Functions and powers of the General Assembly: forum for multilateral negotiation
Established in 1945 under the Charter of the United Nations, the General Assembly occupies a central position as the chief deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations. Comprising all 192 Members of the United Nations, it continues to play a leading role in advancing the purposes and principles of the Charter as a unique forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues. It also plays a significant role in the process of standard-setting and the codification of international law. The Assembly meets in regular session intensively from September to December each year, and there-after as required.
The General Assembly adopts mandates (resolutions and decisions) which are implemented by Member States, the Secretariat and the wider United Nations system. In performing its responsibilities, the Assembly works in close partnership with members of civil society, many of whom have affiliate status with the United Nations and frequently participate in important General Assembly meetings. The General Assembly also works closely with the media to raise awareness of, and mobilize international support for, important issues of global concern.
According to the Charter of the United Nations, the General Assembly may:
- Consider and make recommendations on the general principles of cooperation for maintaining international peace and security, including disarmament.
- Discuss any question relating to international peace and security and, except where a dispute or situation is currently being discussed by the Security Council, make recommendations on it.
- 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.
- 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.
- Make recommendations for the peaceful settlement of any situation that might impair friendly relations among nations; Receive and consider reports from the Security Council and other United Nations organs.
- Consider and approve the United Nations budget and establish the financial assessments of Member States.
- Elect members of other principal organs of the United Nations, namely, the non-permanent members of the Security Council, members of the Economic and Social Council and judges of the International Court of Justice, and appoint the Secretary-General, on the recommendation of the Security Council. The Assembly also elects members to its subsidiary organs and to the executive boards and governing councils of the United Nations agencies, funds and programmes.
Pursuant to its “Uniting for peace” resolution of 3 November 1950 (resolution 377 (V)), 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 (see “Special sessions and emergency special sessions” below).
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. The landmark Millennium Declaration, adopted in 2000, and the 2005 World Summit Outcome document reflect the commitment of Member States to reach specific goals to attain peace, security and disarmament along with development and poverty eradication; safeguard human rights and promote the rule of law; protect our common environment; meet the special needs of Africa; and strengthen the United Nations. Recently, the General Assembly collectively decided on a course of action to deal with emerging global issues of urgent and critical dimensions, such as climate change and the world financial and economic crisis.
Published by the United Nations Department of Public Information 09-42940—August 2009—3,000—DPI/2538