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Fifty-sixth Session: 2001

GENERAL INFORMATION

UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY OPENS ON 12 SEPTEMBER 20001

The General Assembly of the United Nations opens its fifty-sixth session on 12 September at United Nations Headquarters in New York. It brings together the delegations of all Member States, many of them led by heads of Government or Foreign Ministers, for an examination of international issues.

FORUM FOR MULTILATERAL NEGOTIATION

The General Assembly, set up in 1945 under the Charter of the United Nations, is the main deliberative organ of the United Nations and provides a forum for multilateral discussion of the full range of international issues covered by the Charter. The Assembly comprises all Members of the United Nations and meets in regular session each year from September to December, and thereafter as required.

FUNCTIONS AND POWERS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY

As set out in the Charter of the United Nations, the functions and powers of the United Nations General Assembly are:

. To consider and make recommendations on the general principles of cooperation for maintaining international peace and security, including disarmament;
. To discuss any question relating to international peace and security and, except where a dispute or situation is currently being discussed by the Security Council, to make recommendations on it;
. To 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;
. To 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;
. To make recommendations for the peaceful settlement of any situation which might impair friendly relations among nations;
. To receive and consider reports from the Security Council and other United Nations organs;
. To consider and approve the United Nations budget and establish the financial assessments of Member States;
. To 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, to appoint the Secretary-General.
 Pursuant to its "Uniting for Peace" resolution of November 1950, 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.
 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.

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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 requiring a formal vote, thus strengthening support for the Assembly's decisions. The President consults delegations to see whether they are willing to agree to the adoption of a resolution without a vote. If they are, he can formally propose that the resolution be so adopted.

INFORMAL MEETINGS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY

At its fifty-second session, the General Assembly initiated a new way of achieving consensus on issues by discussing the reform of the United Nations in informal meetings of the plenary of the General Assembly. This practice was continued at the fifty-third, fifty-fourth and fifty-fifth sessions to discuss, in particular, issues related to the Millennium Summit of the United Nations, the special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS and the revitalization of the Assembly.

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SIX MAIN COMMITTEES

After the election of its President and Vice-Presidents, and after the adoption of its agenda, the General Assembly usually commences its session with a two-week period of general debate, providing Member States with the opportunity to air their views on major international issues.
 Starting with the fifty-second session, the Secretary-General is presenting his report on the work of the Organization just before the beginning of the general debate.
 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 which it is called upon to consider (187 separate agenda items at the fifty-fifth session, for example), the Assembly distributes many questions among its six Main Committees, which discuss them, seeking where possible to harmonize the various approaches of States, and then present draft resolutions for consideration to a plenary meeting of the Assembly. The Disarmament and International Security Committee (First Committee) is concerned with disarmament and related international security questions. The Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee) deals with a variety of political subjects not dealt with by the First Committee and with decolonization. The Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee) is concerned with economic questions. The Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee (Third Committee) deals with social and humanitarian issues. The Administrative and Budgetary Committee (Fifth Committee) deals with the administration and budget of the United Nations, and the Legal Committee (Sixth 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.
 There are also a General Committee, composed of the President and 21 Vice-Presidents of the Assembly and the Chairpersons of the six Main Committees, which makes recommendations to the Assembly about the adoption of the agenda, the allocation of items and the organization of work, and a Credentials Committee, appointed by the General Assembly at each session. The latter Committee reports to the Assembly on the credentials of representatives.

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WORKING GROUPS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY

The Open-ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters Related to the Security Council may continue its work during the fifty-sixth session. As to the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on the Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa, its mandate was extended until the fifty-sixth session.

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REGIONAL GROUPS

Over the years various informal regional groupings have evolved in the General Assembly as vehicles for consultation and to facilitate procedural work. The groups are the African States, the Asian States, the Eastern European States, the Latin American and Caribbean States, and the Western European and other States. Turkey, which for election purposes is in the Group of Western European and other States, is also a member of the Asian Group. The post of President of the General Assembly rotates among the regional groups (during the fifty-sixth session, the President will be from the Group of Asian States).

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SPECIAL SESSIONS AND EMERGENCY SPECIAL SESSIONS

In addition to its regular sessions, the Assembly may meet in special and emergency special sessions.At turning points over the years, the Assembly has convened 26 special sessions on issues which demanded particular attention, including problems of Palestine, United Nations finances, Namibia, disarmament, international economic cooperation, apartheid, drugs, the environment, population, women, social development, human settlements and HIV/AIDS.The twenty-fifth special session of the General Assembly, devoted to an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), took place from 5 to 9 June 2001 and the twenty-sixth special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS took place from 25 to 27 June 2001.
 A special session of the General Assembly on children will take place from 19 to 21 September 2001.Ten emergency special sessions have addressed situations in which the Security Council found itself deadlocked, namely, the Middle East (1958 and 1967), Hungary (1956), Suez (1956), the Congo (1960), Afghanistan (1980), Palestine (1980 and 1982), Namibia (1981), the occupied Arab territories (1982) and illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian Territory (1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000). The Assembly also decided to adjourn the tenth emergency special session temporarily and to authorize the President of the Assembly to resume its meetings upon request from Member States.

MILLENIUM SUMMIT OF THE UNITED NATIONS

At the Millennium Summit of the United Nations, held from 6 to 8 September 2000, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration (General Assembly resolution 55/2 of 8 September 2000). A few months later, the General Assembly established a framework for the implementation of the Millennium Declaration and the follow-up to the Summit (General Assembly resolution 55/162 of 14 December 2000).

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CARRYING ON THE WORK OF THE ASSEMBLY

The work of the United Nations derives largely from the decisions of the General Assem-bly and is carried out:
.  By committees and other bodies established by the Assembly to study and report on specific issues, such as disarmament, outer space, peacekeeping, economic development, the environment and human rights; and
.  By the Secretariat of the United Nations-the Secretary-General and his staff of international civil servants.
 
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Published by the United Nations Department of Public Information
36461-DPI/2210-August 2001-3M

 

 

 

 

 

 

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