Established in 1945 under the Charter of the United Nations, the General Assembly consisted of only 51 member states. After the first sessions, which were held in White Hall (London), the General Assembly moved its premises to the UN Headquarters in New York – where it still stands today. The total amount of members also changed throughout the centuries, because former colonized parts of the world became sovereign nation states. Today the General Assembly counts 193 member states.
Since the General Assembly’s foundation, each member state sends its delegates into the Assembly to debate and resolve contemporary issues or crises. The Assembly meets each year from September to December, although urgent meetings can be held on an instant. During the meetings, the principle of one-country-one-vote applies, in most cases a simple majority decides whether or not a resolution is adopted. Therefore, the General Assembly is a unique platform for international debates.
All resolutions passed by the General Assembly are mere recommendations and, therefore, are not legally binding for member states. Nevertheless, these resolutions can encourage action if a broad coalition supports and implements its recommendations. Vice versa, it should be clear that many resolutions fail, because they lack support and implementation.
To improve efficiency, the General Assembly created subsidiary bodies, which work on specific topics – as many modern parliaments do.
There are six Main Committees:
- The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security Committee)
- The Second Committee (Economic and Financial Committee)
- The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee)
- The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization Committee)
- The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary Committee)
- The Sixth Committee (Legal Committee)
Each member state may send one representative to each of the six Main Committees. In addition, member states may assign advisers, technical advisers, experts or people of equal status, but not only member states attend the General Assembly or its subsidiary bodies. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) also send envoys to attend meetings. Ever since the number of NGOs has risen, there is a broad network of NGOs all over the world, being involved on a regular basis.
Topic I: Fostering Digital Innovation – New Methods for Education
Education has always been a changing factor in mankind’s history and it has changed tremendously within the last two centuries, from the beginning of the industrial revolution and the invention of childhood as a phase of learning and socialization to today’s approach of a life-long learning, but the ideal of education varies across the globe, and even philosophers are greatly discussing on how to approach this delicate topic.
The status of education, if we look at it in a progressive and school-based way, differs extremely across continents and countries. While Germany had a primary enrolment rate of 98,67 in 2015, according to the World Bank, more than half of children in sub-Saharan Africa are not enrolled in school at all.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which followed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on the global agenda, try to cope with some of the differences. Goal 4 “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning” discusses education and the effects of it.
There are several deciding factors that will decide over whether people receive quality education, but times have changed and so has technology: Today, the World Wide Web offers possibilities and access to any kind of information within seconds. While people are debating whether this information is always true, many countries lack access to the Web or the knowledge on how to use new technologies efficiently for learning.
So how will the future of technology-based learning look like? Will it be Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) where people are able to learn individually from any place in the world, or will it be technology-based in terms of using new devices in traditional learning environments or should the global society go for a more unconventional approach?
And other, more substantial questions do arise as well, apart from the technical aspect:
How is it, for example, possible to ensure a gender-sensitive approach when sixty percent of the 103 million youths that lack basic literacy skills are women?
How do we substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing states?
Topic II: Protection of the Right to Freedom of Information
The right to freely access information held by public bodies, otherwise known as Freedom of Information (FOI), while not sharing the same legal status as an independent norm of international law, is an important element of the Human Right of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948):
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers“ (UDHR 1948, Art. 19)
FOI can be seen as the stepping stone on which Freedom of Expression can unfold in a meaningful way, because only when governmental information and data is made publically available, can citizens thoroughly evaluate their government’s performance and participate effectively in democratic decision making. FOI is therefore a cross-sectoral subject linking a variety of topics such as good governance, transparency and anti-corruption policies, participatory democracy, empowerment of social groups, freedom of the press, human rights protection and socio-economic development.
At MainMUN 2018 we want to bring FOI to the fore, discussing its protection in the
context of the digital age in the UN’s primary decision-making body, the General Assembly. New Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have changed the rules of the game dramatically, with ever greater amounts of information circulating in ever more inclusive digital networks. However, digitalization can be seen as bane as much as boon: While E-Governance may fulfil the promise of FOI, it also deepens the marginalization of those who lack access to technology or technical skills. In order not to increase inequality, FOI policies must be adopted on the basis of broad consensus and aim at bridging the digital and knowledge divide between countries and social groups. We must also address the danger of misusing ICTs for surveillance and manipulation of citizens’ opinions and decisions in contempt of international human rights and national election laws.
With only about 100 countries having set up national FOI laws, we believe that it is high time for a global initiative to address the challenges as well as the potential for protecting the Right of Freedom of Information in the digital age.