Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee

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Director's Letter:

Dear Delegates,

I'm excited to welcome you to Harvard National Model United Nations 2019. I'm currently a fourth-year student at Harvard, studying philosophy and economics, with a focus in ethics. A scion of California's Silicon Valley, I grew up just five minutes from Apple, Inc. Since high school, I've developed a strong passion for using MUN as a way to enrich perspectives on the impact of politics and ethics on technological development. Now onto my eight year, I've served on the secretariats of HMUN Boston and HMUN India, and I have directed committees in the United States, China, and Colombia. In my free time, I'm very fond of hiking, and making bonfires at the beach with my friends. Coming from California, I have a soft spot for anything nature.

Having been at Harvard for almost four years now, I've undergone a significant evolution in my interests and perspective on international policy. More than ever, I've begun to see the fundamental values we hold as citizens of the world as the most important topics in foreign relations. It is nearly impossible to negotiate, much less work and act together, if we cannot figure out which ideas and ideologies are most common to us. But most importantly, those groundwork concepts extend far beyond the world of the UN (and, of course, MUN). They inform business leaders as they are about to develop new products and enter foreign markets. They gird activists as they reconsider the structural limitations in a community, institution, or country. No topic is more unsolved and more ancient than the question: What is right? And that is the question I'd like to guide us for the coming months.

Redrafting the Universal Declaration on Human Rights may seem like an intimidating, even insurmountable, project. Let neither grandeur nor importance topple you. By asking big questions, and attempting huge answers, we move closer to the truth within us, and between us. I think this conference, with its time and size, is an especially apt place to debate these ideas, and I hope and expect your preparation and collaboration to reflect their gravity.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions, and I look forward to meeting you in February!

Yours respectfully,

Sidney Li
Director, Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee
Harvard National Model United Nations 2019


Topic Area: Rewriting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Subtopic A. Rights of Civil Disobedience

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was ratified in 1948, with World War II fresh on the minds of diplomats. In many ways, it was the founding document of the United Nations. It covers some of the most fundamental human rights known to human history—liberty, equality, dignity, right to life, slavery—and some with recent reminders or ideological motivations—movement, association, conscience, health, and living needs. It remains one of the most comprehensive human rights doctrines in the world, and it remains a controversial and poorly implemented document. Important questions, hardly considered at its incarnation and now deserving reconsideration, remain: To what extent should fundamental human rights infringe upon national sovereignty? How much room should be made for state-sponsored religion – are states relevant at all? Which rights are unalienable even for criminals? Should “objective” rights be encoded at all, or should states determine what works best, or is most popular, for them? Do animals deserve rights – and is the UN the one to protect them? Are rights protected by states, organizations, individuals, or something else – and to which degree can each party be responsible? This century is a very unique challenge for the UDHR. First, we will focus on the the rights of civil disobedience. What is civil disobedience and to what extent should it be regulated, permitted, and/or protected? In putting together new policy for civil disobedience, we will also consider philosophical and theoretical points of view that have shaped conversations on human rights since the first draft of the UDHR. These include John Rawls and Joseph Raz, as well as more marginalized freedom fighters like the Black Panthers. We will also apply this theoretical perspective to modern instances of civil disobedience, in the Western world as well as in nations within developing economies and polities.

Subtopic B. Rights of Gender and Sexuality

The next question we will consider is how we might incorporate LGBTQ rights into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although this topic has been considered by the United Nations in haphazard ways in the past - through resolutions, commissions, and policy - the debate remains to be resolved on whether there is a fundamental right of sexuality that should be protected for all citizens of the world. The first resolution concerning human rights relating to sexual orientation and gender identity was adopted in June of 2011. Over 76 countries have laws against private, consensual same­-sex relationships; some of the LGBTQ convictions in these countries may lead to harsh prison sentences of the death penalty. Many countries have also made efforts to protect members of their LGBTQ community. Japan, for example, recently expanded their Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying to prevent sexual orientation based bullying in schools. Yet, there are still numerous countries with a notable history of abuses against LGBT rights. Beyond questions of how these abuses should be addressed, to what extent should we allow a "regional" protection of LGBTQ rights, and human rights in general, over worldwide United Nations protection? Is it possible to incorporate cultural contingencies into the protection of human rights? Can we redesign the UDHR with an eye towards political and cultural change towards greater justice?