The General Assembly - Organization


The General Assembly meets once a year in regular sessions that begin on the third Tuesday in September. Usually these sessions last about three months, ending before Christmas, but there is no fixed time limit, and many times the General Assembly has adjourned, continuing the session after the holidays. Special sessions on a particular topic may be held at the request of the Security Council, or of a majority of UN members, or of one member if the majority of members concur. An emergency special session may be called within 24 hours by the Security Council on the vote of any nine members, or by a majority of UN members, or by one member if the majority concur.

Through 2001, the Assembly convened 27 special sessions on issues that demanded attention over the years, including problems of Palestine, UN finances, Namibia, disarmament, international economic cooperation, apartheid, drugs, the environment, population, children, the advancement of women, and sustainable development of small island developing states.

Sessional Committees

Most of the substantive work during regular session is conducted through seven "Main Committees," which are reconstituted at every session. Each is composed of representatives of all member nations.

  • The First Committee deals with disarmament and related international security matters.
  • The Second Committee deals with economic and financial matters.
  • The Third Committee is concerned with social, humanitarian, and cultural matters and human rights.
  • The Fourth Committee handles special political questions and questions concerning the granting of independence to colonial territories.
  • The Fifth Committee deals with the administrative and budgetary matters of the organization.
  • The Sixth Committee debates legal questions, including the general development and codification of international law.
  • The Special Political Committee, was created in 1948 as an ad hoc committee of the whole to discuss the Palestine question. It was subsequently absorbed by the Fourth Committee.

The General Assembly maintains two other sessional committees, both of which deal with General Assembly procedure. However, neither is a committee of the whole. The 28-member General Committee, composed of the General Assembly president, the 21 vice presidents, and the chairmen of the six main committees (see Election of Officers, below), examines the provisional agenda of each session and makes recommendations on the inclusion or exclusion of items and on their assignment to the appropriate main committee. The Credentials Committee is a nine-member body appointed by the General Assembly at the beginning of the session to examine the credentials of representatives and to work out any problems that might arise in this connection.

Plenary Meetings

Since all the main committees are committees of the whole, the distinction between the General Assembly meeting in committee and meeting in plenum is largely one of protocol. Always conducted by the president or a vice president, plenary meetings are much more formal affairs. Normally, no one below the rank of head of delegation may actively participate in the proceedings, and no one is allowed to speak from his or her chair but must go to the speaker's rostrum. (None of the conference rooms in which the committees meet is provided with a speaker's rostrum.) The Assembly Hall itself is reserved for plenary meetings and is rarely used by the committees.

It is in plenary meetings that all formal or ceremonial functions occur: opening and closing of the General Assembly session, election of officers and members of other organs, adoption of resolutions and decisions on all agenda items, and addresses by heads of state or government or by other high national officials who visit the UN while the General Assembly is in session. Plenary meetings also constitute the forum for the statements of general policy that the head of each member delegation is entitled to make as part of what is known as the "general debate," which takes place during the first three weeks or so of the regular session. Because of the great number of questions which the General Assembly is called upon to consider (over 170 agenda items at the 2001–02 session) it allocates most questions to its six main committees.

Voting Procedure

Each member of the General Assembly and its committees has one vote. Article 18 of the charter decrees that decisions on "important" questions shall be made by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting. Among the important questions specified are recommendations with regard to maintenance of peace and security; election of the nonpermanent members of the Security Council and of the members of the Economic and Social Council and the Trusteeship Council; admission of new UN members, suspension of rights and privileges of membership, and expulsion of members; questions relating to the operation of the trusteeship system; and budgetary questions. Decisions on other questions, including the determination of additional categories of important questions requiring a two-thirds majority vote, are made by a simple majority of the members present and voting. The phrase "members present and voting" means members casting either affirmative or negative votes; members who abstain are considered as not voting. Thus, although the number of abstentions is usually listed for information purposes, it does not count in the final tally as to whether a resolution has received the requisite majority—provided that the rules of quorum have been observed. A quorum is constituted when a majority of the members are present; no decision may be taken without one. The president of the General Assembly, however, may declare a meeting open and permit the debate to proceed when at least one-third of the members are present. The chairman of a main committee may open a meeting when one-quarter of the members are present.

Voting may be by a show of hands, by roll call, or, in certain instances such as elections, by secret ballot. The normal method was intended to be by a show of hands, but any member can request a roll call. There has been an increasing tendency to do so, especially on the more contentious issues. Before a roll-call vote is taken, a lot is drawn to determine the country that is to vote first. Starting with that country, voting proceeds according to the alphabetical order of the official names of states in English. Mechanical voting equipment was installed in the Assembly Hall and first used at the 1965 session. Similar equipment is used in some conference rooms.

Seating Arrangements

The charter allows each member state a maximum of five representatives in the General Assembly. Most members, in addition to their five representatives, send five alternative representatives and a number of advisers to each session. Six seats are assigned to every delegation in the Assembly Hall. Both in the hall and in conference rooms, delegations are seated in alphabetical order according to the official names of the countries in English. The seating is rearranged before each session by drawing lots to select the country with which the alphabetical seating will start.

