BACKGROUND INFORMATION

| FUNCTIONS AND POWERS | SESSIONS | MAIN COMMITTEES | FAQs |

The General Assembly is the main deliberative organ of the United Nations. It is composed of representatives of all member states, each of which has one vote. Decisions on important questions, such as those on peace and security, admission of new members and budgetary matters, require a two-thirds majority. Decisions on other questions are by simple majority.

FUNCTIONS AND POWERS

Under the Charter, the functions and powers of the General Assembly include:
  • to consider and make recommendations on the principles of cooperation in the maintenance of international peace and security, including the principles governing disarmament and arms regulation;
  • to discuss any question relating to international peace and security and, except where a dispute or situation is being discussed by the Security Council, to make recommendations on it;
  • to discuss and, with the same exception, make recommendations on any question 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 for all, and international collaboration in economic, social, cultural, educational and health fields;
  • to make recommendations for the peaceful settlement of any situation, regardless of origin, 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 to apportion the contributions among members;
  • to elect the non-permanent members of the Security Council, the members of the Economic and Social Council and additional members of the Trusteeship Council (when necessary); to elect jointly with the Security Council the Judges of the International Court of Justice; and, on the recommendation of the Security Council, to appoint the Secretary-General.

SESSIONS

The General Assembly's regular session usually begins each year in September. Beginning with its fifty-eighth regular session (2003-2004), the Assembly opens on Tuesday of the third week in September, counting from the first week that contains at least one working day. The election of the President of the Assembly, as welll as its 21 Vice-Presidents and the Chairspersons of the Assembly's six main committees, take place at least three months before the start of the regular session. To ensure equitable geographical representation, the presidency of the Assembly rotates each year among five groups of states: African, Asian, Eastern European, Latin American and Caribbean, and Western European and other states.

In addition, the Assembly may meet in special sessions at the request of the Security Council, of a majority of member states, or of one member if the majority of members concur. Emergency special sessions may be called within 24 hours of a request by the Security Council on the vote of any nine Council members, or by a majority of the United Nations members, or by one member if the majority of members concur.


At the beginning of each regular session, the Assembly holds a general debate, often addressed by heads of state and government, in which member states express their views on the most presssing international issues.

MAIN COMMITTEES

Most questions are then discussed in its six main committees:

  • First Committee - Disarmament and International Security
  • Second Committee - Economic and Financial
  • Third Committee - Social, Humanitarian and Cultural
  • Fourth Committee - Special Political and Decolonization
  • Fifth Committee - Administrative and Budgetary More >>
  • Sixth Committee - Legal

Some issues are considered only in plenary meetings, while others are allocated to one of the six main committees. All issues are voted on through resolutions passed in plenary meetings, usually towards the end of the regular session, after the committees have completed their consideration of them and submitted draft resolutions to the plenary Assembly.

Voting in Committees is by a simple majority. In plenary meetings, resolutions may be adopted by acclamation, without objection or without a vote, or the vote may be recorded or taken by roll-call.
While the decisions of the Assembly have no legally binding force for governments, they carry the weight of world opinion, as well as the moral authority of the world community.
The work of the UNited Nations year-round derives largely from the decisions of the General Assembly - that is to say, the will of the majority of the members as expressed in resolutions adopted by the Assembly. That work is carried out:

  • by committees and other bodies established by the Assembly to study and report on specific issues, such as disarmament, peacekeeping, development and human rights;
  • in international conferences called for by the Assembly; and
  • by the Secretaria of the UNited Nations - the Secretary-General and his staff of international civil servants.

Source: Basic Facts About the United Nations, DPI/2337 - September 2004, ISBN: 92-1-100936-7