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Archives for February 9, 2009

International Court of Justice The Court

The Court

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN). It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and began work in April 1946. The seat of the Court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). Of the six principal organs of the United Nations, it is the only one not located in New York (United States of America). The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies. The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for terms of office of nine years by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. It is assisted by a Registry, its administrative organ. Its official languages are English and French.


The creation of the Court represented the culmination of a long development of methods for the pacific settlement of international disputes, the origins of which can be traced back to classical times.

Article 33 of the United Nations Charter lists the following methods for the pacific settlement of disputes between States: negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, and resort to regional agencies or arrangements; good offices should also be added to this list. Among these methods, certain involve appealing to third parties. For example, mediation places the parties to a dispute in a position in which they can themselves resolve their dispute thanks to the intervention of a third party. Arbitration goes further, in the sense that the dispute is submitted to the decision or award of an impartial third party, so that a binding settlement can be achieved. The same is true of judicial settlement (the method applied by the International Court of Justice), except that a court is subject to stricter rules than an arbitral tribunal, particularly in procedural matters.

Mediation and arbitration preceded judicial settlement in history. The former was known in ancient India and in the Islamic world, whilst numerous examples of the latter are to be found in ancient Greece, in China, among the Arabian tribes, in maritime customary law in medieval Europe and in Papal practice.

The origins

The modern history of international arbitration is, however, generally recognized as dating from the so-called Jay Treaty of 1794 between the United States of America and Great Britain. This Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation provided for the creation of three mixed commissions, composed of American and British nationals in equal numbers, whose task it would be to settle a number of outstanding questions between the two countries which it had not been possible to resolve by negotiation. Whilst it is true that these mixed commissions were not strictly speaking organs of third-party adjudication, they were intended to function to some extent as tribunals. They reawakened interest in the process of arbitration. Throughout the nineteenth century, the United States and the United Kingdom had recourse to them, as did other States in Europe and the Americas.

The Alabama Claims arbitration in 1872 between the United Kingdom and the United States marked the start of a second, and still more decisive, phase. Under the Treaty of Washington of 1871, the United States and the United Kingdom agreed to submit to arbitration claims by the former for alleged breaches of neutrality by the latter during the American Civil War. The two countries stated certain rules governing the duties of neutral governments that were to be applied by the tribunal, which they agreed should consist of five members, to be appointed respectively by the Heads of State of the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Italy and Switzerland, the last three States not being parties to the case. The arbitral tribunal’s award ordered the United Kingdom to pay compensation and it was duly complied with. The proceedings served as a demonstration of the effectiveness of arbitration in the settlement of a major dispute and it led during the latter years of the nineteenth century to developments in various directions, namely:

  • sharp growth in the practice of inserting in treaties clauses providing for recourse to arbitration in the event of a dispute between the parties;
  • the conclusion of general treaties of arbitration for the settlement of specified classes of inter-State disputes;
  • efforts to construct a general law of arbitration, so that countries wishing to have recourse to this means of settling disputes would not be obliged to agree each time on the procedure to be adopted, the composition of the tribunal, the rules to be followed and the factors to be taken into consideration in making the award;
  • proposals for the creation of a permanent international arbitral tribunal in order to obviate the need to set up a special ad hoc tribunal to decide each arbitrable dispute.

The Hague Peace Conferences and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)

The Hague Peace Conference of 1899, convened at the initiative of the Russian Czar Nicholas II, marked the beginning of a third phase in the modern history of international arbitration. The chief object of the Conference, in which — a remarkable innovation for the time — the smaller States of Europe, some Asian States and Mexico also participated, was to discuss peace and disarmament. It ended by adopting a Convention on the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, which dealt not only with arbitration but also with other methods of pacific settlement, such as good offices and mediation.

With respect to arbitration, the 1899 Convention made provision for the creation of permanent machinery which would enable arbitral tribunals to be set up as desired and would facilitate their work. This institution, known as the Permanent Court of Arbitration, consisted in essence of a panel of jurists designated by each country acceding to the Convention — each such country being entitled to designate up to four — from among whom the members of each arbitral tribunal might be chosen. The Convention further created a permanent Bureau, located at The Hague, with functions corresponding to those of a court registry or a secretariat, and it laid down a set of rules of procedure to govern the conduct of arbitrations. It will be seen that the name “Permanent Court of Arbitration” is not a wholly accurate description of the machinery set up by the Convention, which represented only a method or device for facilitating the creation of arbitral tribunals as and when necessary. Nevertheless, the system so established was permanent and the Convention as it were “institutionalized” the law and practice of arbitration, placing it on a more definite and more generally accepted footing. The Permanent Court of Arbitration was established in 1900 and began operating in 1902.

