Keynote speech to EDMUN 20/2/09

Edinburgh University MUN Association: ScotMUN

Keynote Address by Dr Gari Donn, Convenor UNA Edinburgh
Friday 20 February 2009

The importance of MUNs for people-to-people understanding, cooperation and development

It is indeed an honour to be speaking at your Opening Ceremony of the First Scottish Universities Model United Nations. I realize that in addition to representatives from UK Universities, there are others from India, Russia, France and Estonia. It is fantastic to see this wide range of participation. I know that you will be addressing and debating resolutions for the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the European Union, Disarmament and International Security (DISEC) as well as for the Climate Change Conference. You will be very busy. Work starts in earnest tomorrow morning.

This evening, however, is our opportunity to gather our thoughts on what we hope to achieve throughout our weekend of Committee and Assembly meetings. I think most of the 192 countries of the UN are represented here tonight. So welcome!

Also here, tonight, are representatives of our local branch of the UNA. In fact, as Convenor (that is, Chair) of the UNA Edinburgh, I bring you greetings not only from our members (some being graduates of your own universities and most having been involved in MUNs and MUNGAs over the years) but also from other UN Associations, including the UNA Iran. But before I deliver these greetings, I would like to remind us of the role of the UN, the UNA in the UK before drawing attention to the importance of links with other UNAs.

I am sure we all know that the UN has grown from 51 countries in 1945, all signing up to the Charter of the United Nations, into the major international organization of today. It works – as we all are very aware – to maintain peace and security throughout the world, promote fundamental human rights and freedoms; to fight poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy; and to encourage respect for each other among people. It is the global organization committed to developing friendly relations among nations based on ideals of equality and self determination. And, of course, it is tasked to provide the means for nations to achieve these purposes.

I always feel that it is important to state these roles and objectives of the UN. We must not forget just how important they all are. However, in fact, we frequently hear of the failures of the UN to maintain peace and security throughout the world. We know that poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy are rife throughout the world. Almost daily we read of the litany of breaches of fundamental human rights and the absence of freedom.
It is never easy for all 192 nations to agree and even getting consensus on the less strategic issues is also, at times, very difficult. But dissent and opposition are not inevitable, as you will discover this weekend. You will find opportunities to develop diplomatic liaisons and ways to build bridges with other delegations. This is how we have to work, even harder than ever, in the 21st century. It is through the ability to listen carefully, as well as to speak coherently, to work cooperatively and communicate intuitively, that our world will become a safer place. It is up to you as the representatives of these many countries here today, to show others that conflict is not inevitable and that bridge building can be one way to solve these apparently intractable problems of peace and security, human rights, poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy.

To make every effort to help the UN overcome these problems and achieve its goals Associations, in support of the UN, work at national levels. Many countries have UNAs. The UNA of the UK is exceptionally active with a small staff based in London and a huge volunteer community working throughout the UK.

Each year the UNA-UK holds an Annual Conference (this year’s will be here in Edinburgh in June!) at which resolutions are discussed and motions agreed. These feed into the work of the staff and volunteers, branches and networks of the Association. Currently, there are four policy programmes of the UNA-UK. These are on the Millennium Development Goals, Peace and Security, Human rights and humanitarian action and UN Reform. Although these four programmes crystallise the work of the UNA, education is actually at the heart of the Association. It is through education, public awareness and pressure that lasting change can be achieved. So it is quite appropriate that the UNA in the UK (like UNAs elsewhere) provides support and materials for Model UN events and provides resources for people wanting to develop their knowledge of the UN system and activities.

You will know that the UNA-UK has a Youth and Student Association and a Young Professionals Network. The former is a network of university groups, schools and individual members across the UK who exchange ideas and organize events to promote the work of the UN among young people. The latter brings together a diverse mix of young professionals who support a strong role for the UN in international affairs. Through these networks of people-to-people communications, joint ideas and collaborative activities are developed. Usually, this is done on a voluntary yet totally committed basis.

We have to hope that all representatives of governments as well as their officials, sitting on the various UN Committees, work as often and as hard as these volunteers to achieve the global objectives and goals of the UN. That is why we follow, so intensely, their debates in the General Assembly, the Security Council, or in any of the various Committees.

But, perhaps, what we often do not follow so intensely is the remit of the UN to aid and support the development of friendly relations among nations based on ideals of equality and self-determination. Whilst governments and media attention may be on the material politics of the moment, we, in the grass-roots UN movements, may be more inclined to recognize the positive benefits of people-to-people interaction.

Our UNA branch in Edinburgh had this approach in mind when collaborative partnerships were developed with the UNA Iran. Colleagues from Tehran visited us last year and a small delegation from UNA Edinburgh recently returned from an official visit to Iran.

