Report on the First Thematic Meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the Work of the General Assembly

By Alex Maresca
May 2014

On the 21st of March 2014, the Ad Hoc Working Group(AHWG) on the revitalization of the General Assembly held its first thematic meeting of the 68th session. The subject of the meeting was the role and authority of the General Assembly in the UN system. This article summarizes the key points made by member states and regional groups during this session.

Ambassador and Co-Chair František Ružička thanked the attendees for sharing their comments with him since the last meeting, and stressed the need to move forward in the reform process. Citing resolution 67-297, which established the Ad Hoc Working Group, he referenced several issues to be considered. These included the role of the General Assembly in security issues; the interaction between the Assembly and civil society; and the relationship between the Assembly and the chairs of its Main Committees.

Following this introduction, twelve speakers took the floor.

Overall, member states expressed different conceptions of what it meant to strengthen the role of the General Assembly. While members of the NAM sought to empower the Assembly by addressing encroachment by the Security Council and the role of the Assembly in international peace and security, the EU, US, and Russian Federation emphasized working methods and other procedural reforms as a means of enhancing the Assembly’s effectiveness.

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)

Speaking on behalf of NAM, Algeria characterized the revitalization of the General Assembly as a “political process rather than a procedural matter.”

The NAM asserted that the General Assembly plays a legitimate role in issues of international peace and security. It stated that member states must be consulted on actions taken by the United Nations as a whole, and maintained that the “democratic character” of the General Assembly made it an ideal vehicle for such communication. The NAM urged the Security Council to issue regular reports on its activities to the Assembly, which would include statements made by individual members of the Council.

The NAM was “deeply concerned” about the Security Council’s encroachment on the General Assembly’s charter-mandated responsibilities. Reiterating its statement from the previous meeting, the NAM claimed that encroachment was widespread even in regards to legislative, administrative, and budgetary affairs. Citing Article 24 of the UN Charter, it observed that the article does not provide the Council with the ability to address the issues delegated to the Assembly. It also emphasized that Article 24 should not be understood to prevent the Assembly from playing a role in issues regarding peace and security, referencing the rights granted to the Assembly by Article 10 of the UN charter.

Six states affiliated with the Non-Aligned Movement also delivered statements in their national capacity. These states were India, Brunei Darussalam, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Malaysia.

Malaysia, Pakistan, India, and Egypt reiterated their concerns about encroachment on the Assembly’s mandate by the Security Council. India and Pakistan stated that the Assembly should have a larger role in the selection of the Secretary-General.

Egypt observed that because members of ECOSOC and the Security Council are elected by the General Assembly, these entities should be accountable to the Assembly and present regular reports on their activities. Egypt insisted that accountability measures did not constitute “giving orders” to the Council.

Indonesia, Egypt, and Pakistan emphasized the importance of implementing all existing resolutions. Pakistan observed that the Secretariat may submit reports on the status of implementation of the General Assembly’s resolutions, and proposed that a special group be created within the Secretariat for this purpose.

Malaysia and Pakistan stated that the current resources of the Assembly were inadequate and ought to be increased. India urged that the primacy of the Assembly in developmental affairs be restored.

The European Union

The European Union stated that it was important that Resolution 67-297 be fully implemented. Referencing specific passages of the resolution, the EU expressed support for the practice of holding thematic debates; these debates, it claimed, had an “interactive and inclusive character” and made it possible for the Assembly to engage with other stakeholders and outside groups.

In order to enhance the complementarity of UN bodies, the EU called for the General Assembly and ECOSOC to rationalize their agendas in line with Resolution 68-1.

The EU also supported the commitment expressed by resolution 67-297 to increase interaction between the General Assembly and other international organizations. It underscored the value of greater interaction between the General Assembly and civil society, including both the public and private sectors. It proposed that keeping the General Assembly’s web page on the revitalization process up-to-date would facilitate this interaction.

Other Member States

The Russian Federation opposed any involvement of the Assembly in the affairs of the Security Council. It argued that many of the member states who fear Council encroachment on the Assembly “abuse” the thematic meetings, presumably to make statements about peace and security concerns. Nonetheless, it indicated that the General Assembly can make a contribution to peacekeeping efforts.

Ukraine observed that in the General Assembly, each member state has an equal vote regardless of the “size of its army,” and that no state has any veto power “to abuse.” It was essential to increase the ability of the Assembly to respond to international challenges, Ukraine argued, because the people of the world would cease to trust the Assembly if it could not act on such vital concerns.

In a pointed remark, Ukraine asked that Russia look to the Charter not only to address the relationship between the Security Council and General Assembly, but with regards to “respecting the sovereignty of nations.”

The United States expressed concern about the idea that the Security Council should be accountable to the Assembly. This, it contended, would violate the Charter-mandated relationship of the Council and the Assembly as “equal bodies” within the UN system. The US further opposed measures by the Assembly aimed at the working methods of the Security Council.

Argentina proposed that the Assembly begin the revitalization process by implementing existing resolutions. Argentina also listed several areas of reform in which it was particularly interested, including the Security Council’s encroachment on the General Assembly, the process of selecting the Secretary-General, the translation of materials, the development of the agenda, and the rationalization of work in committees.

Before concluding the session, Ambassador and Co-Chair Ružička summarized some of the key themes touched upon by the delegations in their statements. The second thematic meeting of the AHWG, dedicated to working methods, would take place April 4, 2014.