The Legal committee is the 6th committee of the United Nations. It has a remit of dealing with issues of international law. Frequently taking issues to the General Assembly, all member states are entitled to representation on this committee.

The aim of the Legal committee is to ensure that all nations follow international law, but also to recommend that all nations adopt similar legislation around key issues to aid cooperation in an interconnected world. This gives the Legal committee a wide remit and it promises to be a committee debating a scintillating range of topics promoting international cooperation and collaboration on global issues.

Topic 1 – The Question of Hong Kong: given the recent protests and the authorities’ response, what should the future legal status of Hong Kong be?

When considering the issue of international law, it is important to remember both the impact on the surrounding nations and on the individual citizens. The former UK colony of Hong Kong was handed over to China as a Special Administrative area as stipulated in 1984 in the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong. Under this agreement, Hong Kong would maintain a high degree of autonomy, maintaining its own leadership, capitalist-style economy and judicial system until 2047. The central Chinese government agreed to only control foreign and defence policy, adhering to a ‘One coun-try, two systems’ policy. However, scepticism was immediately raised as to whether this would be maintained. In more recent times, China has questioned the binding nature of the agreement.

In 2019, the Secretary for Security, John Lee, introduced a controversial amendment called ‘The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019.’ It gave the Hong Kong government the ability to extradite criminals wanted by mainland China to face the very different central Chinese judicial system, where judges officially work for the Communist Party. This led to months of protests starting in late March and culminating in over 1/4 of the population being involved. Although the legislation has currently been suspended, the protests are, at the time of writing, still ongoing. The protests have brought a focus on the wide range of issues, including corruption and erosion of democracy, which citizens believe are ongoing.

While the Chinese government has strongly condemned the protests, describing the takeover of the airport during August as akin to terrorism, it has not sent in military forces. It has, however, supported the increased brutality of the Hong Kong police, with accusations of the central government fielding police from mainland China. As well as this, many civilians believe that the increased violence of the Triads may be linked to the local and national governments. On the 13th of August, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the ongoing violence, advocating talks between the two sides.

Questions to keep in mind:

• How much autonomy should Hong Kong maintain and for how long?
• How should protesters be treated in this divided area?
• Should Member States condemn the actions of a sovereign nation?
• Are the rights of individual citizens superior to the right of a recognised government to maintain order?

You can find more detailed guidance on this issue here.

Topic 2 – The Question of Legalising Drugs: given the variety of approaches to drug legalisation across the world, which drugs should be legalised, and how?

The UN Declaration of Human Rights endeavours to ensure as much freedom for the individual as possible. Yet no global guidelines exist on the question of recreational drug use. The drugs criminalised within this category vary worldwide, as do the approaches to sanctions raised against those who break the law. While certain punishments may seem acceptable, some violate basic human rights.

Since 2001, Portugal has decriminalised the use of all recreational drugs to try and reduce crimes and infection. At the other end of the scale, the Philippines under President Duterte has seen an increase in extra-judicial killings of drug dealers and users, violating basic human rights.

The UN must ensure that the rights of the individual, especially the right to life, are protected. Yet it must also ensure that any treaties it recommends or sanctions which are recommended to the Security Council do not violate the sovereignty of a nation.

Questions to keep in mind:

• What level of recreational drug use, if any, is acceptable?
• What role does the UN have in imposing guidelines on differing cultures with regards to drug use?
• What level of punishment is acceptable by a government to ensure justice without violating human rights?
• What measures should be taken against countries which do not adhere to the guidelines placed by the UN?

You can find a more detailed briefing pack on this issue here.

Topic 3 – The Question of Palestine: how should the UN deal with competing sovereignty claims by nations?

When considering the question of competing sovereignty claims, it is critical to ensure that any solution reached is able to minimise conflict to the greatest extent possible.

Historically, the area surrounding Israel has been home to ethnic and religious conflict, with competing claims to land being made chiefly by the Arabic and Jewish populations. Following the Second World War, the United Nations proposed that Palestine should be partitioned to contain a separate Jewish State. Despite the support of the UN as a whole, all major Arab powers objected to the idea of a separate Jewish state. Since the official partition in 1947, conflict has continued, including the question of who Jerusalem belongs to.

In recent times, there have been a number of attempts to solve the ongoing conflict. In 1993, the Oslo Peace Process began, with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) condemning terrorism and recognising Israel as a sovereign nation. However, negotiations fully broke down in 2000, after a proposal by the Israeli government was rejected without counter-offer by the Palestinian government.

In recent times, the Obama administration encouraged the Israeli government to cease its creation of new settlements on the West Bank, with Obama stating in Cairo that the US did not recognise these new settlements as legitimate. While President Netanyahu stated he was open to the idea of a Palestinian State, he demanded that Palestine revoke its demands for a ‘right of return’ of all property, a demilitarised Palestine and sole control of Jerusalem. At present, Palestine exists as a non member observer of the UN. President Trump’s affirmation of Jerusalem being the capital of Israel has left the question of legal sovereignty in this area complicated.

Questions to keep in mind:

• Who has the right to legally define what is and isn’t a state and how should a state be defined?
• How can the UN aid in the peace process?
• How can this conflict be used to prevent future problems leading to the same loss of life?

You can find a more detailed briefing pack on this issue here.