BY TIA TUIBURELEVU, THE NEW YORK TIMES
BOSTON – After an hour of intense debate delegates of the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee attending the 62nd session of the Harvard National Model United Nations Conference (HNMUN) have chosen ‘The Rights of Female Prisoners’ as their topic to debate for the remainder of the conference.
Located in the Boston Park Plaza Hotel’s Georgian Room, hundreds of delegates spent a near hour debating whether to resolve the issue on the ‘Rights of Female Prisoners’ or, alternatively, ‘The Issue of Missing and Exploited Children’. Both issues are of critical importance to the United Nations as they involve our most vulnerable members of society. This was a point many states raised in their thirty second opening speeches. In one very diplomatic address, the delegate of Pakistan reminded the committee to ensure ‘everyone’s voice be heard’ in selecting between the two topics.
However opinion remained hotly divided amongst the General Assembly. Delegates from Belarus, Bangladesh and Ireland gave particularly informative speeches urging the committee to focus on the rights of female prisoners. Their main concern was that the international community was seen not to be doing enough for the advancement and progression of incarcerated women. Many touted damming global statistics and human rights reports highlighting the rates of sexual assault, lack of access to healthcare, and prisoner abuse. A particularly passionate delegate from Angola described many prisons as a ‘torturous and hellish’ environment that must be improved. Upon further questioning , Angola proposed a mandatory imposition of separate gender prisons (including staff) as a means to eliminate the rates of sexual violence and discrimination that occurs. They maintained that they would push other states to support this in a resolution over the coming days.
Interestingly, the dual delegation from Saudi Arabia, a state often criticized for its women’s rights record, supported the choosing of Topic A as ‘reaching gender equality’ is their primary goal. By contrast, delegations from New Zealand, Thailand and Burkina Faso were particularly disappointed that the ‘Rights of Missing and Exploited Children’ narrowly missed out. The latter lamenting that ‘children are the ones that cannot speak for themselves, we must do it for them. We are disappointed not to be debating this topic.’
The United States did not give an opening address however upon further questioning the delegation were pleased that the issue of Female Prisoners was chosen. ‘Women are the mothers of our children, we must look after them.’ The delegation hopes to include in the resolution a mandatory gender separation clause, educational programmes and a greater focus on maternal, mental and overall health care. They envision all initiatives to be cost effective so they can be implemented by all member states. These ideas run in tandem with the delegations from Switzerland, Portugal and The United Kingdom with whom they hope to ally.
The committee later broke into an unmoderated caucus with a successful motion by the Seychelles to debate health care and rehabilitative issues. Future debate is likely to focus on the Bangkok Rules and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and whether current international legal instruments are satisfactory.
Delegates from the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee raise their placards in support of choosing the Rights of Female Prisoners as the topic to be debated in the committee session – 8.10pm 2/11/16