Students to Propose Action against Genocide as Bronx High School of Science Hosts Model United Nations on Holocaust, Genocide Prevention
2 June 2014
It was nine in the morning and delegates from 35 countries were gathered in a small auditorium at the Bronx High School of Science in New York. They had an important task ahead of them: they needed to present their recommendations for world action to prevent genocide. Slightly nervous, enthusiastic and full of anticipation, they were waiting for the President of the General Assembly to open the session. It was the day of the first ever Model United Nations simulation on the Holocaust and Genocide Prevention.
The location in Bronx was chosen carefully. The Bronx High School of Science is not only known for its excellent students and teachers but also for its Holocaust Museum. Whereas for some this simulation was a continuation of their experience with Model United Nations, some were taken by surprise. "It was a lot of fun" one student commented,"but it also required lots of reading, preparation and hard work. We had to completely immerse ourselves into the topic and start thinking like delegates from a certain country".
The session started with opening speeches. "Our country believes that the UN should have a special body to prevent genocides", thundered a delegate. "The respect for human rights should be the baseline of all our work", was a more careful tone taken by his peer. After all the countries presented their positions the hard work of negotiating a common resolution began. In their meetings with other representatives the delegates have shown excellent knowledge of procedures and the topic obtained through cooperation with United Nations staff, which was present at the event. The event was namely organized in partnership with the UN4MUN Programme of the Education Outreach Section and the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect.
It wasn’t until hours into the session that a first draft proposal of a resolution was tabled by the delegation of China. The air conditioning was turned on as the temperature in the room continued to rise. Through the silent hum of the ventilator blades the delegates set down to improve the proposed resolution. The representative of the USA was adamant in asserting that “We would like to insert into the resolution a request for creation of a branch of the international body to rapidly identify current genocides”. The representatives of Malaysia and Libya quickly objected. “We must encourage the deployment of UN representatives at stage four of the eight stages of genocide”, was the suggestion of the representative from Iran. “And our delegation would like to change the word renounce with regret”, was the strongly felt opinion of the delegate of the United Kingdom. Amendments, agreements and disagreements over them, ended in another informal meeting of all the delegates.
By then the time pressure was on. The delegates needed to respect the time frame for discussions, which they have set for themselves. It was time to vote on the amendments. The delegates rarely agreed on amendments and the hope of reaching consensus had to give way to voting. However, that didn’t upset the Member States too much. Their representatives enthusiastically continued lifting and lowering their placards until all the amendments had been addressed and the text of the resolution was crystallised.
The final act of the simulation was voting on the whole resolution. The resolution passed with a big majority of Member States’ votes. Applause and cheers indicated delegates’ satisfaction with their work. There was also a sign of relief, after the stress of negotiations and deliberations. Member States have accomplished a lot, including the creation of a branch of the International Court of Justice to rapidly identify current genocides and strengthening the mandate of UN representatives in assessing human rights around the world. They have also suggested the establishment of a UN organization designed to provide emergency relief to immediate victims of genocide. As a result of long negotiations the definition of genocide now also includes "crimes committed against a group of people due to their political group, disability or ideology".
When the delegates left the room they were merely students again. And the small auditorium was again only a classroom. But they were all richer for a great experience, one which will benefit them in their studies and their life.
A preparatory workshop included presentations by Kimberly Mann, Manager, The Holocaust and United Nations Outreach Programme; Claudia Diaz, Human Rights Officer, United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect; Bill Yotive, Project Manager, Global Teaching and Learning Project.