NGOs play critical role in HNMUN Conference

By TIA TUIBURELEVU, THE NEW YORK TIMES

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NGOs read over briefing papers from various committees prior to the Press Conference 2/13/16

The NGO programme is a recent edition to the Harvard National Model United Nations Conference, allowing various organizations to voice their concerns and perspectives in the committee sessions. Forty-three NGO groups ranging from Greenpeace International to Room to Read are represented this year as part of the Economic and Social Council. By injecting themselves into the debate and resolution writing in various committee rooms, NGOs enjoy a high degree of flexibility and autonomy throughout the four days of the conference. 

Within the United Nations, NGOs play a unique role in the committee dynamics as they do not represent state interests but can lobby for their agendas to be heard. This still allows them to perform a highly political function whilst remaining, for the most part, non-partisan. By definition, NGOs are tasked with providing ‘expert information and advice from organizations having special competence in their subjects..’ This allows them to bring an alternative perspective into debate that delegates may not have first considered.

Unlike general Model United Nations procedure where delegates must motion to be added to the speakers list (which is often a time-consuming and difficult process in a room of 300), NGOs enter the committee room at any time and pass a note to the Dais when they feel they need to make a presentation. The Moderator then selects an appropriate time for them to speak during a moderated caucus with a following question and answer panel. NGOs from GreenPeace, Child Rights Network, ACUMEN Fund, Freedom House and Water for People gave very positive feedback on this structure. In last night’s press conference, many mentioned that all the delegates they met were extremely receptive to their role and engaged in robust discussion during and after speeches.

One example was in the International Organization for Migration committee where Child Rights Network gave a speech criticizing the lack of child-focussed initiatives in the working papers. After taking numerous questions the Dais extended the committee’s unmoderated caucus to include the NGO’s ideas in the working papers. Greenpeace had a similar experience in the United Nations Human Rights Council where he criticized their inability to focus on core environmental issues. In the fifth committee session he noticed how they had changed tact and included a range of environmental proposals in the draft resolution papers.

The NGOs noted that their unique voice has really helped to diversify the committee’s discussions. Even where NGO specific interests like the environment, children or water may not appear ostensibly relevant to general committee session, NGOs encourage delegates to take a more intersectional perspective when considering these weighty global issues.

Although the NGOs themselves are highly varied, their common thread is to push a rights based perspective. They advocate for people and those (like the environment and animals) that cannot be heard in political discussion. This is a welcome addition in an environment where the interests of sovereign states often eclipse the voices of marginalized groups.

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