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Report on Young Leaders’ Conference

Report on Young Leaders’ Conference

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WASHINGTON D.C. AND NEW YORK, JULY 18 – 29, 2004

By Charlene Douglas

This past summer vacation, I attended the July 18-29 session of the Global Young Leaders Conference (GYLC) in Washington D.C. and New York, U.S.A. My attendance was made possible by sponsorship from the National Lotteries Authority, GECCU, KPMG and my parents, Kenneth and Carol Douglas. I sincerely thank each for their generous support. I would also like to thank Andrea Veira for nominating me. {{more}}

The theme of this year’s conference was “The Leaders of Tomorrow Preparing for the Global Challenges and Responsibilities of the Future”. About 400 students from 80 different countries attended the same session as I did. On arrival at Washington D.C.’s George Washington University at Mount Vernon, we were randomly assigned as diplomatic representatives of various countries, charged with doing all in our capacities to broker the best deals in favour of our countries. My country group was France.

The conference gave us a hands-on approach to a better understanding of the operations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the United Nations (UN). There were various simulations of issues that go before the WTO and the UN and we were given an opportunity to resolve these matters as actual diplomats of the countries would do in real life. All simulations were carried under the supervision of GYLC staffers drawn from the diplomatic corps or from universities teaching international law and international relations.

As an example, to better understand the WTO, we were tasked with managing a trade dispute centred on whether free trade outweighed fair protection. This simulation brought home the fact that this issue is very pertinent to the current impasse between the WTO and poor developing countries like St. Vincent and the Grenadines. One found that there is no easy solution to the problem since the outcomes are usually heavily influenced by the more powerful lobbying interests and skewed towards those countries with the economic clout; and not necessarily based on reality, morals and fair play.

Another simulation gave insight as to how the UN, through the UN Security Council, might function to diffuse a rising conflict in Eastern Europe. The role and significant powers of the five permanent members of the Council (USA, France, Russia, China and the UK) were highlighted. These countries have the ability to veto any resolution that comes before the council; just one dissenting vote from any could crumble a resolution or change its outcome. Thus, the veto power is often used as a bargaining chip to enforce or influence resolutions that most favour the interests of the dissenting country. I acted the role of French ambassador at that simulated UN Security Council meeting.

To better understand the operations of the UN, a Global Summit was held at the UN headquarters conference rooms in New York. This summit was held in accordance with the rules of UN summits. Accordingly, various commissions were represented at the Summit. I was chosen vice chairperson of the Environmental Commission. Several environmental resolutions were hammered out at the commission meeting prior to the Summit. Two were finally sent forward for consideration. At the Global Summit, all the resolutions from the various commissions are voted on by all country groups. There is no veto power at the Global Summit to hamper any resolution’s success or failure.

Alliances between countries are extremely important at the UN. These alliances determine the success or failure of a country’s foreign policy. Having a “friend” with veto power is highly desirable since this could assist in having a county’s views considered where it counts, and could be an asset in times of economic wrangling. In fact, we learned that many crucial decisions that affect the well-being of countries are made outside the boardroom – often influenced by strategic alliances, as much as by rich lobbying interests (large multinational corporations and the like).

Interspersed with these simulations were numerous site visits and lectures on various current issues by high-profile speakers. Two of the more interesting were those on cross-cultural and religious relations, and on leadership by Dr. Gary Weaver, a professor of international communications at the American University. Dr. Weaver drove home the fact the cultural clashes occur primarily because of lack of understanding of other’s beliefs and that a true leader is one who is astute and with enough insight and diplomatic savvy to be able to overcome such problems. He also advocated that people should make the effort to learn about other cultures since in the process of doing so they tend to have a better understanding of their own.

Another interesting debate by a panel drawn from Human Rights and Inter-national Law was on the death penalty. This was a hotly debated topic with the pro-death penalty side arguing that the death penalty should be retained for murders and that mental insanity should not be a defence to murder; the anti-death penalty side countered for abolishment as there were too many highlighted instances of innocent people being executed for a murder that they did not commit.

The site visits took us to such places as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the National World War II and Korean War Memorials and the Australian Embassy. It was interesting to learn that voting was compulsory in Australia and if a person did not vote there were legal consequences. After the Global Summit, mentioned earlier, we were given a private tour of the UN and learnt that the land on which the UN headquarters is located is considered international property. Hence, even though the UN headquarters is in fact in New York, anyone setting foot inside the UN is considered to be legally outside of the USA and cannot be persecuted by US law or governed by US regulation.

The GYLC has taught me a lot about various issues and the gravity of the decisions made by the various world bodies. I was able to meet and converse with youths from all over of the world, even learning a little of the various world languages such as Cantonese. I was able to gain better understanding of cultures alien to my own, able to visit places I may never have seen or visited in my lifetime. I have learnt what it is to live and not just exist. It was a truly rewarding experience.

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