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(Addis Ababa, 6 and 10 April 2009)
1. Membership of the IPU
At its sitting on 6 April, the Governing Council approved a request for reaffiliation from the Parliament of Bangladesh, and on 10 April it suspended the parliaments of Guinea and Madagascar on the grounds that their dissolution had been unconstitutional. The IPU currently comprises 153 Member Parliaments.
At its first sitting, the Governing Council approved a request for observer status from the Socialist International. It also agreed to add organizations with which the IPU shared general objectives and had a close and mutually beneficial working relationship as a new sub-category of international organizations to which it could grant observer status, and subsequently granted observer status to the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF).
At its second sitting, the Governing Council heard a report by the President on the Executive Committee’s deliberations on the subject of the representation of Palestine in the IPU. The delegation of Palestine had voiced disagreement with the terms the Governing Council had used at its previous session to define the status of full member. It had wanted the Governing Council to accept as a parliament the institution which the Palestine Liberation Organization had designated to represent all Palestinians. The Executive Committee had concluded, however, that that would have been irreconcilable with the Governing Council’s duty to uphold the IPU’s Statutes and Rules as amended at its previous session. Following an exchange of views in which the delegations of Palestine and several other Members took part, the President of the Governing Council ruled that the matter could not be submitted for any decision at that sitting.
2. Financial results for 2008
The Governing Council considered the Annual Financial Report and Audited Financial Statements for 2008. The Financial Statements showed that the IPU had had an operating surplus of CHF 582,148 in 2008 before posting the CHF 1,296,000 increase in the net actuarial liability of the legacy Staff Pension Fund. As a result, the balance of the Working Capital Fund had fallen to CHF 5,082,251. Meanwhile, the reserve funds for repairs to the House of Parliaments and for carbon offsetting had risen by a net amount of CHF 88,894.
The internal auditors, Mr. H.-J. Fuchtel (Germany) and Mr. P.C. Appiah-Ofori (Ghana), reported that they were satisfied with the financial performance of the IPU in 2008 and with the presentation of the Financial Statements. For the future, they recommended that management systems and structures should be strengthened, budgets made more realistic and project implementation accelerated, that care should be taken to limit travel expenditures and that sanctions should be imposed more promptly on Members who were in arrears in the payment of their contributions. The Secretary General informed the Governing Council of the procedures that were already in place to ensure proper management and respect for existing rules.
On the recommendation of the internal auditors, the Governing Council approved the Financial Statements, the withdrawal of CHF 12,306 from the reserve for major repairs, and the Secretary General's financial administration of the IPU in 2008.
3. Financial situation
The Governing Council was given an overview of the IPU's financial situation at the beginning of 2009. Erratic currency markets, low yields on investments, collapsing equity values and fiscal restraint all represented risks to financial operations. Nevertheless, the IPU had a strong balance sheet and was well positioned to weather the economic crisis. Funding for three unforeseen activities, namely the parliamentary conference on the economic and financial crisis, IPU participation in the UN Conference on Climate Change, and a world opinion survey in the context of the International Day of Democracy, would be found from existing resources. Revenues and expenditures would be monitored carefully throughout the year to ensure they were balanced.
4. Environmental policy of the IPU
The Governing Council unanimously adopted an environmental policy framework within which the IPU would carry out its future activities. The policy sets out environmental objectives and requirements, including the requirement for regular reporting on environmental performance. The Governing Council also approved a supplementary appropriation in the amount of CHF 80,400 from the funds set aside to offset carbon emissions in 2008 and 2009, to be applied to the cost of the parliamentary activity at the UN Conference on Climate Change.
5. Cooperation with the United Nations system
The Governing Council took stock of recent developments in IPU-United Nations cooperation, considered reports on a variety of UN-related activities and approved a calendar of forthcoming initiatives and meetings. For the list of activities undertaken in cooperation with the United Nations system since the 119th IPU Assembly, click here.
The Governing Council welcomed the adoption by consensus, in November 2008, of a substantive General Assembly resolution on cooperation between the United Nations and the IPU (A/RES/63/24) sponsored by 67 UN Member States. The resolution encouraged closer cooperation between the IPU and the UN system, in particular its new bodies: the Peacebuilding Commission, the Development Cooperation Forum and the Human Rights Council. It called for a regular exchange between the IPU’s leadership and the UN Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), and provided for a new and separate agenda item allowing future sessions of the General Assembly to focus on cooperation between the United Nations, national parliaments and the IPU. The resolution welcomed the growing practice of including legislators in national delegations to major UN meetings, which enhanced the visibility of joint UN-IPU hearings.
The Governing Council welcomed recent IPU initiatives to place greater emphasis on the global development agenda. The conclusions of the 2008 Development Cooperation Forum (DCF) highlighted the role of parliaments in support of the aid effectiveness agenda. Building on its partnership with the DCF, the IPU participated in the International Review Conference on Financing for Development (Doha, November 2008), held a parliamentary hearing on the eve of the main event, addressed the plenary with a parliamentary message endorsed by the full IPU membership and welcomed the strong reference to parliaments in the Doha outcome document. The current programme of joint UN-IPU activities focused in particular on implementation of all the Millennium Development Goals, as reflected in the calendar of recent and upcoming events.
