The General Assembly (GA, UNGA) is one of the five principal organs of the United Nations. It is the main deliberative organ of the United Nations. It is made up of all United Nations member states and meets in regular yearly sessions under a president elected from among the representatives.
As the only UN organ in which all members are represented, the Assembly serves as a forum for members to discuss issues of international law and to make decisions regarding the functioning of the organization.
The General Assembly meets in regular, special and emergency special session. Its regular annual session usually begins on the third Tuesday in September and its work is suspended in late December. It reconvenes as required in the following year. The session concludes in September on the day before the next session begins.
The President of the General Assembly is elected at least three months prior to the opening of each session (until 2003, the President was elected at the first meeting of the session). The General Debate follows, when all the members have the opportunity to address the assembly over a two-week period.
Traditionally, the Secretary-General makes the first statement, followed by the president of the assembly. The first session was convened on 10 January 1946 in the Westminster Central Hall in London and included representatives of 51 nations.
Voting in the General Assembly on important questions – recommendations on peace and security; election of members to organs; admission, suspension, and expulsion of members; budgetary matters – is by a two-thirds majority of those present and voting. Other questions are decided by majority vote. Each member country has one vote. Apart from approval of budgetary matters, including adoption of a scale of assessment, Assembly resolutions are not binding on the members.
The Assembly may make recommendations on any matters within the scope of the UN, except matters of peace and security under Security Council consideration. The one state, one vote power structure theoretically allows states comprising just eight percent of the world population to pass a resolution by a two-thirds vote.
During the 1980s, the Assembly became a forum for the North-South dialogue – the discussion of issues between industrialized nations and developing countries. These issues came to the fore because of the phenomenal growth and changing makeup of the UN membership. In 1945, the UN had 51 members. It now has 192, of which more than two-thirds are developing countries. Because of their numbers, developing countries are often able to determine the agenda of the Assembly (using coordinating groups like the G77), the character of its debates, and the nature of its decisions. For many developing countries, the UN is the source of much of their diplomatic influence and the principal outlet for their foreign relations initiatives.
General Assembly Resolutions
The General Assembly votes on many resolutions brought forth by sponsoring states. These are generally symbolic statements covering an array of world issues. Most General Assembly resolutions, while symbolic of the sense of the international community, are not enforceable as a legal or practical matter as the General Assembly lacks enforcement powers with respect to most issues. However, in some areas, such as the United Nations budget, the General Assembly does have authority to make final decisions.
From the First to the Thirtieth General Assembly sessions, all General Assembly resolutions were numbered consecutively, with the resolution number followed by the session number in Roman numbers (for example, Resolution 1514 (XV), which was the 1514th numbered resolution adopted by the Assembly, and was adopted at the Fifteenth Regular Session (1960)). Beginning with the Thirty-First Session, resolutions are numbered by individual session (for example Resolution 41/10 represents the 10th resolution adopted at the Forty-First Session).
The General Assembly subsidiary organs are divided into five categories: Committees (30 total, six main), Commissions (seven), Boards (six), Councils and Panels (five), Working Groups and Other.
The Main Committees are ordinally numbered, 1-6:
- The First Committee: Disarmament and International Security (DISEC)
- The Second Committee: Economic and Financial (ECOFIN)
- The Third Committee: Social, Cultural, and Humanitarian (SOCHUM)
- The Fourth Committee: Special Political and Decolonization (SPECPOL)
- The Fifth Committee: Administrative and Budgetary
- The Sixth Committee: Legal
The roles of some of the Main Committees have changed over time. Until the late 1970s, the First Committee was the Political and Security Committee (POLISEC) and there was also a sufficient number of additional "Political" matters that an additional, unnumbered main committee, called the Special Political Committee, also sat. The Fourth Committee formerly handled Trusteeship and Decolonization matters. With the decreasing number of such matters to be addressed as the trust territories attained independence and the decolonization movement progressed, the functions of the Special Political Committee were merged into the Fourth Committee during the 1990s.
Each Main Committee consists of all the members of the General Assembly. Each elects a Chairman, three Vice Chairmen, and a Rapporteur at the outset of each regular General Assembly session.