A few years later, in 1907, a second Hague Peace Conference, to which the States of Central and South America were also invited, revised the Convention and improved the rules governing arbitral proceedings. Some participants would have preferred the Conference not to confine itself to improving the machinery created in 1899. The United States Secretary of State, Elihu Root, had instructed the United States delegation to work towards the creation of a permanent tribunal composed of judges who were judicial officers and nothing else, who had no other occupation, and who would devote their entire time to the trial and decision of international cases by judicial methods. “These judges”, wrote Secretary Root, “should be so selected from the different countries that the different systems of law and procedure and the principal languages shall be fairly represented”. The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany submitted a joint proposal for a permanent court, but the Conference was unable to reach agreement upon it. It became apparent in the course of the discussions that one of the major difficulties was that of finding an acceptable way of choosing the judges, none of the proposals made having managed to command general support. The Conference confined itself to recommending that States should adopt a draft convention for the creation of a court of arbitral justice as soon as agreement was reached “respecting the selection of the judges and the constitution of the court”. Although this court was never in fact to see the light of day, the draft convention that was to have given birth to it enshrined certain fundamental ideas that some years later were to serve as a source of inspiration for the drafting of the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ).

Notwithstanding the fate of these proposals, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which in 1913 took up residence in the Peace Palace that had been built for it thanks to a gift from Andrew Carnegie, has made a positive contribution to the development of international law. Among the classic cases that have been decided through recourse to its machinery, mention may be made of the Carthage and Manouba cases (1913) concerning the seizure of vessels, and of the Timor Frontiers (1914) and Sovereignty over the Island of Palmas (1928) cases. Whilst demonstrating that arbitral tribunals set up by recourse to standing machinery could decide disputes between States on a basis of law and justice and command respect for their impartiality, these cases threw into bold relief the shortcomings of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Tribunals of differing composition could hardly be expected to develop a consistent approach to international law to the same extent as a permanently constituted tribunal. Besides, there was the entirely voluntary character of the machinery. The fact that States were parties to the 1899 and 1907 Conventions did not oblige them to submit their disputes to arbitration nor, even if they were minded so to do, were they duty-bound to have recourse to the Permanent Court of Arbitration nor to follow the rules of procedure laid down in the Conventions.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration has recently sought to diversify the services that it can offer, alongside those contemplated by the Conventions. The International Bureau of the Permanent Court has inter alia acted as Registry in some important international arbitrations, including that between Eritrea and Yemen on questions of territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation (1998 and 1999), that concerning the delimitation of the boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia (2002), and that between Ireland and the United Kingdom under the 1992 Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR). Moreover, in 1993, the Permanent Court of Arbitration adopted new “Optional Rules for Arbitrating Disputes between Two Parties of Which Only One Is a State” and, in 2001, “Optional Rules for Arbitration of Disputes Relating to Natural Resources and/or the Environment”.

For more information on the Permanent Court of Arbitration, please visit their website:

The work of the two Hague Peace Conferences and the ideas they inspired in statesmen and jurists had some influence on the creation of the Central American Court of Justice, which operated from 1908 to 1918, as well as on the various plans and proposals submitted between 1911 and 1919 both by national and international bodies and by governments for the establishment of an international judicial tribunal, which culminated in the creation of the PCIJ within the framework of the new international system set up after the end of the First World War.

The Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ)

Article 14 of the Covenant of the League of Nations gave the Council of the League responsibility for formulating plans for the establishment of a Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ), such a court to be competent not only to hear and determine any dispute of an international character submitted to it by the parties to the dispute, but also to give an advisory opinion upon any dispute or question referred to it by the Council or by the Assembly. It remained for the League Council to take the necessary action to give effect to Article 14. At its second session early in 1920, the Council appointed an Advisory Committee of Jurists to submit a report on the establishment of the PCIJ. The committee sat in The Hague, under the chairmanship of Baron Descamps ( Belgium). In August 1920, a report containing a draft scheme was submitted to the Council, which, after examining it and making certain amendments, laid it before the First Assembly of the League of Nations, which opened at Geneva in November of that year. The Assembly instructed its Third Committee to examine the question of the Court’s constitution. In December 1920, after an exhaustive study by a subcommittee, the Committee submitted a revised draft to the Assembly, which unanimously adopted it. This was the Statute of the PCIJ.

