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Noted by the IPU Governing Council at its 173rd session
(Geneva, 3 October 2003)

Executive Summary

By granting observer status to the IPU, the UN General Assembly improved the possibilities for the Union to have access to and participate in United Nations meetings. By the same token, the IPU is now better placed both to influence decisions taken at the United Nations and promote parliamentary action at home in support of those decisions.

The different size of the two organisations, however, makes choice inevitable. The IPU, with its modest budget and Secretariat, cannot possibly hope to work with equal emphasis on all issues of the wide agenda currently before the United Nations.

The present note has been drawn up to assist Members in defining those areas that should be given priority. It suggests that these areas need then to be integrated into the new IPU structures and working methods and that the new Standing Committees must play an important role in this respect. It also suggests that the IPU Permanent Observer Office in New York (and the Secretariat in Geneva) have specific roles to play in lobbying Member States and otherwise organising IPU's input to the inter-governmental negotiating process.

  1. The IPU has long insisted on the need to establish a two-way relationship with the United Nations in which the IPU could influence the substance and outcome of the work of the UN and assist in ensuring its implementation at home.

  2. The first of these objectives involves channeling the outcome of parliamentary debates at the IPU into the United Nations and preparing the related analyses and reports on parliamentary activities; the latter can be achieved by IPU fomenting parliamentary awareness and action in support of international agreements reached at the United Nations, promoting activities by parliaments to mobilise public opinion to support international action, and providing technical back-up to parliaments to improve their capacity to legislate and oversee the executive.

  3. The IPU has also been keen to offer operational support to the United Nations. In UN peace-building and peace-keeping operations in particular, the IPU can channel national parliaments’ support for building and consolidating democratic institutions through its technical assistance programme.

  4. The opportunities for cooperation are manifold and it is essential that careful selection is exercised. There is an obvious danger that the Union could dissipate its limited resources if it were to attempt to cover too broad an area of activities. When discussing this matter earlier this year, the Executive Committee expressed the view that the IPU should give priority to its cooperation with the United Nations in the field of democracy in areas where the Union has accumulated specific expertise. What does this mean in real terms?


  5. The IPU undertakes four types of activities in the field of democracy. It oversees projects to strengthen parliaments, studies parliamentary systems and provides advice on them, promotes human rights, and advocates gender partnership. In each of these areas the IPU can support the United Nations in a multitude of ways.

  6. With regard to strengthening parliaments, the IPU should expand its technical cooperation programme and focus its activities on countries undergoing peace and reconciliation processes. Currently, the IPU is active in several such countries (e.g. Burundi, Cambodia, East Timor, Rwanda), and should extend its action to other countries (e.g. Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Sri Lanka). The overall objective is to consolidate democratic processes, and improve participation and governance as fundamental building blocks for development.

  7. With respect to its advisory programme, the IPU receives a great many requests for expertise and needs to broaden its research agenda. In addition to keeping abreast of important developments in parliamentary procedures and working methods, the IPU can make a particularly valuable contribution to the implementation of the IPU and UN Millennium Declarations by examining how parliaments have shaped their structures and working methods to provide a parliamentary dimension to international cooperation. A second Conference of Presiding Officers will be held in 2005 to take stock of progress in the area and assess the contribution of parliaments to the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals.

  8. The human rights programme is already responding to requests from the United Nations for increased cooperation. Aside from the important work of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, this includes developing cooperation between the United Nations and parliaments through parliamentary human rights bodies, organising meetings between those bodies and the United Nations and the UN human rights treaty making bodies, and issuing parliamentary handbooks and other tools for more effective parliamentary action in support of human rights.

  9. Equally, the gender partnership programme is facing increasing demands for cooperation from the United Nations. Plans are underway to launch a new study on women and politics, to up-grade the IPU data collection on women in politics (this is an area where the IPU is the principal service provider to the UN), and to prepare IPU contributions to the Beijing Plus 10 evaluation that will take place in 2005.

    Peace and security

  10. The IPU's primary mission is to promote peace and security. Members pursue this activity through parliamentary diplomacy during IPU meetings and through bi-lateral visits. IPU support for the building of democratic institutions, human rights protection and gender partnership is also designed to promote peace and security. However, the organisation can do more to support the work of the United Nations, as evidenced by the decision taken in Santiago de Chile to include on the agenda of the Standing Committee on Peace and Security an item entitled The role of parliaments in assisting multilateral organisations in ensuring peace and security and in building an international coalition for peace.

  11. Pending the outcome of the discussions that will take place on this topic at the 109th Assembly in Geneva, the IPU is already working on two specific sub-topics directly relevant to peace and security. One relates to the fight against terrorism; in this regard the IPU is developing a set of activities designed to support implementation of Security Council resolution 1373. The second relates to peace and reconciliation processes. Given the experience gained by the IPU in several conflict situations, this subject could be placed on the agenda of the 110th Assembly, thus enabling the foundations to be laid for more sustained IPU action in this field.

