United Nations General Assembly
United Nations General Assembly
A meeting of the General Assembly in New York
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President of the UN General Assembly
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA / GA) organs of the United Nations and the only one in which all member nations have equal representation. Its powers are to oversee the budget of the United Nations, appoint the non-permanent members to the Security Council, receive reports from other parts of the United Nations and make recommendations in the form of General Assembly Resolutions. It has also established a wide number of subsidiary organs.
The General Assembly meets under its president or secretary general in regular yearly sessions which last from September to December, although it can reconvene for special and emergency special sessions. Its composition, functions, powers, voting, and procedures are set out in Chapter IV of the United Nations Charter.
Voting in the General Assembly on important questions – recommendations on peace and security; election of members to organs; admission, suspension, and expulsion of members; budgetary matters – is by a two-thirds majority of those present and voting. Other questions are decided by majority vote. Each member country has one vote. Apart from approval of budgetary matters, including adoption of a scale of assessment, Assembly resolutions are not binding on the members. The Assembly may make recommendations on any matters within the scope of the UN, except matters of peace and security under Security Council consideration. The one state, one vote power structure theoretically allows states comprising just eight percent of the world population to pass a resolution by a two-thirds vote.
During the 1980s, the Assembly became a forum for the North-South dialogue – the discussion of issues between industrialized nations and developing countries. These issues came to the fore because of the phenomenal growth and changing makeup of the UN membership. In 1945, the UN had 51 members. It now has 192, of which more than two-thirds are developing countries. Because of their numbers, developing countries are often able to determine the agenda of the Assembly (using coordinating groups like the G77), the character of its debates, and the nature of its decisions. For many developing countries, the UN is the source of much of their diplomatic influence and the principal outlet for their foreign relations initiatives.
The agenda for each session is planned up to seven months in advance and begins with the release of a preliminary list of items to be included in the provisional agenda. This is refined into a provisional agenda sixty days before the opening of the session. After the session begins the final agenda is adopted in a plenary meeting which allocates the work to the various Main Committees who later submit reports back to the Assembly for adoption by consensus or by vote.
Items on the agenda are numbered. Several items may be discussed in a single plenary session. Also, discussions on a topic of the agenda can continue across separate meetings months apart.
General Assembly resolutions
The General Assembly votes on many resolutions brought forth by sponsoring states. These are generally symbolic statements covering an array of world issues. Most General Assembly resolutions, while symbolic of the sense of the international community, are not enforceable as a legal or practical matter as the General Assembly lacks enforcement powers with respect to most issues. However, in some areas, such as the United Nations budget, the General Assembly does have authority to make final decisions.
From the First to the Thirtieth General Assembly sessions, all General Assembly resolutions were numbered consecutively, with the resolution number followed by the session number in Roman numbers (for example, Resolution 1514 (XV), which was the 1514th numbered resolution adopted by the Assembly, and was adopted at the Fifteenth Regular Session (1960)). Beginning with the Thirty-First Session, resolutions are numbered by individual session (for example Resolution 41/10 represents the 10th resolution adopted at the Forty-First Session).
Special sessions may be convened at the request of the UN Security Council, or a majority of UN members, or, if the majority concurs, of a single member. A special session was held in October 1995 at the head of government level to commemorate the UN's 50th anniversary. Another special session was held in September 2000 to celebrate the millennium; it put forward the Millennium Development Goals. A further special session ( 2005 World Summit) was held in September 2005 to commemorate the UN's 60th anniversary; it assessed progress on the Millennium Development Goals, and discussed Kofi Annan's In Larger Freedom proposals.
At the first Special Session of the UN General Assembly held in 1947, Oswaldo Aranha, then president of the Special Session, began a tradition that has remained until today whereby the first speaker at this major international forum is always a Brazilian.
Emergency special sessions
The General Assembly may take action on maintaining international peace and security if the UN Security Council is unable, usually due to disagreement among the permanent members, to exercise its primary responsibility. If not in session at the time, the General Assembly may meet in emergency special session within twenty-four hours of the request thereof. Such emergency special sessions shall be called if requested by the Security Council on the vote of any seven members, or by a majority of the Members of the United Nations.
