By Jihyun Lee
Under the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, the human rights statuses of all 193 United Nations (UN) member states are peer reviewed. As a result, exploring the unique UPR mechanism allows for the functions of the Human Rights Council to be understood and knowledge on human rights to be gained. In fact, Model UPR serves as a medium in which students can learn and practice the UPR mechanism through placing themselves in the shoes of states under review or reviewing states in the mechanism.
The 2023 8th International Model UN Universal Periodic Review (I-MUN UPR) — a model UPR competition organized by Human Asia and three other institutions including the Graduate Program on Human Security at the University of Tokyo — provided an arena for 23 students across the region to practice the human rights discussions at UPR cycles. Focusing on the three thematic issues of gender equality, rights of children, and rights of persons with disabilities, delegates reviewed the human rights statuses of four states: the Republic of Korea, China, Japan, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. A team of three undergraduates from the University of Tokyo (Anastasia Tocheva, Ameema Talat, and Jihyun Lee) participated as the delegation of ROK and placed third in the competition.
In preparation of the competition, the team researched in depth on the three thematic issues. Based on the research, the team worked together on submitting advanced questions to be posed at the oral round and drafting a national report. During the period leading up to the competition, the team focused on reading the national reports of other delegations and preparing additional questions.
On the day of the competition, the review session of the ROK was conducted in the morning, followed by those of other states. During the review session, the team presented their national report and responded to the advanced questions that were circulated prior to the competition. Following up on the first set of questions and responses, the house posed additional questions that were addressed by the team. The session was concluded with a presentation of the outcome report. The team partook in all other review sessions as the delegation of Chile in reviewing the human rights statuses of the three other states under review, posing advanced and additional questions.
Throughout the four review sessions, listening to the questions and speeches delivered by students from different institutions was an extraordinary experience: the team could learn from the various structures of arguments, styles of speeches, and the legal knowledge of participants. The preparation and knowledge displayed in the questions and responses delegates thought of on the spot were truly impressive. The interactive dialogue shared with participants inspired new directions and ideas. From the experiences of being in the position of both a state under review and a reviewing state, the team learned the importance of fully understanding the stance of the state they are representing. During the review session of other delegations, for instance, the team paid careful attention in posing questions that would not contradict the human rights status of Chile. Lastly, comments from the jury helped identify areas for further growth and improvement. Reflecting on their experience, the team was able to consider what would matter in actual UPR sessions at the Human Rights Council.
The University of Tokyo team won third place in the competition. This experience has guided the team in deepening their interest in human rights and the UPR mechanism. With their deepened interest, the team will hopefully continue their study and exploration of these matters.