Friday, July 27, 2018

Why MUN Matters: Connect With New Friends and Solve Issues Quickly

By Jackson Malmgren 

Jackson is a Summer 2018 Program Assistant for the UNA-NCA Global Classrooms DC program. He is an undergraduate at American University majoring in international relations, and will focus on foreign policy. He brings with him five years of Model UN experience.

Model UN, much like the real United Nations, revolves around diplomacy. Diplomacy encompasses so many life skills, including creative thinking, problem solving, and negotiation, that cannot simply be taught in school. In elementary school, teachers encourage creativity and want students to ask why, but as kids get older, the curiosity fades. Model UN teaches kids to ask questions again. When representing a country, it’s not enough to say “we support refugees” or “we oppose nuclear weapons,” you have to ask why your country believes this. Trying to answer one question leads to more questions, more information about the topic, and a greater understanding of the country, its opinions, and the issue itself. 

I had a tough time getting used to this, I liked facts to be plain and simple and tell me exactly what I needed. During my first conference in my sophomore year of high school, I represented New Zealand on the United Nations Environmental Programme on the topic of deforestation in the Amazon. It is very difficult to find information on a topic that is half a world away, and I realized that I have to ask a lot of questions before I can truly understand an opinion. 

Each Model UN committee focuses on a general problem and gives delegates free reign to explore solutions. From combating money laundering in Europe to arms trafficking in Central America, Model UN encourages delegates to break down massive issues into dozens of smaller, solvable problems. Slowly, one by one, delegates discuss with each other potential solutions for each of the small problems. After analyzing all sides, groups begin to put pen to paper and craft elaborate, creative solutions to all aspects of a central issue. There are always going to be problems in life; Model UN gives people the skills to solve them. 

Two years later, I represented Ukraine on the Security Council. This placed me at a huge disadvantage, as this was at the height of the Russian intervention in Ukraine. Facing an adversary with a veto power, I focused on solutions that many other members were sympathetic to and would put Russia on the defensive end if they chose to move forward with plans of their own. A lot of analysis went into these solutions, we chose to host Syrian peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan because of similar cultural values, precedent, and neutrality. 

However, not everyone is going to agree on solutions to problems, or even that there is a problem at all. At this point, delegates negotiate with the goal of finding a solution acceptable by all sides. Sometimes these negotiations are successful, other times it simply does not work out and a new group emerges. In some cases, there is a limit to how many written resolutions there can be, and you negotiate with the other side usually late into the night, line by line, to weave together a cohesive resolution. 

In order to try out for my college’s Model UN team, I needed to participate in a practice simulation. I was given Japan in a General Assembly focusing on the North Korean nuclear crisis. While a great position, it meant that I would likely be following in the footsteps of other larger countries, something that I resolved not to do. While I stuck with my traditional allies, the US and South Korea, I talked with several southeast Asian countries and recruited a few to join our bloc. Because I was the one making connections with them, they wound up backing many of my ideas. This elevated me to a position where I could negotiate as a major player with the other big countries. 

Diplomacy is not about beating the other side, but painting an accurate picture of your country’s hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions, goals, culture, and overarching beliefs. Diplomacy is working with people representing literally every part of the world to find a solution to a problem that seems impossible. But like Nelson Mandela said, “it always seems impossible until it is done.” 

While I’m proud of my Model UN work, I’m even more thankful that it translated over into other aspects of my life. Model UN has given me newfound respect when I travel abroad and has undoubtedly propelled me forward in my international relations major. Model UN has helped me connect with new friends and solve issues quickly. 

There are other aspects about Model UN that are important; knowing how to speak on your feet, conduct extensive research, and defend your ideas are all worthwhile skills to learn for anyone in any field. However, in the end, the various diplomatic skills I have developed through Model UN are some of the most versatile and useful abilities I have. I would not be the person I am today without the Model UN experiences that have shaped me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

UNMIL’s Success in Liberia

By: Bonnie Worstell, UNA-NCA Program Assistant

On Tuesday July 17, the Better World Campaign held a celebration at Rayburn House Office Building called “From Fear to Freedom: Celebrating UN Peacekeeping Successes in West Africa” to applaud the impact of the United Nations’ efforts in West Africa. Although the current U.S. administration has expressed distaste for the UN and has favored a policy of retrenchment, the president’s proposed budget cut of 30% directed towards international affairs was rejected by Congress. The event showcased the many accomplishments of the UN in Liberia, demonstrating that UN peacekeeping is worth investing in.

After 15 long years of building peace in a nation torn apart by two vicious civil wars, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) successfully completed its mandate on March 30, 2018. During its mandate, UNMIL worked alongside the Liberian government to improve and strengthen institutions to establish long-term stability. Some of the efforts initiated included the revamping of the Liberian National Police (LNP), assisting with the conduction of democratic elections, and addressing the Ebola crisis. 

A reliable, trustworthy national police force is a key institution, but the LNP were completely dysfunctional at the inception of UNMIL in October 2003. Their success was hindered by the seizure of police stations by rebel groups, rampant corruption stemming from bribery necessitated by a lack of salary from the government, as well as a lack of resources, training, and equipment. UNMIL began by launching the largest UN Peacekeeping disarmament campaign in history, resulting in the disarmament of 100,000 former combatants. Next, UNMIL, alongside the U.S. and Sweden, then successfully re-trained the LNP, ultimately reversing its bad reputation for corruption. Due to budgetary constraints, the force is seriously undermanned. However, as Liberia recovers economically, its capacity to grow the numbers of the LNP will expand.

Another key institution of long-lasting stability is democratic elections. UNMIL assisted Liberia’s government in conducting democratic elections by registering over 1.3 million voters and stationing peacekeepers at election sites to protect voters from election-related violence. The first election in 2005 resulted in the appointment of the first female head of state in the African continent’s history, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In the next elections, occurring in 2011 and 2017, UNMIL was far less involved in efforts to transition the responsibility onto the Liberian government. As a result, in January 2018, the nation saw its first successful transition of peace when George Weah replaced Sirleaf.

In 2014-2015 Ebola swept through western Africa, causing a health crisis that infected 28,000 and killed 11,000. UNMIL played a critical role in the immediate response as other international agencies mobilized, coordinating with the Liberian government to release an awareness campaign, increasing logistical effectiveness for testing and diagnosing victims, obtaining the necessary equipment, and training volunteers. The U.S. also played a vital role: the state established three diagnostic laboratories, The Center for Disease Control (CDC) contributed Ebola prevention kits to be distributed, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) assisted in the necessary task of assisting in safe burials to those who had succumbed to this deadly illness. Despite the tragedy causing numerous deaths and a wave of international panic, the response brought robust investment into Liberia’s public health infrastructure, increasing Liberia’s future capacity to deal with potential future health crises.

Liberia still has many obstacles to overcome including increasing their low human development index score, building much-needed infrastructure, addressing ongoing gender violence and discrimination, and recovering from their general lack of resources. However, making these improvements will be much more possible in a time of peace than a time of conflict. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will take the lead on assisting the ongoing work in Liberia. They intend to aid the new president’s goals of investing in “agriculture, infrastructure, in human capital, and in technology.” Weah also intends to focus on poverty reduction during his time in office. Despite the difficulties Liberia must yet address, the future is quite promising. Liberia has yielded many “firsts,” and has exceeded expectations in so many vital areas. With aid from the UN agencies such as UNDP and United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), and the promise of sustained peace, there is nothing Liberia cannot accomplish.

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.