|Place du Petit-Saconnex, P.O. Box 438, 1211 Geneva 19, Switzerland|
OF THE INTER-PARLIAMENTARY UNION
(Geneva, 25 and 27 September 2002)
The Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union held its 171st session at the CICG Conference Centre in Geneva on 25 and 27 September 2002. The sittings were chaired by the President of the Council, Dr. N. Heptulla.
The Council noted the written and oral reports by Dr. Heptulla on her activities and meetings since the end of the 170th session in March 2002. The Council also noted an oral report by the President on the activities of the Executive Committee during its 238th (Geneva) session, as well as the interim report of the Secretary General on the activities of the IPU since March 2002.
The Council adopted a set of organisational guidelines for the Special Session on Financing for Development.
The Council endorsed a declaration by the President condemning the acts of violence threatening democracy and representative institutions in Côte d'Ivoire and elsewhere in the world.
1. Adoption of the Agenda
The Council adopted its agenda with the addition of a supplementary item entitled "Amendments to the Rules of the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments". It also considered a request, submitted by the delegation of Switzerland, for an item entitled "Parliamentary action in support of the establishment of an efficient International Criminal Court whose rules are universally and comprehensively applicable". The request had received an unfavourable recommendation from the Executive Committee on the grounds that it was too complex a subject for adequate treatment in the available time. After a debate the proposal was put to a vote and was rejected.
2. Membership of the Union
The Council received two requests for reaffiliations to the Union, from the Parliaments of the Central African Republic and Fiji. In both cases the reaffiliations were approved. It discussed the situation of the five Members (Georgia, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Paraguay, United States of America) that fell under the terms of Article 4.2 of the Statutes and consequently faced possible suspension at the session, and decided to defer consideration of their cases until its next session in Santiago de Chile in April 2003 (see also section 6).
3. Reform of the Inter-Parliamentary Union
At the conclusion of its debate on this item, the Council took a major step towards reform of the IPU by adopting by consensus a comprehensive reform package that had been elaborated by the Executive Committee and debated by the Council at previous sessions. The Executive Committee's rapporteur on the subject, Mr. G. Versnick (Belgium), presented the proposals which aimed at building an organisation that was more relevant in the modern world and that would be better placed to provide a parliamentary dimension to international cooperation.
Mr. Versnick outlined the proposals and stated that following extensive consultations, the Executive Committee recommended that the future Standing Committees be open to participation by all the Union's Members and that emergency items be adopted by a two-thirds majority. He informed the members that the Executive Committee had already started to prepare amendments to the Statutes and Rules of the Organisation which would be circulated to the membership in time to be adopted by the Union's Governing bodies at their next session in Santiago de Chile. Implementation of the reform would subsequently start in the second half of 2003.
4. Construction of New Headquarters for the Union in Geneva
The Council received a progress report on the project from which it noted that the renovation and construction work would be finished in November 2002 and that the Secretariat would move into the new premises before the end of the year. It was informed that significant savings had been achieved in the course of the construction. It took note of the efforts that were being made to raise additional funds and thanked the parliaments of Belgium, Germany and Italy for the voluntary contributions they were making towards the project. The Council requested the Secretary General to pursue the fund-raising efforts. The Council authorised the Secretary General to use part of the savings that had been made to initiate work to renovate the external facade of the annex, pending further contributions that would permit all the necessary work to be carried out.
5. Cooperation with the United Nations System
The Council restated its support for the general approach and operational details of the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s contribution to the work of the United Nations which it had adopted in Marrakech . The Council discussed and approved the draft resolution entitled "Cooperation between the United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union" which it hoped would be adopted by the 57th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Member parliaments were strongly urged to discuss its contents with their foreign ministries to obtain support for its adoption so that the Union would obtain observer status in the UN General Assembly and secure the right to circulate its official documents.
6. Programme and Budget for the Year 2003 and other Financial Matters
The Council unanimously approved the budget and scale of contributions for the financial year 2003 after having heard the Executive Committee's proposals for the programme and budget of the Union for 2003, presented by Mr. G. Versnick (Belgium), rapporteur of the Committee. Mr. Versnick explained that the draft budget had been based upon assumptions of a full program of activity under the reform agenda, a replenishment of the Working Capital Fund which had a cash balance of only three million Swiss francs, funding the operation of the new headquarters building and implementing accrual accounting, with charges for depreciation and contractual liabilities. The draft budget proposal had called for a ten per cent increase in Member fees.
