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(Geneva, 28 September and 1 October 2004)
The Governing Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union held its 175th session at the Geneva International Conference Centre on 28 September and 1 October 2004. The sittings were chaired by the President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The Governing Council took note of the President's report on his activities and meetings since the end of the 174th session in April 2004. It also heard an oral report by the President on the activities of the Executive Committee during its 243rd session. The 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
At its sitting on 28 September, the Governing Council approved requests for affiliation as Associate Members from the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS Parliament), and the East African Legislative Assembly.
The Governing Council approved a report of the Executive Committee on the structure and functioning of IPU Members and their participation in the Organisation's work.
2. Financial situation of the Union
The Governing Council received a comprehensive written report on the financial situation of the IPU as at 30 June 2004, and a complete listing of Members' arrears. The Secretary General gave the Council updated information on the situation as at the end of September, confirming that the Union would end the year in a break-even position. He also noted that the actuarial deficit of the Staff Pension Fund would be almost eliminated as a result of the Executive Committee decision for the IPU to join the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund. However, the Union would remain responsible for the liability of existing retirees' pensions.
3. Programme and budget for the year 2005
The Governing Council heard a report by the Executive Committee rapporteur, Mr. J. Austin, on the draft programme and budget.
The Executive Committee recommended minor changes to the draft budget proposed by the Secretary General. In particular, it recommended increasing the provision by CHF 134,210 for the 2005 Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments so that the meeting could take place in New York, adding a provision of CHF 50,000 for a fourth and final Conference of the CSCM, to be held in Athens, and increasing the provision for the 112th Assembly in Manila by CHF 11,500 to fund interpretation for the break-out groups at the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians.
In order to balance the budget, the Executive Committee recommended cancelling the annual Parliamentary Conference on the WTO in 2005 (while maintaining the Parliamentary Conference on the occasion of the WTO Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong), shortening the second Assembly in the year to three days instead of four, deleting a transfer of CHF 68,000 to the Working Capital Fund, and allowing a withdrawal of CHF 50,000 from the Working Capital Fund, which would be replenished in 2006. The Secretary General was asked to seek alternative sources of funding for the Fourth Conference of the CSCM or to make operational savings elsewhere in order to avoid drawing on the Working Capital Fund.
The Executive Committee recommended the addition of the contributions of the new Associate Members, the ECOWAS Parliament and the East African Legislative Assembly, to the scale of contributions, and a general increase of 3 per cent in the assessed contributions for 2005.
The Governing Council approved the 2005 operating budget as amended by the Executive Committee, with gross operating expenditures of CHF 10,306,910 and capital expenditures of CHF 35,000, and approved an increase in the assessed contributions of 3 per cent.
The Governing Council heard a report on the proceedings of the working group reviewing the scale of contributions. Mr. Austin told the Council that the small working group was in consensus that the current scale was out of date and did not reflect the Members' capacity to pay. The group felt that the current minimum fee may represent a barrier to membership for the parliaments of some small countries and could be lowered, but it did not want to increase the maximum contribution, that of Japan, which contributed 12 per cent of the Union's budget. Mr. Austin called upon the Council to enlarge the present working group, which would reconvene at the 112th Assembly in Manila and report back to the Council.
The Governing Council appointed Mr. R. Verrier (Cuba) and Mr. S. Vejjajiva (Thailand) as the internal auditors of the Union for 2004.
4. Cooperation with the United Nations System
The Governing Council noted that the IPU was engaged in a wide-ranging programme of cooperation with the United Nations. It endorsed the document setting out the priorities for the United Nations agenda for the coming years and agreed that the IPU should strive to contribute to dialogues taking place in the United Nations, in particular through the debates of its three Standing Committees.
The Governing Council returned to the discussion it had held at the 110th Assembly in Mexico City on the subject of the Cardoso Panel report. It was informed that the IPU President and Secretary General had held meetings with President Cardoso and the United Nations Secretary-General, and also with a large number of parliamentary Speakers and leaders, to discuss the Panel's recommendations. The Council noted that several of those recommendations coincided with the aims of the IPU, such as the call to strengthen the interaction between parliaments and the United Nations. However, despite some minor revisions, the report maintained the suggestion that the United Nations create its own inter-parliamentary structures.
The Governing Council noted that the Preparatory Committee for the Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments had also discussed the question and that it had decided to consult all parliamentary leaders in order to formulate collective views. Meanwhile, the Permanent Representatives of the Members' countries in New York were urged to ensure that the United Nations General Assembly took no decision on the matter until the 60th General Assembly in 2005. It was agreed that the most suitable channel for submitting to the United Nations the views of the world parliamentary community on its relations with that body would be through the Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments, to be held in New York in September 2005.
