Interview with Nicolas Vetterli, president of GIMUN

19 March 2012

GIMUN, the Geneva International Model United Nations, is a Geneva based NGO run exclusively by students. Its primary purpose is to allow students to debate questions about international affairs and the United Nations in a realistic environment. Since 2007, GIMUN – whose credibility is steadily growing – has a consultative status within the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

In March every year, GIMUN organizes a simulation of a United Nations conference in Geneva. This exercise, which takes place at the Palais des Nations, enables participants to develop their talents as negotiators, while raising their awareness about the issues being dealt with by the United Nations. Almost 250 students from all over the world participate every year.

The GIMUN Annual Conference will be held this year from 17 to 23 March. The theme for 2012 is: ‘Achieving dialogue and development through cultural diversity’.

To mark this occasion, Nicolas Vetterli, GIMUN president, responds to our questions.

Could you tell us about GIMUN in a few words?

GIMUN is a non-governmental organization established in 1999 whose main objective is to promote the values of the United Nations to students and, more generally, to bring students closer to the United Nations and vice-versa.

The NGO is run entirely by students and has the special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

We are supported by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), the University of Geneva, and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAE). This year, we have also received support from the Republic and State of Geneva and the City of Geneva.

Tell us about the GIMUN annual conference: who takes part and how ? What are its objectives?

The annual conference is GIMUN’s flagship event. It consists of a one-week simulation, at the Palais des Nations, of six United Nations committees on current international issues.

This conference brings together about 250 students, drawn this year from 49 different countries all over the world. The objective of this conference is to raise the students’ awareness about the underlying issues (economic and military interests, etc.) of a UN debate. The objective is to make them understand, by putting them in a diplomat’s shoes, that the United Nations is a complex system with many flaws but also with great strengths, and more generally, to discover how the UN bodies function.

In addition to the role of diplomat, the roles of translators, interpreters, journalists, interest groups and NGOs are represented. All these roles are obviously run by students. All these roles are played by students.

Social events also take place each evening throughout the week so that students can extend their GIMUN experience by meeting other participants.

The annual conference aims to simulate the functioning of United Nations bodies. In concrete terms, how is this achieved?

This year, six bodies are represented: the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Security Council (SC), the Human Rights Council (HRC), the General Assembly Third Committee (SOCHUM), and the General Assembly Sixth Committee (LEGAL).

Each of these bodies has two subjects on its agenda. Each participant represents a country, simulating the functioning of a debate within the rules of procedure. These rules are based on the official rules of the United Nations, but have been adapted to allow for a quicker debate. As for the bodies, they are moderated by students with more experience of UN simulations.

At the end of the week, each body attempts to present two resolutions (one on each subject).

How do you ensure the participation of students from developing countries?

GIMUN allocates almost 20% of the annual conference budget to an aid fund. This facilitates the participation of students from developing countries, in one of three different ways: either by 1) an exemption from participation fees, or 2) help with accommodation, or 3) a complete aid package, including the journey itself.

This aid fund is financed by part of the other participants’ participation fees, and also by public or private sponsorship.

The theme of the conference this year is ‘Achieving dialogue and development through cultural diversity’: why?

This theme has been chosen as the focal point of the annual GIMUN conference because today and more than ever, we feel it is necessary to remind ourselves of this principle of cultural diversity, which not only the United Nations but all the world’s states should respect. The value of dialogue in this area is crucial because it is the vehicle of mutual understanding and, through that, peaceful solutions. Only by taking this common reality seriously will we be able to achieve a form of development that is not merely technological but, above all, human and pluralistic.

Cultural diversity is a subject that touches every sector of the United Nations, and it is therefore a variable that should be taken into account in every decision-making process. So we hope that the delegates will be able to implement these principles in the debates of the 2012 GIMUN annual conference, but also that they can apply them in their respective communities.

Are the results of GIMUN purely theoretical?

The results of our annual conference are purely theoretical and we do not claim to be able to  disseminate them.

However, we are this year for the second time organising a ‘Youth Perspectives’ conference. The aim of this conference is to be able to transmit, by means of our consultative status with ECOSOC, the vision of students and young people on subjects of concern to them to the United Nations. This conference is not intended to simulate the United Nations but to give a voice to young people aged between 16 and 28.

Last year we addressed the theme of education and organized a side-event at the Palais des Nations during the ECOSOC ministerial level, in order to transmit and disseminate the standpoint of these students. This year we will address the theme of environmental issues in contemporary society.

What other activities do you pursue during the year?

In addition to the annual conference, we also organise – as I mentioned before – a Youth Perspectives conference, which will take place in April 2012.

In October, we also celebrate the signature of the United Nations charter through a day at the United Nations, ‘UN Day’, which brings together about 150 students who take part in round-table debates with experts (professors, officials, UN representatives, etc.) on current issues.

During university semesters we also organise two-hour mini-simulations of the United Nations at the university each week, for about eight weeks. We also organise visits to sessions of the United Nations, with the goal, as always, of bringing students closer to the UN.

Could you tell us about your personal development and your role at GIMUN?

After a maturité fédérale (university entrance diploma) at the Collège Voltaire in Geneva, I decided to take a Bachelor degree in Political Science at the University of Geneva. I am currently in my final year, and I am thinking of continuing my university studies with a Masters in Public Management.

I am one of six members of the GIMUN executive committee, along with a head of public relations, a head of finance and fundraising, two persons responsible for the annual conference, and a vice-president. My task as president is, above all, to coordinate the various departments of our NGO and to foster official relations with the United Nations and our various partners.

My role, even if it requires 10 to 15 hours of work every week, would be minor without the dedication of the 20 or so people who ensure the smooth running of our activities on a daily basis.

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