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(Geneva, 1 and 3 October 2003)
The Governing Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union held its 173rd session in the Centre international de Conférences de Genève on 1 and 3 October 2003. The sittings were chaired by the President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The Governing Council noted the President's report on his activities and meetings since the end of the 172nd session in April 2003. It also noted an oral report by the President on the activities of the Executive Committee during its 241st session. The Governing Council also took note of the interim report of the Secretary General on the activities of the Union.
1. Membership of the Inter-Parliamentary Union
The Governing Council approved a request for affiliation from the Parliament of Bahrain. Under Article 4.2 of the Statutes, it decided to suspend the affiliations of Iraq, on the grounds that the Parliament had ceased to function in that country, and of Guinea Bissau, after a coup d'état which had seen the dissolution of the parliament. Under the same Article, it also suspended the membership of the parliaments of Georgia, Liberia, Malawi, the Marshall Islands, Paraguay and the United States of America, all of which were more than three years in arrears in the payment of their contributions.
2. Financial Situation of the Union
The Governing Council received a comprehensive report on the financial situation of the IPU at 30 June 2003 which included a projection of budgetary outlays to 2009 and a complete listing of Members' arrears. The Governing Council approved a recommendation by the Executive Committee that future budgets should avoid erratic changes in the scale of assessments and that Members should expect regular increases in the order of 3 per cent per annum.
The Governing Council was told that construction of the headquarters building was complete and that the renovation of the Frédéric Passy Centre, the annex that would house the archives of the Union, was almost finished. Due to generous contributions from Members the total cost of the project would be less than the available funding, and the surplus would be used to complete the landscaping and to surface the lanes and parking areas.
3. Programme and Budget for the year 2004
The Governing Council heard a report by the rapporteur of the Executive Committee, Ms. J. Fraser, on the draft programme and budget. The clear presentation of the budget, showing exactly how the assessed contributions were to be spent, had met with the approval of the Committee. It had asked the Secretary General to report in early 2005 on how many of the objectives had been met, based on the indicators provided. They had also noted the attention given to women and gender issues in the budget and encouraged this effort.
The Executive Committee had discussed the Secretary General's reorganisation of the Secretariat into four operating divisions. The clearer structure would help him to manage the activities of the Secretariat. The Committee had received assurances from the Secretary General that the Human Rights Programme and the Gender Partnership Programme managers would continue to report directly to him.
The Committee had recommended small changes to the draft budget. Paragraphs 14 to 18 of the draft text were deleted because the job descriptions were out of place in the budget. The estimate for programme spending, excluding reserve contributions, was increased by allotting CHF 20,000 for a working meeting of the CSCM Coordinating Committee.
The scale of assessments was amended by removing the memberships of Iraq and Guinea Bissau and by adding the new member, Bahrain. The Executive Committee rapporteur noted that as a result of the Governing Council decision to suspend the memberships of six countries in arrears, Liberia, the only one of the Members in arrears still being assessed for a contribution, would also be removed from the assessment scale.
On the recommendation of the Executive Committee, the Governing Council approved the 2004 operating budget as amended with gross expenditures of CHF 9,910,530 and capital expenditures of CHF 85,000 and approved an increase in the assessed contributions of 3 per cent.
The Governing Council also received a proposal from the Executive Committee to establish a foundation to raise funds and to support new activities that further the objectives of the Union by promoting democracy. The Governing Council approved the proposal and delegated the President of the Union to nominate three to five persons to be the first members of the foundation to draft and approve its constitution and by-laws. The Governing Council also authorised the Secretary General to advance up to CHF 50,000 from the Working Capital Fund to the Inter-Parliamentary Foundation to finance its start-up expenditures.
The Governing Council appointed Ms. I. Udre (Latvia) and Mr. I. Ostash (Ukraine) as the internal auditors of the Union.
4. Cooperation with the United Nations System
The Governing Council was provided with an overview of recent activities carried out by the IPU in cooperation with the United Nations. It also noted a report by the Secretary General on the implementation of observer status at the United Nations General Assembly.
By granting observer status to the IPU, the General Assembly had improved the Union's rights to attend and participate in United Nations meetings. By the same token, the IPU was better placed both to influence decisions taken at the United Nations and promote parliamentary action in individual countries in support of those decisions.
The Governing Council endorsed the need to identify priority areas of cooperation with the United Nations and to integrate those areas into the new IPU structures and working methods. It acknowledged the important role that the new Standing Committees had to play in that respect, as well as the IPU Permanent Observer Office in New York and the Secretariat in Geneva.
The Governing Council also noted the Executive Committee's recommendations for future IPU input to the work of the United Nations and in particular the preparations for the Union to participate in the deliberations taking place in October 2003 in the General Assembly High Level Segment on Financing for Development.
5. Second Conference of Presiding Officers of National Parliaments
The Governing Council approved the Executive Committee’s recommendations for the membership of the committee that would prepare the Second Conference of Presiding Officers of National Parliaments.
The Preparatory Committee would hold its first meeting at IPU Headquarters in Geneva on 26 and 27 January 2004. Its task would be to (a) propose ways of identifying action taken by parliaments to implement the recommendations of the First Conference of Presiding Officers that relate to the parliamentary dimension to international cooperation; and (b) assess action taken by parliaments in support of the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and identify best practices.
6. Recent Specialised Conferences and Meetings
The Governing Council took note of the results of the Seminar for South-West Asian Parliaments on Parliament and the budgetary process, including from a gender perspective, that was held in Colombo in May, and the Parliamentary Panel within the framework of the WTO Symposium held in Geneva in June.
