Legal Committee

Dear Delegates,

It is my sincere pleasure to welcome you to the Legal Committee at Harvard National Model United Nations 2017!

My name is Joanna Torres, and I am a senior at Harvard College. I study history with a focus on the United States (particularly in the twentieth century), though I am also interested in twentieth century history more broadly. I am from Wilmington, Massachusetts, which is about half an hour away from Boston—the ideal hometown for an American history major! Outside of class, I am a staff member on Tempus: Harvard College’s History Review and I work in one of Harvard’s many libraries.

This will by third year directing Legal Committee and my fourth year as a member of its staff, having started out as an Assistant Director at Harvard National Model United Nations 2014. I am very excited about this year’s topics: “Amnesty in Conflict-torn States” and “Espionage.” Over the last few years, both issues have gained international attention due to increasingly violent conflicts around the world and frequent revelations about state-run espionage programs. These issues have not only raised questions about what a moral response would be, but also what can and should be done legally. No region of the world—no state—is immune from the effects of these issues.

In the first topic, delegates will examine the conditions and processes by which amnesty can be given to those involved in armed conflicts, particularly as part of efforts to create or maintain peace. In the second topic, delegates will debate the legality of espionage and work to develop international standards for addressing the issue. Each topic requires delegates to think innovatively about the intersection of state practice and international law.

I hope you are as excited as I am to explore these oft-neglected areas of international law and find a solution that will be just and equitable for all people. If you have any questions or concerns about committee, please reach out to me via email. I look forward to meeting you in February at HNMUN 2017!

Joanna Torres
Director, Legal Committee
Harvard National Model United Nations 2017

Topic Area A: Amnesty in Conflict-Torn States

Across the world, many states have been torn asunder by armed conflict between a variety of actors. The path to peace is fraught with complications, and especially controversial is the issue of prosecution of alleged war criminals and potential amnesty for such individuals. The international community must constantly seek to balance the need to establish peace with the need to bring to justice those who have wronged others. With little guidance from existing international law and precedent, states are left to navigate this complex issue alone, threatening the equality and justice of the international system as a whole. International law has criminalized a number of behaviors, some more heinous than others. The international community must decide which crimes are too heinous to be excused in the name of peace. The issue of amnesty also includes determining who may or may not be held responsible for a crime committed during an armed conflict, and who or what has ultimate authority to decide whether amnesty is appropriate. This committee should address whether amnesty for actions taken during armed conflict is permissible under international law, when and for what crimes amnesty may be given, and who has ultimate authority to award amnesty.

Topic Area B: Espionage

Espionage is an ever present, but often unacknowledged, state practice. Broadly defined, espionage is the collection of information by one state in another state’s territory. International law has almost nothing to say about the legality of espionage, despite how controversial it is. Espionage stirs debate about state sovereignty and individuals’ right to privacy and the limits thereof. In practice, espionage encompasses many practices, from wire-tapping to sabotage. Not all forms of espionage face the same degree of condemnation; however, as it stands now, how controversial or undiplomatic a practice is does not correlate to its legality under international law. Without guidance from international law, rights may be violated without recourse, which particularly disadvantages less developed states with fewer resources. At the same time, espionage has become a normalized practice throughout much of the world and many states see the practice as a crucial part of their national security. Furthermore, debate on espionage must also consider the role of diplomatic immunity in the issue, since diplomatic officials may be agents of espionage. This committee should address whether espionage is legal, and if so, what forms of espionage are legal, what limits exist on the practice, and who may practice espionage.