Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Monsoons and Myanmar: A Race Against Time

By: Bonnie Worstell and Sara McNaughton, UNA-NCA Program Assistants

Yet another day passes, and the current administration has failed to verbally acknowledge an extremely important human rights issue. This drove Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and the Senate Human Rights Caucus to hold a panel on International Refugee Day, June 20th, 2018, to highlight the issues surrounding the Rohingya crisis.

The Rohingya, a small Muslim minority population located in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, are one of the most repressed people in the world today. The Burmese government has systematically driven the Rohingya out of Rakhine State, which has been their home for centuries. As the government refuses to grant them citizenship and the accompanying rights due to them by the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law, the Rohingya consequently remain stateless. Although violence against the Rohingya has been constant during the last few decades, it has escalated significantly in the past few years. This violence includes the targeted killing, torture, and burning of entire Rohingya villages. Rohingya women and girls are particularly vulnerable to gender based violence, including rape intended to destroy reproductive systems and instill terror. Additionally, Rohingya are denied their ability to self-identify as Burmese since the government alleges that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

In retaliation to government violence and oppression, a small group of ill-equipped Rohingya formed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa). Arsa’s largest operation to date occurred on August 25, 2017 at a police station, resulting in the death of 12 Burmese officers. The security force’s counterinsurgency responded with disproportionate force, driving out an estimated 700,000 Rohingya from Myanmar and murdering 7,000 more.

In collaboration with several UN agencies, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Bangladesh has been host to a bulk of the Rohingya refugees by setting up temporary facilities to receive, register, and distribute aid to refugees. Bangladesh has made significant sacrifices to accommodate the refugees, allotting a few thousand acres of land dedicated to temporary housing. Additionally, as monsoon season approaches, there is an enormous risk to ill-equipped shelters, especially those in more vulnerable locations.

Jana Mason, panelist from UNHCR, emphasized that the approach to the Rohingya crisis must be two dimensional: first, the immediate needs of refugees must be fulfilled in Bangladesh. Second, it must be realized that their return will take time. Therefore, the establishment of long term investment into economic, social, and cultural needs, in both Bangladesh and in the Rakhine State, is vital to the Rohingya’s lasting well-being.

On June 6th, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), UNHCR, and the Burmese government agreed upon a Memorandum of Understanding defining the desired end to be the return of Rohingya refugees to the Rakhine state. The means of implementing the conditions necessary for a safe and voluntary return is dependent on the coordination between the government and UN humanitarian agencies. Currently, according to a report by Refugees International, the “lack of clarity in coordination structure and lines of accountability among UN agencies has led to inconsistencies and delays in the provision of humanitarian services on the ground.” This coordination issue must be amended before moving forward, thus UN agencies are currently working on defining clearer leadership roles within their organizations.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has also given the Burmese government a deadline of July 27 to respond to allegations of crimes against humanity against the Rohingya. The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, argues that since the refugees have been pushed into Bangladesh, a member of the ICC, the ICC will have jurisdiction over Myanmar, despite the fact that it is not a member.

The government of Bangladesh deserves international recognition and praise for providing Rohingya refugees a place to flee. But, despite its merits, the Bangladesh government has adversely effected the situation by their failure to recognize Rohingya as refugees, and denying them rights to justice, education, health services, and freedom of movement. Due to the lengthy process of creating the proper conditions in Myanmar for the Rohingya’s return, it is probable that they will remain in Bangladesh long term. Therefore, it is important for UN Agencies, member states, and donors to pressure the Bangladesh government to grant the Rohingya refugee status so that long-term refugee programs such as education and job skills workshops can be implemented. Then when the time comes to return, they will be able to reintegrate into society. Additionally, they must pressure the government to remove bureaucratic barriers that make obtaining project approvals, visas for aid workers, and registration for NGOs complex and prolonged. The elimination of these barriers will result in a more efficient and timely response.

The most pressing issue of the moment is the quickly approaching, unforgiving monsoon season in Bangladesh. Moderate rains have already caused temporary housing to collapse, resulting in a few deaths. Since the government has restricted durable material usage in building shelters, refugees have been given additional tarp and bamboo, but that alone is not enough to withstand the fury of monsoon season. Ultimately, coordination and bureaucratic issues need to be resolved so aid workers can get the Rohingya to higher ground and help build stronger shelters.

The recent U.S. involvement has been underwhelming. Aligning with the “America First” policy, the current administration has ceased to make any kind of comment regarding the Rohingya crisis. By pulling out of the United Nations Human Rights Council, U.S. global leadership continues to diminish with the loss of our voice on a key global stage.

