It doesn’t matter how well you know the topic, or the position of your country, if you don’t know the Model United Nations Rules of Procedure (RoP). All the preparation in the world won’t hold up if you aren’t able to convey information, which is why the rules of procedure are so important. If you have the goal of winning the best delegate award, familiarizing yourself with that specific conferences rules of procedure will help you stay organized, create and maintain strategy, and be on tops of negotiations.
If you have watched any United Nations proceedings, then you’ve probably noticed a difference in the way they do things as opposed to Model UN. The reason for this is practical. At a Model UN conference, each committee has an agenda that they need to get through in a short amount of time. The Model UN RoP are a mix of United Nations procedure, and Robert's Rules of Order, to better produce the fast paced policy and debate game we know and love. In the real UN, they can drag issues out for months, even years, before they come to a resolution (or no resolution). The real UN rules of procedure are over 100 pages long. For a conference to operate in a timely and structured manner, the adapted Model UN rules of procedure must be followed.
It is up to each conference to adopt their own form of the Model UN rules of procedure. However, you will find that most will be structured the same basic way. As said before, many operate off of a modified version of Robert’s Rules of Order, or parliamentary procedure. You will find slight differences from conference to conference. The more the major changes will come with special committees, such as crisis committees and the ICJ.
Below, you will find an explanation of the most well-known rules of procedure.
The Different Types of Rules of Procedure
Most Model United Nations Ro will have the same standard guidelines. In fact, many borrow the base from one another while adding only minor changes depending on internal, conference specific, criteria.
Here is a list of common items covered by most conference handboooks, which include the rules of procedure, for regular MUN committee sessions:
Overall conference rules
Roles of Secretary-General and Chairs
You need to know the authority that these positions hold.
Roll Call and Quorum
There will always be a roll call to ensure enough delegates are present to conduct business.
Motions are how business is conducted in a formal committee session. The list will be extensive to cover all possibilities. Items covered will range from motioning for moderated and unmoderated caucus to closing debate.
This will cover items such as a point of order, right of reply, or parliamentary procedure inquiries.
Items covered here will include working papers, draft resolutions, amendments, preambulatory and operative clauses.
Voting will be a very structured process because there are so many types of votes. The rules will cover voting on draft order, amendments, clause by clause voting, roll call voting, and dividing the question.
Committee Specific Rules
If a conference has specific rules for certain committees at the conference, they will be covered. There may be a different process for the Security Council, NATO, African Union, etc.
For a full breakdown of each specific rule, at a conventional Model UN conference, check out these rules of procedure. They are just one well written example of how the same core rules are used, with slight variation, from conference to conference.
Specialized committees may be present at the conference you attend. Here is a list of possible specialized committees and how the rules of procedure may differ.
Security Council (UNSC)
Just like the real UN, the Security Council sessions will operate differently. Debate will be both formal and informal.
Often, delegates will not stand when speaking, which is different from normal MUN RoP.
The Chair, or President, of the UNSC committee will have much more authority when deciding who speaks.
It will be smaller, consisting of the five permanent UNSC members (US, China, UK, Russia, France), as well as the current rotating members. There will be 15 countries present with the possibility of observers (other UN countries, NGOs, IGOs).
The five permanent members will have veto power, just like the UN.
Most conferences will follow UN procedure, requiring 9 votes for procedural and substantive issues to pass.
One vote from a permanent member and the issue at hand fails.
For resolutions, there will be modified numbers required for signatories and sponsors.
International Court of Justice (ICJ)
Owing to the fact that this is a court, the rules will be different. As you can see from the UN Youth and Student Association of Austria, a simplified version of the UN ICJ rules are used.
There will typically be 15 judges, wish each party to the case getting to supply one ad-hoc judge.
Cases will be presented to the judges and each judge, in alphabetical order, will get an opening statement.
There will be an informal period of discussion.
Deliberations will be formal, with a speakers list being followed.
Notes, as opposed to resolutions, are the working papers for the ICJ.
After deliberations, there will be a motion to vote for judgement.
Each judge is required to issue an opinion on a passes judgement. These will either be in agreement (concurring or separate opinion) or disagreement (dissenting opinion).
Passage or failure of a judgement requires a simple majority of the judges present.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
Formal and informal debate will be used.
Will use either resolutions or declarations.
Declarations usually follow the same requirements of resolutions.
Joint Statements may be used when a consensus is not reached for a resolution or declaration.
For voting in regional committees, passage often requires a unanimous vote.
Observers may be present, but have no voting power.
African Union (AU)
The AU may be another regional committee used at a MUN conference.
Formal and Informal debate will be used.
As a regional committee, unanimous consensus on issues is preferred.
Often, a two-thirds majority will also pass a resolution, while a simple majority will pass procedural issues.
Crisis committees operate in vastly different ways than regular, or even specialized, committees. Because of this, you will find that the rules of procedure tend to be very different from each other and, sometimes, more relaxed. This works because crisis committees typically have fewer people. They are often in cabinet forum, which can make them much more fast-paced. Having cumbersome rules would take away from the excitement of a crisis. If you look at the University of Toronto’s crisis rules of procedure, you will find that their directions for a crisis committee take up a small amount of space. Other conferences, such as the London International Model UN’s Crisis have their own separate crisis rules of procedure.
Crisis committees operate on informal debate
Often, they use directives instead of resolutions
These are shorter and have different signatory and sponsor requirements
Participants may not be actual UN delegates, but rather foreign ministers or leaders of countries
Difference between MUN RoP’s of the same type
As we mentioned above, you will find some differences between rules of procedure from conference to conference. Some are modified based on preference of the host, while others change due to time restrictions (some conferences are shorter than others).
If you take a quick look at the table of contents for all three, you will see they all follow a similar format. All of them cover the same basics. The differences that are present reflect differences in schedule time, committee sizes, and minor administrative things. The Model UN RoP for the Harvard University Model UN conference is different from these rules in many ways but still has the same core concepts. If you plan on attending multiple conferences, you should not find it too difficult to change from one conference’s set of rules to another. With experience, you will also know where to look in the rules to find those differences.
Rules of procedure for professional conferences will be exhaustive, typically running up to twenty pages or more. For new MUN delegates, it is best to become familiar with them well before the conference so that you won’t be overwhelmed on the first day. Most conferences will host a rules of procedure workshop on the first day of the conference before the actual start of formal sessions. It is highly recommended that beginners attend these sessions to familiarize themselves in a setting with other delegates present. If new to the format of the conference, it would not hurt a MUN veteran to attend these sessions to refamiliarize themselves with the RoP as well.