The Assembly took the view that a vote alone would not be sufficient to establish the PCIJ and that each State represented in the Assembly would formally have to ratify the Statute. In a resolution of 13 December 1920, it called upon the Council to submit to the Members of the League of Nations a protocol adopting the Statute and decided that the Statute should come into force as soon as the protocol had been ratified by a majority of Member States. The protocol was opened for signature on 16 December. By the time of the next meeting of the Assembly, in September 1921, a majority of the Members of the League had signed and ratified the protocol. The Statute thus entered into force. It was to be revised only once, in 1929, the revised version coming into force in 1936. Among other things, the new Statute resolved the previously insurmountable problem of the election of the members of a permanent international tribunal by providing that the judges were to be elected concurrently but independently by the Council and the Assembly of the League, and that it should be borne in mind that those elected “should represent the main forms of civilization and the principal legal systems of the world”. Simple as this solution may now seem, in 1920 it was a considerable achievement to have devised it. The first elections were held on 14 September 1921. Following approaches by the Netherlands Government in the spring of 1919, it was decided that the PCIJ should have its permanent seat in the Peace Palace in The Hague, which it would share with the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It was accordingly in the Peace Palace that on 30 January 1922 the Court’s preliminary session devoted to the elaboration of the Court’s Rules opened, and it was there too that its inaugural sitting was held on 15 February 1922, with the Dutch jurist Bernard C. J.  Loder as President.

The PCIJ was thus a working reality. The great advance it represented in the history of international legal proceedings can be appreciated by considering the following:

  • unlike arbitral tribunals, the PCIJ was a permanently constituted body governed by its own Statute and Rules of Procedure, fixed beforehand and binding on parties having recourse to the Court;
  • it had a permanent Registry which, inter alia, served as a channel of communication with governments and international bodies;
  • its proceedings were largely public and provision was made for the publication in due course of the pleadings, of verbatim records of the sittings and of all documentary evidence submitted to it;
  • the permanent tribunal thus established was now able to set about gradually developing a constant practice and maintaining a certain continuity in its decisions, thereby enabling it to make a greater contribution to the development of international law;
  • in principle the PCIJ was accessible to all States for the judicial settlement of their international disputes and they were able to declare beforehand that for certain classes of legal disputes they recognized the Court’s jurisdiction as compulsory in relation to other States accepting the same obligation. This system of optional acceptance of the jurisdiction of the Court was the most that it was then possible to obtain;
  • the PCIJ was empowered to give advisory opinions upon any dispute or question referred to it by the League of Nations Council or Assembly;
  • the Court’s Statute specifically listed the sources of law it was to apply in deciding contentious cases and giving advisory opinions, without prejudice to the power of the Court to decide a case ex aequo et bono if the parties so agreed;
  • it was more representative of the international community and of the major legal systems of the world than any other international tribunal had ever been before it.

Although the Permanent Court of International Justice was brought into being through, and by, the League of Nations, it was nevertheless not a part of the League. There was a close association between the two bodies, which found expression inter alia in the fact that the League Council and Assembly periodically elected the Members of the Court and that both Council and Assembly were entitled to seek advisory opinions from the Court, but the latter never formed an integral part of the League, just as the Statute never formed part of the Covenant. In particular, a Member State of the League of Nations was not by this fact alone automatically a party to the Court’s Statute.

Between 1922 and 1940 the PCIJ dealt with 29 contentious cases between States and delivered 27 advisory opinions. At the same time several hundred treaties, conventions and declarations conferred jurisdiction upon it over specified classes of disputes. Any doubts that might thus have existed as to whether a permanent international judicial tribunal could function in a practical and effective manner were thus dispelled. The Court’s value to the international community was demonstrated in a number of different ways, in the first place by the development of a true judicial technique. This found expression in the Rules of Court, which the PCIJ originally drew up in 1922 and subsequently revised on three occasions, in 1926, 1931 and 1936. There was also the PCIJ’s Resolution concerning the Judicial Practice of the Court, adopted in 1931 and revised in 1936, which laid down the internal procedure to be applied during the Court’s deliberations on each case. In addition, whilst helping to resolve some serious international disputes, many of them consequences of the First World War, the decisions of the PCIJ at the same time often clarified previously unclear areas of international law or contributed to its development.

