by Sonia Jagtiani
The Ad Hoc Working Group (AHWG) on the Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly (GA) held a general debate and four thematic meetings between 4 March and 16 May. The thematic meetings focused on four topics: the role and authority of the General Assembly, working methods, the selection and appointment of the Secretary General and other executive heads, and the institutional memory of the office of the President of the General Assembly.
Following the thematic meetings, five informal informal sessions were scheduled on 2 June, 12 June, 20 June, 25 June, and 2 July in order to draft the 68th session’s resolution on the Revitalization of the work of the GA. Once this draft resolution reached wide and general consensus amongst the major stakeholders, including various Member States and Regional groupings, it was circulated to all Member States and thereafter unanimously adopted at the final meeting on 17 July. The resolution will be formally adopted in all languages on the 10th of September.
The following article will summarize the main points made during the informal consultations amongst Member States and regional and other political groupings. It will also highlight the key elements of the final resolution.
Role and Authority of the General Assembly
Throughout the thematic meetings and general debate, the NAM and several Member States associated with NAM (India, Brunei Darussalam, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Cuba and Malaysia) have argued that in order to restore the GA’s role and authority, Security Council (SC) encroachment on the GA had to be addressed.
To this end, the NAM suggested the addition of a paragraph noting that the GA and the SC avoid encroachment of each other’s competencies. This direct reference to encroachment sparked much debate, with the US, Russia, EU, Liechtenstein, and Japan on one side and NAM on the other. This paragraph did not reach consensus; however, the final draft includes a reference to respecting the respective functions and competencies of the UN principle organs per the UN Charter.
Contrary to the NAM and several member states, the US, EU, and Russia argued that working methods and other procedural reforms were necessary to make the GA a more efficient body. The EU drafted a proposal in regards to enhancing the interaction between the GA and its main committees. This proposal, which was later adopted, called for increased coordination between the AHWG and the Chairs of the Main Committees by sharing any “best practices” or “lessons learned” to improve working methods.
Another issue mentioned frequently during the thematic meetings and general debate was for earlier elections of non-permanent members of the SC and members of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Progress has been made on this matter; a paragraph on conducting elections about six months before the elected members assume their responsibilities, which will go into effect for the 70th session, has been included in the final draft.
Another topic of concern in improving working methods was mentioned by the EU during the second thematic meeting; it was seen as necessary to decide upon a regional rotation scheme of chairmanships. During the informal meetings, an agreement regarding a regional rotation scheme was reached. The agreement has been included in the resolution’s Annex.
Selection and Appointment of the Secretary-General and other Executive Heads
During the third thematic meeting, the Co-Chairs of the AHWG emphasized the importance of reforming the selection process for the Secretary-General (SG). Ambassador Norachit Sinhaseni highlighted the substantial role this particular AHWG could play in the current reform process since the candidates for 2017 have yet to be announced, allowing the process to be objective.
Several Member States and groupings voiced their desire for the GA to play a more active, effective and efficient role in the selection process, in accordance with resolutions 60/286, 64/301, 66/294, 67/297 and others.
According to various participants at the informal sessions, the NAM encouraged strict compliance to Rule 141 of the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly. Rule 141 stipulates the use of a secret ballot vote in the selection and appointment of the SG in the General Assembly. The NAM and Brazil supported this proposal, seeing it as a way to enhance the GA’s power of appointment. However, the EU, US, and Russia were against it; they viewed the language as too binding. This resulted in obscure language in the resolution, which mentions Rule 141 but does not explicitly refer to the secret ballot.
Various Member States and regional groupings also called for the President of the General Assembly (PGA) to have an increased role. For instance, the PGA could consult with member states to identify potential candidates and facilitate interaction between candidates and the Assembly. Among those underlining the important role of the PGA in the reform process was Liechtenstein. The Liechtenstein delegation emphasized the value of several already existing proposals, such as having the PGA consult with Member States to identify candidates, discuss the results of these consultations with the GA, and then forward the candidates to the SC. It also encouraged a formal presentation of candidates to allow an exchange of views with Member States. To this end, Liechtenstein proposed the addition of a two-fold clause, which would first, encourage dialogue between the GA and possible candidates, and second, encourage the PGA to have a proactive role in the selection process. The final text adopted the first suggestion under OP 29. The second part of the suggestion has been partially adopted but with weaker language; the paragraph encourages the PGA “to actively support” the SG selection process.
Another topic frequently discussed was Liechtenstein’s proposal to consider a set of minimum criteria for the SG position. During the third thematic meeting, Liechtenstein proposed some specific qualifications: integrity, impartiality, moral courage, organizational skills, strong political instincts, the ability to provide leadership in the UN system, and the ability to use modern media and be a “global communicator.”
However, the US, EU, Russia, EU and NAM were against the addition of this proposal during the informal sessions. Some of the arguments against this paragraph were that imposing criteria on the SG could pose too restrictive or artificial limitations, and furthermore, the candidate’s government, not the UN, should decide qualifications for possible SG candidates. Despite the strong opposition, Liechtenstein, with the strong support of Brazil and Switzerland, attempted to sway other Member States and groupings for its inclusion. Yet in the version made available to the public at the final AHWG meeting on 17 July, nothing regarding the consideration of criteria for the SG was included in the resolution’s final version.
Institutional Memory of the Office of the President of the General Assembly
During the thematic sessions, there was some disagreement regarding the best way to strengthen the Office of the PGA and its institutional memory. In general, while US, EU, and Russia emphasized the need for greater efficiency in the Office of the PGA, the NAM states felt that an increase in funding would be essential in order to strengthen the Office. It appears that this issue was not resolved during the informal informal drafting sessions.
However, in the resolution’s final text, some progress has been made. Specifically, it is explicitly mentioned to take further measures to strengthen the institutional memory of the Office of the PGA. Furthermore a paragraph regarding the assurance of balanced gender and geographical representation in the Office of the PGA, which enjoyed a wide consensus, has been included in the final text.
Draft Resolution of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the Work of the General Assembly
by Sonia Jagtiani