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Playing the UN 
by Anton Burkov*
(a short story about the National Model UN, New York, 6-10 April 2004)

We had only 5 days to save the Earth

Applying for the Model UN Conference I was looking forward to finding answers to the questions which bothered me for a long time how does the UN system of human rights protection really work, what is behind this system, and what change can I make after pursuing my degree in International Human Rights Law?

United Nations, New York City                  General Assembly Hall, United Nations, New York City

Anticipating the excitement of being in New York City, of participating at the Conference in the UN premises among 3000 international students from all over the Globe, I had, however, a very slight idea of where I was going. I realized the spirit of the Games the very moment I entered the lobby of the Hilton at Avenue of the Americas, the hotel which hosted the Model UN. There were hundreds of smiles, cameras flashes, a buzz of conversations and laughs... There was something in the air which resembled the atmosphere of the Olympic Games, the Games I dreamed about at the time of my speed skating career. Suddenly, the dream came true.

Night New York, the Never Sleep City                       Night New York, the Never Sleep City

However, I was not representing my home country, Russia. MUNICIPS, the team composed of 25 Chevening scholars getting their postgraduate degrees in the UK, was assigned to represent France. Even better. It will help to be more impartial. So, Viva La France! and Long Live Human Rights!

The First day began with the Opening Ceremony at the General Assembly Hall. Thousands of excited students were present, carrying placards with names of different countries. This must be the only event where one can meet, for example, representatives of Italy composed of delegates with Chinese names only. Or imagine a blond delegate of the Peoples Republic of China called Vladimir Ivanov. Probably this is the ideal of international friendship.

My French-Chinese partner and I, French-Russian, were on the Commission on Human Rights. First in line was voting for an agenda. Vulnerability Reduction/ Protection Against HIV/AIDS was voted for as number one topic for a debate. The Brazilian delegation asked for a first suspension of the meeting for the purpose of caucusing. It caused an explosion! At the very moment of announcing the suspension delegates from about 15 countries jumped up, started to scream, and waved country placards everybody was looking for a friendly country. By the end of the day 10 blocks were formed according to states policies.

The approaching night was spent searching the internet for more details on the agenda issue and foreign policy of France. In the morning, our team went for a mission briefing, where we met with the Deputy Representative of France to the United Nations.

With Deputy Representative of France to the United Nations

The next day the session of the Human Rights Commission continued. No, not that Commission which is in Geneva sitting in its 60th session at the same time. The one which is in New York City composed of those who will be in Geneva tomorrow. Ten draft resolutions were being debated. Is it possible for a separate country or group of countries to lose or win when human rights are at stake, when the issue debated does not care about boarders, names and well-beings of countries?! This is a situation were all the countries will win or lose. Other options are illusions. It is up to them. Those on the Commission on Human Rights in New York did understand it. After a long four-day debates, from 8-30 in the morning to 10-30 in the evening, all 10 draft resolutions were passed.

There was one disappointing thing. I have got the impression about the UN simulation, particularly about the Commission on Human Rights work, that it was nothing about international law implementation but bargaining. Having said to myself that it was just a simulation, not a reality, I set my mind at rest. What a surprise it was when 5 days later I read the Chair of the Russian Presidential Commission on Human Rights Ella Pamfilovas speech delivered at the 60th session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva! She stated that there is a crisis of the international law implementation Clashes of the geo-strategic interests and political conjuncture to the prejudice of principles of human rights protection make it harder for the human rights institutions all over the world to act Commission on Human Rights should revise the mechanism of the resolution passing...

The Closing Ceremony was held in the General Assembly Hall. Announcements of winners were made. There were no losers at the Games. There were winners and non-winners. I always believed in an Olympic saying The participation is important, not the victory. The experience is important. The experience, which will make the victory possible tomorrow, is what matters. We will have other games, real human rights to fight for, for the real UN and home countries we belong to, and real life.

Winning the UN

23 April 2004

Related links:
  • "Playing the UN" by Anton Burkov in Russian >>>
  • "Down Broadway or the Tragic Events through the Eyes of a Russian Volunteer" by Anton Burkov in English >>> in Russian >>>

* Anton Burkov is an attorney, program coordinator with the NGO Sutyajnik, lecturer in the Department of Administrative Law at the Urals State Law Academy (Russia), as well as a post-graduate law student (LLM in International Human Rights Law) at the University of Essex (Colchester, the UK). E-mail: The author is grateful to Claire Morclette, my French classmate, for invaluable research help on the Frances foreign policy and to Shikha Bhattacharji, my Model UN fellow-delegate, who assisted me in editing the final version of the text. (up)
** MUNICIPS stands for Model United Nations Initiative Chevening International Postgraduate Scholars. (up)

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