The Governing Council heard a report on the Fifth Round Table of Parliamentarians, held in Havana in September, on The role of members of parliament in promoting sustainable development at national level within the framework of the implementation of the UNCCD and approved a proposal made at that meeting to establish a parliamentary network for the Convention on the UNCCD. The participants also set up a steering committee for the network on which the six geopolitical groups would be represented and which would include one member of the Bureau of the Standing Committee on Sustainable Development, Finance and Trade.
The Governing Council also heard reports on the Cancún session of the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO, held on the occasion of the 5th WTO Ministerial Conference. At the close of its proceedings, the Cancún session adopted a Declaration.
The Governing Council heard a report on the Parliamentarians' Forum that had taken place in Ulaan Baatar on 11 September on the occasion of the 5th International Conference of New or Restored Democracies. Some 120 participants from 47 parliaments had attended the Forum at the end of which they had adopted a Declaration in which they expressed their commitment to the guiding principles of democracy as contained in the Universal Declaration on Democracy and pledged to work towards the consolidation of democracy worldwide. They notably expressed their resolve to ensure that parliaments contribute to the elaboration of standards in the field of democracy including the formulation of democracy indicators. Lastly, they urged that the Parliamentarians' Forum become a permanent feature of the International Conference of New or Restored Democracies.
Finally, the Governing Council noted a report on a recent Planning Meeting on the electoral rights of people with disabilities that had been held at the IPU Headquarters from 21 - 23 September. That meeting had prepared draft model legislation enshrining the electoral rights of these citizens and identifying mechanisms for ensuring that they could exercise them. The model legislation will be finalised in 2004 and disseminated widely for incorporation in national legislation where necessary.
7. Reports of Subsidiary Committees
At its sitting on 2 October, the Governing Council took note of the reports on the activities of the Coordinating Committee of the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians, the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, the Committee on Middle East Questions, the Meeting of the CSCM Coordinating Committee, and the Gender Partnership Group.
The Governing Council also filled vacant positions on the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians and the Committee on Middle East Questions.
After hearing the report of the Committee on Middle East Questions, the Governing Council endorsed the proposal that the IPU and the Manifesto - Movement for a Just and Lasting Peace in the Middle East jointly host the meetings of a working group of Israeli and Palestinian elected representatives set up to lay the groundwork for cooperation between the two elected parliaments. The Governing Council emphasised that this working group should hold its next meeting as soon as possible.
8. Future Inter-Parliamentary Meetings
The Governing Council took note of the meetings previously listed on the Union's programme of work for the next twelve months and approved four new activities for 2004, to wit: the first meeting of the Preparatory Committee of the Second Conference of Presiding Officers of National Parliaments in Geneva on 26 and 27 January; a Regional Seminar on Parliament and the Budgetary Process, including from a gender perspective, in the Arab region; a Seminar for Chairpersons and Members of Parliamentary Human Rights Bodies in Geneva on 15 17 March; and a Seminar on Freedom of Expression, also to be held in Geneva on 3-5 May.
The Governing Council also granted IPU sponsorship to a parliamentary forum to be held by the German Bundestag in Bonn on 2 June on the occasion of the International Conference for Renewable Energies, to the Sixth Workshop of Parliamentary Scholars and Parliamentarians in Oxford on 31 July and 1 August, and to the African Parliamentary Conference on the Protection of Refugees in Africa organised by the African Parliamentary Union.
The Governing Council also heard a report of the Executive Committee on the 110th Assembly of the IPU which had been scheduled to take place in London in March/April 2004. The IPU has always functioned on the basic premise that membership of the organisation involves acceptance by all its Members of the principle of dialogue and that meetings of the organisation can therefore only take place when all delegates freely designated by Member parliaments are assured of receiving the required visa for participation. As the IPU had been informed by the United Kingdom Government that it could not issue visas to certain members of parliament who were subject to a European Union travel ban, the Executive Committee was forced to conclude, to its deep regret, that the 110th Assembly could not be held in London and would need to be transferred to another venue. Such was its recommendation to the Governing Council.
The Executive Committee had also instructed the Secretary General to take up the matter with European Union officials with a view to ensuring that any future sanctions regime make exceptions for meetings organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The delegation of Australia then put forward a motion whereby "the Governing Council affirm the decision taken in Santiago de Chile that the 110th Assembly of the IPU be held in London in 2004". The motion was seconded by the delegation of Ireland.
Following a debate in which the delegations of Australia, Egypt, Ireland, Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia and Zimbabwe took part, the motion was put to a roll-call vote. The motion was defeated by 132 in favour and 87 against, with 27 abstentions. The report of the Executive Committee was thus endorsed by the Governing Council.
At its last sitting, the Governing Council was informed that the Parliament of Thailand had agreed to consider hosting the IPU Assembly in 2004 and that it was seeking formal approval from the relevant authorities in Thailand. The Union's Members received the offer by acclamation and the Governing Council formally requested Thailand to assume the responsibility of hosting the event.
9. Support to the Constitutional Process in Iraq
The Governing Council approved a proposal from the delegation of France calling for the establishment of a constitutional convention to prepare a new constitution for Iraq. The members of the convention should represent Iraqi society in all its diversity and its members should be chosen by the Iraqis themselves. Although the greater part of the convention should be held in Iraq, some sessions could take place elsewhere, perhaps on the premises of the European Parliament and Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Members of parliament from throughout the world could work alongside the Iraqi constitutionalists to advance the process. The initiative was fully in keeping with the primary mission of the Inter-Parliamentary Union which was to offer international mediation for the benefit of democracy and good governance. A preparatory meeting should be held at the IPU Headquarters before the end of the year.