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COOPERATION WITH THE UNITED NATIONS
Report and recommendations approved by the IPU Governing Council at its 175th session
(Geneva, 1 October 2004)

This document considers how the ongoing reform of the IPU structures can help to make cooperation between the IPU and the United Nations more efficient.

  1. Since it became an observer to the United Nations in 2001, the Inter-Parliamentary Union has sought to enrich the work of the United Nations by organising debates on issues that figure prominently on its agenda. These debates serve the triple purpose of channelling parliaments' views to the United Nations, allowing MPs to become better acquainted with the topics in question, and producing recommendations for follow-up action by parliaments and others.

  2. Clearly, however, the IPU does not have the resources to take on the full range of issues on the United Nations agenda. It will therefore have to set priorities and determine which issues are sufficiently important, and sufficiently relevant to the work of parliaments, to warrant its attention. These subjects must then be transformed into different types of activities that are reflected in the annual work programme and budget.

  3. Thanks to its new system of parliamentary rapporteurs, the IPU is in a position to prepare substantive reports with recommendations for action. While the rapporteurs maintain sole authorship of the reports and the freedom to prepare them as they see fit, the system allows for consultation with the full IPU membership, and most of the points raised by the Members find their way into the report. They are thus valuable as collegiate statements on different issues and how to address them.

  4. There is nonetheless some leeway for improving the potential of the Standing Committee reports to represent an authoritative statement by the world parliamentary community. The United Nations asks for no less, and as Members are aware the UN has begun to test the ground for establishing its own formal machinery for interacting with parliaments. As things stand at the moment, it is unlikely that the Standing Committee reports will be seen by bodies outside the IPU as carrying sufficient weight to truly represent the views of the world's parliaments.

  5. The Executive Committee has already discussed the fact that the reports have to be written to tight deadlines that impose restraints on the rapporteurs. If the calendar could be extended, the rapporteurs would have more time to gather facts, interview interested parties, make on-site visits, and attend meetings on the subject in question in other organisations.

  6. The second current drawback is that the rapporteurs themselves have to be selected with great haste on the final days of the Assembly. A system allowing for more time for the selection of rapporteurs would make it possible to tap the world's parliamentary resources by consulting with parliaments and their select committees in order to find the necessary level of expertise, including among MPs who were not necessarily acquainted with the IPU as an institution.

  7. The third, and perhaps the most significant obstacle to producing materials that will draw the attention of bodies outside the IPU relates to the subjects themselves. It has long been a tradition in the IPU that the subjects debated by each of the Committees enjoy a six-month lifespan, bequeathing a resolution that is posted on the IPU Web site and quoted from time to time. The tradition continues to this day. Moreover, a number of subject proposals are submitted by the Members, and the item that emerges from the consultation process is often an amalgam of different suggestions bearing a title that is as verbose as it is vague.

  8. It is suggested, in conclusion, that the time has come for the IPU to develop a multi-year agenda for each of its Standing Committees. This would imply an increased degree of specialisation within each Committee and the submission of reports that would have a preparation time of at least a year and serve as reference documents in the future by virtue of their enhanced authority.

  9. The present note has been drawn up to assist Members in developing a multi-year agenda for the three Standing Committees. It has been drafted with the United Nations agenda and the broader international agenda for the coming years in mind.

    Committee on Peace and International 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 bilateral visits. IPU support for the building of democratic institutions, human rights protection and gender partnership is also designed to promote peace and security. The following subject areas are high on the United Nations agenda and may therefore be considered for debate within the First Standing Committee over the coming years.

    • The broad area of conflict resolution, whatever the cause (inter-ethnic strife, religious intolerance, territorial disputes, larger military operations, or a combination of all of these) is obviously a subject that falls to this Committee, and numerous proposals submitted by parliaments allude to it. A related issue is the fight against terrorism, which requires energetic legislative and oversight action by parliaments everywhere, not only to curb terrorist threats but also to address its root causes and ensure that human rights standards do not suffer in the process. The issue of water as a factor for geopolitical strife also deserves consideration.

    • The IPU will hold a major debate on disarmament on the occasion of the 111th Assembly in Geneva. Disarmament covers a very broad gamut of issues, ranging from nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction to small arms. The production and proliferation of small arms presents a serious threat to peace and security in many parts of the world, as do chemical weapons, which are covered by an international convention.