The Council approved the resolution that would be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly under the item on United Nations-IPU cooperation. It was of paramount importance that the resolution be adopted without amendment, as it would define the forthcoming World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments as a joint United Nations-IPU meeting, thereby forestalling potential difficulties in the issuance of visas for all participants. Members were asked to ensure that their countries' Permanent Representatives in New York had instructions to sponsor the draft resolution.
The Council also approved two project proposals for the establishment of special committees: one concerning HIV/AIDS, and the other on child protection. The two proposals had been prepared in conjunction with UNAIDS and UNICEF, respectively. It decided to take up those questions again at its 176th session in Manila, once ideas for membership and funding of those bodies were more advanced.
The formal launch of Volunteerism and Legislation: A Guidance Note, jointly produced by the IPU, UNV and the IFRC, took place during the Friday sitting of the Governing Council. The meeting heard statements by the Executive Coordinator of UNV, Mr. Ad de Raad, and the Acting Secretary General of the IFRC, Mr. Ibrahim Osman. Members welcomed the publication, and stressed the core role that volunteers played in the development and well-being of societies. The three partner organisations pledged to continue their joint work and to implement the suggestions of the Guidance Note, working with national parliaments.
5. Cooperation with other organisations
The Governing Council was informed that the Secretary General had been consulted by representatives of WSP International and the International Peace Academy, which were keen to see greater involvement by parliaments in the scrutiny of the work done by external partners in countries beset by conflict. The Council agreed that a proposal would be made to those organisations' forthcoming Peacebuilding Forum, to the effect that the IPU should encourage parliaments in fragile societies and post-conflict countries to invite major external actors to discuss their programmes in terms of nationally defined priorities.
6. Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments
The Governing Council heard a report on the second meeting of the Preparatory Committee of the Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments.
The Preparatory Committee had reviewed the report on the replies to the questionnaire on good practices for action taken by parliament to consolidate its involvement in international affairs, and decided that a final report would be presented to the Speakers' Conference in 2005. The Committee then proposed that the IPU develop a framework of criteria and good practice for addressing democracy within countries, focusing specifically on parliament. The IPU President was asked to set up a working group of members of parliament and experts to prepare the framework. A status report should be delivered to the Conference in 2005.
The Preparatory Committee debated the recommendations contained in the report of the Cardoso Panel on relations between the United Nations and civil society, which referred specifically to parliaments. It agreed that the Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments would be an ideal opportunity for the IPU to present its conclusions on the matter.
The Committee requested the President and the Secretary General of the IPU to prepare a first draft of the declaration of the Speakers' conference, and to circulate it to all Members for comments and suggestions. The Committee would then finalise the text at its third meeting, to be held in Libreville, Gabon, from 19 to 21 May 2005. Finally, the Speakers issued a joint declaration on the hostage crisis in Beslan, condemning the use of violence as a means to achieve political ends.
7. Recent specialized conferences and meetings
The Governing Council took note of the results of the Meeting of Speakers of Parliaments of the countries neighbouring Iraq on the constitutional process in that country. At the close of the Meeting, a Statement had been adopted, which had subsequently been circulated as an official document of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, at the request of the Government of Jordan. It had also been communicated to the United Nations Secretary-General and to the Interim Government that had been established on 28 June 2004.
The Council also noted the outcome of the Parliamentary Meeting on the occasion of UNCTAD XI, a Seminar for the Arab region on Parliament and the budgetary process, including from a gender perspective , and the African Parliamentary Conference on Refugees in Africa: The challenges of protection and solutions.
8. Reports of committees and other bodies
At its sitting on 1 October, the Governing Council took note of the reports on the activities of the Coordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians, the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, the Meeting of the CSCM Coordinating Committee, and the Gender Partnership Group.
9. Future inter-parliamentary meetings
The Governing Council took note of the meetings previously listed on the Union's programme of work for the next 12 months, and approved new activities for 2005, including: the Fourth CSCM, to be held in Athens in February 2005; a seminar on Parliaments, environmental management and sustainable development to be held in partnership with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), in Paris in early 2005; an African regional conference on female genital mutilation, to be held in February 2005 at a venue to be determined; a seminar for Latin American parliaments on Parliament and the budgetary process, including from a gender perspective, to be held in March at a venue to be determined; a one-day parliamentary meeting on the occasion of the 49th session of the Commission on the Status of Women: Beijing + 10 entitled Beyond Beijing: gender equality in politics at UN Headquarters in New York; and the third meeting of the Preparatory Committee of the Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments, to be held in Libreville from 19 to 21 May 2005.
The Governing Council also decided that the IPU would sponsor a thematic workshop on the role of parliaments in the implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, organised by the OPCW and to be held in The Hague on 26 November 2004