The " Uniting for Peace" resolution, adopted 3 November 1950, empowered the Assembly to convene in emergency special session in order to recommend collective measures – including the use of armed force – in the event of a breach of the peace or act of aggression. As with all Assembly resolutions, two-thirds of UN Members 'present and voting' must approve any such recommendation before it can be formally adopted by the Assembly. Emergency special sessions have been convened under this procedure on ten occasions. The two most recent, in 1982 and 1997 through 2003 respectively, have both been convened in response to actions by the State of Israel. The ninth considered the situation in the occupied Arab territories following Israel's unilateral extension of its laws, jurisdiction, and administration to the Golan Heights. The tenth was triggered by the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, and dealt with the issue of Palestine.
The General Assembly subsidiary organs are divided into five categories: committees (30 total, six main), commissions (seven), boards (six), councils and panels (five), working groups, and "other".
The main committees are ordinally numbered, 1-6:
- The First Committee: Disarmament and International Security (DISEC)
- The Second Committee: Economic and Finance (ECOFIN)
- The Third Committee: Social, Humanitarian and Cultural (SOCHUM)
- The Fourth Committee: Special Political and Decolonization (SPECPOL)
- The Fifth Committee: Administrative and Budgetary
- The Sixth Committee: Legal
The roles of some of the main committees have changed over time. Until the late 1970s, the First Committee was the Political and Security Committee (POLISEC) and there was also a sufficient number of additional "Political" matters that an additional, unnumbered main committee, called the Special Political Committee, also sat. The Fourth Committee formerly handled Trusteeship and Decolonization matters. With the decreasing number of such matters to be addressed as the trust territories attained independence and the decolonization movement progressed, the functions of the Special Political Committee were merged into the Fourth Committee during the 1990s.
Each main committee consists of all the members of the General Assembly. Each elects a chairman, three vice chairmen, and a rapporteur at the outset of each regular General Assembly session.
These are not numbered. According to the General Assembly website, the most important are:
- Credentials Committee – This committee is charged with ensuring that the diplomatic credentials of all UN representatives are in order. The Credentials Committee consists of nine Member States elected early in each regular General Assembly session.
- General Committee – This is supervisory committee entrusted with ensuring that the whole meeting of the Assembly goes smoothly. The General Committee consists of the president and vice presidents of the current General Assembly session and the chairman of each of the six Main Committees.
Other committees of the General Assembly are enumerated in this list.
There are seven commissions:
- Disarmament Commission, established by GA Resolution 502 (VI) and S-10/2
- International Civil Service Commission, established by GA Resolution 3357 (XXIX)
- International Law Commission, established by GA Resolution 174 (II)
- United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), established by GA Resolution 2205 (XXI)
- United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, established by GA Resolution 194 (III)
- United Nations Peacebuilding Commission, established by GA Resolution 60/180 and UN Security Council Resolutions 1645 (2005) and 1646 (2005)]
Despite its name, the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) was actually a subsidiary body of ECOSOC.
There are six boards.
Councils and panels
The most important (as well as the newest) council is the United Nations Human Rights Council, which replaced the aforementioned UNCHR in March 2006.
There are a total of four councils and one panel.
Working Groups and other
There is a varied group of working groups and other subsidiary bodies.
General Assembly reform and UNPA
On 21 March 2005, Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented a report, In Larger Freedom, that criticized the General Assembly for focusing so much on consensus that it was passing watered-down resolutions reflecting "the lowest common denominator of widely different opinions". He also criticized the Assembly for trying to address too broad an agenda, instead of focusing on "the major substantive issues of the day, such as international migration and the long-debated comprehensive convention on terrorism". Annan recommended streamlining the General Assembly's agenda, committee structure, and procedures; strengthening the role and authority of its president; enhancing the role of civil society; and establishing a mechanism to review the decisions of its committees, in order to minimize unfunded mandates and micromanagement of the UN Secretariat. Annan reminded UN members of their responsibility to implement reforms, if they expect to realize improvements in UN effectiveness.
A United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, or United Nations People's Assembly (UNPA), is a proposed addition to the United Nations System that eventually could allow for direct election of UN parliament members by citizens all over the world.