UN General Assembly – What, Who, Why and When?

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un general assembly

The sixty-eighth session of the United Nations General Assembly will open in September 2013. The President of the United Nations General Assembly was chosen from the GRULAC with Antigua and Barbuda’s John William Ashe being the consensus candidate, thus bypassing the need for an election.

The General Assembly is the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations.

Comprising all 193 Members of the United Nations, it provides a unique forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues covered by the Charter.

UN_regional_groupsThe member states of the United Nations are unofficially divided into five geopolitical regional groups. What began as an informal means of sharing the distribution of posts for General Assembly committees has taken on a much more expansive role.

Depending on the UN context, regional groups control elections to UN-related positions, dividing up the pie on the basis of geographic representation, as well as coordinate substantive policy, and form common fronts for negotiations and voting.

  1. African Group
  2. Asia-Pacific Group
  3. Eastern European Group
  4. Latin American and Caribbean Group
  5. Western European and Others Group

Non-UN state or territory

As of July 2011, the 193 UN member states are divided into five groups:

  • the African Group, with 54 member states.
  • the Asia-Pacific Group, with 53 member states;
  • the Eastern European Group, with 23 member states;
  • the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC), with 33 member states;
  • the Western European and Others Group (WEOG), with 28 member states, plus 1 member state as observer.

Functions and Powers

The General Assembly (GA) is the main deliberative organ of the UN. Decisions on important questions, such as those on peace and security, admission of new members and budgetary matters, require a two-thirds majority. Decisions on other questions are by simple majority.

Each country has one vote. Some Member States in arrear of payment may be granted the right to vote. See the list of countries in arrears in the payment of their financial contributions.

The GA has established a number of Councils, Working Groups, Boards, etc. for the performance of its functions. See the list of Subsidiary Organs.

The Assembly has adopted its own rules of procedure and elects its President for each session.

Functions and Powers of the General Assembly

Forum for multilateral negotiation

Established in 1945 under the Charter of the United Nations, the General Assembly occupies a central position as the chief deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations. Comprising all 193 Members of the United Nations, it provides a unique forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues covered by the Charter.

It also plays a significant role in the process of standard-setting and the codification of international law. The Assembly meets in regular session intensively from September to December each year, and thereafter as required.

Functions and powers of the General Assembly

According to the Charter of the United Nations, the General Assembly may:

  • Consider and make recommendations on the general principles of cooperation for maintaining international peace and security, including disarmament;
  • Discuss any question relating to international peace and security and, except where a dispute or situation is currently being discussed by the Security Council, make recommendations on it;
  • Discuss, with the same exception, and make recommendations on any questions within the scope of the Charter or affecting the powers and functions of any organ of the United Nations;
  • Initiate studies and make recommendations to promote international political cooperation, the development and codification of international law, the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and international collaboration in the economic, social, humanitarian, cultural, educational and health fields;
  • Make recommendations for the peaceful settlement of any situation that might impair friendly relations among nations;
  • Receive and consider reports from the Security Council and other United Nations organs;
  • Consider and approve the United Nations budget and establish the financial assessments of Member States;
  • Elect the non-permanent members of the Security Council and the members of other United Nations councils and organs and, on the recommendation of the Security Council, appoint the Secretary-General.

Pursuant to its “Uniting for Peace” resolution of November 1950 (resolution 377 (V)) , the Assembly may also take action if the Security Council fails to act, owing to the negative vote of a permanent member, in a case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression. The Assembly can consider the matter immediately with a view to making recommendations to Members for collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security (see “Special sessions and emergency special sessions”).

While the Assembly is empowered to make only non-binding recommendations to States on international issues within its competence, it has, nonetheless, initiated actions—political, economic, humanitarian, social and legal—which have affected the lives of millions of people throughout the world.

The landmark Millennium Declaration, adopted in 2000, and the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document reflect the commitment of Member States to reach specific goals to attain peace, security and disarmament along with development and poverty eradication; safeguard human rights and promote the rule of law; protect our common environment; meet the special needs of Africa; and strengthen the United Nations.

The search for consensus

Each Member State in the Assembly has one vote. Votes taken on designated important issues, such as recommendations on peace and security and the election of Security Council members, require a two-thirds majority of Member States, but other questions are decided by simple majority.

In recent years, a special effort has been made to achieve consensus on issues, rather than deciding by a formal vote, thus strengthening support for the Assembly’s decisions. The President, after having consulted and reached agreement with delegations, can propose that a resolution be adopted without a vote.

General Assembly

Meetings Coverage – MAY 2013

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