For more information on the Permanent Court of International Justice, please see the “PCIJ“ pages on our website.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ)

The outbreak of war in September 1939 inevitably had serious consequences for the PCIJ, which had already for some years known a period of diminished activity. After its last public sitting on 4 December 1939, the Permanent Court of International Justice did not in fact deal with any judicial business and no further elections of judges were held. In 1940 the Court removed to Geneva, a single judge remaining at The Hague, together with a few Registry officials of Dutch nationality. It was inevitable that even under the stress of the war some thought should be given to the future of the Court, as well as to the creation of a new international political order.

In 1942 the United States Secretary of State and the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom declared themselves in favour of the establishment or re-establishment of an international court after the war, and the Inter-American Juridical Committee recommended the extension of the PCIJ’s jurisdiction. Early in 1943, the United Kingdom Government took the initiative of inviting a number of experts to London to constitute an informal Inter-Allied Committee to examine the matter. This Committee, under the chairmanship of Sir William Malkin ( United Kingdom), held 19 meetings, which were attended by jurists from 11 countries. In its report, which was published on 10 February 1944, it recommended:

  • that the Statute of any new international court should be based on that of the Permanent Court of International Justice;
  • that advisory jurisdiction should be retained in the case of the new Court;
  • that acceptance of the jurisdiction of the new Court should not be compulsory;
  • that the Court should have no jurisdiction to deal with essentially political matters.

Meanwhile, on 30 October 1943, following a conference between China, the USSR, the United Kingdom and the United States, a joint declaration was issued recognizing the necessity “of establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organization, based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving States, and open to membership by all such States, large and small, for the maintenance of international peace and security”.

This declaration led to exchanges between the Four Powers at Dumbarton Oaks, resulting in the publication on 9 October 1944 of proposals for the establishment of a general international organization, to include an international court of justice. The next step was the convening of a meeting in Washington, in April 1945, of a committee of jurists representing 44 States. This Committee, under the chairmanship of G. H. Hackworth ( United States), was entrusted with the preparation of a draft Statute for the future international court of justice, for submission to the San Francisco Conference, which during the months of April to June 1945 was to draw up the United Nations Charter. The draft Statute prepared by the Committee was based on the Statute of the PCIJ and was thus not a completely fresh text. The Committee nevertheless felt constrained to leave a number of questions open which it felt should be decided by the Conference: should a new court be created? In what form should the court’s mission as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations be stated? Should the court’s jurisdiction be compulsory, and, if so, to what extent? How should the judges be elected? The final decisions on these points, and on the definitive form of the Statute, were taken at the San Francisco Conference, in which 50 States participated. The Conference decided against compulsory jurisdiction and in favour of the creation of an entirely new court, which would be a principal organ of the United Nations, on the same footing as the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council and the Secretariat, and with the Statute annexed to and forming part of the Charter. The chief reasons that led the Conference to decide to create a new court were the following:

  • as the court was to be the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, it was felt inappropriate for this role to be filled by the Permanent Court of International Justice, which had up until then been linked to the League of Nations, then on the point of dissolution;
  • the creation of a new court was more consistent with the provision in the Charter that all Member States of the United Nations would ipso facto be parties to the court’s Statute;
  • several States that were parties to the Statute of the PCIJ were not represented at the San Francisco Conference, and, conversely, several States represented at the Conference were not parties to the Statute;
  • there was a feeling in some quarters that the PCIJ formed part of an older order, in which European States had dominated the political and legal affairs of the international community, and that the creation of a new court would make it easier for States outside Europe to play a more influential role. This has in fact happened as the membership of the United Nations grew from 51 in 1945 to 192 in 2006.

