THIMUN in the time of Covid

Updated: Feb 3

One of the world’s largest and most prestigious MUN conferences refused to be shut down due to the virus, and instead organized an online conference of nearly the same caliber. Our school was one of two schools from Finland, who got the opportunity to participate, and this year we represented Jamaica.


What’s THIMUN?

THIMUN, also known as The Hague International Model United Nations, is an annual, international model united nations (MUN) conference, usually held in the Hague. It is one of the largest MUN conferences in the world, with around 3200 participants annually. This year, due to the unprecedented circumstances, the conference had to be held online, and only received around 1600 participants.


MUN Conferences are opportunities for usually middle and high school students to learn how the United Nations operates, and represent countries and organizations to learn their stance on important issues, and through debate try to solve them. MUNs are somewhat rare in Finland, as only two exist currently, one of which is held annually in Ksyk! It’s called HELIMUN and the delegates are mainly middle school students. High schoolers also have the opportunity to participate as for example delegates or chairs.


Ksyk in THIMUN


Ksyk first got the opportunity to participate in THIMUN in 2001, and the all-girl delegation represented ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross. In the past we have been given the opportunity to represent for example Iran, during which one of the delegates was in the Disarmament committee, debating the topic of nuclear weapons. Another historic moment for Ksyk in THIMUN was when the assigned country was Israel, with one of the topics relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


In 2020, our school represented the country of Bahrain, and had two members as advocates in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), as well as two fantastic delegates in the Historical Security Council. The advocates in the ICJ won their case, which was the Belizean-Guatemalan border dispute. This year we represented Jamaica, with a delegation of 10 people, mostly from the second year of high school. Our delegation was led by teachers Sirpa Hildén and Pia Skyttä, as is the case every year.


What kinds of topics did you debate on?


The topic of this year’s THIMUN was “Moving forward”. In MUNs, students are separated into committees, which are focused on 2-4 issues. This year in THIMUN, each committee focused on three issues, which also varied in difficulty.

Our students were divided into the following committees: the Legal and Finance Committee (LFC), the Political Committee (PC), the environment committee (EVC), Economic and social council (ECOSOC), Economic committee (EC), and Sustainable development committee (SDC). Some committees had two of our students representing Jamaica, while others only had one.


Here’s a list of the topics we got to discuss and attempt to solve, by committee:


LFC:

  • Promoting recognition by the United Nations of the crime of ecocide (The killing of the environment)

  • Measures to ensure the financing of UN agencies by member states

  • Proactively putting methods in place in the anticipation of state debt following the COVID-19 crisis


PC:

  • Measures to develop a broader cooperation among states following the COVID-19 crisis

  • Measures to better regulate the use of personal data and artificial intelligence

  • The situation in Lebanon


EVC:

  • Measures to protect wild natural areas from human activities

  • Strengthening the link between development and climate efforts

  • Methods to transition from oil-based energy sources to renewable energy sources in Less Economically Developed Countries [LEDCs]


ECOSOC:

  • Measures to counter unemployment, especially female unemployment

  • Developing a minimum welfare state in all countries

  • Measures to reduce non-biodegradable waste


EC:

  • Measures to promote sustainable capitalism

  • Measures to counter the side effects of the trade war between China and the USA

  • The question of diversifying supply chains


SDC:

  • Measures to develop digital tools in health and education

  • Measures to improve the housing conditions of population living in slums or informal settlements

  • Measures to increase access of small-scale enterprises to financial services, including affordable credits following the COVID-19 crisis


What was the most difficult thing about THIMUN?


As you can see from the topics listed above, none of them are exactly casual or breezy. Perhaps one of the hardest things in any MUN conference is always learning about your assigned country’s stance on these niche issues, and doing the required research to properly understand the issues under debate.


Another surprisingly difficult thing this year was the lobbying process. Every student is meant to have written a resolution on one of the issues beforehand, and during lobbying these resolutions are improved and merged with each other if necessary. This year however, this process was a lot more difficult than previous years, as we had to do it over Zoom, with the Zoom chat and screen sharing disabled by the organizers. Fun.


What was the most enjoyable thing?


Surprisingly, lobbying, once started, was also one of the most fun things this year! During the actual debating, there isn’t much else to do except to follow the debate and try to participate as best you can, but during lobbying the students could be a bit more casual and actually get to know fellow delegates. As this was a conference filled with teenagers, some other not-so-serious things happened as well, for example in the Legal and Finance committee’s last day’s debate, the delegate of Iceland raised a formal motion to “Nuke the United States”. After a long, difficult conference, this was a good palate cleanser and even the chairs who are known to take things a bit more seriously took it in good humour.


How was it participating in an online conference compared to a regular one?


Normally in conferences, you get to know your fellow delegates a lot better than this year. There’s also more interaction between delegates from the same school, and even though we were able to use classrooms D2 and D4 for our delegates during the conference, it just wasn’t the same. It was also surreal to see some delegates speaking with a mask on even through Zoom, as they also participated in the conference at their respective schools, while some were able to speak without a mask due to participating from home. The conference also provided us with virtual backgrounds we had to use during the debates, which didn’t work for all delegates.


Our students were able to work in some of the Domus classrooms during THIMUN. Picture by Annika Lappalainen


The virtual Zoom background that the delegates of Jamaica used during debates


There were some other things that also made this conference feel very different compared to previous ones. The opening ceremony, for example, is usually a grand ordeal with the flags of every nation brought on the stage in front of thousands of people watching in the same auditorium, but this year it was simply an hour long video the delegates got to choose whether to watch or not. Due to the conference being hosted via Zoom, connection issues were also common, same with intentional micspam to harass the chairs during the debate. Our chairs did a fantastic job dealing with it though.


The opening ceremony of 2020 in the World Forum at the Hague. Picture by Heikki Helppi


The conference also had their own web app, through which we could see the programme, join the Zoom calls, see the resolutions which we were debating, and send notes to other delegates, among other things. As a concept it was quite alright, however in the first few hours of the conference we noticed an issue - the web app had apparently not been prepared to be able handle as many attendees as it should have, meaning that it had a tendency to crash, or at least be very laggy. This also meant that the note sending capability of it was essentially worthless, as notes are meant to act as very quick correspondence during debate and notesending has to be reliable and fast for it to be trusted.


The front page of the web app used in THIMUN 2021


Would you recommend MUNs?


Yeah! Even though the conference was online and had a very different feel to it than regular conferences, MUNs are always fun if you like international politics and diving deeper into issues our societies face daily. It’s also fun to bounce ideas off of other delegates in lobbying, and debates can be very enjoyable if you’re well prepared and decent with words. If you want to get into MUNs, be sure to ask Sirpa Hildén or Heikki Helppi about them! The next MUN opportunity will come in May with our school’s own HELIMUN!

Text: Heikki Helppi

Pictures: Heikki Helppi and Annika Lappalainen