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(Geneva, 13-15 October 2008)
1. Opening of the Assembly
The 119th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union opened its proceedings at the Geneva International Conference Centre in the morning of Monday, 13 October 2008. The President of the IPU, Mr. P.F. Casini, welcomed the participants and declared the 119th Assembly officially open. He was subsequently elected President of the Assembly, and the Vice-President of the Executive Committee, Mr. A. Radi (Morocco), was elected Vice-President.
Delegations of the following 134 Member Parliaments took part in the work of the Assembly: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The following Associate Members also took part in the Assembly: the East African Legislative Assembly, the Inter-Parliamentary Committee of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), the Latin American Parliament, the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Observers included representatives of: (i) United Nations system: United Nations, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO); (ii) World Bank, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and World Trade Organization (WTO); (iii) African Parliamentary Union (APU), Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union (AIPU), Asian Parliamentary Assembly (APA), Assembly of the Western European Union (WEU), Association of Senates, Shoora and Equivalent Councils in Africa and the Arab World (ASSECAA), Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), Confederation of Parliaments of the Americas (COPA), European Parliamentarians for Africa (AWEPA), Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Eurasian Economic Community (EURASEC), Maghreb Consultative Council, Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (PABSEC), Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and the Russian Federation, Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum, Transitional Arab Parliament (TAP); (iv) Human Rights Watch, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
Of the 1,197 delegates who attended the Assembly, 532 were members of national parliaments. The parliamentarians included 37 Speakers, 41 deputy Speakers and 158 women parliamentarians (29.7%).
3. Choice of an emergency item (Item 2)
The Assembly had before it a consolidated request for the inclusion of an emergency item submitted by the delegations of Belgium, Egypt, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. The item, entitled "The role of parliaments in containing the global financial crisis and its economic impact, both on developing and developed countries", was unanimously adopted by the Assembly and added to the agenda as Item 6.
4. Debates and decisions of the Assembly and of the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs
(a) Debate on the emergency item
The role of parliaments in containing the global financial crisis and its economic impact, both on developing and developed countries (Item 6)
The debate on the emergency item took place in the afternoon of Monday, 13 October. It was chaired in turn by the President and by Mr. A. Kozlovskiy (Russian Federation), acting as Vice-President. A total of 30 speakers from 29 parliamentary delegations and one observer took part.
During the debate, speakers expressed concern about the current crisis and underlined the serious impact it was having on developing and developed countries. They called for greater transparency of financial markets, for regulation of the financial sector so as to prevent future financial crises, for oversight of financial institutions and for central banks and currency control agencies to implement precautionary policies. They also spoke of the need to reduce the social consequences of the financial crisis and called on the IPU to convene an international parliamentary conference as soon as possible to examine the causes and effects of the international financial crisis, so as to identify ways of dealing with its consequences. These and other concerns and initiatives were reflected in the resolution prepared by a drafting committee made up of members of the delegations of Belgium, Egypt, India, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and Venezuela. The drafting committee appointed Mr. B. Apte (India) as its president and rapporteur.
The draft resolution was adopted unanimously by the Assembly on Wednesday, 15 October.
(b) Report of the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs (Item 4)
The IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs convened on 13 and 15 October 2008 under the chairmanship of Mr. F.M. Vallersnes (Norway). Its Advisory Group met on 14 October to deliberate and draft the conclusions of the Committee’s 2008 session. The Committee’s report was presented to the Assembly on 15 October by Ms. N. Madlala-Routledge (South Africa) and endorsed by acclamation.
The Committee took stock of the United Nations Secretary-General’s 2008 Report on Cooperation between the United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union contained in UN General Assembly document A/63/228. It welcomed the strong and growing partnership between the two organizations and endorsed the recommendations formulated by the United Nations Secretary-General. It encouraged parliaments to secure the fullest possible support from their foreign ministries for a strong General Assembly resolution, based on his conclusions.
The Committee discussed a draft survey on parliaments’ interaction with the United Nations. The survey proposed to determine the manner in which parliaments related to the UN system, to the special meetings and major negotiating processes under way at the United Nations, and to UN country offices. All parliaments were urged to submit their responses to the survey no later than 30 November 2008. The survey conclusions, including good practices and recommendations for future action, would be discussed at the 120th IPU Assembly, in Addis Ababa.