The San Francisco Conference nevertheless showed some concern that all continuity with the past should not be broken, particularly as the Statute of the PCIJ had itself been drawn up on the basis of past experience, and it was felt better not to change something that had seemed to work well. The Charter therefore plainly stated that the Statute of the International Court of Justice was based upon that of the PCIJ. At the same time, the necessary steps were taken for a transfer of the jurisdiction of the PCIJ so far as was possible to the International Court of Justice. In any event, the decision to create a new court necessarily involved the dissolution of its predecessor. The PCIJ met for the last time in October 1945 when it was decided to take all appropriate measures to ensure the transfer of its archives and effects to the new International Court of Justice, which, like its predecessor, was to have its seat in the Peace Palace. The judges of the PCIJ all resigned on 31 January 1946, and the election of the first Members of the International Court of Justice took place on 6 February 1946, at the First Session of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. In April 1946, the PCIJ was formally dissolved, and the International Court of Justice, meeting for the first time, elected as its President Judge José Gustavo Guerrero ( El Salvador), the last President of the PCIJ. The Court appointed the members of its Registry (largely from among former officials of the PCIJ) and held an inaugural public sitting, on the 18th of that month. The first case was submitted in May 1947. It concerned incidents in the Corfu Channel and was brought by the United Kingdom against Albania.

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United Nations Economic and Social Council

Background Information about the Council

ECOSOC was established under the United Nations Charter as the principal organ to coordinate economic, social, and related work of the 14 UN specialized agencies, functional commissions and five regional commissions. The Council also receives reports from 11 UN funds and programmes. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) serves as the central forum for discussing international economic and social issues, and for formulating policy recommendations addressed to Member States and the United Nations system. It is responsible for:

  • promoting higher standards of living, full employment, and economic and social progress;
  • identifying solutions to international economic, social and health problems;
  • facilitating international cultural and educational cooperation; and
  • encouraging universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

It has the power to make or initiate studies and reports on these issues. It also has the power to assist the preparations and organization of major international conferences in the economic and social and related fields and to facilitate a coordinated follow-up to these conferences. With its broad mandate the Council’s purview extends to over 70 per cent of the human and financial resources of the entire UN system.

Picture of the first session of the ECOSOC at Church House in London, 23 January 1946. This picture shows Mr. Gladwyn Jebb (right), Executive Secretary of the United Nations, congratulating Sir Ramaswami Mudaliar of India upon his election as first President of ECOSOC.

ECOSOC at Work:

In carrying out its mandate, ECOSOC consults with academics, business sector representatives and more than 2,100 registered non-governmental organizations. The Council holds a four-week substantive session each July, alternating between New York and Geneva . The session consists of the High-level Segment, Coordination Segment, Operational Activities Segment, Humanitarian Affairs Segment and the General Segment.

The High-level segment serves as a forum for Ministers and executive heads of international institutions and high-ranking officials, as well as civil society and private sector representatives to discuss key issues on the international agenda in the area of economic, social and environmental development. A new feature of the ECOSOC, mandated by the 2005 World Summit, are the Annual Ministerial Review and the Development Cooperation Forum ,. At the end of the High-level segment, a Ministerial declaration is adopted, which provides policy guidance and recommendations for action.

ECOSOC events are organized in the Economic and Social Council Chamber. This room was a gift from Sweden. It was conceived by the Swedish architect Sven Markelius, one of the 11 architects in the international team that designed the United Nations Headquarters.

ECOSOC has taken a lead role in key policy areas in recent years:

  • The 2007 High-level Segment marked the first Annual Ministerial Review (AMR) and the launch of the Development Cooperation Forum (DCF). During the Annual Ministerial Review, t he Council reviewed progress towards the implementation of MDG1, including through the national voluntary presentations by six developing countries, namely, Bangladesh, Barbados, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Ethiopia and Ghana. With the adoption of the ECOSOC Ministerial Declaration, the international community reaffirmed its commitment to strive for the eradication of poverty and hunger by the agreed target date of 2015.

  • The 2006 High-level Segment focused on the issues of full and productive employment and decent work, and its impact on the sustainable development. The ECOSOC Ministerial Declaration of 2006 identified a number of concrete steps for further implementation of the 2005 World Summit to make full and productive employment and decent work a central objective of national and international policies.

  • The 2005 High-level Segment, together with the coordination segment, constituted a major input to the 2005 World Summit on the progress made in the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, including the internationally agreed development goals and the global partnership required for their achievement.

  • The 2004 High-level Segment focused on Least Developed Countries and resources mobilization and an enabling environment for poverty eradication. The High-level Dialogue of the Council helped to highlight the specific problems of LDCs. It also led to the launch of a rural initiative in Benin.