    Sustainable development, finance and trade

  12. The IPU cannot claim to have any substantive expertise in this area. However, it plays - and can continue to play - an important role in mobilising parliamentary action in this field.

  13. With regard to sustainable development, the United Nations has concluded a first ten year cycle after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It is now planning new systems and methods for ensuring action to promote the protection of the environment. Parliaments are largely absent from that debate and the IPU will need to address this issue. The IPU Sustainable Development Committee has been replaced by the Bureau of the Standing Committee dealing with sustainable development issues. What role can this Bureau play in planning for an appropriate IPU contribution in this field?

  14. As regards finance, the IPU is active in scrutinising financing for development and last year issued recommendations for parliamentary action. It is now involved in a follow-up exercise in which parliaments are invited to report on action they have taken to implement those recommendations. The IPU President will report on this follow-up action to the High Level segment of the UN General Assembly on Financing for Development which will take place in late October 2003.

  15. IPU's future activities in relation to finance issues will depend to a large extent on its relationship with the World Bank and the IMF. With regard to the former, there has been no relationship to speak of since the creation by the Bank's Paris Office of its own parliamentary network. The IMF, on the other hand, has shown interest in developing its relationship with the IPU.

  16. Trade is one area where the IPU has clearly staked out its role. Through the work it has carried out during IPU conferences and several specialised meetings organised in cooperation with UNCTAD and WTO, it has established itself as an indispensable partner for providing a parliamentary dimension on trade matters. This action will be pursued during the forthcoming 5th Ministerial WTO Conference in Cancún and will need to be followed up next year during UNCTAD XI, and possibly also at a separate WTO meeting.

    Cooperation with UN agencies and programmes

  17. The United Nations System is made up of a multitude of programmes, specialised agencies and organisations. Some of them do not look to the IPU to develop a closer relationship with parliaments but instead create their own networks of MPs and lobby groups in parliaments. This is the case for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Most of the organisations, however, seek support from parliaments through the IPU, at the global level, and through regional parliamentary assemblies and organisations.

  18. Within this latter category there are many variations. There are organisations like the FAO which looks towards the IPU every time there is a food summit. In between food summits, however, the IPU is generally not involved in FAO work. Cooperation with the ILO follows a similar pattern to that of the FAO. At the opposite end of the spectrum there is UNESCO and UNICEF. The former is seeking to develop a parliamentary interface through the IPU. The latter is looking to develop a comprehensive and focused programme of cooperation with the IPU which includes the organisation of panels during IPU conferences on specific issues affecting children, the production of a parliamentary handbook on child protection issues, identifying issues for debate in IPU Standing Committees and encouraging parliaments to implement the results of the 2002 Children Summit.

  19. UNICEF stands out as a fine example of what can be achieved through a planned and focused process of cooperation. The success of that cooperation, and of cooperation with other UN programmes, agencies and organisations, largely depends on the extent to which it can be integrated into the IPU's annual programme of work.

    Integrating cooperation with the UN in the IPU work programme

  20. The IPU undertakes a wide variety of activities in the course of any given year. It holds two Assembly meetings with three Standing Committees each debating one subject. A host of parallel activities take place, ranging from panels to working groups and specialised committees.

  21. In between the Assemblies, the IPU organises specialised conferences, seminars and other events at the global, regional and sub-regional level. It implements many projects and activities in the three programmes that jointly make up IPU's democracy programme. These include undertaking surveys and studies, preparing reports, handbooks and other publications, issuing public information packages, and running training seminars.

  22. The challenge for the IPU is how best to integrate its cooperation with the UN in this work programme. The IPU Observer Office at the UN will play a crucial role in this regard by keeping the organisation informed of the UN work programme and providing advice on priority areas for IPU input. Guidelines will need to be established to determine which UN meetings are to be attended as a matter of principle, and which optionally.

  23. Ideally, IPU should be able to plan its future work in such a way that the subjects for the Standing Committees are chosen with the UN agenda in mind. It is likely that the Bureaux of the new Standing committees will act as a clearing house for contributions to the United Nations within their respective mandates.

  24. The output of that work will then need to be fed back into the UN system. Here again the Office in New York (and the Secretariat in Geneva) can play in important role in lobbying Member States, explaining IPU positions, trying to make sure that these are reflected in UN resolutions, etc.

  25. Finally, the annual work programme and budget should be prepared with a view to providing an effective and efficient contribution to the work of the United Nations. This must entail an overhaul of the annual UN/IPU meeting for members of parliament attending the UN General Assembly as well as provisions for the many meetings organised by IPU in the margin of UN conferences.

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