About the General Assembly

The General Assembly is one of the six main organs of the United Nations, the only one in which all Member States have equal representation: one nation, one vote. All 193 Member States of the United Nations (see map PDF) are represented in this unique forum to discuss and work together on a wide array of international issues covered by the UN Charter, such as development, peace and security, international law, etc. In September, all the Members meet in the General Assembly Hall in New York for the annual General Assembly session.

Functions and powers of the General Assembly

The Assembly is empowered to make recommendations to States on international issues within its competence. It has also 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;
  • to safeguard human rights and promote the rule of law;
  • to protect our common environment;
  • to meet the special needs of Africa; and
  • to strengthen the United Nations.

In September 2015, the Assembly agreed on a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, contained in the outcome document of the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda (resolution 70/1).

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

  • 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;
  • 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 countries;
  • Consider reports from the Security Council and other United Nations organs.

The Assembly may also take action in cases of a threat to the peace, breach of peace or act of aggression, when the Security Council has failed to act owing to the negative vote of a permanent member. In such instances, according to itsUniting for peace” resolution of 3 November 1950, the Assembly may consider the matter immediately and recommend to its Members collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security. (See “Special sessions" and "Emergency special sessions”.)

The Serch for consensus

Each of the 193 Member States in the Assembly has one vote. Votes taken on designated important issues— such as recommendations on peace and security, the election of Security Council and Economic and Social Council members, and budgetary questions—require a two-thirds majority of Member States, but other questions are decided by a simple majority.

In recent years, an 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.

Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly

There has been a sustained effort to make the work of the General Assembly more focused and relevant. This was identified as a priority during the fiftyeighth session, and efforts continued at subsequent sessions to streamline the agenda, improve the practices and working methods of the Main Committees, enhance the role of the General Committee, strengthen the role and authority of the President and examine the Assembly’s role in the process of selecting the Secretary-General.

During the 69th, 70th and 71st sessions, the Assembly adopted three landmark resolutions on the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly (resolutions 69/32170/305 and 71/323), which inter alia provided for informal dialogues to be held with candidates for the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations, established an oath of office and a code of ethics for the Presidents of the General Assembly, and provided for informal interactive dialogues with candidates for the position of President of the General Assembly.

The practice of convening high-level thematic interactive debates is also a direct outcome of the revitalization process.

It has become an established practice for the Secretary-General to brief Member States periodically, in informal meetings of the General Assembly, on his recent activities and travels. These briefings have provided a well-received opportunity for exchange between the Secretary-General and Member States.

Subsidiary organs of the General Assembly

The subsidiary organs of the General Assembly are divided into categories: 

After discussing the items on the agenda, seeking where possible to harmonize the various approaches of States, the subsidiary organs present their recommendations, usually in the form of draft resolutions and decisions, to a plenary meeting of the Assembly for its consideration.

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