    Committee on Sustainable Development, Finance and Trade

  11. The IPU can play an important role in mobilising parliamentary action on matters relating to sustainable development, finance and trade. The IPU accompanied the Earth Summit and the subsequent major United Nations conferences on sustainable development. Similarly, the Union has addressed the issue of financing for development, providing input to the Monterrey Conference and following up on its outcome. The IPU has an extensive programme to address trade and development issues. The following proposals may be considered for debate within the Second Standing Committee over the coming years:

    • International migration is a major issue facing nearly every country of the world, albeit from different perspectives. It is first and foremost a sustainable development issue that is rooted in disparate levels of economic development and has important implications for a country's future development. It also has human rights and security aspects that need to be addressed in any debate. The issue is dealt with both within the United Nations system (UNDESA and ILO) and outside (IOM). The Global Commission on International Migration will deliver its report to the UN Secretary-General in mid-2005 and migration will be the subject of a UNGA high-level segment debate in early 2006.

    • Many of the United Nations summits that have taken place over the last decade, including the Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, have also sought to address the need to mobilise financial support for development. However, none of them have come to grips with either the debt issue (addressed by the IPU during several meetings in the mid- and late 1990s) or the need to identify innovative forms of financing for development. Both subjects are high-priority issues on the agenda of the United Nations, and there will be a high-level debate on the subject in New York prior to the event to mark the fifth anniversary of the Millennium Assembly.

    • It has also been suggested that the twelve-year thematic programme for United Nations follow-up to Rio and the WSSD might constitute a viable long-term work plan for this Committee. In the immediate future, work could begin on access to water and alternative sources of energy. Parliamentary action in these areas will be important in a variety of ways, not least to raise public awareness, help modify consumption patterns and mobilise public support for investing in alternatives.

    Committee on Democracy and Human Rights

  12. The IPU has a strong mandate to promote democracy and human rights. Much of it focuses on the working of the parliamentary institution, its role in democracies and how to strengthen its functioning, including as a guardian of human rights. IPU activities in this field also emphasise gender equity and partnership and include actions to strengthen women's participation in political life. The following proposals may be considered for debate within the Third Standing Committee over the coming years.

    • The primary focus for this Committee should be the question of strengthening parliament as an institution. One aspect of this is the question of how to reinforce the links between parliaments and civil society. Another aspect is to do with the consolidation of parliament's role in scrutinising the outcome of multilateral negotiations and the activities of international organisations. This was central to the declaration adopted by the Presiding Officers in 2000, and has been alluded to in other major reports, such as the recent report by the World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization (established by the ILO).

    • This Committee will also debate items relating to gender equality.

    • Children in conflict: Despite advances in the protection of children affected by armed conflict, particularly in the areas of advocacy and the development of norms and standards, these children still endure appalling suffering in many parts of the world, where parties in conflict continue to violate international law relating to the rights and protection of children in armed conflict with impunity. Child labour and trafficking in children should also be addressed by this Committee. Parliaments, through their constitutional prerogatives, can take the lead in tackling these questions.

    • There is considerable public debate on the concept of cultural diversity. Work is starting within UNESCO to develop an International Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expression. The Convention aims to underscore the need for striking a balance between culture and trade. The subject is also the theme for this year's Human development Report (UNDP).

    • States are currently negotiating a United Nations Convention on people with disabilities. The Convention should be ready for adoption by the UNGA in the second half of 2005. There will be a need for parliamentary action to ensure early ratification and implementation of this convention.

    Conclusions

  13. In conclusion, the Governing Council is asked to consider the following recommendations:
    (a) That the Standing Committees be encouraged to take into account priority items on the United Nations agenda when selecting subjects for discussion at future meetings; that the Secretary General undertake further consultations with the United Nations Secretariat with a view to identifying major priorities for the United Nations which can form the basis for Standing Committee items in the medium term, and submit a report thereon to the Executive Committee at its 244th session in Manila;

    (b) That the six-month cycle within which themes are currently debated in the Standing Committees be changed to a one-year cycle;

    (c) That during the transitional phase, agenda items and rapporteurs for the 112th Assembly (Manila) should be selected at the 111th Assembly according to the existing system; that proposals for items for the 113th Assembly (Geneva) should also be decided at the 111th Assembly; and that the selection of rapporteurs would be entrusted to the IPU President and the Secretary General, in consultation with the Presidents of the three Standing Committees and on the basis of proposals to be made by the IPU Members immediately after the Assembly;

    (d) That Member Parliaments should be reminded that when they submit proposals for Standing Committee agenda items, they may accompany the proposal with the name of a suggested rapporteur who need not belong to the parliament that submits the proposal; and that all nominations for rapporteurs should be supported by documents attesting to the expertise of the nominee on the subject in question.


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