Overview

The General Assembly is the world’s primary deliberative body with universal representation. While the 15-member Security Council grants unique veto rights to 5 countries, all 193 UN member states have equal voting rights in the General Assembly, making it unique among world bodies. The Assembly’s duties include:

  • Reviewing reports from the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council;
  • Making recommendations on international political cooperation;
  • Developing and systematizing international collaboration in economic, social, cultural, educational, and health fields;
  • Counseling and encouraging peaceful settlement of hostile situations amongst nations;
  • Appointing the Secretary-General in conjunction with the Security Council, electing the other ten non-permanent members of the Security Council, judges of the International Court of Justice, and members of the Economic and Social Council, and Human Rights Council; and
  • ·Setting the UN budget and approving budget-related decisions that affect the functioning of the UN Secretariat.

Voting and Sessions

Each September, a new General Assembly session convenes in New York City with two weeks of open debate during which many world leaders address the body directly. This event provides heads of state and government the only universal forum in which to address one another. After these world leaders return to their capitals, representatives from their missions in New York continue to debate issues in a session that typically suspends in late December and reconvenes as needed throughout the following year.

All 193 UN member states vote in the General Assembly. Recommendations on peace and security, the election of members to organs, the admission, suspension, and expulsion of members, and budgetary matters all require a two-thirds majority of those present and voting to pass. Resolutions on other matters require a simple majority, and budgets are in practice now adopted by consensus. Aside from budgetary matters that relate to setting the budget for the UN Secretariat, General Assembly resolutions are non-binding on member states.

History and Relevance

Although General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding on member states, they often have a dramatic and lasting effect. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is, perhaps, the most famous General Assembly Declaration. Adopted in 1948, largely due to the efforts of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, this document has become the international guidebook for human rights.

In 2000, the Assembly adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight benchmarks related to reducing poverty, hunger, illiteracy, disease, gender inequality, and child mortality that the international community was tasked with achieving by 2015. In 2005, the General Assembly passed a resolution, the World Summit Outcome, for comprehensive reform to make the organization more efficient, transparent, and accountable and enable it to better address human rights, peacebuilding, and protection challenges. In September 2015, building on the MDGs, the Assembly adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to provide a framework for international development efforts through 2030.