GA: Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the Work of the General Assembly

Last updated: 3/27/2012 // This statement on the revitalization of the Work of the General Assembly was delivered by Minister Counsellor Knut Langeland on the 27th of March.

Co-chairs,

Norway aligns itself with the statement made by the European Union and its member states, which we believe introduced a number of key points into this important debate. I would like to make a few additional reflections, underline some points of particular significance, and add a couple of concrete proposals.

The General Assembly is the most representative and authoritative world body for addressing urgent global issues. It is a forum for launching new ideas and initiatives, and for consulting with other member states in a peaceful and organised manner with a view to developing a global consensus on some of the most pressing issues of our time.  Many of the most important contributions to international law and to the ever-growing body of global norms, standards and common goals have been negotiated through the General Assembly or its subsidiary bodies.

But it is also a forum where member states can bring up issues of national interest, express their grievances and try to rally international support for their national or regional causes. It can be an arena for political confrontation and divisiveness. Sometimes, but not always, this can be quite legitimate: Many important issues have gone through stages of confrontation before convergence and consensus eventually emerge. Other issues are allowed to fester and to damage the political atmosphere in the Assembly to the detriment of quite separate issues.

Even worse, the General Assembly can be – and too often is – an instrument for repetitive, almost ritualistic debates and recirculated resolutions that attract little interest and have minimal impact outside this chamber.

The objective of the present round of consultations should be to maximise the ability of the GA to make a positive contribution to addressing global issues by reducing the time and resources spent on repetitive discussions that do little to further the cause in question, and that damage the credibility of the GA itself.

We therefore agree with the European Union and its member states that it is essential to maintain a focus on the working methods of the General Assembly and its committees. Let me in particular emphasise the need to:
 
• Continue our efforts to streamline the agenda

• Reduce the number of repetitive resolutions

• Strengthen cooperation with other parts of the wider UN system

• Continue to build on the recent initiative to stage thematic debates on important global issues, with an even more active outreach programme, by inviting partners from specialised agencies, regional organisations, civil society and the private sector to engage in debates on selected themes.

When the General Assembly has made a decision, it remains valid until a further resolution is adopted. We should therefore endeavour to present agenda items every other year or every third year (biennialisation or triennialisation), in order to help rationalise and streamline the agenda.  Some years ago, Norway suggested that a limit should be put on the number of resolutions in the First Committee, and we think this could be appropriate for all of the permanent committees of the General Assembly.

We should also consider introducing a “sunset clause” that removes issues from the agenda after a certain number of years. This would make the General Assembly more dynamic and more able to respond to current issues.

It is also important that the General Assembly strengthens its cooperation with other parts of the UN system, such as the Security Council, ECOSOC, and its subsidiary bodies, including the Human Rights Council. One good example of such cooperation is the Security Council’s annual report to the General Assembly.

In addition, we need to look more closely at the format of the debates in the General Assembly and perhaps especially in the six committees. We would welcome a format that would enable us to have more interactive and constructive debates. 

Lastly, let me stress the importance of electronic communication for distributing relevant documentation on time. More widespread use of electronic communication in the work of the General Assembly would not only make sense in terms of the environment, it would also enable us to work more efficiently and reduce costs.

Thank you.


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