The state has come to dominate understandings of geopolitics: political maps of the world consist of neatly coloured-in state units, and state leaders dominate international headlines. However, those who are most acutely affected by conflict, human rights abuses and environmental injustices are often not represented by state interests. In many cases they seek to represent themselves on the international stage as stateless nations (e.g. Tibet), as indigenous communities (e.g. Crimean Tatars), as minorities (e.g. Kurds in Iran), or as de facto states (e.g. Somaliland). Over 40 of these non-state actors have come together as the ‘Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization’ (UNPO).
The ‘Model UNPO’ is a role-play debating exercise on issues of human rights, conflict resolution, and environmental justice that is loosely based on Model UN simulations. However, instead of students being assigned roles as representatives of states and enacting UN meetings they are designated roles as representatives of stateless nations, indigenous peoples and minority communities. Students research their assigned non-state actor in advance of the exercise, and then come together to simulate a debate of the UNPO’s General Assembly.
Thereby engaging students with issues facing some of the most marginalised communities in the world the ‘Model UNPO’ role play encourages them to think differently about equality and diversity in the global governance system. Aimed at Year 12 and Year 13 students the resources address key elements of the Geography A-level curriculum (e.g. on global systems and global governance, global interdependence, inequality, injustice, diversity, citizenship). They also offer an opportunity for the development of self-confidence, and public speaking and debating skills.
The teacher’s overview includes a detailed overview of the exercise, resource materials, instructions for preparation activities, how to structure the debate and pointers for follow up activities. The student activity sheet includes instruction on preparation activities, links to information on UNPO members, and a sheet for drafting clauses for the resolution. The student follow-up sheet provides guidance for how students should prepare for the debate and the procedures for the role play. A ‘set up’ pack accompanies these resources, which includes table signs for a range of UNPO members (name and flag) and time-keeping cards.
The activity can be downloaded from the downloads box. Additional resources are also available.
About the authors
Dr Fiona McConnell is Professor of Political Geography at the University of Oxford, and tutorial fellow in Geography at St Catherine’s College, Oxford. Her research looks at how communities officially excluded from formal state politics are nevertheless engaging with aspects of statecraft. She has undertaken research on the Tibetan Government-in-Exile in India, and worked with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation on the barriers faced by stateless communities in engaging with diplomacy, particularly at the UN, and the innovative strategies they use to make their voices heard.
Dr Liam Saddington is a Teaching Associate in Human Geography at the University of Cambridge and a fellow and Director of Studies in Geography at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. His research focuses on the geopolitics of climate change concerning small island states and rising sea levels, exploring how the relationship between territory and statehood is being reimagined in low-lying atolls.
This project was supported by the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) with a Ray Y Gildea Jr Award and by Fiona McConnell’s British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship (2016, MD160003). Our thanks to teachers and students at two Oxfordshire schools for their feedback, and support from UNPO staff. This resource is accompanied by a similar activity for Key Stage Two geography.