Pace Students Wrestle with Contemporary Challenges to Human Rights

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Pace University New York City Model UN students John Ciccarelli ’15, Elena Marmo ’15, Michelle Gallo ’13 and Cassandra Stimpson ’13 (left to right) participated in a simulation of the UN Human Rights Council at the UN University for Peace in Costa Rica.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” However, many people around the world continue to fear for their lives, face persecution for their political views, struggle against poverty, marginalization and displacement. Debates about expanding the recognition and protection of human rights remain high on the agenda of the United Nations, particularly its Human Rights Council.

Pace University New York City student Elena Marmo ’15 was recognized with a “Most Diplomatic” award for her work in a simulation of Human Rights Council discussions of external displacement, conflict on the Korean peninsula and inadequate protection for whistleblowers earlier this month at the UN University for Peace’s 2013 Model UN Conference in Costa Rica.

“This was a great learning experience. I’ve learned more from my time at UPeace than at any other conference,” said Elena, who represented Belgium in the simulation and has also won awards for her participation in Model UN conferences in Geneva and Washington DC. “There was a real understanding of the absolute importance of all the issues discussed and the significance of respecting diversity among participants.”

Also in the Human Rights Council were Cassandra Stimpson ’13 representing Uganda; John Ciccarelli ’15, Switzerland; and Michello Gallo ’13, Amnesty International. They were among 13 students from Pace University New York City attending the conference at UPeace’s idyllic campus just outside of San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital. The theme of the 2013 conference was “The Path to Peace in an Increasingly Global Society.” Participants, a mix of 150 college, graduate school and high school students, hailed from 49 countries, the most diverse ever UPeace Model UN conference.

To take advantage of the visit to the UPeace, a UN-mandated university founded in 1980 to “provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace“, the 13 Pace students received a three day certificate course on “Contemporary Challenges to Development and Human Rights” taught by UPeace faculty.

Led by Mihir Kanade, Director of the UPeace Human Rights Center, the course gave students an intensive look at the role of international financial insititutions, legal norms on forced migration and humanitarianism in conflict. It included a field visit to La Carpio, a settlement of Nicaraguan migrants in San Jose, where students interacted with the community and met staff and volunteers of the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation.

“The course helped put the critical issues surrounding human rights into perspective for me,” said Elena, an honors student from Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey, who is majoring in political science with a peace and justice studies minor, is one of Pace New York City’s Model UN head delegates and is head of the campus chapter of Amnesty International. “I was able to use this knowledge in the Human Rights Council, understanding the gravity of the issues, while also representing Belgium.”

The UPeace conference was unusual in that it included students playing the role of media outlets and advocacy groups. Michelle Gallo’s representation of Amnesty International was recognized with the conference’s “Civil Society Award.” Click here to read more about her experience representing an non-governmental organization (NGO) in a committee dominated by states.

Unlike most Model UN conferences, which effectively have a “time-freeze” the day of the conference and only deal with what has happened in the past, the UPeace conference had an ongoing “real-time crisis” dimension, that made the simulation dynamic and changing. Students were given regular “news” updates that they had to respond to in their debates and negotiations.

“The crisis situation was both exciting and exhausting,” said Cassandra Stimpson, who represented Uganda in the simulation, was voted overall best delegate in the committee by her fellow participants. “It definitely required you to think on your feet and tested delegates’ knowledge of their national policies.”

In preparing for the conference, Cassandra, an honors student from Freehold, New Jersey, majoring in political science with a minor in peace and justice studies, drew upon her experience as an intern for Human Rights Watch and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. She has won awards for her participation in Model UN conferences in Geneva and Washington DC.

Halfway through the conference, participants were treated to a diplomatic reception organized by the University for Peace in partnership with the embassies of the Netherlands, Switzerland and Israel. This gave John Ciccarelli, who represented Switzerland in the Human Rights Council simulation, the chance to meet the Swiss Ambassador to Costa Rica Yasmine Chatila Zwahlen.

Pace University New York City students John Ciccarelli '15 (left) and Katie James '14 (right) with Swiss Ambassador to Costa Rica

Pace University New York City students John Ciccarelli ’15 (left) and Katie James ’14 (right) talk with Swiss Ambassador to Costa Rica Yasmine Chatila Zwahlen (center) at a diplomatic reception held during the 2013 UN University for Peace Model UN conference in Costa Rica.

“Speaking to the Swiss Ambassador was a great experience to learn more about Swiss policies and the Swiss way of life,” said John, a political science major from Schenectady, New York, who has participated in Model UN conferences in Philadelphia and New York City, where he won an award for the “Best Position Paper”, representing Tunisia in a simulation of UNESCO. John has also worked as an intern for the advocacy campaign Control Arms.

For more about Pace University’s participation in the UPeace conference, including other committees such as UN Women and the Security Council, click here.

Located only two express subway stops from the iconic United Nations complex on the East River, Pace University’s New York City Model UN program has a 60-year history of excellence in regional, national and international conferences. Model UN at Pace is uniquely integrated into the Political Science curriculum within the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences and aims to encourage students to develop wisdom, knowledge, skills and community for global citizenship and vocation.

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About Matthew Bolton

I am assistant professor of Political Science at Pace University and author of Foreign Aid and Landmine Clearance.
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