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Background Information

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 reached by a simple majority. These decisions may be adopted without a vote, or with a vote, which may be recorded, non-recorded or by roll-call.

While the decisions of the Assembly have no legally binding force for Governments, they carry the weight of world opinion on major international issues, 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:

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Functions and Powers

Under the Charter, the functions and powers of the General Assembly include:

Under the "Uniting for peace" resolution adopted by the General Assembly in November 1950, the Assembly may take action if the Security Council, because of a lack of unanimity of its permanent members, fails to act in a case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression. The Assembly is empowered to consider the matter immediately with a view to making recommendations to Members for collective measures, including, in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression, the use of armed force when necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.

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General Assembly Sessions

The General Assembly's regular session begins each year on the third Tuesday in September and continues usually until the third week of December. In recent years, the Assembly has been in session throughout the year. At the start of each regular session, the Assembly elects a new President, 21 Vice-Presidents and the Chairmen of the Assembly's six Main Committees. The Assembly also holds a general debate, in which Member States express their views on a wide range of matters of international concern. 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 to its regular sessions, the Assembly may meet in special sessions at the request of the Security Council, of a majority of Members of the United Nations or of one Member if the majority of Members concurs. Emergency special sessions may be called within 24 hours of a request by the Security Council on the vote of any nine members of the Council, or by a majority of the United Nations Members, or by one Member if the majority of Members concurs.

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Main Committees

Because of the great number of questions which the Assembly is called upon to consider (166 separate agenda items at the 51st (1996/1997) session of the Assembly, for example), the Assembly allocates most questions to its six Main Committees:

(Relevant document series symbols appear in parentheses.)

There is also a General Committee, composed of the President and 21 Vice-Presidents of the Assembly and the chairmen of the six Main Committees and a Credentials Committee. The Credentials Committee consists of nine members appointed by the Assembly on the proposal of the President at each session who reports to the Assembly on the credentials of representatives.

Some questions are considered directly in plenary meetings, rather than in one of the Main Committees. All questions are voted on 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.

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Source: Basic Facts About the United Nations, Sales No. E.95.I.31.
Last updated 25 April 1997