The General Assembly and ECOSOC Affairs Division
The staff members of the General Assembly and Economic and Social Council Affairs Division – some 44 strong and representing 25 nationalities – are the “conference management brain trust” of the Secretariat, that is to say its institutional memory on the rules of procedure and best practices of the intergovernmental bodies that the Division supports. They serve as the repository of all information on the work of those bodies past and present, from the General Assembly to the most confidential group of experts, for which they provide both conference management and substantive services. They function as gentle but authoritative guides before, during and after meetings to ensure that everything moves along smoothly and carefully, both in planning and in execution.
The term “technical and substantive secretariat services” or “conference management services” deserves some explanation, since it lies at the heart of the functions of the Division. Each intergovernmental or legislative body that meets within the United Nations is provided with a senior staff member who represents the Secretary-General and who, as the Political Affairs Officer, functions as the “Committee Secretary”. The chief presiding officer of the body (President or Chair) is seated at the centre of the podium, and the “Committee Secretary” is seated at his/her immediate left. It is one of the major responsibilities of the Secretary of the intergovernmental body to ensure that the presiding officer has a secure understanding of the powers and duties, rights and responsibilities of the office, and to assist in the most effective and efficient exercise of them, including complete management of the conference services provided to the session.
The Secretary is assisted by a team of staff members who are given specific responsibilities with regard to the preparation for, functioning of, and follow-up to the work of the intergovernmental body. They are indispensable to the successful outcome of the meeting. The responsibilities of the entire team, who are collectively called the “conference management secretariat”, include the following:
- compiling the agenda of the session, that is, the list of questions to be discussed based on previous decisions of the body and on requests from Member States and of the Secretary-General;
- planning the work programme of the session, that is, its daily roadmap;
- arranging meetings of the bureau of the body and advising it on matters that effect both the overall organization and the daily operation of the session;
- preparing the procedural notes for the presiding officer, which he or she follows in conducting the meeting, and the list of speakers for the agenda items;
- maintaining contact and sharing information with all others involved, including other Departments within the Secretariat and the delegations;
- ensuring strict adherence to the rules of procedure of the body concerned and its established practices, and giving expert advice on the application of the rules of procedure, conference practices and precedents when difficult questions are raised;
- advance planning and monitoring of documentation and meeting room requirements;
- ensuring that the texts of draft proposals are submitted and issued in compliance with the rules and regulations of the United Nations;
- advising the Chair and the committee on the applications of the rules of procedure during votes, as well as during the secret balloting processes when elections are held;
- preparing the final report of the body on the session.
The overriding concern and responsibility of the staff of the Division in the exercise of their conference management responsibilities is to know what the delegations and others involved in the meeting need to do in order to perform their work correctly and in accordance with the rules and practices.
In their technical and substantive servicing responsibilities, the primary attention of the staff of the Division is focused on the Member States of the intergovernmental bodies. Those functions may be summarized as follows:
- to give delegates, observers and others involved in the meetings of intergovernmental bodies the information that they need at any given time, and to ensure that the body and its officers understand the role and responsibilities of the Secretary and his or her team;
- to maintain constant contact with them in order to ascertain their questions, concerns and plans for a session, and to take these into consideration in the conference management of the session;
- to ensure that everyone concerned – delegates and Secretariat officials – has been given adequate warning and is properly prepared for any action that the body may take;
- to assist them in any activity that they may undertake in the course of the session in order to ensure that it is done in accordance with the rules of procedure and accepted practice;
- to anticipate problems that may arise during the session, to know in advance how delegates will react to a proposal, to be aware of their past positions on a question in order to predict the future, to “take the temperature” of the meeting, and to know what proposals will and will not gain acceptance.
The Division is, in summation, responsible for creating the context of the meeting (the “how”, “when” and “where” of things), the framework within which the session takes place, and the day-to-day and minute-to-minute manner in which it is conducted. Based on a thorough knowledge of parliamentary procedure and the experience of past practice, the staff of the Division offers expert advice to all involved, in particular the Chair, to ensure that each meeting runs smoothly and reaches a successful conclusion.
The Division consists of the following sections:
- Office of the Director
- General Assembly Affairs Branch
- Economic and Social Council Affairs Branch
- Disarmament and Peace Affairs Branch