  • The 2003 High-level Segment on the “promotion of an integrated approach to rural development in developing countries for poverty eradication and sustainable development” led to a renewed attention of the issue and the launch of a related initiative on Madagascar.

  • The 2002 High-level Segment adopted an innovative resolution on the contribution of human resources, in particular in the area of health and education, to development.

  • The consideration of African development at the 2001 High-level Segment resulted in the first formal international endorsement of the New Partnership for Africa ‘s Development (NEPAD).

  • The Ministerial Declaration of the High-level Segment in 2000 proposed specific actions to address the digital divide, leading directly to the formation in 2001 of the ICT [Information and Communication Technologies] Task Force.

  • The 1999 High-level segment issued a “Manifesto on Poverty” which, in many respects, anticipated the formulation of the Millennium Development Goals that were approved at the UN Millennium Summit in New York .

Apart from the substantive sessions, ECOSOC initiated in 1998 a tradition of meeting each April with finance ministers heading key committees of the Bretton Woods institutions. These consultations initiated inter-institutional cooperation that paved the way for the success of the International Conference on Financing for Development, held in March 2002 in Monterrey, Mexico and adopted the Monterrey Consensus. At that conference, ECOSOC was assigned a primary role in monitoring and assessing follow-up to the Monterrey Consensus. These meetings have helped to deepen the dialogue between the United Nations and international financial and trade institutions, and strengthened their partnership for achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development goals which emanated from the global conferences since the mid-nineties. Participation in the meetings has broadened since the initial meeting in 1998. In addition to the chairperson of the Development Committee of the World Bank and the chairperson of the International Monetary and Financial Committee of the International Monetary Fund, the General Council of the World Trade Organization and the Trade and Development Board of UNCTAD are now also participating in the meeting.

ECOSOC Reform – Strengthening the Council

Since the establishment of the United Nations (UN) in 1945, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has been subject to over a dozen proposals for reforms. Some of those proposals have been acted upon, as was the case with General Assembly Resolutions 32/197 and 50/227, both of which responded to proposals prepared by groups of experts in 1975 and 1988, respectively. The reforms have resulted in an expanded membership and new procedures to increase ECOSOC’s effectiveness.

In recent years there has been mounting international support for strengthening the role of ECOSOC both within the UN system of governance and in the governance of the global economy. Another round of important reforms was launched during the 57th General Assembly with the establishment of the Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Coordinated and Integrated Implementation of and Follow-Up to the major UN conferences and summits which led to the adoption of General Assembly resolution 57/270B. The resolution entrusted ECOSOC and its subsidiary organs with an important role in the integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow up to the outcomes of the major UN conferences and summits of the 1990s.

Despite the progress made over the last years in enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of ECOSOC and in strengthening ECOSOC as a central body of UN system coordination, there continued to be calls for a further strengthening of ECOSOC. At the 2005 World Summit heads of State and government have responded to this call. In paragraph 155 and 156 of the World Summit outcome document they called both for further strengthening of ECOSOC’s existing functions and strengthening ECOSOC by entrusting it with important new functions.

In particular, in paragraph 155 and 156 of the World Summit outcome document World Leaders mandated ECOSOC, inter alia :

  • To serve as a quality platform of engagement on global policies and trends in the economic, social, environmental and humanitarian field and to hold a biennial Development Cooperation Forum to review trends in international development co-operation.

In follow-up to the summit, the General Assembly adopted resolution 61/16 on the “Strengthening of the Economic and Social Council” on 20 November 2006, as a result of informal consultations of the Plenary under the chairmanship of H.E. Ambassador Johan C. Verbeke of Belgium and H.E. Ambassador Cheick Sidi Diarra of Mali. Five key elements of the resolution are:

  • It set the stage for the AMR which reviews the progress made in the implementation of the UN Development Agenda, including the Millennium Development Goals.

  • It also mandates ECOSOC to hold a biennial DCF to review trends and progress in international development cooperation, i.e., issues of aid quality and quantity, and give policy guidance on practical measures and policy options on how to enhance its coherence and effectiveness.

  • The 2007 ECOSOC substantive session in Geneva in July marked the first AMR and the launch of the biennial Development Cooperation Forum . Subsequently, starting in 2008, the DCF will be held biennially in New York .

  • The Council has also been given the mandate to convene ad-hoc meetings on humanitarian emergencies as and when they are requested.

