During the Model UN conference hosted by University of Southern Maine last week, United to End Genocide witnessed students grappling with the same life and death issues that world governments face. The results were impressive.
The Maine Model United Nations Conference (MeMUNC) brought together nearly 400 high school students from New England to deliberate on and attempt to solve pressing international issues. The students act as United Nations ambassadors from different countries, representing a nation’s interests, perspectives, and values.
This year, the 14th annual MeMUNC addressed issues ranging from organ trafficking and indigenous rights to peacebuilding and the Arab spring. Each topic sparked lively discussion and creative potential solutions. Tom Andrews, the President and CEO of United to End Genocide, gave the keynote address. Tom noted the complexity of the issues at hand, but he also expressed some optimism about the development of international justice, noting the cases of Charles Taylor of Liberia and Thomas Lubanga of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
For the first time this year’s conference featured a simulation of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which tried the case of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The case inspired not only the 10 judges sitting on the trial, but all of the conference attendees. Students came away from MeMUNC feeling a sense of accomplishment and greater connection with their local and global communities.
I had the opportunity to speak to the group and act as an informal advisor to the ICC. I was amazed at the level of interest and engagement demonstrated by the group and the extraordinary effort of the participants to grapple with these critical international issues.
I found that the model UN conference took a proactive approach to the question of why should students care about what is happening on the other side of the world. Simply by reminding the students that we are all part of a global community they can see how actions we may take will impact the other side of the planet. Therefore, it’s important for students to be educated, engaged and empowered with knowledge that can enable them to make a difference in the lives of those in the other parts of the world who are suffering and have less opportunity to speak for themselves.
The dedication of their teachers and the organizers, who have been leading the model UN for 14 years, will pay dividends in the future as they inspire and prepare the students to become global changemakers as this very young age.
Most importantly, the students not only came to discuss the issues, but to go back to their schools, cities or states to take action. United to End Genocide helped them draft a letter to Secretary of the State Clinton and UN ambassador Susan Rice demanding justice for the people of Sudan and asking for concert steps to hold Sudanese President al-Bashir accountable. Over 400 students signed this letter. United to End Genocide is going to hand deliver the letter and will report back to the students.
It was this blending of learning, engaging and taking action that made the conference a success — something that United to End Genocide is always proud to be part of in our effort to build a global movement to end genocide and mass atrocities everywhere.