The Committee received the report of its Advisory Group meeting of 18 July 2008, and expressed strong support for the Group’s work. It encouraged the Advisory Group to continue to give priority to those questions falling within its mandate, such as United Nations reform at the country level, which were conducive to practical activities through which the IPU and national parliaments could make a real difference on the ground.
The Committee welcomed the report on its Advisory Group’s field mission to Tanzania to evaluate the One UN reform and gauge parliament’s part in the process. It endorsed the report’s conclusions calling for parliament to play a more dynamic role in the conception, implementation and oversight of national development plans, which implied increased involvement in the upstream planning of the national budget.
The Committee was convinced that the One UN reform in Tanzania would lead to more efficient delivery of development aid. It therefore urged parliaments also in other countries to encourage a more coherent approach to aid delivery at the country level, where appropriate along the lines of the One UN principles, and to promote greater effectiveness, transparency and accountability of UN operations at the national level.
The Committee welcomed the results of the Third High-level Forum on Aid Effectiveness and the ensuing Accra Agenda for Action. It was particularly pleased at the Forum’s acknowledgement that successful implementation of the Agenda would require national parliaments to play an enhanced role and bear greater responsibility in the preparation of national development plans, the integration of international development assistance into national budgets and the monitoring of development policies, strategies and performance. It urged all national parliaments to follow this process closely and act on the recommendations.
The Committee urged members of parliament, while duly respecting the principle of the separation of powers, to join national delegations to major international events and conferences more systematically, particularly those relating to development cooperation and other major global issues.
As national parliaments and the IPU expanded their work in the area of development cooperation, the Committee called for the IPU to engage in more structured dialogue with international financial institutions, in particular the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The Committee heard presentations from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization on the food crisis and its health implications. It held a debate on the topic, and identified possible avenues for action and cooperation by national parliaments.
(c) Panel discussion (First Standing Committee subject item at 120th Assembly):
Advancing nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and securing the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: The role of parliaments (Item 3(a))
The panel discussion took place in the morning of 14 October. It was chaired by Mr. T. Boa (Côte d’Ivoire), President of the Standing Committee on Peace and International Security. The co-Rapporteurs, Mr. R. Price (Australia) and Mr. J. Mwiimbu (Zambia), presented their draft report which focused on the current situation, the challenges ahead, and the role and responsibility of parliaments and parliamentarians. Participants also heard keynote presentations from Mr. T. Toth, Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission of the Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and Mr. A. Ware, Global Coordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.
A lively discussion followed, with some 50 legislators from as many parliaments taking the floor. Participants recognized that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation were crucial matters, and that their constituencies expected them, as parliamentarians, to play a more active role in overcoming some of the major impediments to the current nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime. As one participant remarked, the abolition of nuclear weapons would not only rid the world of one of the greatest threats to its security and survival, but would also open the doors to the international collaboration required to solve other key global problems.
Inversely, the point was made that in today’s world, marked by dramatic climate change, depleting oil reserves and daunting development challenges, a revival of nuclear energy could not be ruled out. Due to technological advances, making a clear distinction between the development of peaceful nuclear capacity on the one hand and military nuclear capacity on the other was becoming increasingly difficult, and the distinction often became a purely political one. The international community, therefore, needed a clear, comprehensive and non-discriminatory approach, based on a set of common guidelines, safeguards and verification mechanisms.
The gender dimension of nuclear non-proliferation was also raised, as women and children tended to become the weakest link in a brutal economic system where nuclear waste was dumped in poor regions with few or no safeguards in place. That had a devastating impact on the world’s most vulnerable populations.
Participants evoked a series of good practices and bold legislation that might inspire other parliaments to take action. Examples included the establishment of nuclear-free zones, the voluntary renouncement of nuclear capacity, pension fund regulations to prevent investments in nuclear activities, and the leading role played by some parliaments in expediting ratification and implementation of major international treaties. Several delegations stated their intention to contribute to the early entry into force of the CTBT, preferably before the next review conference in 2010.
