and is organized by the Department of Public Information in partnership with the Malaysian Government, the United Nations Office for the Alliance of Civilizations and the Commonwealth Secretariat.


Today’s panellists explained that participating students had been nominated by their peers, mainly through the 250 or so Model United Nations programmes around the world, involving some 400,000 young people.  They had been selected with the assistance of national United Nations associations in such a way as to encourage diversity and gender balance.  The inaugural event had drawn 350 students from 57 countries and the goal this year was somewhere around 1,000 participants.


Hamidon Ali, Permanent Representative of Malaysia, noted that the theme of the Conference was an important one for his country because it had a truly multicultural society that was still struggling to bring together three major ethnic groups and many minorities to “think together with one purpose” while minimizing misunderstandings.


Marc Scheuer, Director of the Office for the Alliance of Civilizations, explained that his Office had been created through an initiative of the Secretary-General, based on efforts by the leaders of Spain and Turkey to help prepare global citizens for a world of increasing diversity.  Since education was an important part of that effort, he welcomed this year’s theme for the Global Model United Nations, and expected feedback from the Conference to enrich the general meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations in September.


Fatiha Serour, Director of the Commonwealth Youth Programme, said that, from her experience with its annual Children’s Summit, she had found that young people were often able to hold more constructive dialogue than their professional counterparts.  “Having been part of this, I must say they are much better then we are at actually taking issues forward.” she added.  “Young people are often thought of as problems.  We look at them as assets and solutions.”


Speaking as a participant in the 2009 inaugural Conference, Jeffrey Ruiz of New York City’s Hunter College described the inspiration gained by being in a “nearly hands-on” situation and seeing pressing problems from a high official’s vantage point, while attempting to come up with innovative solutions in dialogue with others from a wide range of United Nations Member States.  He also highlighted the intercultural understanding that occurred in Model United Nations conferences where students had to represent countries other than their own.


Responding to questions, the panellists said Conference organizers were working to include as many students from developing countries and poor backgrounds as possible.  That was one of the priorities of their fund-mobilization efforts.  Students were also encouraged to find their own sponsorship, but since it was difficult for the poorest to participate, efforts for inclusiveness would have to continue.  A webcast of the Conference was also expected to allow wide participation.


Concerning the potential recruitment of new staff members from among the participants, Eric Falt, Director of the Department of Public Information’s Outreach Division and Moderator of today’s panel, said the Department was talking to the Department of Management about having a recruiting presence at Model United Nations conferences, particularly for finding talent from underrepresented countries.  Mr. Akasaka added that many current diplomats and United Nations officials, including himself, had first been inspired by Model United Nations events.


Asked what standards applied to corporate sponsors, Mr. Falt said the policy guidelines were the same as those used throughout the United Nations system and developed in cooperation with the Global Compact initiative which promoted private sector support for the Organization’s goals.  The United Nations Federal Credit Union and the United Nations Foundation were among the sponsors.  However, individual students often found their own sponsorship from local companies and other entities, but that did not mean those entities could be called funders of the United Nations.


Reacting to scepticism that the United Nations could be a model for bridge-building when it had not been able to resolve problems that had persisted since the 1940s, Mr. Scheuer stressed that the Alliance for Civilizations had not been created to get involved in political settlement processes, but to deal with cultural prejudices that could exacerbate such conflicts.


Asked how Malaysia’s stance on multiculturalism squared with its reticence thus far to sign on to the international refugee Convention, Mr. Ali said the country was examining how to join the Convention while addressing problems with migrant workers and its own ethnic groups.


Mr. Falt said more information on attending the Global Model United Nations could be obtained online at www.un.org/GMUN.  Noting that Mr. Ruiz had spoken from notes on his iPhone, he added that outreach would also be pursued through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.


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For information media • not an official record