Legal Committee Debates Texts on Observer Status for Council of Presidents of the General Assembly, Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean

9 December 2009

Legal Committee Debates Texts on Observer Status for Council of Presidents of the General Assembly, Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean

9 December 2009
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Sixth Committee

26th Meeting (PM)

Legal Committee Debates Texts on Observer Status for Council of Presidents

of the General Assembly, Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean

At the request of the General Committee, the Sixth Committee (Legal) today reopened its current session to hold a debate on the criteria for observer status in the work of the General Assembly, in consideration of requests for such a recommendation for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean and the Council of Presidents of the General Assembly, with debate also centring on the procedural requirements implied by the late allocation of the items.

The item on the Council of Presidents was taken up first, with the representative of Saint Lucia introducing the resolution on the matter, also on behalf of Saudi Arabia and Ukraine (A/C.6/64/L.20).  He said the Council was established in 1997 to operate as a think tank conducting research and policy analysis on global issues, in particular issues on the Assembly’s agenda.  It consists of former Assembly Presidents with the sitting Assembly Presidents, serving as an ex-officio member by virtue of his office.

Further, he said that adoption of the resolution would be a historic moment in formalizing the collective institutional memory of the United Nations.  Assembly Presidents were some of the most important figures in national, regional and global governance and their collective strength should not be set aside after one year.  The experience they gained as President was made available through the Council, and their perspective was invaluable to the work of the General Assembly.  They thought outside the box on Assembly issues, once free of constraints or procedural considerations.  The Council was a unique repository of collective wisdom for the Assembly that no other organization could match.

He said the criteria for observer status in the Assembly’s work did not rest on the nature of an organization, but on whether the organization could make a contribution.  The Council was intergovernmental, in that it worked with Governments and could render invaluable service to the Assembly.  Speaking after the introduction, the representative of the Republic of Korea spoke in support of the resolution, underscoring the importance of considering an organization’s ability to contribute to the Assembly’s work in considering a recommendation for the granting of observer status.

The delegate of the United States, however, recalled that the 1994 Assembly resolution 49/426 on the criteria for observer status had established strict elements based on much deliberation.  The limitation should be revisited if it was no longer valid, but, in the meantime, the Council did not meet the criteria of being an intergovernmental organization.  It was described as a think tank and adoption of the resolution would open the way for any prominent think tank to be given observer status, maybe a Council of former Secretaries-General or former national presidents.  There should be no rush to action on the matter.  The speaker of the Russian Federation agreed.

China’s representative said she was not inclined to recommend the granting of observer status, because the Council was comprised of individuals rather than of organizations.  But, the question should be deferred.  That would allow the sponsors to provide more information than contained in the explanatory memorandum on matters that could have a bearing on the issue, such as the rationale for the founding of the Council, the level of its interaction with intergovernmental bodies and its relationship status with agencies. 

Among those calling for a deferral of the question to the Assembly’s next session were the representatives of Greece and the United Kingdom.  Argentina’s delegate, in addition, said she had already expressed concerns about the Committee’s work method on the question of observer status and that it should not be automatically granted upon request.  The two criteria set out in the 1994 resolution must be met.  Meeting only one criterion was not enough, but the question was not urgent.  Deferral would allow for further consideration of the group’s status and its connections with the Assembly.

Panama’s representative agreed.  Guatemala said she could not support the resolution today.

India’s representative said the introduction of the resolution had served an important function by pointing out the importance of the Council to the Assembly’s work.  However, he was a little nonplussed about whether the granting of observer status was the right way to recognize the contribution of past Assembly Presidents to the Assembly’s work.  They were elders, repositories of wisdom, and the question was how to harness their wisdom appropriately.  He called for a collective consideration of solutions on how to recognize the strength of the Council as a repository of collective wisdom.

South Africa’s representative agreed that the Council should be recognized in some way and said his delegation took a flexible approach to the interpretation of the 1994 resolution.  Still, there had to be some intergovernmental element to an organization that would be granted observer status in the Assembly’s work, and it would be very difficult to recommend it for the Council.