Election of Officers

At each regular session, the General Assembly constitutes itself anew. During the opening meetings, the main officers are elected, who serve until the end of the session. If a special or emergency session is called, it is normally presided over by officers elected in the previous September.

The first officer to be elected is the president. Delegates vote by secret ballot, and a simple majority suffices. In choosing the president, regard has to be paid to the equitable geographical rotation of the office among the following groups of states: African, Asian, Eastern European, Latin American, and Western European and other states. By tacit agreement, no representative of a permanent member of the Security Council ever is elected president of the General Assembly or chairman of a committee.

The General Assembly

General Assembly Presidents
1. 1946 Paul-Henri Spaak Belgium
2. 1947 Oswaldo Aranha Brazil
3. 1948 Herbert V. Evatt Australia
4. 1949 Carlos P. Romulo Philippines
5. 1950 Nasrollah Entezam Iran
6. 1951 Luís Padilla Nervo Mexico
7. 1952 Lester B. Pearson Canada
8. 1953 Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit India

The General Assembly

9. 1954 Eelco N. van Kleffens Netherlands
10. 1955 José Maza Chile
11. 1956 Prince Wan Waithayakon Thailand
12. 1957 Sir Leslie Munro New Zealand
13. 1958 Charles Malik Lebanon
14. 1959 Víctor Andrés Belaúnde Peru
15. 1960 Frederick H. Boland Ireland
16. 1961 Mongi Slim Tunisia
17. 1962 Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan Pakistan
18. 1963 Carlos Sosa Rodríguez Venezuela
19. 1964 Alex Quaison-Sackey Ghana
20 1965 Amintore Fanfani Italy
21. 1966 Abdul Rahman Pazhwak Afghanistan
22. 1967 Corneliu Manescu Romania
23. 1968 Emilio Arenales Catalán Guatemala
24. 1969 Angie E. Brooks Liberia
25. 1970 Edvard Hambro Norway
26. 1971 Adam Malik Indonesia
27. 1972 Stanislaw Trepczynski Poland
28. 1973 Leopoldo Benites Ecuador
29. 1974 Abdelaziz Bouteflika Algeria
30. 1975 Gaston Thorn Luxembourg
31. 1976 Hamilton S. Amerasinghe Sri Lanka
32. 1977 Lazar Mojsov Yugoslavia
33. 1978 Indalecio Liévano Colombia
34. 1979 Salim A. Salim Tanzania
35. 1980 Rüdiger von Wechmar Federal Republic
of Germany
36. 1981 Ismat T. Kittani Iraq
37. 1982 Imre Hollai Hungary
38. 1983 Jorge E. Illueca Panama
39. 1984 Paul J. F. Lusaka Zambia
40. 1985 Jaime de Piniés Spain
41. 1986 Humayun Rasheed Choudhury Bangladesh
42. 1987 Peter Florin German Democratic
43. 1988 Dante M. Caputa Argentina
44. 1989 Joseph Nanven Garba Nigeria
45. 1990 Guido de Marco Malta
46. 1991 Samir S. Shihabi Saudi Arabia
47. 1992 Stoyan Ganev Bulgaria
48. 1993 Samuel R. Insanally Guyana
49. 1994 Amara Essy Côte d'Ivoire
50. 1995 Diogo Freitas do Amaral Portugal
51. 1996 Razali Ismail Malaysia
52. 1997 Hennadiy Udovenko Ukraine
53. 1998 Didier Opertti Uruguay
54. 1999 Theo-Ben Gurirab Namibia
55. 2000 Harri Holkeri Finland
56. 2001 Han Seung-soo Republic of Korea
57. 2002 Jan Kavan Czech Republic

Note: General Assembly presidents normally preside over special and emergency special sessions of the world body during their tenure. The exceptions were: José Arce of Argentina, who presided over the second special session in 1948, and Rudecindo Ortega of Chile, who presided over the first and second emergency special sessions held in 1956.

Following the election of the president, the main committees are officially constituted and retire to elect their own officers. Here again the matter of equitable geographical representation arises, and it is precisely regulated by a resolution adopted by the General Assembly in 1963. Of the six committee chairmen, one must be chosen from African, Asian, Eastern European, Latin American or Caribbean, and Western European or other states. The sixth chairmanship rotates over a period of twenty sessions between African, Asian, and Latin American and Caribbean states.

The final officers to be elected are the 21 vice presidents. Of these, 16 are elected in accordance with a geographical pattern: six from African states, four from Asian states, three from Latin American and Caribbean states, two from Western European and other states, and one from an Eastern European state. (The election of the president of the General Assembly has the effect, however, of reducing by one the number of vice presidencies allocated to the region from which the president is elected.) The remaining five vice presidents represent the permanent members of the Security Council: China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

User Contributions:

Ruthy Isabel
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Jan 8, 2011 @ 11:11 am
Very interesting, we're learning about this in school now.
Marwa Choucair
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Mar 15, 2012 @ 2:14 pm
hey can you give me some informations about Poland in participating at the GA 6?!

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