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(Panama, 16 and 20 April 2011)
1. Membership of the IPU
At its sitting on 16 April, the Governing Council approved requests for affiliation submitted by the parliaments of the Federated States of Micronesia and Trinidad and Tobago. It considered developments with regard to the parliaments of Egypt and Tunisia. In order to accompany the transition currently under way in both countries and in the hope that free and fair elections would be held as announced, the Council decided to maintain the membership status of both parliaments.
The Council took note of the situation of several parliaments which were in arrears. It expressed particular concern at the situation of the parliaments of Comoros and Liberia, which were liable to suspension under Article 5.3 of the Statutes. It decided that it would suspend their membership in October 2011 unless they paid a substantial portion of their outstanding contributions before the Council’s next session.
The IPU currently comprised 157 Member Parliaments and nine Associate Members.
2. Financial results for 2010
The Governing Council considered the annual Financial Report and Audited Financial Statements for 2010. The Financial Statements showed that the IPU had recorded a small operating deficit of CHF 3,096 in 2010. After making provisions for the continuing actuarial loss of the legacy staff Pension Fund, the Council noted that the Working Capital Fund had been reduced by CHF 401,096, compared with CHF 145,561 in 2009. As a result, the balance of the Working Capital Fund stood at CHF 4,535,594 at the year end.
The Internal Auditor, Mr. M. Sheetrit (Israel), reported that after carrying out a financial and operational audit, he was satisfied with the presentation of the Financial Statements. In his opinion, the results disclosed by the IPU gave a fair overview of the financial gain/loss position. While he underlined the progress that had been made in the area of inventories, he recommended that the IT inventory be updated to remove obsolete items from the list. In the areas of travel and hotel expenditure, maximum levels should be respected. He also recommended that close attention be paid to four voluntary-funded projects, which showed very little or no activity. He was satisfied that the IPU Secretariat was making a clearer distinction between activities to be funded from voluntary contributions and those to be funded from the core budget. The Internal Auditor recommended that a professional actuarial study be carried out to obtain a more accurate estimate of the liability incurred by the IPU legacy Pension Fund. The Secretary General concurred with the Internal Auditor’s suggestions and assured him that they would be implemented.
The Internal Auditor encouraged Members who had not yet paid their contributions to do so.
On the recommendation of the Internal Auditor, the Governing Council approved the Financial Statements and the Secretary General's management of the IPU in 2010.
3. Financial situation
The Governing Council received an overview of the IPU's financial situation at 31 March 2011. The overall financial position of the IPU remained fairly stable. Arrears of contributions for past years had improved compared to the same period the previous year. At 31 March 2011, the total amount of outstanding contributions from previous years stood at CHF 607,000, compared to CHF 707,000 for the same period the year before. The overall level of expenditure had reached 81 per cent of the year-to-date budget. That was in line with previous years as implementation and expenditure were usually lower due to preparations for the first Assembly which, apart from staff salaries and normal operating expenses, accounted for the majority of first-quarter expenditure.
4. 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 (see the List of activities undertaken in cooperation with the UN system since the 123rd IPU Assembly).
The Governing Council welcomed the adoption, in December 2010, of General Assembly resolution 65/123 on Cooperation between the United Nations, national parliaments and the IPU. Adopted by consensus with the formal sponsorship of 90 UN Member States, the text represented a major step forward in the institutional relationship that was being developed between the United Nations and the IPU. In the resolution, Member States welcomed the parliamentary dimension provided by the IPU to the new UN bodies and the growing practice of including legislators as members of national delegations to major UN meetings. They decided to engage more systematically in organizing and integrating a parliamentary component of and contribution to major UN deliberative processes and reviews of international commitments. The next session of the UN General Assembly would see a stand-alone agenda item on interaction between the United Nations, parliaments and the IPU, and all Members were encouraged to prepare carefully for it.
The Governing Council was briefed by Mr. C. Núñez, Regional Director for Latin America of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), on the preparations for the High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS scheduled to take place in June 2011 at UN Headquarters in New York. The United Nations was hoping for strong participation by legislators in the Meeting, and welcomed the IPU’s initiative to convene a parliamentary session on that occasion.