The Executive Committee had reviewed the spending estimates carefully. While expressing appreciation for the clarity of the new presentation, it had been concerned about the increase in Members' assessed contributions but did not wish to reduce the program activities of the IPU. It had therefore proposed reductions to the spending estimates, including a lower contribution to the Working Capital Fund, reducing the grant to the ASGP and eliminating the provision for doubtful accounts.
The Council thus approved a total budget for 2003 of CHF 9’467’600 requiring a 7 per cent increase in the assessed contributions, but urged the Secretary General to constrain spending in order to limit the increase in assessed contributions in subsequent years.
Having decided to defer the question of the five Members in arrears in the payment of their contributions and liable to suspension under Article 4.2 of the Statutes, until the forthcoming Conference in Santiago de Chile, the Council agreed not to assess contributions against those Members, on the grounds that it was very unlikely that assessed contributions would ever be collected from them, that an assessment would simply increase their arrears and make their subsequent reaffiliation more difficult, and that they had not asked for the deferment.
The Council received a comprehensive report on the financial situation of the IPU at 30 June 2002 which included a projection of budgetary outlays to 2008 and a complete detailed listing of member arrears.
The Council encouraged the Secretary General to seek further voluntary contributions to the activities of the Union, and approved a set of guidelines to govern the acceptance of voluntary contributions.
7. Recent Specialised Conferences and Meetings
The Council took note of the report on the Parliamentary Meeting held on 8 April on the occasion of the 58th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The meeting took place in response to a need expressed by parliamentarians to hear from key UN officials and experts about human rights standards and mechanisms while the main UN body in the field, the Commission on Human Rights, was actually discussing them. After a lively discussion, the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the freedom of expression and opinion, on the independence of the judiciary, and on the right to education were given the floor to present their mandates and activities. The ensuing debate highlighted the complementary nature of the work that these UN experts and parliamentarians carry out in promoting human rights. At the close of their work, the parliamentarians concluded that the meeting had been a welcome first step towards greater parliamentary involvement in the work of the Commission on Human Rights. They recommended repeating the initiative the following year in the hope that it would reach a growing parliamentary audience, and suggested that the programme include a more specific focus on follow-up activities they could undertake to promote human rights in their respective countries.
The Council took note of a panel on "Older people as volunteers", held in Madrid in April on the occasion of the Second World Assembly on Ageing by the United Nations Volunteers and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, with the support of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The Council took note of the report on the Parliamentary Forum on Children held on the occasion of the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Children, jointly organised by the IPU and UNICEF in New York on 9 May 2002. Some 250 parliamentarians from 80 countries participated in the Forum which was designed to encourage parliaments to address children's issues from a child rights perspective. The discussion covered concerns of children and youth from both developing and developed countries: their unmet needs as well as their suffering. The Forum put forward a series of recommendations to parliaments and their members. The IPU and UNICEF are currently examining ways and means whereby the two organisations could work together on concrete projects to advance the agenda for children that was set at the Parliamentary Forum and the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
The Council noted the report presented by Mr. G. Andreotti (Italy) on the Parliamentary Meeting on the occasion of the "World Food Summit: five years later", which the Italian Parliament held in Rome on 11 June 2002 with the support of the IPU. The objective of the Meeting was to build political support by parliaments for the fight against hunger in the light of new challenges to the achievement of the World Food Summit's goals. On 13 June 2002, the Speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Mr. P. Casini, officially presented the report of the Parliamentary Meeting to the plenary closing sitting of the Summit. In his speech, Mr. Casini referred to the call for the establishment of voluntary guidelines for the progressive realisation of the right to adequate food, stating that full participation of parliamentarians in that process would be fundamental for ensuring that the guidelines reflect different concerns and encompass different national realities. In his presentation to the Council, Mr. Andreotti urged all parliaments to set aside a day in their annual programme for a debate on the question of food aid.
The Council also took note of the work of the parliamentary satellite session entitled "Parliamentarians: Linchpin between Government and the People", organised by UNAIDS with IPU support on the occasion of the XIVth International AIDS Conference in Barcelona on 8 July 2002. The purpose of the session was to examine strategies for getting the parliaments of North and South alike more involved in efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. Participants examined more particularly the role that parliamentarians could play in awareness-building, education and policy-making, drawing on best practices identified in the field.
The Council also took note of the report on the Regional Seminar for Asian Parliaments on "Parliament and the budgetary process, including from a gender perspective" organised within the framework of the Union's technical cooperation programme, in cooperation with UNDP and the World Bank, held in Manila from 23 to 25 July 2002. The event was the third in a series of similar initiatives, the first two of which took place in Kenya and Mali in May 2000 and November 2001 (see summary of the discussions).
