ANALYSIS OF STATUTORY PROVISIONS RELATING TO IPU MEMBERSHIP
Noted by the IPU Governing Council at its 191st session
(Quebec City, 24 October 2012)
The Statutory provisions relating to membership are simple and straightforward.
- Article 3.1 stipulates that "every Parliament constituted in conformity with the laws of a sovereign State whose population it represents and on whose territory it functions may request affiliation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union." Article 4.1 clarifies that the Governing Council takes a decision on admitting a parliament as a Member after hearing the opinion of the Executive Committee.
- Article 4.2 states that "when a Member of the Union has ceased to function" the Executive Committee shall forward an opinion to the Governing Council which decides on suspension of affiliation. Article 5.3 adds that a parliament can be liable to suspension if it is in arrears in the payment of three years of its contributions to the IPU.
- These provisions touch upon the very identity and nature of the IPU; who can belong to the organization and who cannot. It is therefore only natural that they have been discussed on numerous occasions by the IPU’s governing bodies throughout the organization’s history.
Admission of new Members
- Some of the discussions have centred on what is meant by a parliament. While elections constitute a fundamental element of democracy, the IPU has resisted introducing a formal requirement that parliaments must be elected to qualify for membership in the organization. This is therefore not part of the membership criteria.
- Similarly, the IPU has not wanted to express an opinion as to the effectiveness (or value) of the parliamentary institution that is seeking membership. The Executive Committee has repeatedly found that any attempt at evaluating the parliament is inherently subjective. It has avoided making any assumptions about the legitimacy of the institution.
- In the late 1950s and early 60s, the IPU debated the admission of new Members from divided States (e.g. on the Korean peninsula). The discussions were heated and often divisive. As a result, the Executive Committee set up a working party to look at the manner of interpreting Article 3 of the Statutes. The Committee put forward a set of principles that should be adhered to as far as possible with regard to the admission of new Members. In 1962, the Governing Council endorsed the principles that read as follows:
- It is essential that criteria of a juridical and not of a political nature should guide the IPU in the consideration of requests for affiliation;
- In conformity with IPU’s traditions, the policy followed in this respect should be inspired by a spirit of universality and by a desire to ensure, without any discrimination, the largest possible participation of representatives from the different political and social systems, among which cooperation is indispensable if peace in the world is to be maintained; and
- As an independent political organization, the IPU should not, when considering the question of new Members, be guided by rules borrowed from other organizations, for only if it discharges its responsibilities in this respect can it maintain its position in international affairs.
- Thus, for example, the IPU has not expressed an opinion on the representative nature of the parliament. The Executive Committee has not taken into account the percentage of eligible citizens that have taken part in the election of a parliament. Nor has it examined the extent to which parliament represents all sectors of society or, indeed, if more than one political party is present in parliament.
- The governing bodies have however added some formal criteria on what is meant by a parliament. They have clarified that membership requires the parliament in question "to be endowed according to domestic law with legislative powers and oversight of the Executive." While not included in the Statutes, the Governing Council endorsed this interpretation of Article 3 in 1993.
- Every parliament is dissolved at one point or another and elections are held for a new parliament. In those circumstances the question of continued membership does not arise. It is taken for granted that the new parliament meets the criteria for membership.
- In some unique circumstances this may give rise to discussion. At the time of the dissolution of countries in the 1990s (former Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union and Yugoslavia) the IPU maintained the membership of the new parliaments of the successor countries. The decisions were taken after the Executive Committee had satisfied itself that the parliaments in question met the criteria for membership contained in the IPU Statutes and according to the interpretation of Article 3.
Suspension of Members
- The question of loss of membership therefore only arises in cases involving the unconstitutional dissolution of parliament. In other words, when parliament is dissolved pending regular elections and those elections are subsequently held, the question of loss of membership in the IPU does not arise. However, when a coup d’état or similar event has taken place, which interrupts the constitutional order, the IPU governing bodies have almost always decided to suspend membership in the organization.
- When discussing these matters on past occasions, Members of the Executive Committee have consistently held that the IPU must never condone a coup d'état. If the Head of State, the military or any other actor has taken power and dismissed the parliament, that institution loses its membership in the IPU by virtue of having "ceased to function, as such".
- There have been exceptions. Most recently, the IPU did not suspend the membership of the parliaments of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Arguing that the unconstitutional dissolution of parliament in these three countries was part of democratization processes, the governing bodies decided to maintain their membership and to extend support to the transitional structures. This course of action has, however, been exceptional and is not covered by any statutory provisions.
- A not entirely dissimilar situation arose in the 1990s, when several countries replaced their parliaments with national congresses, which developed new constitutions and institutions of the State. Also at that time, the IPU decided to maintain the membership although, strictly speaking, there was no parliament that could make use of it. For that reason, the governing bodies also decided that there could be no "participation in IPU activities" by that Member. A similar course of action was taken when the Parliament of Thailand was replaced by an entirely appointed body following a military coup d’état.
Exclusion of Members
- At its last session, the Executive Committee had a brief initial exchange of views on whether the Parliament of Syria should be suspended or excluded from the organization. The argument was put forward that the parliament was not legitimate; that it did not represent all citizens since it had only been elected by one quarter of eligible citizens and only served to defend the interests of the current government.
- It is not the first time such a proposal is being put forward. In 1982, the Syrian delegation to the IPU proposed that an item be added to the Governing Council’s agenda to discuss the annexation by Israel of the Golan Heights. The text suggested that the Knesset should be excluded from the IPU.
- When debating this proposal, the Executive Committee made a number of points. They noted that the IPU strived for universality in its membership and contained no provision for exclusion of Members. Article 1.2 of the Statutes held that the IPU shall foster contacts, coordination and the exchange of experience among Parliaments and parliamentarians of all countries (emphasis added).
- The view was also put forward that it was not right to punish a parliament for the action taken by its government. To do so would run counter to the principle of separation of powers, which was defended by the IPU. The IPU President at the time stated that any discussion on the exclusion of a Member would sound the death-knell of the organization.
- At the end of their deliberations, the Executive Committee decided unanimously that "any proposal aiming at the exclusion of a Member (..) for reasons other than those laid down in Article 4, paragraph 2, of the Statutes, or aiming at any restriction of the rights of a Member (..) was to be considered as irreceivable."
- The IPU is founded on the basic tenet of dialogue as a means of solving differences. In order to be effective, it strives to achieve universal membership. This was most recently reconfirmed in the IPU Strategy for 2012–2017.
- The Statutes and Rules guide the organization. They do not contain any article that provides for the exclusion of Members. Those relating to suspension of membership are formulated, and have been applied, in a restrictive manner.
- The arguments put forward on past occasions in favour of a juridical as opposed to political interpretation of the Statutory provisions relating to membership seem as persuasive today as they were then. The Executive Committee may therefore wish to refrain from putting forward a new provision that would grant it discretionary powers to suspend membership or exclude a Member on political grounds.
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