Backgrounder

The General Assembly of the United Nations opens its sixty-third session on 16 September at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The annual general debate, which traditionally features statements by dozens of Heads of State and Government as well as Ministers, will begin on Tuesday, 23 September 2008, and conclude on 1 October 2008.

The debate will be held under an overarching theme, “The impact of the global food crisis on poverty and hunger in the world as well as the need to democratize the United Nations”, proposed by the President of the sixty-third session.

Several major events will be featured during the sixty-third session, which runs through mid- September 2009.

Among other key issues, the Assembly will also address the following:

  • Democratization of the United Nations, including evaluations of the work of the Security Council and of the Bretton Woods institutions, as well as revitalization of the General Assembly;
  • Financing for development to end hunger, poverty and lack of access to clean water and basic health services;
  • Climate change in a divided but ecologically interdependent world;
  • Achieving the goals of the United Nations Decade: “Water for Life” (2005-2015);
  • Implementation of the Counter-Terrorism Strategy, with full respect for human rights;
  • Human security as a part of international peace and security, including disarmament and nuclear control.

The Assembly will examine the above-mentioned priorities also from a gender perspective and will continue to consider issues relating to system-wide coherence, sustainable development and HIV/AIDS.

Follow-up to the 2005 World Summit

Pursuant to the Millennium Declaration and the groundbreaking 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, the Assembly, to date, has established two new subsidiary bodies: a Peacebuilding Commission and a Human Rights Council. It has also adopted a Counter-Terrorism Strategy as well as a number of measures to strengthen the Economic and Social Council and reform the Secretariat. Some remaining issues—such as implementation of the Counter-Terrorism Strategy, further efforts at system-wide coherence and an institutional framework for environmental activities, as well as management and Secretariat reform—are expected to continue to be considered during the sixty-third session.

Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly

Over the past years, there has been a sustained effort to make the work of the General Assembly more focused and relevant. This became a major priority as of the fifty-eighth session, and efforts continued at subsequent sessions of the General Assembly to streamline the agenda, improve the practices and working methods of the Main Committees, enhance the role of the General Committee, strengthen the role and authority of the President and examine the Assembly’s role in the process to select the Secretary-General.

At its sixtieth session, the Assembly adopted a text, annexed to resolution 60/286 of 8 September 2006, which, among other things, encouraged the holding of informal interactive debates on current issues of critical importance to the international community. The text, which had been recommended by the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the General Assembly, also invited the President of the General Assembly to propose themes for these interactive debates.

During the sixty-second session, five informal thematic interactive debates were convened on:

As of the sixty-second session, it has become an established practice for the Secretary-General to brief Member States periodically, in informal meetings of the General Assembly, on his recent activities and travels. These briefings have provided a well-received opportunity for exchange between the Secretary-General and Member States and are likely to be continued at the sixty-third session.

Elections for the President and Vice-Presidents of the General Assembly and Chairs of Main Committees

As a result of the ongoing revitalization of its work, and pursuant to rule 30 of its rules of procedure, the General Assembly now elects its President, Vice-Presidents and Chairs of the Main Committees at least three months in advance of the start of the new session in order to further strengthen coordination and preparation of work among the Main Committees and between the Committees and the plenary.

General Committee

The General Committee makes recommendations to the Assembly about adoption of the agenda, allocation of agenda items and organization of its work.

Credentials Committee

The Credentials Committee, appointed by the General Assembly at each session, reports to the Assembly on the credentials of representatives.

General debate

The practice of selecting a specific issue of global concern for the session goes back to 2003, when the General Assembly decided to introduce this innovation in an effort to enhance the authority and role of the body (resolution 58/126 of December 2003).

Rather than its usual period of nine working days (as called for in resolution 57/301 of March 2003), this year’s general debate will last six working days to allow for the convening of two days of high-level plenary meetings devoted to the midterm review of the Almaty Programme of Action (2-3 October 2008).

The Secretary-General will present his report on the work of the Organization immediately prior to the general debate, a practice that began with the fifty-second session.

Six Main Committees

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 (over 160 agenda items at the sixty-second session, for example), the Assembly allocates to its six Main Committees items relevant to their work.

Working groups of the General Assembly

The General Assembly has, in the past, authorized the establishment of working groups to focus on matters of importance in more detail and make recommendations to the Assembly for action.

A working group on the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council, established by Assembly resolution 48/26 of 3 December 1993, remained active during the sixty-second session. This working group is expected to continue its work during the sixty-third session.

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:

  • African States;
  • Asian States;
  • Eastern European States;
  • Latin American and Caribbean States; and
  • Western European and other States.

The post of President of the General Assembly rotates among the regional groups. For the sixty-third session, the President has been elected from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States.

Special sessions and emergency special sessions

In addition to its regular sessions, the Assembly may meet in special and emergency sessions.

Carrying on the work of the Assembly

The work of the United Nations derives largely from the decisions of the General Assembly 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;
  • By the Secretariat of the United Nations—the Secretary-General and his staff of international civil servants.

Published by the United Nations Department of Public Information - DPI/2516A

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