Speaking as a co-sponsor, Ukraine’s representative called for a flexible approach.  He said he knew the recommendation to grant observer status to the Council was consistent with the 1994 resolution on criteria, since his country had been one of the Council’s founders.  The experience represented by the Council must be recognized, even if the method was controversial.  It would be premature to ignore an initiative on persons whose decisions so strongly impacted on Governments as did those of the Council. 

Ghana’s representative said he was flexible and open-minded and that a technical clarification could enrich the debate.  The criteria set out by the 1994 resolution had already been breached.  However, the name of the Council as the “Council of Presidents” and not “former” presidents presented a contradiction, in that the sitting president, through his ex-officio membership, would be both Assembly president and an observer.  The question should be addressed.

In a closing statement, Saint Lucia’s representative said the speakers had given the sponsors much new information to consider.  The Chair then summarized the debate by noting that the General Committee allocated the issue to the Legal Committee, rather than allocating it directly to the Assembly, which gave the question a legal and political aspect.  The question of the criteria would impact on the status of 4,000 organizations that were observers in the work of the Economic and Social Council, where political considerations were brought in by parties for all kinds of purposes, including the dismantling of countries.  He, for one, would not be in favour of dismantling a resolution that prevented that.  However, as the Committee did not appear to be ready to take action, he said the issue would be taken up later.

The Committee then turned to the resolution on observer status for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (A/C.6/64/L.19).  The representative of Malta introduced the draft, co-sponsored by France, noting that the Assembly was established in 2006 following 15 years of cooperation between States of the Mediterranean region through a process known as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean under the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which had been granted observer status in the Assembly’s work in 2003.  Established in Amman and headquartered in Malta, he said the Assembly had developed expertise and cooperative mechanisms on regional issues ranging from anti-terrorism and crime control to trade, disaster management and migration.

Continuing, he referred to the 25 members who were Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Palestine, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Syria, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Tunisia and Turkey.  It supported intergovernmental initiatives related to the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean.  Clearly, it had the valid credentials to be granted observer status.

After the introduction, Iran’s representative said both items should be considered during the next Assembly session.  Delegations should be given enough time to receive instructions from capitals.  Further, the process had been two rushed.  The focus should remain on procedure, rather than getting into difficult substantive details.  There was a danger of breaking the rule of consensus.

In response, Malta’s representative said the lateness of the consideration of the item was due to the General Committee having taken too long to meet.  Further, the two items on observer status should not have been mixed.  The urgency to adopt the resolution was to have it approved by the time the Committee presented its reports to the Assembly, hopefully next week.  The aim was not to change criteria, but to build them.

France’s representative agreed that action should be taken now.  Tunisia’s representative called for action during the current session, but said there was no need to dwell on urgency.  The representatives of Portugal and Senegal also called for action during the current session.  Cyprus said a decision should be taken as soon as possible, as did Turkey.  Colombia’s representative said she would support approval of the resolution either now or at a new meeting.

Saying that both substance and procedure were at issue, since precedent had been broken, Peru’s representative said the rule on the criteria should be revised.

Pakistan’s representative called for consensus in recommending observer status and the representative of Saint Lucia referred back to the resolution on the Council to say that consensus was the sticking point.  Did silence signify consensus?  Hopefully a mechanism would be found for the Assembly elders to make a contribution to the Assembly’s work.

The Committee Chairman said he did not want to get into the debate on consensus, because that got into the question of unanimity.  While there appeared to be enough elements present to make a decision on the first resolution related to the Council of Assembly presidents, his preference was to exhaust debate before taking action.  He would meet with the resolution sponsors and General Committee members, so the issues could be resolved at the current session.

As background, the notice of the allocation of the two additional items was contained in a letter dated 1 December from the Assembly President to the Legal Committee Chairman (document A/C.6/64/1/Add.1), regarding the Assembly’s action on the second report of the General Committee (document A/64/250/Add.1).  The resolution on the observer status for the Parliamentary Assembly (document A/C.6/64/L.19) was sponsored by France and Malta. 

The Committee will continue its consideration of the resolutions at a time and date to be announced.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.