The Governing Council heard a brief overview of the report on the recent field trip to Viet Nam conducted by the Advisory Group of the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs. The report, which would be discussed in greater detail during the 121st IPU Assembly, formulated a series of recommendations on implementation of One United Nations reform at the national level and the role and responsibility of parliaments in that process. Particular emphasis was placed on the preparation of national development plans and the organization of the consultation and decision-making process among national authorities, donors and the UN system in support of such development plans. The broader question of how national parliaments organized their work vis-à-vis the United Nations would also be considered during the 121st IPU Assembly.
The Governing Council took note of some of the main United Nations activities that were of particular importance to parliaments and the IPU. It endorsed the budget allocations needed for the IPU to convene a parliamentary meeting on the global economic crisis and the response of the international community (including the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the G20) in Geneva on 7 and 8 May 2009. The conclusions of that meeting would serve as the IPU’s input to the UN High-level Conference on the world financial and economic crisis and its impact on development, to be held in New York in early June. The Governing Council was also informed of the preparations being made by the IPU and the Parliament of Denmark for a parliamentary meeting to be held in Copenhagen on 16 December in the context of the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP15), which is expected to adopt a new international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, set to expire in 2012. In approving the event, the Governing Council recognized its political importance and the fact that parliaments would be called on to help build support for a favourable outcome and ensure the early ratification and implementation of the new international agreement.
6. Consolidation of the reform of the Inter Parliamentary Union
Acting on its decision to conduct an evaluation of the second Assembly of the year, the Governing Council received a consultation paper from the Executive Committee and agreed that the geopolitical groups should continue consultations on the questions set out in the paper with a view to submitting the matter for decision at the next session.
The Governing Council also discussed the question of parliamentary organizations and networks and relations between the IPU and the different types of bodies. It agreed that the IPU could do more to strengthen collaboration with those organizations, and endorsed a proposal that they be invited to a debate during the next meeting of the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs in order to discuss their relationship and cooperation with the United Nations.
The Council also looked at the role of the six Vice-Presidents, agreeing that one of them would also act as Vice-President of the Executive Committee in accordance with Rule 5.2 of the Committee’s Rules. The Council noted that the six Vice-Presidents would assist the President, who would assign tasks to them as he saw fit. Primarily, the President would ask the Vice-Presidents to represent him in their own region, or at events organized by the IPU or to which the IPU had been invited. The President could also assign tasks to the Vice-Presidents in specific subject areas.
7. Action by the IPU to strengthen parliaments and democracy
The Governing Council took note of a report on activities carried out by the IPU in the four focal areas of its democracy work, namely: strengthening parliaments, promoting human rights, promoting women’s participation in political life, and generating knowledge and setting standards for democratic parliaments.
The vast majority of those activities were aimed at helping parliaments operating in post-conflict situations play an active role in national reconciliation processes, promoting dialogue and inclusiveness in decision-making and encouraging tolerance. In 2008, the IPU provided technical support to 15 parliaments, seven of which were operating in the aftermath of conflict. It backed parliamentary efforts to establish standards of integrity for parliamentarians and develop long-term strategic plans for parliamentary development. It adopted innovative modes of delivering assistance to parliaments. For instance, in cooperation with the World Bank Institute, it designed a poverty-reduction training programme for parliaments in conflict-affected countries using distance-learning technologies. Increasingly, the IPU also lent support to parliamentary efforts to contribute to efficient management of development aid. As part of those activities, the IPU worked closely with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the UN Development Cooperation Forum to promote aid effectiveness.
In the area of human rights, the IPU had cause to rejoice as many parliamentarians whose cases had been pending before the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians had been released from jail. That was the case of parliamentarians from Colombia, Egypt and Palestine. However, the continuing imprisonment and victimization of parliamentarians in many countries, such as Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador and Sri Lanka, remained a cause for concern. In early 2009, the IPU initiated a study that would analyse political party control of party members in parliament and its implications for freedom of expression. A project to promote the involvement of French-speaking African parliaments in the work of UN human rights treaty bodies had been successfully wrapped up, with many beneficiary parliaments adopting enabling legislation and other measures.
Apart from tracking and publishing data on women’s participation in politics, the IPU continued to support efforts to encourage greater involvement of women in political life, mainly in those regions where they were grossly underrepresented, namely the Gulf States and the Asia-Pacific region. Many advocacy and capacity-building activities were carried out in those regions. A major project was also launched in 2008 to promote parliament’s contribution to combating violence against women.