(d) Panel discussion (Second Standing Committee subject item at 120th Assembly):
Climate change, sustainable development models, and renewable energies (Item 3(b))
The panel discussion took place in the afternoon of 14 October 2008, with Mr. P. Martin-Lalande (France), President of the Second Standing Committee on Sustainable Development, Finance and Trade, in the chair. The panel provided an opportunity for IPU Members to deepen their understanding of the subject item to be debated at the 120th IPU Assembly. In addition to the two co-Rapporteurs, Mr. H J. Fuchtel (Germany) and Mr. Á. Lins (Brazil), who were to prepare a report and a draft resolution on the agenda item for the next Assembly, the panel included two experts, Mr. C. Frei, Senior Director, Energy Industries and Strategy, World Economic Forum, and Mr. C. Nuttall, Director, Centre for Innovative Partnerships, UNDP.
The four panellists’ introductory statements were followed by a lively exchange of views, with a total of 38 delegates taking the floor. While agreeing on the pressing need for concerted global action to mitigate the effects of climate change, delegates offered widely differing views on what sources of energy could offer the best solution in terms of reducing the carbon footprint of human activity. The controversy surrounding the use of nuclear energy and biofuels as alternatives to fossil fuel energy production drew particular attention.
It was noted that parliaments bore their share of responsibility for preserving the planet's natural resources and safeguarding ecological sustainability in the sense of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The challenge could be met only if industrialized countries, emerging economies and developing countries established a global development partnership and worked together to eradicate poverty and hunger. During the debate, delegates proposed a number of additions to the texts of the draft reports prepared by the co-Rapporteurs.
(e) Panel discussion (Third Standing Committee subject item at 120th Assembly):
Freedom of expression and the right to information (Item 3(c))
The panel discussion took place in the morning of 14 October 2008. It was chaired by Mr. D. Cánepa (Uruguay), President of the Standing Committee on Democracy and Human Rights. The co-Rapporteurs, Mr. A. Dismore (United Kingdom) and Mr. P. Rashtrapal (India), replacing Mr. K. Malaisamy, informed participants of progress made in the preparation of their report and draft resolution.
They highlighted the main issues addressed in the draft report and called on the participants to make inputs in order to enrich the final report and inform the draft resolution under preparation. Participants also heard keynote presentations from Ms. P. Tlakula, Commissioner of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, and Ms. A. Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, a human rights organization. Some 37 delegates also took the floor to address those issues.
Participants stressed the importance of freedom of expression to democracy. While all citizens needed to enjoy this right, they should do so responsibly. Freedom of expression should be exercised with due regard for other people’s rights and reputation. Furthermore, tolerance and respect for religious and cultural beliefs of diverse segments of the population should be encouraged.
Freedom of expression required a strong and independent media that was able to express the diverse views of society. Press censorship was inimical to democracy. Rather, the press should adopt self-regulatory mechanisms and codes of conduct that prevented abuse. State authorities should also refrain from curtailing media freedom in the name of fighting terrorism or invoking emergency measures.
Discussions focused on the need for State-controlled media to implement the necessary transformation to become a full-fledged public service tool in the interest of all. Plurality and diversity of media ownership was also highlighted as essential to freedom of expression.
Participants stressed that access to information was a fundamental right of all citizens and that State institutions were the custodians of information on behalf of the people. It should be mandatory for them to provide such information to enable citizens to make informed choices. Efforts should be made to limit the circumstances under which information could be withheld, for instance, in cases of State secrecy.
Parliaments and their members had an important role to play to ensure transparency of their internal processes but also to promote and protect citizens’ right of access to information. They should adopt and oversee implementation of an appropriate legislative framework. Parliaments were also called on to work towards the removal of other barriers to access, for instance, by combating illiteracy and promoting new means of delivering information to the public, including the Internet. Citizens should be able to access information in an equitable fashion and every effort should be made to avoid a situation where impediments to access aggravated socio-economic inequalities, especially in respect of women, who were often the victims of stereotyping.
5. Amendments to the Statutes and Rules of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (Item 5)
At its first sitting on Monday, 13 October, the Assembly had before it a proposal, previously endorsed by the Governing Council, to amend Article 3 of the Statutes in order to make it possible for the Parliament of Palestine to become a Member of the IPU. It heard the delegate of Israel, who expressed his delegation's opposition to the adoption of the proposed amendment.
The Assembly adopted the amendment by a roll-call vote, in accordance with Article 16.1 of the Statutes of the IPU. The results of the vote were 1,219 in favour, 93 against and 230 abstentions.