We want to thank the panelists and hosts who organized the International Refugee Day Congressional briefing. In the midst of silence and lack of leadership coming from the current administration, your work needed now more than ever.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Human Rights in Cameroon - A Call to Action

By: Sara McNaughton and Bonnie Worstell, UNA-NCA Program Assistants

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a briefing in the afternoon of Friday, June 15th, led by Congressman James P. McGovern (D-MA) along with a panel of experts, concerning human rights abuses and the presence of Boko Haram in Cameroon.

Cameroon is actively involved in a vicious cycle of violence involving the Francophone government against the marginalized Anglophone minority. The government limits access to the internet (thus restricting freedom of expression), represses peaceful protesters, and carries out despicable human rights violations including, but not limited to: arbitrary arrests, unjust trials, kidnappings, scorched earth tactics, extreme torture, and murder. The separatists’ response has been similarly violent. Amnesty International reported on various attacks by separatists on teachers, students, security forces, and others who show sympathy to the government.

President Paul Biya, along with his Francophone government, has led Cameroon since 1982. Biya eliminated term limits in 2008 and is up for re-election in 2018. He demonstrates tendencies of an authoritarian leader and the upcoming elections are predicted to be manipulated and non-legitimate, with opposition parties facing repression and even jail time. Due to these circumstances, it is highly probable that Biya will come out victorious in the election and continue current trends of violence and repression. The uncertainty for the future in a post-Biya Cameroon troubles the international community, as he turned 85 earlier this year. Biya’s extended and personalized regime created a nation characterized by conflict and weak institutions. Therefore, it is unlikely that the government will be able to handle a peaceful transition of power.

Another concern for the panelists is the threat of a terrorist organization, Boko Haram, in the northern part of Cameroon. Terrorist organizations are like a virus: they will find the weak spot to attack and spread their influence. Violence coming from both the government and the separatists alike, poor and unequal governance, corruption, and decentralization create conditions for terrorism to flourish, thus driving many to join Boko Haram because they see it as their lone solution.

Cameroon is a vital partner in United States defense operations in efforts against regional terrorism and extremism, and therefore the U.S. has a vested interest for diplomatic intervention in the budding crisis in Cameroon. Congress must emit a clear signal that the current relationship between the two nations may be re-examined if the issues in Cameroon persist. The U.S. must use its influence to promote democratic values and freedoms such as freedom of speech, press, and assembly by encouraging, supporting, and holding Cameroon’s government accountable to holding legitimate elections this October.

Dr. Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group supplied potential key policy recommendations for the situation in Cameroon. He highlighted the necessity for a credible investigation into all claims emerging from the conflict to be conducted by an independent organization such as the United Nations. Additionally, Mr. Akwei from Amnesty International recommended that Congress should request U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) release the report of the investigation they conducted regarding allegations of secret torture orchestrated by US-trained Cameroonian forces. Government officials have been reluctant to engage in dialogue with Anglophone separatists, denying propositions from peaceful leaders and even jailing them as a silencing tactic. The Trump administration must pressure Cameroon to limit the expenditure of lethal force, abolish arbitrary arrests, and partake in reconciliation with the opposition with the help of an independent mediator.

Assuring legitimate elections in October remains one of the most vital solutions to decreasing tensions in Cameroon. If the government continues to hold power illegitimately, marginalization will persist, possibly resulting in further extremism and increased tensions.

The continued issues with Boko Haram in the North cannot be ignored. The U.S. should support de-radicalization programs for members of Boko Haram who wish to disband from the organization and reintegrate into society.

Currently, the UN has several agencies active in Cameroon working on various projects. The UN Refugee Agency is providing relief items to those affected, legal assistance, shelter materials, and sanitation facilities. The Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs is working on a mapping project to track elections, conflict, and refugees. The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women is supporting Women Cohesion Spaces that “provide safe spaces where women refugees and survivors [of Boko Haram] can access a package of services, including psychological treatment and economic assistance” according to the agency. Increased U.S. Congressional support of the United Nations to conduct an independent investigation of human rights abuses in Cameroon would heighten the UN’s pressure on Cameroon’s government and the separatists to engage in dialogue, as well as appoint a moderator.

Overall, U.S. citizens have an important responsibility to advocate for Congressional involvement in Cameroon. Having a clear indication that constituents are in favor of intervention is essential in eliciting a congressional response. Like panelist Mr. Temin said, “constituents are what make congress move and make congress work.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Why MUN Matters: Networking & Advocacy

By Thomas Liu
Finalist for the 2018 Student Secretary-General of the Spring Model UN Conference
12th Grader at Langley High School in McLean, VA

This year, my five-year long Model UN career ended. As the new secretariat of Langley High School’s MUN team was elected, the seniors officially said goodbye one last time. As I sat and reflected on my MUN memories, I asked myself the essential questions: why I do MUN and what does MUN mean to me?