We have instituted two joint projects: the holding of two MUNGAs, one in Edinburgh in June and another in Tehran in October. School students from both countries will act as delegations and represent nations – just as you are doing this weekend. The second project is on Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and in April, at the Scottish Parliament, we will hold a Conference on the NPT. The Report from that event will be presented to Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in Seoul in August when he attends the Conference of the World Federation of United Nations Associations. Following that, he will take the Report to the NPT Review Conference at the UN in 2010.

These collaborative partnerships, under the wing of the UNA, enable people to meet people, and allow images of the other to be nuanced by the realities found. With that in mind, may I show you a few of the images I saw when in Iran, during our visit hosted by the UNA in Iran?

My colleague and I ran workshops on MUNGAs and NPT. Here you see the participants at the Conference:

Slide 1: NGOs at workshops

NGO participants

Slide 2:Iran conference at UNA IRAN

Most of these people worked for NGOs concerned with human rights, children and families, environmental pollution, and women’s rights.

One abiding image we brought home from Iran was of questioning – and sometimes, smiling – people interested in who we were, where we came from and what we were doing in their country. With so few visitors, our presence as foreigners was pretty obvious:

Slide 3: Isfahan – conversation with man in street

here is a man who stopped us in Isfahan and asked us whether we liked his city. Actually, as the owner of the local Persian carpet shop here in Edinburgh said, and I certainly agree with him, ‘Isfahan is double double nice’!

Classroom at Guidance School

Slide 4: School children

Slide 5: Teachers

Schools in Tehran seem well equipped and although the teachers were very busy, many managed to take time out for tea and a chat about their teaching methods, their curriculum and their hopes for greater collaboration with schools in Scotland.

IB room in school in Tehran

Our highlight was – of course – the holding of the MUNGA!

Slide 6: MUNGA

Representatives of delegations were vocal in the debates, and resolutions were passed banning pesticides in food production and supporting moves to reduce pollution in cities. They, like you, were well aware of the many organizations created by the UN to focus upon aspects of international affairs. They know of the work of the International Labour Organisation – the ILO, UNICEF, UNIFEM, UNDP, UNHCR, WHO and UNESCO. Indeed, many of those we met were active in these agencies and wanted to know whether we too valued the work of the UN, its agencies and its programmes.

It was great to be able to say that Scotland has recently established a Scotland Committee of UK National Commission of UNESCO and its work supports education, science and culture. In fact, it may be that the Model UN approach may become even more popular in Scottish schools as UNESCO Scotland – along with other educational organizations – confirms the importance of the MUN for an in-depth understanding of international relations within the school curriculum.


Slide 7: UNESCO Seal of Excellence in craft shop in Isfahan


Concluding comments:
When we see the number and wide-ranging tasks under the remit of the UN we know that in any local UNA there is only so much one can do in support of the global goals and objectives. Nevertheless, we also know that everyday we take forward the commitment of the UN to develop friendly relations among nations based on ideals of equality and self determination. Through our personal contact and commitment to engage with others, we help the UN to provide the means for nations to achieve these purposes.

That too is what you are learning to do through your work this weekend at the MUN.

May I conclude by saying that our friends in UNA Iran send their very best wishes for your successful deliberations here in Edinburgh:

UNA Iran sends all good wishes for a successful completion of discussions at the First ScotMUN. In time to come, UNA Iran hopes that Scottish students will be able to visit Tehran for a joint student MUN. (UNA Iran President Mahmood Tavana)

There are greetings also from the following UNAs in the UK:

Message from UNA London and SE Region:
London and SE Region of UNA-UK send our greetings to all those taking part in the Scottish Universities Model United Nations meeting in Edinburgh. Here In our part of the UK, we have found such meetings can play a very important part in raising awareness of how the UN works – its positive features as well as some of the serious constraints, and we are sure that your participants will have a very similar enriching experience. We wish you every success in your endeavours!

Yours in peace Neville Grant
Chair, London and SE Region

With best wishes from Eastern Region and Harpenden Branch.
Trevor Evans, Chair of the Branch

From Mrs Hilary Sloan, Chairperson, UNA-N Ireland, and representative of Northern Ireland on the Board of Directors of UNA:
Greetings from Northern Ireland to participants at the first ScotMUN. We realise the importance of these student UN events taking place in colleges and universities worldwide and we commend and recognise the enormous effort it takes to organise such an occasion. Well done!

And from Edinburgh UNA, sincere best wishes for the weekend, and an invitation to attend – as Observers, for a change! – our own MUNGA: at the City Chambers here in Edinburgh on Monday 22 June, when we will have delegations from Iranian schools.

I, too, wish you well and hope that you enjoy the challenges of the days ahead here in Edinburgh and for the years ahead as you work to implement the ideals of the United Nations.