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The Yale International Relations Association hosted the 32nd annual Yale Model United Nations conference this weekend, bringing high school students from around the world to New Haven to debate issues of foreign policy.

About 1,300 students from 60 schools in several countries attended the conference and participated in six mock sessions between Thursday and Sunday, YIRA President David Gershkoff ’06 said. Yale students in YIRA organized the conference and moderated the mock sessions, he said.

The proceeds YIRA receives from the Yale Model UN conference help fund its other initiatives, including a spring break trip to El Salvador and several speakers, Gershkoff said.

“The point is not to try to profit,” YMUN Secretary General Rich Kearney ’07 said. “This raises money for the International Relations Association’s programs throughout the year.”

The conference opened Thursday with keynote speaker Shashi Tharoor, UN Undersecretary-General for Communications and Public Information, who spoke about the importance of the United Nations in global politics.

Tharoor said that while the UN has recently come under fire — particularly because of alleged corruption in its oil-for-food program in Iraq — the organization continues to play an invaluable role in peacekeeping.

“For the past 15 years, more civil wars have ended through mediation than in the previous two centuries combined, in large part because the UN offered leadership negotiation and the resources to implement this negotiation,” he said.

Julia Gerasimenko, a high school student from New Haven’s Hopkins School who took part in the YMUN conference, said Tharoor’s speech brought home the importance of the United Nations.

“He inspired us to work hard during the conference by showing that the UN really does matter in the world,” she said.

Starting on Thursday night, students participated in committee sessions on topics including sports and the environment, China’s human rights violations, and nuclear proliferation in Iran. Each high school was assigned one or more countries to represent, Gershkoff said, and students met in groups that ranged in size from about 10 students to more than 100.

Tiffany Wan ’07, a moderator for the conference and chair of the YIRA Speaker’s Committee, said she enjoyed the opportunity to help high school students learn about global politics.

“Being a moderator is fun,” she said. “You get to interact with high school kids and open them up to the world of international relations.”

But the Model UN structure permits only a simulation of the inner workings of the real United Nations, Wan said.

“It’s obviously only a model,” she said. “There’s only so much you can do that’s going to be realistic.”

Margaret Willis, a chaperone from the Crofton House School in Vancouver, Canada, said she was impressed with YIRA’s organization of the conference.

“Considering they’re Yale students, they’re quite up to the task,” she said. “They’ve done their homework.”

In addition to the sessions, the student delegates had the option to take tours of the Yale campus. A dance was held for the students on Saturday night.

Lauren French, a high school delegate from The Benjamin School in Palm Beach, Fla., said she enjoyed visiting campus, but she wished that some of the Yalies involved in the conference had been more relaxed.

“I think that some of the chairs took the entire conference too seriously, and it limited the fun that some of the kids had,” she said. “[But] I thought the conference was a lot of fun.”

The conference ended on Sunday afternoon with closing ceremonies at the Omni Hotel on Temple Street.

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