Lifting the Taboo: Personal Pronouns in Model UN

by erik on January 31, 2016

Point of Order

In Model UN committees, there’s a different kind of curse word: personal pronouns.

I, me, you, he, she, and more- try using them in a formal speech, and you’ll tend to get the same result.

“POINT OF ORDER!” with a dozen placards in the air, all correcting you for using personal pronouns and hoping to gain points from the Chair for their knowledge of procedure.

Now this doesn’t mean that the delegates are doing anything wrong. Many conferences in their Rules of Procedure explicitly ban the use of personal pronouns in speeches. The justification for this, of course, is to teach delegates that they’re representing their Member States, and of course to “accurately simulate the United Nations”.  But there’s the problem- by instituting these types of rules, they’re actually directly contradicting the rules,  principles, and reality of the United Nations.

The Rules

There are absolutely no rules in the UN General Assembly Rules of Procedure concerning what can and can’t be said in speeches by Member States. To take it one step further- there isn’t a prohibition against personal pronouns in any UN Organization, Inter-Governmental Organization, the US Congress (the basis for North American Procedure), or European parliaments (the basis for THIMUN procedure). It’s not clear where this rule came from, but it didn’t originate in any body the UN seeks to emulate.

The Principles

One of the core principles to the UN General Assembly is sovereign equality. This means that the Member States are in charge of the United Nations, have equal rights in the General Assembly, and can’t be told what to do if they don’t want to. It would contradict the principles of the UN for a Member State to be disallowed from saying something, just as it’s against the principles of the UN to “gavel down” a Member State if their speech is going too long (in 1960, Fidel Castro delivered a 4 1/2 hour long speech during General Debate).

The Reality

UN Member States are represented by people. Do you really think the Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations introduces himself as “Sweden” when he walks into the committee room? Of course not! He’s a real person, and introduces himself by name. It’s more professional, more relatable, and just makes more sense!

When representatives at the UN deliver speeches, they use personal pronouns all the time! The rest of the General Assembly realize that they’re speaking on behalf of their Member State, and sometimes it just makes more sense in context to use personal pronouns, especially if somebody is delivering their speech in a second, third, or fourth language, or if that speech is going to be translated into the six official languages of the UN.

I just pulled up the three most recent speeches by Member States at the UN, given last Friday when discussing “The Role of Diamonds in Fueling Conflict”. Here are some quick excerpts from the beginning of each of their speeches:

Mr. Bernardo Campos, Angola: “At the outset, I would like to express Angola’s gratitude to you, Mr. president, for scheduling this plenary meeting of the General Assembly to consider agenda item 33, entitled ‘The role of diamonds in fuelling conflict’. It is indeed a great honor for me to address the General Assembly today and to reaffirm my country’s commitment to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.

Ambassador David Roet, Israel: “All too often we meet here in this chamber to discuss intractable challenges and missed opportunities. Today, I am pleased to say that we have come together, as an international body, to mark an extraordinary accomplishment.”

Mr. Nkoloi Nkoloi, Botswana: “Thank you for convening this annual briefing and for affording my delegation the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this item. Let me at the very outset, express my delegation’s appreciation and gratitude to the Government of the Republic of Angola for expertly holding the Chair of the Kimberley Process (KP) for 2016. We commend them for their leadership and engagement throughout the year and for ensuring that this report is brought before this Assembly.”

As you can see, Member States use personal pronouns and there’s no outrage, no points of order, and a much more fluid speech. There’s no real reason to ban personal pronouns in speeches- as long as delegates understand that they’re representing the interests of their Member States, they can deliver their positions however they want.

Delegates spend considerable time writing and practicing their speech. They may be incredibly nervous, and interrupting their speech with an inane point could derail their speech and ruin their first experience in front of the committee. Obviously you should follow the rules of whatever conference you’re attending, but let’s lift the taboo on personal pronouns, and move toward more accurately simulating the UN.

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