As an immigrant, when I first arrived in the United States in 8th Grade, I was a shy student without any confidence. During middle school MUN, I was left alone, I always sat in the back of the committee, speaking only once or twice throughout the whole conference. However, when I tried out for Langley’s nationally ranked Model UN team, still as a shy freshman, the senior officers gave me a chance and invited me to attend VAMUN hosted by the University of Virginia. That was my first out of twenty-six MUN conferences that I attended with Langley MUN.

Other than the irreplaceable friends and family that I’ve made within Langley MUN, Model UN thought me two major lessons: Networking & Advocacy.

Networking is an essential element in MUN and in real life. I first got involved with GCDC by accident, through an online post recruiting volunteers for the 2016 Spring Conference. Fortunately, I served as the Vice Chair of the Security Council Committee as the only high school student staff. Then, I found myself attending UNA-USA’s annual conference and became a member of our local UNA-NCA chapter. Without the mentorship and encouragement of Mr. Ed Elmendorf and without the networking skills that I have learned through MUN, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Through my networking and my introduction to UNA-NCA, I am now a member of the UNA- NCA Sustainable Development Committee and a staunch advocate for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). From leading and speaking at the first Congressional event on the SDGs broadcasted nationwide last summer to help organize DC’s premier diplomatic forum on the SDGs, I have fully utilized skill-sets which I have picked up from MUN and implementing them in a real-life situation, advocating for the SDGs. Model UN to me isn’t about winning gavels, it’s about making friends, networking, and advocacy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Why MUN Matters: Skills I Could Never Acquire Anywhere Else

By Lars Greenlee
Finalist for the 2018 Student Secretary-General of the Spring Model UN Conference
8th Grader at Frost Middle School in Fairfax County

Model United Nations represents bringing people together from different backgrounds, and grants the opportunity to discuss and learn about current worldwide issues and to develop life skills. MUN has shaped me into a better person. During committee, I have learned valuable life skills that make me a more prominent individual. Before Model UN, I did not worry about politics or the UN, but since I have attended every conference available to me, I have learned more about the world.

In the past, I’ve often read about current world issues, but I felt like I couldn’t voice my thoughts or that my thoughts would be pertinent to those around me. Model UN has changed my perceptions: I can discuss and learn about global policies that I am unable to obtain anywhere else. I can now watch the news and have an understanding of what is occurring in the world. Because of MUN, I have gained knowledge of countries and how they interact with each other. When a conflict in the world happens, I know where to research, how to learn more about the problem, and think of a possible solution. I also understand the hard work and dedication it takes to be a UN representative.

Model UN is the most important academic and extracurricular activity to me. It has taught me skills I could never acquire anywhere else, and I have learned to hone my reading, writing, and research skills. I have gained better speaking skills and have less fear of standing up in front of people in committee. I know many people who were afraid to speak in front of people, but after a year of MUN, they are speaking during almost every opportunity available. Also in committee, I have gained and developed leadership, critical thinking, and teamwork skills. I have even been tasked to argue a point I may not believe in. Being able to negotiate is another important technique I have developed from Model United Nations. Being able to work with two ideas and put them together into one is very crucial. One of the most important concepts I have learned throughout MUN, though, is to listen to other people. Sometimes listening to others’ ideas is more critical in committee than stating your own opinions. I used to be the person who always talked first, but now I realize that it is beneficial to listen to others and not speak all the time. All of the experiences during Model UN has allowed me to develop  into a better person.

Model United Nations is changing my life for the better. I have a preeminent understanding of the world and cultures around me. I have developed some of the most important skills in life. I can discuss topics I enjoy during committee. I have learned to listen and negotiate with people. Model United Nations means to me the ability to  learn about the world while also developing necessary social skills.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Why MUN Matters: Enlightened to Pressing Issues

By Dana Jammoul
Finalist for the 2018 Student Secretary-General of the Spring Model UN Conference
11th Grader from the Lebanese American University Delegation

Life is all about experiences. Each person with the life he or she was given can choose to add value to this life or to live without a purpose. We must learn to appreciate each opportunity given to us and explore it and learn from it as much as we can.

Signing up to participate in the Model UN was definitely the opportunity that allowed me to explore my capabilities. It was the knife that cut into a box of talents I had in me that I thought I never had. Week after week I would wait for each training session eagerly. The lovely spirit the trainers had added to their solid and fruitful material was enlightening. From the issues they were tackling, I learned about the importance of respecting the rules and procedures of every place I would later walk into, listening to others’ ideas rather than opposing them, as well as public speaking tips that will carry on with me in every speech I make.

The stage that impacted me the most in this whole experience was during the two weeks in which we had to prepare for the final conference. Throughout those weeks, my entire state of mind shifted in a way it hadn’t before. I was enlightened to pressing issues depicting a threat to our world as well as policies and terminologies I hadn’t been exposed to before. Model UN showed me how ignorant I was, and that created an appetite for information as I found joy in researching. I would sometimes get carried away with all the knowledge I was gaining.

