Travel Journal: A Look Inside THIMUN (The Hague International Model United Nations)

By: Martina I.

Today is my 4th day in The Hague, Netherlands, as a member of the delegation of Ethiopia, and the experience of MUN has been much more impressive and overwhelming than I had anticipated. Every morning, from 9 am to 5 pm, thousands of students meet at the World Forum, a massive building adjacent to the headquarters of a number of UN and European institutions, to discuss, debate, and solve world problems. THIMUN is an extremely accurate simulation of the real United Nations experience, every single United Nations body: The Security Council, International Court of Justice, the Human Rights Council (which I myself am a part of), as well as all General Assemblies are recreated, to name but a few. What is most stunning, however, is not the scale of the event nor the air of professionalism and importance that lingers amongst the delegates and chairs, it is the delegates themselves. Students of every age, from 14 to 18+, seamlessly represent world powers with a sense of authority, competence, and responsibility that one would expect from the official UN delegations. Every single delegate embodies perfectly the values and policies of the country or organization they are representing, distancing themselves from every personal opinion or prejudice they might have, often being forced to go against what they truly believe in as it does not match with their nation’s policies.

The level of preparation and knowledge of world affairs that every single delegate shows is beyond impressive, one could easily find themselves challenging a delegate with a point of information (question intended to undermine or enhance a delegation’s opinion, but usually the former), and standing behind their podium being humiliated as the speaker references specific documents, page numbers, even individual clauses of texts created and ratified dozens of years ago to support their own argument. This is especially true of delegations representing more influential nations, such as the USA, and The Russian Federation, as well as countries who are directly involved in the issues being discussed, such as Israel and Palestine, (although it is technically not considered a country by the UN). It is enthralling and a privilege to be able to observe and take part in debates in which strong leaders, representing strong nations are able to support their deeply logical and often flawless arguments with such a high level of preparation. Also to be lauded is the passion with which delegates deliver their highly persuasive speeches, a passion that results in everyone in the room believing that each delegate truly does represent, and love, the nation they are standing up for, regardless of the fact that almost no one represents their true nation.

There are, of course, a few exceptions. Despite ruining the mood, they do however offer good laughs. One of the main flaws of MUN debates, and the parliamentary procedure in general, is that it is excessively structured and overly-formal. I myself, to be honest, am quite tired of referring to myself as “the delegation of Ethiopia,” even though I am the only representative in my committee, and constantly being forced to talk in the third person, as the use of personal pronouns “is not in order.” As a result, it has occurred that delegations have made a mockery of this system. For example, today, while debating a resolution on the issue of “achieving access to safe, effective, and affordable essential medicine and vaccines for all”, a delegate submitted an amendment encouraging “all member states to legalize and assure safe access to medical marijuana”, after which he proceeded with a passionate speech in front of the entirety of the Human Rights Council on how marijuana “makes people feel good after walking out of bars,” and therefore, this pleasure should be available to all. Words cannot describe the hysterical laughter of every single person in that massive meeting room as the amendment was read out and the delegate made his speech, and although I realize that this fact greatly undermines the credibility of all of my previous extolments of these delegates, I must confess that the amendment was passed with an overwhelming majority and that someone shouted “YASSSSS WEED!” as this occurred. At the cost of further undermining my previous statements, I will also inform you that after being informed that men could not take their jackets off during debate under any circumstance, a delegate interrupted a speaker with a point of parliamentary inquiry, after which he proceeded to stand up and point his finger at the poor speaker, vehemently denouncing that “the delegate is not wearing a jacket!” with the passion you would a human rights abuse. The delegate of Myanmar, stating to be Buddhist (although he obviously wasn’t), because of the country he was representing, was deeply appalled at being pointed at, which the delegate took to be an “extreme, extreme” offense, requesting that the chair “note his grievances”, an expression that not even the expert chair understood, and was later revealed to mean “write down my complaint”, when the delegate was asked to rephrase his point “in a more direct and concise manner.”

At this point, you must be wondering whether MUN is not simply an ego-gratifying experience for overly self-important, pompous individuals. Perhaps, you are even doubting my ability as a writer to convey my opinion effectively and coherently. However, the point is that I am not trying to persuade anyone to believe anything right now, I’ve been doing this for eight hours for four days now. I am simply trying to portray the reality of the conference, inevitably, passed through the subjective lens of my own experience. The delegation of Ethiopia believes, that while the continuous implementation of parliamentary language and adherence to the related protocol may be ultimately perceived to be rather exacting and tedious, abiding by such bridling standards oftentimes results in the elucidation of pertinent issues to be discussed in the house, in conjuncture with an adequate and consequential enforcement of the delegates’ conduct and somewhat awful cynosure on the questions to be remedied. (Just to be clear, this would be considered 2nd grade language in comparison to how we are expected to speak during sessions. In fact, I’ve learned all those words by simply listening to a one minute, hasty speech.)

The final aspect of MUN which I would like to address is how the real-world rivalries between nations, especially Israel vs. Palestine and Syria vs. any non-refugee-welcoming nation, are reflected in the delegates’ behaviors towards one another. To mention another personal experience, few things have been more entertaining in my life than witnessing the debate between the delegations of Israel and Palestine regarding Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories (please note that in this case, as in MUN, “delegation” is used to refer to only one person, in fact, this debate was between two very fierce girls about my age). After Palestine expressed its support for a very controversial resolution condemning Israel’s behavior, and calling for sanctions to be placed in action against this nation until the two-state solution is implemented, the delegate of Israel, through her very “Donald Trump style” interpretation of the Geneva Convention, which in fact should apply to the current situation as Israel is infringing the international laws that the convention had put in place, stated that the occupied Palestinian territories are in fact entirely under Israeli authority and that no international law had been broken, despite international condemnation. The delegate enforced her fundamentally flawed argument by referencing obviously biased sources, found directly in the State of Israel’s foreign affairs website. Her hatred for the other delegate was evident in her eyes as she spoke, as if the matter were personal.  The delegation of Palestine, in response to the attack, made a very bold political statement, temporarily abandoning the podium, to return shortly after with her placard, light blue, in contrast with the white placards of all other nations. “This placard itself,” she stated with passion, “is a symbol of the inequality between us. Palestine is not even recognized as a state!” she lamented, “Israel was created by the UN, all negotiations taking place here will obviously be biased.”

As stated by the special advisor to the mayor of The Hague at the opening ceremony, “the conference center fills up every day with the unquestionable leaders of tomorrow. The wide range of talents that one can taste there: compassion, empathy, persuasion, authority, competence, even manipulation, give me hope that the generation of tomorrow, which I am proudly a part of, is overflowing with promise, potential, and an internationalism and connection that distinguishes it from all others that came before. I am anxiously waiting to witness it rule the world.”

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