September 16, 2019

De-escalation of Sectarian Conflict

General Assembly: Special Political Committee

Topic: De-escalation of Sectarian Conflict

Sectarianism arises from an intense connection to a political, cultural, or religious identity, and often a combination. At a high level, sectarian conflict can occur if a group believes that its shared identity is under threat, or if a group believes that the success or proliferation of its shared identity is dependent on converting others to the same set of beliefs. Shades of sectarianism are present in most interstate (between and among different states) and intrastate (within a single state) conflicts, but the role of the United Nations in intrastate sectarian conflicts is not as clear as with international conflict. While the UN has specifically deplored acts of violence against persons on the basis of their religion or beliefs, the issue is complicated by the fact that sectarian violence is often perpetrated by groups outside the control of a state’s government. While the UN may have influence over the actions of its member states, that influence is limited over non-state actors.

The UN Charter provides that the UN shall not “intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state,” but whether an intrastate conflict falls within that state’s “domestic jurisdiction” is an open question. Conflicts that may appear “internal” can have international ramifications. For example, refugees of intrastate conflicts frequently cross borders into neighboring states and states may install military outposts along international borders to prevent foreign intervention. States that seek to assert their domestic jurisdiction and exclude UN involvement often do so at the expense of their own populations, and at risk to the broader intentional community. On the other hand, UN intervention could undermine the authority of the domestic government in future conflicts.

It will be the role of this committee to set guidelines that govern when the UN should (and should not) intervene in intrastate sectarian conflicts. In setting those guidelines, the committee should consider the following questions: How does the UN balance states’ interests in national sovereignty with the UN mission to protect future generations from the devastation of conflict? Should the UN consider the sectarian nature of a conflict in determining whether to intervene in a particular intrastate conflict? How much weight should the UN give to the opinion of the domestic government on whether UN intervention is necessary or desired?

Useful Links:

UN Overview of Peace and Security Operations

Paul C. Szasz, Role of United Nations in Internal Conflicts, 13 Ga. J. Int’l & Comp. L. 345 (1983)

Background on the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

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