The day I was finally done with researching, I flipped into the pages I had printed and smiled at all the information present that had already been imprinted in the back of my brain. The day I walked into the final conference, I walked up with a smile and excitement. My most important goal was to solve the problem we were given in our background guides, and with that ideology was I able to offer the best version of myself.

All in all, Model UN gave me skills I will carry on with me later on in life whether it was in school, college, or my future career. I shall never forget all the amazing memories I went through when I was once an 11th grader participating in an amazing experience known as the Model UN.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Why MUN Matters: We Are a Global Family

By Ahmad Bromund
Finalist for the 2018 Student Secretary-General of the Spring Model UN Conference
9th Grader from Muslim Community School/Alim Academy in Maryland

“More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that, my friends, is why we have the United Nations.” Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan made this statement to the United Nations in his millennium message nearly two decades ago, and it still rings true today. In a world where people are judged and divided by religion, culture, race, and socioeconomic status, partaking in Model United Nations (MUN) has taught me the importance of working together as one society for the greater good of mankind.

MUN is an excellent program in which students have the opportunity to explore ideas and solutions for today’s most pressing issues, as well as develop exceptional speaking, debating, and researching skills. MUN also teaches principles of diplomacy, leadership, and critical thinking. In the three MUN conferences I have attended, I have learned that in order to be a strong speaker and debater, I must first be a strong listener. The only way a group of problem-solvers and critical thinkers can be productive is to listen to others’ ideas and have an open mind. Going into a setting such as MUN with this mindset of listening, opposed to just hearing, opens the door to greater possibilities.

In the three years I have been involved with MUN, my understanding of global thinking and sense of community has expanded exponentially. Throughout my MUN journey, I have been particularly inspired by a quote from former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “As the young leaders of tomorrow, you have the passion and energy and commitment to make a difference.

What I’d like to really urge you do is to have a global vision. Go beyond your country; go beyond your national boundaries. We are very fortunate to live in a country such as the United States. In this country, we have extreme comforts and privileges, which can cause our working minds to become constricted. Participating in MUN has expanded my mind and vision from a personal scale to a global scale. It’s not all about me and those in my sphere anymore; I must think about my fellow brothers and sisters who are suffering around the world, for we are a global family.

For example, I had never heard of the crisis in the Sahel and Chad Basin until MUN this year, and now I have the chance to study and analyze the causes and solutions for this crisis. I love how MUN brings the world closer together, showing me that I, along with my peers can have a positive impact on this world, because everyone deserves basic human rights.

The MUN body represents striving for our peace and unification. At the conferences, dividing lines become a blur. Differences are put aside and minds start to work together in harmony, to solve a problem, that none of us can solve alone. We work with fellow diplomats of different races, religions, and backgrounds, and we respect them for who they are and what they believe. We learn to put our differences aside and focus on solidarity, so we can all work and strive for peace together. We become many minds put together, working with one another as one powerful force. Then hand in hand, as one entity with one goal, we will all work to bring issues to rest, one by one.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Why MUN Matters: Inspires to Make a Difference

By Queen Balina
2018 Student Secretary-General of the Spring Model UN Conference
8th Grader from Cabin John Middle School in Maryland

Model United Nations means many things to me. Yes, it may be a club, an activity, a pastime, but it means so much more as well. The world, as we all know, is not perfect, and it may never be. But Model UN dares me to imagine what a perfect world would look like. We not only learn about the global and local issues being faced today, but also how these issues could affect humanity in the future.

When attending a Model UN conference, I am challenged to reach logical and possible solutions to difficult questions. Participating in Model UN gives us an opportunity to try and fix the world that we will someday be leading, and allows us to use our creativity as an advantage, an untried angle, a new approach to seemingly unsolvable problems.

By solving the problems of today, we are becoming the leaders of tomorrow. One more child, inspired by what they have learned, is one more child, working to change the world as we know it. By getting involved now, more can be accomplished to solve the problems that humanity currently faces.

I am more aware of what goes on around me when in Model UN, and how these problems affect not only me, but the global community as a whole. It is difficult not to be impacted by Model UN, because it is meant to change students and their perception of the world around them. Model UN inspires me to make a difference, even if only in just one single way. Like many other students in Model UN, I learn about how to speak in public, and how to communicate with others.

I also learn about the world as a whole – Model UN has changed me into a global citizen. I am not just concerned about issues, but actively working to solve the problems I see in my community. I have been transformed into a student who is willing to solve problems, willing to compromise, and willing to speak up for my beliefs.

In a way, my life and other students’ lives are changed, because we go from simply seeing the world’s problems to wanting to fix them. Model United Nations is not just a club. Not just an activity. Not just a pastime. To me, it is an experience. It is an inspiration.

Model United Nations makes us strive to change the world, because it is our world. And tomorrow, we will be its leaders.