The Governing Council adopted a Parliamentary Message to be delivered on the occasion of the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC IV), to be held in Istanbul from 9 to 13 May 2011. On the eve of the Conference (8 May), the IPU and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey would convene a one-day parliamentary meeting that would provide an opportunity to review parliaments’ role in the implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010, promote greater parliamentary awareness of the main issues on the LDC agenda, and ensure that the new programme of action for LDCs had a parliamentary dimension and that parliaments were actively involved in the programme’s implementation.
5. IPU Strategy for 2012-2017
The Governing Council took note of the draft IPU strategy for 2012 to 2017. The document had been prepared by the Executive Committee on the basis of proposals submitted by Member Parliaments, geopolitical groups and various IPU Committees. Member Parliaments were encouraged to debate the draft and submit comments or suggestions to the Secretariat by 30 June 2011. The draft strategy would be submitted to the Governing Council for adoption at its 189th session (Bern, October 2011).
The draft strategy contained a mission statement and set out a long-term vision for the organization. It charted a path for the IPU that would take it towards the fulfilment of that vision. The strategic directions were derived from the mission statement. They gave priority to three areas of work: democracy and parliaments, the involvement of parliaments at the international level and the IPU as an instrument of parliamentary cooperation.
The three strategic directions were interrelated and mutually reinforcing, with parliamentary cooperation at the centre. It underpinned all of the IPU’s work. Each strategic direction was composed of three objectives and several sub-objectives. Each objective was accompanied by a list of expected outcomes. The draft strategy was based on a careful analysis of the IPU today, the environment in which it operated, the challenges it faced and, most importantly, its considerable comparative advantages. In essence, the strategy sought to strengthen Member Parliaments' participation in the work of the IPU and their ownership of the organization.
Once adopted, the strategy would be put in place through selected activities in the annual programme of work and consolidated budget. To a large extent, they would be financed through the core budget. The level of funding through Members’ contributions would remain constant for the period covered by the strategy. Voluntary funding would have to be found to implement additional activities that were not funded by the core budget.
6. Action by the IPU to strengthen democracy and parliamentary institutions
The Governing Council took note of an oral report on recent IPU activities to strengthen parliaments and democracy in four key areas: building the capacities of parliaments, promoting gender equality in political life, defending and promoting human rights, and developing standards for democratic parliaments. The IPU devoted 27 per cent of its resources to democracy work.
In 2010, the IPU provided advice, guidance and technical assistance to a dozen parliaments, mainly in Africa and Asia, but also in Arab countries, specifically: Afghanistan, Algeria, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea Bissau, Lebanon, Maldives, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Togo and Viet Nam. It had recently concluded negotiations with the European Commission and UNDP on the launch of a major programme of assistance for the secretariat of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The IPU promoted implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It tracked progress made in the political representation of women, and in 2010 co-published with the United Nations a new edition of the Map of Women in Politics. It undertook a major study on gender-sensitive parliaments, the findings of which were made available at the 124th Assembly. It helped parliaments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Togo address gender issues and mainstream gender into their proceedings and had recently sent a mission to Tunisia to help the authorities introduce gender-sensitive provisions into future electoral legislation. IPU activities to promote parliamentary action to combat violence against women were conducted, with West and Central African parliaments meeting in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, to develop a plan of action. The Parliament of Mali was spearheading the fight against harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation.
The IPU continued to protect the human rights of parliamentarians through the IPU Committee devoted to that purpose. It facilitated networking among parliamentary human rights bodies. In response to the resolution on human trafficking adopted at the 122nd IPU Assembly (Bangkok, 2010), the IPU had initiated a major project to combat child trafficking for labour purposes in cocoa plantations in West and Central Africa. A regional parliamentary roadmap had been adopted in Benin in May 2010, and the IPU had assisted the parliaments of Benin, Burkina Faso, Gabon and Togo with its implementation.
