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Emergency Session of the UN Security Council on the Situation in Zimbabwe

The Delegation of Freie Universität Berlin met on the 13 December 2008 for a simulation of an Emergency Session of the UN Security Council, representing its 15 Members.

A – fictive – letter dated 12 December 2008 from the Secretary General was presented to the Security Council, along with an attached letter from David Miliband, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom. The letter in-formed the Secretary-General on the situation in Zimbabwe. The economy was still crumbling and inflation was rising sharply every day. By the end of December, an estimated 5 million Zimbabweans would depend on food aid. Moreover, the cholera epidemic was reaching an unprecedented scale, having claimed 775 persons to that point. The UN had reported 16,000 cases already and some estimates reached as far as 60,000. In response to fleeing Zimbabweans, South Africa had declared some of the areas neighbouring Zimbabwe disaster zones adding an international dimension to the crisis.

The British Government was providing £10 million in humanitarian aid to the region, but the Zimbabwean Government led by President Robert Mugabe had rejected the assistance claiming there was no cholera in Zimbabwe. The British Government called for the will of the people of Zimbabwe to be restored and immediate measures to be taken.

The Emergency Session began at 10 a.m. and following the setting and the adoption of the agenda, the Council moved on to the substantive issues. Each of the 15 countries represented gave an opening speech, which ranged in scope and emphasis. The United Kingdom, along with countries such as the United States and France called for immediate action to relieve the suffering in the region in light of the unwillingness and incapacity of the Zimbabwean Government to do so itself and also the international dimension of the situation.

Other countries, China and South Africa being perhaps the most vocal, voiced their fears that rushed intervention may not only be in contravention to international law, but may also send out a dangerous message and result in a precedent which could erode state sovereignty.

The first few informal caucuses gave nations the chance to find working partners and align themselves with other like-minded countries pursuing similar objectives. The European nations formed a substantial bloc, attracting a few other Members. It was clear to all delegations from the beginning that the concerns held by China, and to a lesser extent Russia, would have to be considered and worked with, given the veto power that the two nations possessed in the Security Council. To be passed by the Council, any possible resolution had to at least earn abstentions from the Permanent Members, but better still their support.

At lunch, the delegations had the opportunity to discuss further the content of any possible working papers. After the break, the emphasis was very much on making material progress; several working papers emerged with proposals including imposing economic and trade sanctions on Zimbabwe, providing immediate humanitarian aid, the organisation of free and fair elections in the country (the nation was still struggling to conclude an effective power sharing agreement between the two parties following the elections in September 2008) and the respect for human rights.

Working through frustration, several working papers began to merge forming what would be the draft resolutions which were put to vote in the final minutes of the Emergency Session. Proposals to organise elections within Zimbabwe failed, deemed by many countries, including South Africa and Burkina Faso, to be too intrusive and an infringement against the sovereignty of the state. Phrases such as ‘international peace and security’ and references to Chapter VII of the Charter were also rejected, with some Members fearing an imbalance to the delicate theme of the Responsibility to Protect and Humanitarian Intervention in light of state sovereignty.

The final resolutions which were successful called for an increase in aid and called upon the government of Zimbabwe to accept humanitarian assistance in light of the worsening situation, while recognising the principles of state sovereignty.

The simulation was enjoyed by all the delegates, and for those delegates for whom it was the first simulation of its kind, it proved an invaluable experience in preparation for the final conference in New York.

Pete Burgess