Young diplomats try to resolve Sudan conflict

Senior students from 11 Auckland secondary schools at Massey's Auckland campus for the 2017 Global Summit

They reside a world away from the horrors of civil war, mass atrocity and refugee crises. But teenagers in Auckland and Manawatū flexed their diplomatic skills to try and resolve such issues in mock United Nations Security Council exercises at Massey University.

The war in South Sudan was the focus for senior students from Auckland and the Manawatū who took part in two Global Summits at the University’s Auckland and Manawatū campuses last week. They came to learn about the workings of the United Nations and the role, powers and procedures of its Security Council in decision-making and taking action on global problems, and then to get a taste of what it takes to be on it.

Thirty Year 12 and 13 students from Avondale College, Epsom Girls’ Grammar School, St Cuthbert’s College, Botany Downs Secondary College, Rosmini College, Takapuna Grammar School, Pinehurst School, Kingsway School, Mahurangi College and Orewa College – took part in the June 27 event. In Palmerston North, 32 students from Palmerston North Girls’ High School, Palmerston North Boys’ High School, St Peter’s College, TŪ TOA Tai Wananga, Manukura School, Hato Paora College, Freyberg High School and Wairarapa College joined the summit on June 29.

At the outset of the summit, organiser and senior lecturer at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies, Dr Damien Rogers, explained the origins of the UN Charter, created after the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII. Participants learned of its membership, function, rules and procedures, such as the power of veto by its five permanent members (United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China), the use of sanctions, and the role of the International Criminal Court.

Students-turned-global diplomats were briefed on the issue they would be faced with in the mock meeting of the Security Council – civil war in South Sudan – before the event. On campus, they were allocated roles as state representatives.

TŪ TOA Tai Wānanga student Maceo Watson addresses the Security Council at the mock UN forum on the Manawatū campus

Death, war, starvation – what to do?

The event pivoted on a specific real-world scenario currently unfolding in the world’s newest nation state of South Sudan. Global Summit participants heard that the situation on the ground in South Sudan “now ranks among the most volatile and insecure places anywhere in the world.” Their briefing documents revealed that: “300,000 people are already dead. Two million people have been displaced within the country by the furies of armed conflict. Earlier this year, famine was also declared in some areas of the country. Over one million people remain at risk of starvation.”

Their starting point was the UN General Secretary’s report to the Security Council, who alerted members to the deteriorating situation in South Sudan. Students had to digest and assess extensive details about the crisis, including the roots of South Sudan’s war of independence; conflict with neighbouring Sudan over valuable oil reserves and revenue; fighting between ethnic and military factions; and the impact of corruption, poverty and lack of infrastructure that has led to famine and mass migration.

They had to debate and respond to a Resolution that “the UN Security Council determines that there has been a breach of international peace and security in South Sudan”, following a briefing from the UN Force Commander of the United Nations Peace-keeping operations in South Sudan alleging human rights violations and abuses, as well as breaches of international humanitarian law and “the direct targeting of civilians along ethnic lines and the extreme violence against women and children.”

Challenges of the summit for the students included having to respond and adapt to incoming information about the evolving situation in South Sudan through updates and press releases from human rights and media organisations, such as Human Rights Watch, International Committee of the Red Cross, and the BBC. Certain states received classified updates from their capitals.

Long Bay College students Hamish MacColl, Genie Stewart-Sinclair and Bevan Xiao at the Auckland campus Global Summit.

Peace through cooperation

The aim of the day, says Dr Rogers, is to give students a sense of the cut and thrust of real-world global politics, and how the complexities of compromise and cooperation can clash with national interests and international alliances as members try to procure peace.

They also learned about the opportunities and limitations of the UN Security Council, resulting from the power of veto held by the five permanent members. This can lead to a lack of action, he says.

In a feedback session at the end of the day, students said they had a better understanding of the frustrations of smaller UN member states whose viewpoints and resolutions can be overruled by the powers of the Security Council’s Permanent Five Members.

“The key lesson here is that the aim of international cooperation might not necessarily be to stop all wars per se, but rather, to lessen the likelihood and curtail the consequences of the major powers from going to war with one another,” he explains.

“In my view, the UN Security Council is one of the most powerful organs in world affairs. The UN Security Council is both an actor in contemporary world affairs and a stage upon which international politics is dramatized,” Dr Rogers says.

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