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General Assembly

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is one of the five main organs of the United Nations (UN).  UNGA is the only one organ where all the member nations are equally represented.  UNGA meets yearly from September to December.  GA sessions are presided by its president or the secretary-general.  The UN Charter, Chapter IV lays down the composition, functions, powers, voting, and procedures of UNGA.

UNGA’s functions include:

  • Overseeing the UN budget,
  • Appointing non-permanent members to the Security Council,
  • Receiving reports from other parts of UN, and
  • Making recommendations in the form of GA Resolutions.

UNGA president is elected from among the member states.  Each session may last over two weeks.  Agenda for UNGA yearly session is planned seven months in advance.  The agenda get finalized soon after the UNGA session begins.  All members have the opportunity to address the assembly at the start of each session.  It is a general practice that the secretary-general makes the first statement, followed by the president of the assembly.  The UNGA requires a two-third majority vote from the member nations present on important questions such as recommendations on peace and security, election of members to organs, admission, suspension, and expulsion of members, and budgetary matters.  All other questions are decided by majority vote with each member nation having one vote.  All resolutions except the budgetary matters are not binding on the members.  The UNGA can make recommendations on any matters within the scope of UN, except matters of peace and security that falls under the Security Council.  However, if at any point the Security Council is unable to perform its primary responsibility on matters of peace and security, the UNGA can take action to maintain international peace and security if called for.

As the UNGA lacks enforcement power most of its resolutions are not enforceable as a legal or practical matter.  However, the resolutions are binding towards the operations of UNGA.

Apart from the regular yearly sessions, sometimes special sessions can also be convened.  UNGA special sessions can be convened at the request of:

  • the UN Security Council, or
  • a majority of UN members, or
  • if the majority concurs, of a single member.

Examples of special sessions are:  October 1995 special session to commemorate the UN’s 50th anniversary, and September 2000 special session to celebrate the millennium.

Sometimes, emergency special sessions of the UNGA are also convened.  Emergency special sessions of the UNGA can be convened within 24 hours of request.  Emergency special sessions can be convened on request by:

  • the UN Security Council on the vote of any seven members, or
  • by a majority of the Members of the United Nations.

Generally, in the past emergency special sessions were convened to take action on maintaining international peace and security.

UNGA has the power to establish subsidiary organs to perform various functions.  The subsidiary organs can be categorized into five.  The categories are: committees (30 total, six main), commissions (seven), boards (six), councils and panels (five), working groups, and other.

Seating arrangement of the member nations in the UNGA sessions are made alphabetically.  Seating is rotated annually by ballot.  A member nation will be selected to sit in the front-most left position and the remaining countries fall into line, according to the English alphabet, behind it.

Inside General Assembly