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All you need to know about the United Nations General Assembly

Fri, Sep. 8, 2017
CAIRO – 8 September 2017: The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is one of the six organs of the U.N. established in 1945 under the charter of the U.N. It is the only U.N. organ in which all member States have equal representation. The Assembly provides a forum for policymaking and multilateral discussion on international issues covered by the U.N. charter, and plays a role in the process of setting and monitoring the implementation of the international law.

The first GA session convened on January 10, 1946 in London and included representatives of 51 member states. On September 12, the GA will convene for its 72nd session.

UNGA members and the voting system:

The Assembly is comprised of 193 member states. On July 14, 2011 the Republic of South Sudan became the newest nation to join the GA. Some none-member states, entities and organizations receive a standing invitation from the Assembly to participate as observers in the sessions and the work of the GA. In January 2017, the GA published the list of

observers

who received an invitation to participate in the 71st GA session including the State of Palestine.

The GA voting system guarantees one vote for each member state. Some member states in arrear of payment status may lose their right to vote under the terms of Article 19 of the U.N. charter. Member states in arrear of payment are states that did not pay their contributions to the GA with an amount that equals or exceeds the due amount for two preceding years. Some countries receive an exception from being excluded in votes if the member state can show that conditions beyond its control contributed to this inability to pay. The following states were able to provide evidence for their inability to pay due contributions to the GA and therefore they could vote in the Assembly until the end of the current session: Comoros, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, and Somalia.

Important decisions on issues of peace and security, suspension of members, admission of new members and matters related to budgets require a two-thirds majority of present member states. While other decisions are adopted by simple majority. In recent years, an 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 GA president after consulting and reaching agreement with delegations, can propose that a resolution be adopted without a vote.

States’ contributions to the GA:

The GA has a special committee to advise on financial contributions by member states and organizations, according to their capacity to pay, to cover the costs of U.N. programs in areas of political affairs, international justice and law, international cooperation for development public information, human rights and humanitarian affairs. The committee also advises the GA on the actions to be taken with regard to the application of Article 19 on member states in arrear of payment status.

The Committee on Contributions meets annually for 3 to 4 weeks, usually in June of each year. The report of the Committee is considered by the General Assembly at its main session. The next session of the committee on contributions will be held from June 4 to 29, 2018.

In addition to the regular budget, member states are assessed for the costs of the international tribunals and for the costs of peacekeeping operations.

GA meetings:

In 1952, the GA started to meet annually at the U.N. headquarters in Manhattan, New York under its President or Secretary General. The main part of the sessions lasts from September to December each year, and the resumed part from January and until all issues critical to the international community are addressed.

Furthermore, the Assembly convenes for special and emergency special sessions and conducts informal consultations on a wide range of substantive topics, including on U.N. reform related matters. The special session may be convened at the request of the U.N. Security Council or a majority of U.N. members.

During its 58th session, the GA member states identified working on the GA efforts to be more focused and relevant as a priority. This session led to developing an agenda to improve the practices and working methods of the Main GA Committees, enhance the role of the Assembly General Committee, strengthen the role and authority of the GA President and examine the Assembly’s role in the process of selecting the Secretary-General.

Furthermore, in the 69th, the Assembly adopted a landmark resolution on the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly. As a result, the Secretary-General briefs member states periodically, in informal meetings of the GA, on his recent activities and travels.

Functions of the GA:

The GA developed and adopted its own rules of procedure and elects its President for each annual session. The Assembly makes recommendations to states on international issues and initiates political, economic, humanitarian, social and legal actions that affect the lives of millions of people around the world. The GA adopted a series of landmark resolutions and actions that reflect the commitment of member states to attain peace, security and disarmament along with development and poverty eradication; to safeguard human rights and promote the rule of law; to protect environment and to strengthen the U.N.

These resolutions and actions include the Millennium Declaration in 2000, the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals SDGs adopted in 2015

The Assembly may also take action in cases of a threat to the peace, breach of peace or act of aggression, when the U.N. Security Council fail to act owing to the negative vote of a permanent member. In such cases, the Assembly may consider the matter immediately and recommend to its members collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.

The U.N. Charter states that the GA may:

▪ Consider and approve the U.N. budget and establish the financial assessments of member states;.

▪ Elect the non-permanent members of the Security Council and the members of other U.N. councils like the UN Economic and Social Council and the UN Industrial Development Organization and the UN Trusteeship Council. It also, on the recommendation of the Security Council, appoints the Secretary-General and adopts rules governing the administration of the Secretariat.

▪ Recommend 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 U.N.

▪ 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 countries.
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