Immediately following the adoption of the General Assembly resolution, the Council adopted decision E/2006/274 which provides further details on the modalities of involvement of ECOSOC’s subsidiary machinery in the preparation of the first 2007 Annual Ministerial substantive Review (AMR) and Development Cooperation Forum (DCF). Agreement on a comprehensive ECOSOC reform resolution by the Economic and Social Council, which is expected to elaborate further on resolution 61/ 16 and ECOSOC decision 2006/206 regarding the adaptation of its working methods is still pending.

Functions and Powers of the General Assembly

Forum for multilateral negotiation

Established in 1945 under the Charter of the United Nations, the General Assembly occupies a central position as the chief deliberative, policy-making and representative organ of the United Nations. Comprising all 192 Members of the United Nations, it provides a forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues covered by the Charter. It also plays a significant role in the process of standard-setting and the codification of international law. The Assembly meets in regular session intensively from September to December each year, and thereafter as required. Functions and powers of the General Assembly

According to the Charter of the United Nations, the General Assembly may:

Consider and make recommendations on the general principles of cooperation for maintaining international peace and security, including disarmament;

Discuss any question relating to international peace and security and, except where a dispute or situation is currently being discussed by the Security Council, make recommendations on it;

Discuss, with the same exception, and make recommendations on any questions within the scope of the Charter or affecting the powers and functions of any organ of the United Nations;

Initiate studies and make recommendations to promote international political cooperation, the development and codification of international law, the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms and international collaboration in the economic, social, humanitarian, cultural, educational and health fields;

Make recommendations for the peaceful settlement of any situation that might impair friendly relations among nations;

Receive and consider reports from the Security Council and other United Nations organs;

Consider and approve the United Nations budget and establish the financial assessments of Member States;

Elect the non-permanent members of the Security Council and the members of other United Nations councils and organs and, on the recommendation of the Security Council, appoint the Secretary-General.

Pursuant to its “Uniting for Peace” resolution of November 1950 (resolution 377 (V)), the Assembly may also take action if the Security Council fails to act, owing to the negative vote of a permanent member, in a case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression. The Assembly can consider the matter immediately with a view to making recommendations to Members for collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security (see “Special sessions and emergency special sessions” below).

While the Assembly is empowered to make only non-binding recommendations to States on international issues within its competence, it has, nonetheless, initiated actions — political, economic, humanitarian, social and legal—which have affected the lives of millions of people throughout the world. The landmark Millennium Declaration, adopted in 2000, and the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, reflect the commitment of Member States to reach specific goals to attain peace, security and disarmament along with development and poverty eradication; safeguard human rights and promote the rule of law; protect our common environment; meet the special needs of Africa; and strengthen the United Nations.

The search for consensus

Each Member State in the Assembly has one vote. Votes taken on designated important issues, such as recommendations on peace and security and the election of Security Council members, require a two-thirds majority of Member States, but other questions are decided by simple majority.

In recent years, a special effort has been made to achieve consensus on issues, rather than deciding by a formal vote, thus strengthening support for the Assembly’s decisions. The President, after having consulted and reached agreement with delegations, can propose that a resolution be adopted without a vote.

Main Committees

With the close of the general debate, the Assembly begins consideration of the substantive items on its agenda. Because of the great number of questions it is called upon to consider, the Assembly allocates items relevant to its work among its six Main Committees, which discuss them, seeking where possible to harmonize the various approaches of States, and then present to a plenary meeting of the Assembly draft resolutions and decisions for consideration.

  • First Committee (Disarmament and International Security Committee) is concerned with disarmament and related international security questions.
  • Second Committee (Economic and Financial Committee) is concerned with economic questions.
  • Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee) deals with social and humanitarian issues.
  • Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization Committee) deals with a variety of political subjects not dealt with by the First Committee, as well as with decolonization.
  • Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary Committee) deals with the administration and budget of the United Nations.
  • Sixth Committee (Legal Committee) deals with international legal matters.

On a number of agenda items, however, such as the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East, the Assembly acts directly in its plenary meetings.
The Credentials Committee is mandated to examine the credentials of representatives of Member States and to report to the General Assembly.
The General Committee meets periodically throughout each session to review the progress of the General Assembly and its committees and to make recommendations for furthering such progress.

Permanent Mission of Afghanistan