Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly
A dedicated item on the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly was included in the agenda of the 46th session of the General Assembly (1991), having originally been proposed for inclusion in the draft agenda of that session by the President of the Assembly at its 45th session (decision 45/461), who in introducing the item recalled that “there is already in existence a body of General Assembly resolutions and decisions encouraging rationalization, revitalization and improvement of working procedures for the purpose of enhancing the effectiveness of the Assembly, its relevance and its capability to fulfil the role envisaged for it under the United Nations Charter”.
An item on the agenda since 1991
Improving its work through enhancing its efficiency and effectiveness, including by identifying measures aimed at further strengthening its working methods has been a matter of concern for the Assembly from the very beginning of its work in 1946, specific outcomes of which are reflected in the annexes to the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure.
The General Assembly considered the new item at its 46th to 48th and 52nd and 53rd sessions (resolutions 46/77, 47/233 and 48/264 and decisions 52/479 and 53/491). Having decided to defer consideration of the item at its 54th session (decision 54/491), the General Assembly continued its consideration of the General Assembly revitalization item from its 55th to 68th sessions (resolutions 55/285, 56/509, 57/301, 58/126 and 58/316, 60/286, 61/292, 62/276, 63/309, 64/301, 65/315, 66/294, 67/297, 68/307, 69/321, 70/305 and 71/323).
At its 58th session (2003), in particular, the General Assembly undertook extensive consultations, including on the basis of a series of Conference Room Papers as a result of which it adopted resolutions 58/126 and 58/316, which respectively contained a number of far-reaching provisions. These included:
- the reorganization of the Assembly’s agenda under thematic headings, to give it better focus;
- the streamlining of the agenda by eliminating, biennializing or triennializing a number of items;
- putting in place measures regarding the strengthening of the practices and working methods of the Assembly’s General Committee and its six Main Committees; and
- adding five posts to support to the Office of the President of the General Assembly.
Also at its 58th session, the Assembly decided that in June of each year, the President-elect of the General Assembly, after taking into account the views provided by Member States and following consultations with the incumbent President and the Secretary-General, will suggest an issue of global concern upon which Member States will be invited to comment during the general debate at the forthcoming session of the Assembly.
At the 59th session (2004), the Assembly decided on additional measures, including “to convene and organize major thematic debates in order to establish broad international understanding on current substantive issues of importance to Member States.” Resolution 59/313 in this context authorized the President of the General Assembly “to propose interactive debates on current issues on the agenda of the Assembly, in consultation with Member States” which provided the basis for the evolution of the practice of informal interactive thematic debates at subsequent sessions, as also reaffirmed in later resolutions on General Assembly revitalization. The Assembly also provided two further additional posts at management and senior levels in support of the Office of the President of the General Assembly.
In September 2005, at the 2005 World Summit, Heads of State and Government reaffirmed the central position of the General Assembly as the chief deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations, as well as the role of the Assembly in the process of standard-setting and the codification of international law and welcomed the measures adopted by the General Assembly with a view to strengthening its role and authority and the role and leadership of the President of the Assembly. To that end, they called for their full and speedy implementation and for strengthening the relationship between the General Assembly and the other principal organs to ensure better coordination on topical issues that require coordinated action by the United Nations, in accordance with their respective mandates.
Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly
In the aftermath of the 2005 World Summit, the UN membership continued to consider various aspects of the revitalization item in an Ad Hoc Working Group on the General Assembly revitalization (AHWG), whose work is structured under four thematic headings:
- Role and authority of the General Assembly;
- Working methods;
- Selection and appointment of the Secretary-General and other executive heads; and
- Strengthening the institutional memory of the Office of the President of the General Assembly.
- Early elections of the non-permanent members of the Security Council and the members of ECOSOC “about six months before the elected members assume their responsibilities”.
- Informal interactive dialogues with candidates for the position of President of the General Assembly, thus contributing to the transparency and inclusivity of the process;
- Limitation of campaign materials distributed in the General Assembly Hall or in the Committee meeting room to a single page of information regarding the candidates, with a view to preserving the decorum of the Assembly;
- Creation of an inventory of the status of implementation of General Assembly revitalization resolutions;
- Enhanced support to the Office of the President of the General Assembly, inter alia through the establishment of additional posts;
- Provision of dedicated Secretariat staff with responsibility for coordinating the transition between the President and the Secretary-General and the preservation of institutional memory of the Office of the President of the General Assembly;
- Trust Fund in support of the Office of the President of the General Assembly;
- Oath of office and code of ethics for the President of the General Assembly;
- Publishing on the President's website of contributions to the Office and details of official travel as well as preparation of an end-of-term report thereon;
- Continued exploration of possible proposals for the further biennialization, triennialization, clustering and elimination of items on the agenda of the Assembly;
- Issuance of the General Assembly’s rules of procedure in a consolidated version in all official languages, both in print and online;
- Making available relevant precedents and past practice with respect to the Assembly’s rules and working practices in the public domain;
- Rearrangement of announcements in the Journal of the United Nations so that listings of plenary meetings and other major events of the General Assembly appear alongside those of the meetings of the Security Council and in the order stipulated in Article 7 of the Charter;
- Holding of regular meetings of the Presidents of the General Assembly with the Secretary-General and the Presidents of the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council, as well as with the Chairs of subsidiary bodies, and briefings to Member States on the outcomes of these meetings;
- Regular briefings by Main Committee Chairs to the AHWG on their discussions on the improvement of working methods;
- Informal, short reports on best practices and lessons learned from the President of the General Assembly to his/her successor at the end of his/her tenure;
- Exploration of means to enhance the coordination of the scheduling of high-level meetings with a view to optimizing the number and distribution of such events;
- Periodic briefings by the Secretary-General and the Presidents of the General Assembly to Member States on their recent activities, including official travels;
- Enhanced interaction, as and where appropriate, with civil society, including non-governmental organizations, in particular those from developing countries;
- Continued cooperation between the General Assembly and national and regional parliaments, particularly through the Inter-Parliamentary Union;
- Interaction between the General Assembly and international or regional forums and organizations dealing with global matters of concern to the international community;
- Convening of interactive inclusive thematic debates on current issues of critical importance;
- Establishment of web pages devoted to the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly;
- Encouragement of a number of measures, including formal presentation of candidatures for the position of Secretary-General in a manner that allows sufficient time for interaction with Member States;
- Mandate for the Presidents of the General Assembly and of the Security Council to start the process of soliciting candidates for the position of Secretary-General through a joint letter addressed to all Member States, containing a description of the entire process and inviting candidates to be presented in a timely manner;
- The Presidents of the General Assembly and of the Security Council to jointly circulate to all Member States on an ongoing basis the names of individuals that have been submitted for consideration as candidates for the position of Secretary-General together with accompanying documents, including curricula vitae;
- Convening of informal dialogues or meetings with candidates for the position of Secretary-General, without any prejudice to any candidate who does not participate, thus contributing to the transparency and inclusivity of the process.