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OF THE INTER-PARLIAMENTARY UNION
(Santiago de Chile, 7, 9 and 12 April 2003)
The Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union held its 172nd session in the Centro de Convenciones Diego Portales on 7, 9 and 12 April 2003. The sittings were chaired by the President of the Council, Mr. S. Páez.
The opening sitting began with a minute of silence to mark the untimely passing of Mr. S. Almansury (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), a member of the Executive Committee.
The sitting on 9 April was devoted to the reform of the IPU, the approval of the amended Statutes and Rules, and the choice of subject items for the 109th Assembly.
The Council noted the report by Mr. Páez on his activities and meetings since the end of the 171st session in September 2002. It also noted an oral report by the President on the activities of the Executive Committee during its 239th (Geneva) session and 240th (Santiago) session. The Council also took note of the written report of the Secretary General on the activities of the Union in 2002.
1. Membership of the IPU
The Council approved a request for affiliation from the Shura Council of Saudi Arabia after hearing a report by the Executive Committee rapporteur on the question, Mr. R. Salles (France). It also approved a request for reaffiliation from the National Assembly of Pakistan. It decided to suspend the Parliament of the Central African Republic after a coup d'état which had seen the dissolution of the parliament. It deferred discussion of the situation of the seven Members that fell under the terms of Article 4.2 of the Statutes to the 173rd session of the Governing Council in October.
2. Financial Results for 2002
Mr. O.R. Rodgers (Suriname), one of the Internal Auditors, presented the audited financial statements for 2002, along with his comments on the financial administration of the Union based upon his communication with the external auditor. For the first time, the accounts were presented on a full accrual basis, which had resulted in a downwards adjustment of the Working Capital Fund balance by 7.3 million Swiss francs. The Union had an operating surplus of 424,000 Swiss francs in 2002 due to a substantial reduction in spending. Some changes were proposed to administrative procedures including a greater involvement of the Internal Auditor in the oversight of financial operations.
The Council applauded the Secretary General for the financial administration of the Union, in particular for the fiscal control demonstrated by an operating surplus, a realistic approach to receivables and liabilities, and transparent and detailed financial statements. Several members spoke to encourage further changes in financial administration, including a more consistent approach to employment contracts and more rigorous purchasing procedures.
The Council approved the financial statements, approved the transfer of the operating surplus to the Working Capital Fund, agreed to use the Randal Cremer Fund to reduce the cost of the new headquarters, and sanctioned the financial administration of the Union.
3. Reform of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and Statutory Amendments
The IPU has been involved in an active reform process ever since the reform debate was initiated by the Executive Committee in Amman in April 2000. In Santiago, the final stage of a lengthy procedure was completed when the Conference adopted all of the amendments proposed to the Union's Statutes and Rules on the recommendation of the Council, including amendments to the Rules of the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians that were not directly related to the reforms. The Geneva statutory meetings scheduled for October 2003 will thus be the first to take place under the reformed structures.
The statutory amendments were presented to the Council by the Executive Committee rapporteur on reform, Ms. Z. Ríos-Montt (Guatemala), at a special sitting on 9 April. After approving the amendments to its own Rules, to the Rules of the Study Committees, to the Financial Regulations and to the Rules of the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians, the Council discussed the sub-amendments submitted within the statutory deadline and endorsed the Executive Committee's recommendations on them.
In keeping with the requirements of the amended Statutes, the Council elected the bureaux of the three new Standing Committees on Peace and International Security, on Sustainable Development, Finance and Trade, and on Democracy and Human Rights. It also elected the two rapporteurs for each of these Committees. Given the mandates of the new Committees, it decided to discontinue the existing Committee on Sustainable Development and agreed that the Committee on International Humanitarian Law would be made up of the members of the bureau of the new Committee on Peace and International Security. It also approved the amendments to the Rules of the ASGP required by the reforms.
4. New Headquarters of the IPU – The House of Parliaments
The Secretary General reported on the construction of the new headquarters of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva. The project had an approved budget of 11 million Swiss francs financed with a loan from the Swiss Government, a mortgage from the Canton of Geneva, and voluntary contributions. In the course of the construction, savings had been realised and the Council had authorised the restoration of the external façade of the Annexe in addition to the work on the main building. Fund raising had exceeded expectations and there were now sufficient funds to complete the Annexe and install the archives.
The Council acknowledged the financial assistance that had been given to the project by the parliaments of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, United Kingdom and by the Canton of Geneva, and approved the completion of the Annexe.
The Secretariat moved into the new premises in December 2002 when the construction was substantially complete; the Executive Committee, the Human Rights Committee, and the Post-Doha Steering Committee had already had an opportunity to meet in the new conference wing. The United Nations had issued a commemorative stamp in recognition of the new headquarters building.
5. Cooperation with the United Nations System
The Council applauded the decision taken by the United Nations General Assembly to grant observer status to the Inter-Parliamentary Union along with the additional right to circulate its official documents at the United Nations. The Council also welcomed the speech subsequently delivered by the President of the Council to the UN General Assembly in which he invited Member States to assist in identifying specific areas where national parliaments, working through the IPU, could make a measurable contribution to the work of the United Nations.
The Council also took note of the Secretary General's report regarding discussions under way in the Executive Committee to identify elements for a programme of activities aimed at tightening the relationship between the two organisations. The report pinpointed democracy and governance, human rights and gender issues, sustainable development and the fight against terrorism as areas in which the IPU could provide a unique contribution based on its parliamentary expertise.
