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New steps taken for a pioneer project at Low Moss prison

The UN House Scotland was present at Low Moss prison on the 27th of November to talk about the possibility of organising a Model United Nations event. The excitement was high for what could be the first event of its kind with participants deprived of liberty. In the early afternoon, Executive Director Gari Donn and three UNHS volunteers gave a presentation to 17 detainees at the detention facility located in the Glasgow area. The enriching exchange was focused on the principles and work of the United Nations as well as the importance of civil engagement to make sure these principles constitute and remain the basis of our national politicians’ and diplomats’ actions.

A few weeks before this meeting, the dynamic Education department of Low Moss contacted the UNHS to discuss the potential of running a Model United Nations event with detainees. The initiative would complete a panel of classes proposed to detainees which RANGE from English, Art, Music to Modern Studies – the latter includes the analysis of international news. Although only a little more than 20 percent of the almost 800 men detained at Low Moss take part in these activities, Nikki Cameron and her colleagues are determined to progressively attract more participants. According to the Education Officer, a successful reintegration after a period of time spent in prison involves being able to fully come back as a “real citizen”. Aside from professional objectives, having the capacity to form opinions and engage in social discussions is a crucial element of the work of the education team at Low Moss.

For a few years, the UNHS has organised Model United Nations events in teaching environments such as secondary schools in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. More and more interest seems to be growing around this educational tool in Scotland. For the first time in the UK, a MUN was successfully held with primary school pupils of Fife on November 30th.

During MUN sessions, the participants represent real countries’ positions and interests throughout the discussions. The preparation therefore includes acquiring prior knowledge about the UN’s work, countries’ characteristics and politics. The simulations involve debates and negotiations from these participants on resolutions that can be fictional or drawn from reality on some of the core activities of the UN: peace and security, sustainable development or human rights. These sessions are used by educators as a multidisciplinary activity to teach history, geography and develop students’ skills such as communication, empathy, leadership or team work.

The transposition of this activity designed to promote the United Nations’ values to a context of people deprived of liberty has evidently caught the UNHS’s attention.

For now, this very positive first contact has set grounds for future important work. The lively reactions of the audience attending the presentation showed the relevance of the initiative and their wish to take part in the exercise. Opinions were whirling around the room on the possibility to ban nuclear weapons, the question of transparency of the allotment of funds to UN programmes or even discussion on the principle of preventative diplomacy: “As long as you keep them talking they’re not firing”, were the words of one of the detainees. Some of the detainees are already looking towards assimilating this new knowledge, deciding on the resolutions that will be presented and being considered “real citizens” again. The next steps will include reviewing some practical issues as to the preparation of the participants, the time allocated for the sessions and the supervision of the whole event. Thanks to the very encouraging cooperation of both sides, the process could be expected to start early 2018.

From a wider point of view, this initiative is raised in a context of debates around Westminster’s recent decision to allow short term British detainees to vote under certain circumstances. Considering the fact that a prison sentence is only a deprivation of liberty, the rest of the person’s fundamental rights must be protected. As the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Britain’s ban on prisoner voting in 2005, one could argue that to come back as a full member of the society, civil and political rights are more than important, they are essential. In this sense, one can only hope that the UNHS and Low Moss prison will continue collaborating on this initiative, pushing forward and inspiring others with the idea that detention should act as a means of reintegrating ex-detainees into society through every way possible.

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