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, policy-making and representative organ of the United Nations. Comprising all 192 Members of the United Nations, it provides a 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” below).
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 legalâ€”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.
With the close of the general debate, the Assembly begins consideration of the substantive items on its agenda. Because of the great number of questions it is called upon to consider, the Assembly allocates items relevant to its work among its six Main Committees, which discuss them, seeking where possible to harmonize the various approaches of States, and then present to a plenary meeting of the Assembly draft resolutions and decisions for consideration.
- First Committee (Disarmament and International Security Committee) is concerned with disarmament and related international security questions.
- Second Committee (Economic and Financial Committee) is concerned with economic questions.
- Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee) deals with social and humanitarian issues.
- Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization Committee) deals with a variety of political subjects not dealt with by the First Committee, as well as with decolonization.
- Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary Committee) deals with the administration and budget of the United Nations.
- Sixth Committee (Legal Committee) deals with international legal matters.
On a number of agenda items, however, such as the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East, the Assembly acts directly in its plenary meetings.
The Credentials Committee is mandated to examine the credentials of representatives of Member States and to report to the General Assembly.
The General Committee meets periodically throughout each session to review the progress of the General Assembly and its committees and to make recommendations for furthering such progress.