The Council approved a recommendation of the Executive Committee to establish a network of focal points in parliaments for matters relating to UNESCO and to launch the initiative on the occasion of the next UNESCO General Conference in September/October 2003.
The Council approved in principle a proposal to launch a parliamentary campaign to promote safe drinking water in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Finally, the Council took note of plans to strengthen the IPU's cooperation with several programmes and agencies of the United Nations, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Volunteers (UNV), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
6. Second Conference of Presiding Officers of National Parliaments
The Council approved the Executive Committee's recommendation to hold a Second Conference of Presiding Officers of National Parliaments in 2005. The Second Conference would review progress in implementing the recommendations issued by the first Conference in 2000 on the establishment of a parliamentary dimension to international cooperation, and assess action taken by national parliaments in support of the Millennium Development Goals. A Preparatory Committee would be set up in October 2003 to make the necessary arrangements for the Conference.
7. Relations with Inter-Parliamentary Organisations, Assemblies and Networks
At its 170th session in Marrakech, the Council adopted a series of criteria to govern its relations with inter-parliamentary associations, assemblies and networks as a response to their increasing proliferation, which has the effect of diluting the Union's efforts to provide an effective parliamentary dimension to international cooperation. In Santiago, the Council returned to the matter, recommending that it be taken up directly with the Speakers of Member Parliaments, who should be strongly urged to ensure that all projects which MPs launch with international organisations be systematically channelled through the IPU.
8. Strengthening Democracy and Parliamentary Institutions
The Council heard a report by the Secretariat on activities it had undertaken in recent months under its Technical Cooperation Programme. In 2002, the IPU had implemented activities related to strengthening capacity in a dozen parliaments in projects valued at some 1.3 million US dollars.
The IPU was increasingly adopting an integrated approach in its parliamentary strengthening programmes, combining capacity building in the area of parliamentary procedures and practice with improving knowledge in substantive areas such as human rights, promoting gender partnership in parliament's work, and enhancing accountability through the budget process.
Interesting new initiatives included major projects for the future in Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, as well as governance capacity building for parliaments in the least developed countries, in cooperation with the United Nations. The IPU was also initiating contacts with a view to providing assistance in the establishment of a parliament in Afghanistan. Similar efforts would be made with regard to Iraq. Pursuant to the mandate entrusted to him by the governing bodies, the Secretary General had approached several donors, through national parliaments, with project proposals relating to the promotion of democracy. The initial response to requests for funding had been encouraging and funding had already been obtained for some of the project proposals. Other donors had expressed willingness to contribute, and it was hoped that agreements would be concluded in coming weeks. Member parliaments were encouraged to lend more support to the Secretary General in his contacts with donor agencies in their countries.
9. Recent Specialised Conferences and Meetings
The Council took note of the results of the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO jointly organised by the IPU and the European Parliament and held in Geneva on 17 and 18 February 2003. The Conference was an important step on the path to establishing a permanent parliamentary process for the WTO evolving around regular parliamentary meetings held initially once a year and on the occasion of WTO Ministerial Conferences. Following introductory remarks by President S. Páez, who had co-chaired the Conference together with a Vice-President of the European Parliament, Mr. R. Imbeni, the Council took note of the report on the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO and of the text of the Final Declaration which it had adopted by consensus.
The concluding recommendation of the Conference called on the IPU and the European Parliament to work together in organising the next session of the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO, to be held on the occasion of the fifth WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancún, Mexico, in September 2003. The Council was briefed by the IPU Secretary General on the preparation of the Cancún session and in particular on the successful outcome of his exploratory visit to the WTO Conference site.
10. Reports of Plenary Bodies and Subsidiary Committees
At its sitting on 12 April, the Council took note of the reports on the activities of the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians, the Meeting of Representatives of the Parties to the CSCM Process, the Committee on Middle East Questions, the Committee to Promote Respect for International Humanitarian Law, and the Gender Partnership Group. It also heard the reports of the Panel on Trafficking of Children and the Think Tank on Female Genital Mutilation.
The Council also filled vacant positions on the various bodies.
After hearing the report of the Committee on Middle East Questions, the Council heard statements by the representatives of Morocco, Palestine and Israel. The Council accepted the clarification proposed by the observer from Palestine regarding the postponement of the January 2003 elections in the territories under the control of the Palestinian National Authority. The Council authorised the Secretariat to relaunch the initiative of holding a parliamentary meeting at IPU Headquarters between legislators from the Knesset and the Palestinian Legislative Council. It further authorised the holding of a half-day meeting of the Committee at the 109th session of the Assembly.
When noting the report on the Meeting of Representatives of Parties to the CSCM Process, the Council agreed to a half-day meeting of the CSCM Coordinating Committee to be held during the 109th Assembly.
11. Human Rights Mission to Colombia
At the request of the Council, the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians carried out a mission to Bogota on 31 March and 1 April 2003 relating to the human rights cases it was examining in the country. At the recommendation of the Executive Committee, which echoed the recommendation of the mission itself, the Council decided to invite all member parliaments to take action to support the conclusion of a humanitarian agreement between the Government of Colombia and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) to secure the release of the hostages, including the members of the Colombian Congress held by the guerrilla group, and to pave the way for peace negotiations.
12. Future Inter-Parliamentary Meetings
The Council approved the dates of the future IPU Assembly scheduled to take place in Geneva, adopted the agenda for the three Standing Committees and approved the list of observers. It also approved the list of future meetings and other activities.