Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee

Dear Delegates,

It is my privilege to welcome you to the 64th session of Harvard National Model United Nations and to the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee (SOCHUM) of the General Assembly.

My name is Derek Lee, and I am currently a sophomore at Harvard. I am absolutely thrilled to be your Director, and I look forward to getting to know every single one of you during the conference. My academic interests span political science and literature, and I am particularly fascinated by the question of how national narratives are both created and subverted. I come from a family of working class migrants from northern England and northern Spain who left their homelands to seek better opportunities in Mexico, the country that I call home. I was fortunate to live in Mexico for the first fourteen years of my life, followed by five years in Abu Dhabi, where I went to high school. The experience of migration has defined my family for generations, and it has also played a central role in my own life, shaping my views on the need to strike a balance between respecting cultural differences and protecting human rights around the world.

In an era of increasing skepticism over human rights, diplomacy, and international law, it is more important than ever to propose innovative and compelling approaches to protecting the rights of historically oppressed minorities. For this conference, we will be focusing on two communities: linguistic minorities and LGBTQ asylum seekers. In Topic Area A, delegates will propose a number of actionable protections to guarantee the rights of linguistic minorities around the world, whereas Topic Area B will engage with the issue of providing asylum to LGBTQ individuals fleeing persecution. Both issues are extremely topical and in dire need of innovative and actionable proposals on how to best protect human rights. I look forward to lively debate and fresh ideas!

I plan to direct our committee in the spirit of questioning Eurocentric and/or Western assumptions, and delegates will be encouraged to vigorously defend the stance of the country they represent, regardless of how controversial in might be. Needless to say, this will be done in an environment of utmost respect where discriminatory and/or derogatory language will not be tolerated. Just like there is a thin line between respecting national sovereignty and protecting human rights around the world, there is also a thin line between respectfully defending a country’s stance (however controversial it might be) and being outright discriminatory: I trust that our committee will be a place for you to explore ways in which this balance can be struck and for you to interrogate your own biases and prejudices—independently of the country you will be representing.

Once again, I am thrilled to be your Director, and I look forward to meeting you. Please reach out if you have any questions, or just to introduce yourselves!

Derek Lee
Director, Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee
Harvard National Model United Nations 2018

Topic Area A: The Rights of Linguistic Minorities

Linguistic rights are often overlooked, yet they are of crucial importance: How can there be genuine equality under the law if court proceedings are conducted in an unfamiliar language? How can children thrive in their education if they are only being taught in an unfamiliar language and encouraged to view their own language as inferior? How can minority communities fully participate in the political process and advocate for their rights if the language they speak precludes them from running for office or legislating? In this topic area, delegates will have the opportunity to create a global framework for protecting the rights of minorities that is flexible enough to apply to the unique history and position of linguistic minorities around the world. It will certainly be a challenge, since in some cases linguistic minorities are native groups, whereas in other areas they are recent migrants. Indeed, Uyghur speakers in China face a very different panorama to Catalan speakers in Spain or Nahuatl speakers in Mexico. Virtually every modern state has its own linguistic minority and a unique stance on how to protect their rights—or whether they should be protected at all. I am excited to see how your research engages with this nuanced panorama and streamlines its complexity into a universal and actionable framework for protecting linguistic rights that does not neglect the particularity of each situation.

Topic Area B: Asylum for LGBTQ Individuals Fleeing Persecution

Only a select number of countries currently accept asylum applications on the basis of sexual orientation. Even among that select group of countries, the application process often lacks clarity and transparency, and vetting procedures can be humiliating and infringe on human rights. For example, the Czech Republic generated controversy in 2010 when it was revealed that gay asylum seekers were being forced to undergo so-called ‘phallometric tests,’ where they were forced to watch straight porn with genital cuffs monitoring blood flow to the penis in order to determine the veracity of their claim to being gay—a truly humiliating experience that violated the European Convention on Human Rights. The Czech controversy is only one example of the need to reform the asylum-seeking process for individuals who are already running away from persecution in their home countries through no fault of their own. Likewise, there is a need for more countries to commit to granting asylum to individuals based on persecution due to sexual orientation, and perhaps even for an international agency to be set up in order to facilitate this process. The need for this is pressing: we have seen in recent weeks, for example, how state authorities in Chechnya have set up concentration camps for LGBTQ individuals where they are being systematically tortured and killed. I look forward to a lively debate on how the international community can come together to provide asylum for LGBTQ individuals who are fleeing persecution and how incentives can be changed to reduce the need for them to seek asylum in the first place.