The Council took note of the fifth Workshop of Parliamentary Scholars and Parliamentarians, staged by the Centre for Legislative Studies of Hull with IPU sponsorship and held in Oxford on 3 and 4 August 2002.
The Council further took note of the Panel Discussion on "Community Involvement and Volunteering in Sustainable Development" organised by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the United Nations Volunteers with IPU support at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, on 28 August 2002. The speakers at the event, who included the President of the IPU Council, urged governments in particular to strengthen their cooperation with volunteer organisations, which can play a decisive role in the field of environmental protection. The meeting sprang from the partnership established between the IPU, the United Nations Volunteers and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to promote volunteering.
Lastly, the Council took note of the Parliamentary Meeting on the occasion of the World Summit on Sustainable Development organised by the South African Parliament in Johannesburg from 29 to 30 August 2002 with IPU support. Its purpose was to provide a parliamentary dimension to the Summit by giving the MPs present in Johannesburg an opportunity to exchange views on a number of crucial issues raised by sustainable development. Some 380 delegates representing IPU Members and Associate Members as well as organisations with observer status were present. The Meeting held four half-day panels, on the Role of parliaments in ensuring implementation and compliance with reporting requirements, on Sustainable development: The basis of human security, on Improving the international framework for sustainable development, and on New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD and other new forms of partnership for development). During the discussions, the participants amended the draft resolution which the Secretariat had sent to IPU Members in the month prior to the Meeting. The Declaration, adopted by acclamation at the close of the Meeting, was then submitted to the World Summit on Sustainable Development with the help of the South African Parliament (see text of the Declaration).
8. Reports of Subsidiary Bodies and Committees
At its sitting on 27 September, the Council took note of the reports of the Coordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians and of the Gender Partnership Group.
The Council also heard the report of the Committee on Middle East Questions followed by statements by the representatives of Palestine and Israel. Subsequently the Council took note of the report and endorsed the proposal that the IPU provide sponsorship to a meeting in Geneva between members of the Knesset and the Palestinian Legislative Council (submitted by the Swiss Group and the Manifesto - Movement for a Just and Lasting Peace in the Middle East). The Council noted that the Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections were scheduled for 20 January 2003 and called for a safe, free and fair process. It encouraged parliaments actively to support the electoral process, including by sending MPs as observers. Moreover, the Council authorised an IPU mission to observe the elections and report to the Council at its next session.
The Council approved the resolutions presented by the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians concerning 25 cases of human rights violations affecting 134 MPs or former MPs of 17 countries. The delegation of Malaysia specified, in particular with reference to paragraphs 2 and 4 of the resolution on Mr. Anwar Ibrahim, that the relevant decisions and rulings had been made in conformity with Malaysian law. It pointed to the case of a member of the ruling party who had been sentenced by the Federal Court and, in concluding its statement, expressed its commitment to continue its cooperation with the Committee.
9. Future Inter-Parliamentary Meetings
The Council approved the agenda of the 108th Conference to be held in Santiago de Chile. It examined requests for observer status from the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Eurasian Economic Community and the Parliamentary Confederation of the Americas (COPA), and approved both, as well as the list of international organisations to be invited to attend as observers.
The Council approved the list of future meetings and other activities.
10. Amendments to the Statutes of the Inter-Parliamentary Union
Since its inception, the Gender Partnership Group has studied and discussed ways of achieving balanced participation by men and women in the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. After observing the situation relating to the presence of women in delegations to the Union's Conferences and on its governing bodies and standing committees over a period of two years, the Group consulted the Organisation's Members on a series of ideas to achieve more balanced participation.
Basing itself on the results of the consultation, the Group drew up four proposals for amendments to the Statutes and formally invited the IPU Council in Marrakech to take a stand on them at its session in Geneva.
Several sub-amendments were subsequently proposed by Belgium, Belarus, Japan and Sudan. These were studied by the Gender Partnership Group during its session in Geneva. Only the Belgian sub-amendment proposals were formally endorsed by the Group and the other sub-amendment proposals were withdrawn. The Group's amendments, as sub-amended by Belgium, were approved by the Council during its sitting of 27 September and will be submitted for adoption to the 108th IPU Conference in Santiago de Chile.
11. Amendments to the Rules of the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments
The Council approved the proposed amendments to the Rules of the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments. The Rules were amended to take account of recent developments on the international scene involving the emergence of new States and the diversification and growing complexity of political situations. The amended Rules took account of the increasing role of parliaments and the needs of parliaments in emerging democracies for assistance. They also sought to adapt the Rules to present and future reforms within the IPU.