In 2008, the IPU published a self-assessment toolkit for parliaments. The kit was intended to enable parliaments to assess their own performance against a set of universally agreed criteria, with a view to identifying shortcomings that could be corrected through a variety of measures, including parliamentary reform. The toolkit was used successfully in a number of strategic planning exercises, notably in Algeria, Cambodia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. The IPU also initiated a project to promote more inclusive parliaments, in terms of representation for minorities and indigenous groups. The project mapped such representation and the mechanisms that parliaments had put in place to ensure that those groups, where they existed, participated meaningfully in parliament. The findings of an initial survey would be used to advocate more inclusiveness and build the capacity of parliaments in that area.
The IPU, in cooperation with the joint UN-IPU Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, had published an updated version of the IPU 2000 Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites. The new version took into account recent developments in information and communication technologies (ICTs) and how parliaments were using them to publicize their work.
Overall, the IPU’s democracy work expanded in 2008, thanks to the availability of increased resources resulting from a determined mobilization effort based on a longer-term and more strategic approach.
The Governing Council took note of activities undertaken by the IPU and national parliaments to celebrate the first International Day of Democracy on 15 September 2008. It endorsed proposals for the celebration of the second International Day in 2009, under the theme Democracy and political tolerance. Activities planned by the IPU included:
8. HIV-related travel restrictions
The Governing Council endorsed a set of recommendations developed by the UNAIDS International Task Team on HIV-related Travel Restrictions, in which the IPU had participated. The recommendations, directed at governments, international and intergovernmental organizations, the private sector and civil society, call for the elimination of HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence.
9. Recent specialized conferences and meetings
The Governing Council took note of the results of the meeting on "Informing democracy: Building capacity to meet parliamentarians’ information and knowledge needs", the Annual Parliamentary Hearing at the United Nations, the Seminar on Maternal Health and Child Survival, the Parliamentary Hearing at the Follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development to Review the Implementation of the Monterrey Consensus, the Third Conference for members of parliamentary committees on the status of women and other committees dealing with gender equality, the Regional seminar on "Developing a protective framework for children: The role of parliamentarians to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation of children and adolescents", the Third Regional Conference of Women Parliamentarians and Women in Decision-making Positions of the GCC States, the Regional training seminar on HIV/AIDS for the parliaments of the Southern African Development Community and the East African Community , the Regional Seminar for West African French-speaking Parliaments on women's rights, the Parliamentary Meeting on the occasion of the 53rd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the Regional seminar for French-speaking African parliaments on human rights treaty bodies, and the Regional Seminar on the role of parliaments in promoting peaceful and sustainable societies in South-East Asia.
10. Reports of plenary bodies and specialized committees
At its sitting on 10 April, the Governing Council took note of the reports on the activities of the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians and its Coordinating Committee, the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, the Committee on Middle East Questions, the Group of Facilitators for Cyprus, the Committee to Promote Respect for International Humanitarian Law, the Gender Partnership Group, and the Advisory Group on HIV/AIDS.
11. Future inter-parliamentary meetings
In addition to the meetings previously approved, the Governing Council approved the Conference on MDG5 (maternal health), to be organized jointly by the IPU and WHO in November 2009 at a venue to be decided, and the Regional Seminar on HIV/AIDS (Viet Nam, November/December). It also approved the Parliamentary meeting on the occasion of COP15 (Copenhagen, 16 December).
The Governing Council approved the venue of Panama City for the 124th IPU Assembly from 16 to 21 April 2011. It endorsed the conclusions of a paper on the provision of visas and other matters relating to the attendance of delegates at IPU Assemblies. It emphasized that the IPU was founded on the fundamental principle that differences are resolved through discussion and dialogue. It was therefore of fundamental importance to the Organization that the representatives mandated by Member Parliaments to take part in IPU Assemblies could do so.
Since the IPU was not part of the United Nations and was therefore not covered by any of the international conventions relating to privileges and immunities, the Governing Council agreed that it should continue to conclude agreements with host parliaments in respect of its Assemblies and other meetings. Such agreements should restate the basic provision guaranteeing that all delegates could effectively attend the events.
At the same time, noting that the IPU was an international organization inspired by the same ideals as the United Nations, whose objectives it shared and with whom it had concluded an agreement of cooperation, the Governing Council agreed that the IPU would respect travel bans decided by the United Nations.
The Council recommended that the IPU should codify its positions on some of the other issues that might arise when enforcing the basic principle, and that in so doing it should draw inspiration from United Nations practice. With regard to possible exceptions on national security grounds, it recommended observance of the practices described in the 1985 UN Juridical Yearbook, whereby in the rare instances where security concerns had been invoked by the host country as a reason to restrict the travel of delegates, the United Nations did not insist on the entry of persons in respect of whom substantial evidence of improper activities had been presented, the burden of proof in such matters lying with the host country.
12. Appointment of the Secretary General
The Governing Council discussed the procedure to be put in place to appoint a Secretary General when the incumbent’s mandate expired in 2010. The Executive Committee having unanimously decided to endorse a new mandate for Secretary General Mr. A.B. Johnsson, the Governing Council agreed to take a final decision through a secret ballot at its next session to be held in Geneva in October. If the proposal were rejected by the Council, a competitive process for electing a new Secretary General would be launched immediately after the session in October.