Global Policy Forum

Reform of the General Assembly

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The General Assembly is the UN's most democratic body, since it includes all member states. Great powers often belittle the Assembly and call it irrelevant, but its work better reflects the will of the world's peoples than does the oligarchic Security Council. Reformers have long proposed steps towards a stronger and more effective GA. In his March 2005 report, In Larger Freedom, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called for a new push in that direction. Annan suggested that the Assembly simplify and focus its agenda. He also proposed that the GA end its reliance on consensus, which often results in weak resolutions, since a handful of states can impose their views on the rest. Annan further suggested that the GA pay more attention to implementation of its resolutions, so that they do not remain dead-letters of non-compliance. Other reform proposals include strengthening the role of the Assembly's president, setting up a more efficient committee system and involving NGOs directly in consultation to its work.


Key Documents | Articles | UN Documents | Archived Articles

Key Documents

Revitalization of the Work of the General Assembly (April 2008)

This Center for UN Reform Education article reviews the discussion on General Assembly reform, a debate that has been going on for nearly 17 years. The article notes that many member states want to strengthen the body, insisting that the GA evaluate how well member states implement GA resolutions. Some propose the GA president for this task but others fear that this will give him too much power. Countries also discuss the relation between the GA and the Security Council. Several countries, mainly from the South, argue that these two bodies should have equal authority.

Resolution 61/292 - Revitalization of the Role and Authority of the General Assembly and Strengthening its Performance (August 2, 2007)

This resolution adopted by the General Assembly establishes an "ad hoc working group on the revitalization of the General Assembly" at the GA's 62nd session in September 2007. With emphasis on the implementation of current resolutions on revitalization, Resolution 61/292 aims at improving the GA's "role, authority, effectiveness and efficiency," and requests UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to submit a report on the progress of this and prior resolutions at the 62nd session.

Draft Report and Draft Recommendations for Elements for a Draft Resolution (May 25, 2006)

The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the General Assembly (GA), established in September 2005, presents a report from several meetings where members debated over how to improve the GA's effectiveness and credibility. The working group has also focused on the role of the GA in selecting the Secretary General. Among the draft recommendations, the working group emphasizes the need for more coordination between the GA and other principal UN organs to avoid redundancy.

General Assembly President's Draft Resolution on GA Revitalization (June 2, 2005)

General Assembly (GA) President Jean Ping presents proposals to strengthen the General Assembly, reflecting Secretary General Kofi Annan's suggestions for reform. The draft resolution calls for streamlining the agenda, strengthening the role of the GA President, and improving voting procedures, but omits Annan's call for greater interaction with civil society.


Participation of the European Union in the Work of the United Nations (May 2011)

This resolution, passed in May 2011, gave the European Union full observer status in the General Assembly of the UN.

The Unreported UN General Assembly (September 27, 2010)

As usual, Presidents Obama and Ahmadinejad hogged the headlines at the annual UN General Assembly last week, while many significant issues remained unreported. This article highlights key points made by leaders of the world's poorer and less influential countries. (The Guardian)

Why We Need a UN Parliament (January 29, 2010)

Drawing on the international response to the global financial crisis, as well as the derailment of recent climate negotiations, this article considers the central democratic dysfunction within the UN system as "one of the main reasons for the tragedy." The author proposes the addition of a parliamentary body to the UN General Assembly. Jo Leinen, Chair of the European Parliament's Environmental Committee, claims that "a Parliamentary Assembly at UN level with parliamentary working methods linked with open discussion and majority votes could be helpful for the global decision-making process." (Open Democracy)

UN General Assembly Concludes 63rd Session After "Most Turbulent" Year (September 15, 2009)

The outgoing President of the General Assembly, Migual d'Escoto Brockmann, reflects on the past year in the Assembly and the issues facing its future. In the past year, the UN has moved the reform of the Security Council into inter-governmental discussions. Brockmann sees this development as one of the most important accomplishments of his term in office. Incoming President Ali Abdussalam Treki faces challenges in strengthening cooperation between member states and enhancing multilaterism. (Chinaview)

Member States Adopt Measures to Strengthen, Revitalize General Assembly (September 12, 2005)

This UN press release describes the content of Resolution 313 of the 59th General Assembly, which focuses on General Assembly Revitalization. While the resolution pays special attention to implementation of GA resolutions, it offers no concrete means for follow-through. The resolution does, however, strengthen the role of the GA president, beginning with Jan Eliasson of the 60th GA.

Proposals for the Revitalization of the Work of the General Assembly (March 2, 2005)

The Group of Friends for the United Nations Reform, comprised of official representatives of 15 nations, recommends measures to improve the efficiency of the General Assembly (GA). The proposals include shortening the agenda, increasing civil society participation, strengthening the role of the GA President, and enhancing cohesion with the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council.

Communique by Council of Presidents of General Assembly (November 18, 2004)

At the annual meeting of the Council of Presidents of the General Assembly, the Council agreed that the General Assembly "should demonstrate that it can express the political will of the peoples." To safeguard the credibility of the General Assembly, the Council also called for "urgent measures" to uphold the principle of international legitimacy by requiring member states to comply with resolutions and decisions of the United Nations." (UN Press Release)

Revitalizing the United Nations: Reform through Weighted Voting (2004)

Professor Joseph Schwartzberg advocates reform of the Security Council and General Assembly through a system of weighted votes. The weighted vote in both UN organs would depend on members' relative population, financial contribution to the UN budget, and share of the total UN membership. (Institute for Global Policy/World Federalist Movement)

Proposal Would Break UN General Assembly Main Session into Two Parts (March 19, 2004)

In response to a General Assembly (GA) resolution in December 2003 calling for reform of that UN body, representatives of six UN member states have proposed to divide the GA's workload into two parts. The Assembly will consider the proposal along with recommendations by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and make decisions by July 2004. (UN News Center)

General Assembly Resolution 58/126 (January 13, 2004)

This resolution calls for enhancing General Assembly (GA) authority and improving its working methods. Among other points, the text specifies the need for increased interaction with other UN organs, more public access to GA work, and encourages shorter agendas and more concise resolutions.

General Assembly Reform: The Role and Impact of Resolutions (October 26, 2003)

The UN Mission of the Netherlands reports on some of the General Assembly's (GA) weaknesses and makes recommendations for reform. Reform advocates point to the GA's excessive number of resolutions, their declining quality and a lack of follow-through. This Dutch proposal includes implementing periodic reviews, placing a cap on reports from the Secretariat and introducing a year-round calendar to promote more effective use of the GA's time.

UN Documents

Member States Consider Ways to Energize, Fully Engage Powers of General Assembly (November 19, 2009)

Member states urge the General Assembly to live up to its full potential. The Assembly should not limit its work to long debates but instead produce concrete results. The Security Council has taken over much of the work of the Assembly, such as the selection process of the Secretary General and the codification of international law. As a result, the Republic of Korea points out that cooperation with other UN organs should symbolize "coordination rather than competition". (The United Nations)


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