UNIS Hanoi Model United Nations Conference

Keynote speech by Kamal Malhotra United Nations Resident Coordinator

  • Ms. Sarah Anthony, UN Secretary General for the 12th UNIS Hanoi Model UN Conference,
  • Excellency, Ambassador Nguyen Nguyet Nga, Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam,
  • Ms. Jane McGee, Head of the United Nations International School Hanoi,
  • Faculty, Students of UNIS Hanoi, and students from all other Hanoi schools participating in the Model UN Conference and SDG Week,
  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning.

It is a pleasure to be here this morning at this opening of the Model United Nations Conference and the Launch of SDG Week for the UNIS and MUN Community. And it is an honor to be on this panel with Ambassador Madame Nga, a longtime UNIS supporter, to engage with you all. 

As we begin today, let us take a moment to look back in history. On 24 October 1945, the United Nations came into being, following the signature by 50 Member States of the United Nations Charter on 26 June 1945. The enduring UN Charter clearly sets out the need to put people at the center, in fact it starts with three critical words, “We the Peoples”. This message still resonates strongly today in 2020 as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the UN.

The journey of 75 years has not been easy for either the UN or the world, but it is worth remembering that the UN has fulfilled all the major objectives, it was originally established to achieve—notably, preventing a Third World War and ensuring the independence of most previously non-self governing territories and countries, as well as in its normative role of establishing human rights and other international norms and standards—and even on development where progress on poverty reduction, health, education, maternal mortality and in many other areas has been unprecedented in world history from the time that the UN was established. It is also the only legitimate and universal organization where 193 Member States gather and, overall, despite its deficiencies which largely reflect the deficiencies of its Member States, the world is a much better place for it. If the UN did not exist, we would need to reinvent it and it is far from clear that a new body created in 2020 would be better than the one created out of the ashes and destruction of the Second World War.

Moreover, all the talking and dialogue in the UN has been key to preventing a Third World War and containing the Cold War and many conflicts and tensions of the last three decades after the Cold War. Indeed, working towards common goals and solutions for 193 countries through inter-governmental bodies like the General Assembly or the Security Council is much harder than you might think. As you may experience during this Model UN Conference, it is not an easy task to navigate among different and often conflicting opinions, especially in a world as full of challenges and as divided as it is today.

In recent years, the world has witnessed growing nationalism and populism. There are divisions around the world putting multilateralism and international cooperation at risk. People of my generation, especially in leadership positions, must make the right decisions for succeeding generations. Young people like yourselves have a key role to play in making your voices heard and in encouraging decision-making so that it goes in the right direction. Youth advocates such as Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai have done so firmly and clearly, demanding a better, safer and more equal future for your and future generations.

As you begin this model UN, I am sure you are all aware of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN General Assembly as the most suitable Agenda to help address the serious situation we find ourselves and our world in today. We need to acknowledge the unfortunate but undeniable facts that—if the SDGs had already been addressed or been more advanced in terms of their achievement—and if multilateralism and international cooperation had not been under such attack from some important quarters—the world would have been in a much better position to address COVID-19 than it was when the crisis hit. Unfortunately, also, COVID-19 has put a temporary halt to SDG implementation for all of us, though we have less than 10 years to achieve them. We are at a crossroads, where we need to strengthen our resolve and be united in overcoming the multiple crises in our world. We must turn these crises into opportunities to build forward better and differently towards 2030 and beyond, based on the SDGs.

We live in an unprecedented time of turbulence and turmoil. The UN Security Council, the world and many key countries in the world are divided in a manner they have not been for a very long time, if ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has simultaneously and irreversibly changed the way we live, as you yourselves have witnessed this past year. Natural disasters–be they earthquakes, tropical storms, or tidal waves–are becoming more powerful and ferocious than before, and we recently witnessed some of this in central Viet Nam. The climate emergency is real, and we have no more time to waste. Man-made disasters – from violent armed conflicts to serious human rights violations – are getting worse as well. Millions of people are deprived of economic opportunities and at least tens of thousands, if not millions, are at risk of slipping back into poverty as a result of the social and economic consequences of COVID-19, because of too little or no official or government assistance or any other form of social protection. Set in this context, the theme of the MUN Conference – Unity in Crisis – delivers a crucial and timely message to the leaders and people around the world today.

This year, as the Model UN takes place during COVID-19, UNIS Hanoi is one of the luckiest schools in the world, being in a position to organize MUN face-to-face—even if with masks on! You will have a chance to learn how to debate, negotiate and think critically, engaging with your fellow participants in person rather than virtually. People from 193 countries with all kinds of backgrounds and cultures make up the UN organization. One of the key principles in the UN is respect for diversity. I urge you to take into consideration this principle during the Model UN – to respect your friends and teammates thoughts and acknowledge the differences that may arise. As you take substantive matters seriously you should be aware this could lead to heated debates, but we have such debates at the UN on a daily basis, and when handled healthily, they lead to healthy, positive outcomes! I very much hope that you will find concrete positive solutions and agreements through frank exchanges despite your possible diverse perspectives. This is the essence of “unity in crisis”.

In September, the UN held the 75th session of General Assembly amidst COVID-19 - the first-ever virtual UN General Assembly in its history. Still, world leaders, experts, and youth advocates gathered and concretely agreed on important messages – that we need global solidarity and unity more than ever before to tackle COVID-19 and global challenges, and build forward better and differently for a sustainable, resilient and just future; and that youth must be given more space to raise their voices. I hope that you will all confirm this message through your experience at this Model UN.

The world needs social and economic inclusion if good decisions are to be made. We need real leaders and statesmen and stateswomen. We need activists and advocates. We need serious thinking, compassionate and value-laden young people and students as well as mature and principled parents and teachers to guide our children, because the decisions we make today will shape the world tomorrow. I encourage all of you to enter the Model UN Conference and SDG Week with the core belief that you are agents of change as well as the belief that even the most serious of challenges can be overcome when we are united.

I thank you for listening. I wish you all the best at the Model UN Conference and during this SDG Week!

Speech by
Kamal Malhotra
UN Resident Coordinator
KM profile
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office
Other entities involved in this initiative
International Educational Public Association “ACT”