The IPU promoted its 2006 Guide to good practice for democratic parliaments and the 2008 toolkit for self-assessment of parliamentary performance, which several parliaments were using. In 2010, the IPU had launched an unprecedented project, the Global Parliamentary Report. The first edition of the report would be published in early 2012 and would provide a bird’s eye view of the world’s parliaments, their members’ perspectives and the challenges they faced. The IPU had concluded a two-year project to promote inclusiveness in parliaments of minorities and indigenous peoples. The project had culminated in a conference held in Chiapas, Mexico, in November, which had adopted a declaration to encourage further work by the IPU and parliaments to enhance the political participation of minorities, indigenous and other marginalized groups.
The IPU supported the work of the UN Peacebuilding Commission, providing assistance to the parliaments of the countries on the Commission’s agenda. It continued to help the Parliament of Sierra Leone build a culture of dialogue and cooperation across the political spectrum. It provided assistance to the Parliament of Guinea Bissau, which had been identified as the focal point for mobilizing national reconciliation in the country, and to the Parliament of the Maldives, which was endeavouring to foster dialogue as a means of resolving differences between the majority and the opposition.
Other democracy-related work included celebration of the International Day of Democracy in cooperation with national parliaments. The IPU was working to bring the parliamentary processes of the two major democracy movements, the International Conference of New or Restored Democracies and the Community of Democracies, closer together.
7. Parliamentary action in support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and refugee protection
The Council was reminded that 2011 marked the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. To mark those important dates, the Council adopted a parliamentary statement reiterating support for refugee protection and for the work of UNHCR. Ms. N. Karsenty, UNHCR representative in Panama, took the floor to present the statement and information on ongoing UNHCR celebrations.
8. Recent specialized conferences and meetings
The Governing Council took note of the results of the Eastern and Southern Africa Parliamentary Regional Workshop on Children and AIDS: The social protection response, the role of the parliaments, the World e-parliament Conference 2010, the International Parliamentary Conference on parliaments, minorities and indigenous peoples: Effective participation in politics, the Annual Parliamentary Hearing at the United Nations, the Parliamentary Meeting on the occasion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP16/CMP6), the Regional Seminar for Twelve Plus Parliaments on youth participation in democracy, the Parliamentary Meeting on the occasion of the 55th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the Annual Session of the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO and the Regional seminar for West and Central African parliaments on combating violence against women.
9. Reports of plenary bodies and specialized committees
At its sitting on 20 April, the Governing Council heard the report of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians and adopted its resolutions on individual cases before the Committee. Representatives of the delegations of Israel, Malaysia and Zimbabwe expressed reservations or provided clarification on cases in their respective countries.
The Council took note of the reports on the activities of the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians and its Coordinating Committee, the Group of Facilitators for Cyprus, the Committee to Promote Respect for International Humanitarian Law and the Gender Partnership Group.
The Governing Council heard a report of the Committee on Middle East Questions. It also heard a statement by the delegation of Israel, which voiced disagreement with some of the views expressed by the Committee. The delegations of Algeria, France, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Kenya, Mexico and Palestine made statements, some of which referred to the need for geopolitical balance and adequate funding for the Committee.
10. Future inter-parliamentary meetings
The Governing Council welcomed the invitation by the Parliament of Ecuador to host the 128th IPU Assembly in Quito in March 2013. It looked forward to receiving a full report at its next session in order to approve the venue.
In addition to the meetings that had been previously approved, the Governing Council approved the Regional Conference to combat trafficking in children for purposes of labour exploitation (Cotonou, Benin, from 26 to 28 May), the Regional Seminar for Latin American parliaments on security challenges and parliamentary oversight, the Regional Seminar for Arab parliaments on violence against women and CEDAW, and the Conference on maternal health and child survival.
The Council approved a proposal to use the funds accumulated from offsetting CO2 emissions to cover part of the costs of the parliamentary conference on the occasion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP17/CMP7) as well as a climate change-related meeting for Pacific Island parliaments that would be organized together with the parliaments of Australia and New Zealand.