IPU Logo-middleInter-Parliamentary Union  
IPU Logo-bottomChemin du Pommier 5, C.P. 330, CH-1218 Le Grand-Saconnex/Geneva, Switzerland  

(Geneva, 19-21 October 2009)

  1. Opening of the Assembly
  2. Participation
  3. Choice of an Emergency Item
  4. Debates and decisions of the Assembly and of the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs

1.   Opening of the Assembly

The 121st Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union opened its proceedings at the Geneva International Conference Centre in the morning of Monday, 19 October 2009.  The President of the IPU, Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, welcomed the participants and declared the 121st Assembly officially open.  He was subsequently elected President of the Assembly and the Vice-President of the Executive Committee, Ms. Elissavet Papademetriou (Greece), was elected Vice-President.

At its last sitting, the Assembly endorsed two statements: one on the H1N1 virus and another on the situation in Honduras.

2.   Participation

Delegations of the following 123 Member Parliaments took part in the work of the Assembly:  Afghanistan, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Palestine, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, 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, the Latin American Parliament 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), Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO); (ii) World Bank, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and World Trade Organization (WTO); (iii) League of Arab States, 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), Confederation of Parliaments of the Americas (COPA), Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Eurasian Economic Community (EURASEC), Inter-Parliamentary Commission of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), Maghreb Consultative Council, Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (PABSEC), Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM), Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and the Russian Federation, Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States (PUOICM), Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum, Transitional Arab Parliament (TAP); (iv) Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and International IDEA.

Of the 1,154 delegates who attended the Assembly, 519 were members of parliament.  The parliamentarians included 24 Speakers, 41 Deputy Speakers and 164 women parliamentarians (31.6%).

3.   Choice of an emergency item (Item 2)

The Assembly had before it two proposals, a consolidated request for the inclusion of an emergency item submitted by the delegation of Australia and the delegation of Uganda, on behalf of the African Group, entitled Parliamentary action to ensure global food security, and a consolidated proposal presented by the delegation of Oman, on behalf of the Arab Group and with the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran, entitled The critical situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and particularly in Gaza. Following a vote, the proposal presented by the delegation of Australia and the delegation of Uganda, on behalf of the African Group, received the required two-thirds majority and was added to the agenda as Item 5.

4.   Debates and decisions of the Assembly and of the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs

(a)   Debate on the emergency item

Parliamentary action to ensure global food security (Item 5)

The debate on the emergency item took place in the afternoon of Monday, 20 October.  It was chaired by the Vice-President of the Assembly, Ms. E. Papademetriou (Greece). A total of 29 speakers from 28 parliamentary delegations and one observer took part.

During the debate, speakers expressed their concern over the various factors that directly affected food security, underlining the consequences of land degradation resulting from desertification and floods, and environmental degradation caused by climate change. They took note of the importance of the forthcoming Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15) and invited parliamentarians to be present at the event organized by the IPU on that occasion.

Many speakers underlined the importance of investment in scientific research to support agriculture in facing the growing food demand. Others drew attention to the danger of distortionary agricultural policies. There was a need to help the rural poor, men and women alike, to acquire technology, and gain access to a fair and open banking system, including micro financing.

The broad range of concerns expressed during the debates were reflected in the draft resolution prepared by a drafting committee, composed of members of the delegations of Australia, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Germany, India, Malaysia, Netherlands, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda, Uruguay and Venezuela.  The drafting committee appointed Mr. J.P. Winkler (Germany) as its president and Ms. N. Ahmad (Malaysia) as its rapporteur.

Following an amendment moved by the delegation of Venezuela, the draft resolution was adopted by consensus by the Assembly on Wednesday, 21 October. A reservation was entered by the delegation of India.

(b)   Report of the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs (Item 4)

The subject of food security was taken up once again in the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs. The Committee received Mr. J. Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and heard a comprehensive presentation on the current food crisis and preparations for the World Summit on Food Security, scheduled to take place in Rome in November. In the context of the Rome Summit, the IPU and the Italian Parliament would be holding a parliamentary meeting on 13 November, which members were encouraged to attend. The Director‑General’s presentation was followed by a question-and-answer session, which included suggestions for possible action and cooperation by parliaments.

The Committee began its work by taking stock of the responses received to the IPU Questionnaire on how parliaments organize their work vis-à-vis the United Nations. The Survey, mandated by the Committee following its previous session in October 2008, aimed to determine the manner in which parliaments related to the UN system, special meetings and major negotiating processes at the United Nations, and in UN country offices.

To date, 65 responses had been received, and a preliminary examination had already identified a series of good practices and recommendations that should be shared with the full IPU membership. All IPU Member Parliaments were encouraged to urgently submit their responses so that the review could be finalized and circulated. That evaluation would feed into the preparatory process for the 3rd World Conference of Speakers of Parliament.

The Committee began a discussion about cooperation between regional parliamentary organizations and the United Nations. It was recalled that in the 2005 Declaration of Speakers of Parliaments, the IPU was invited to cooperate more closely with regional parliamentary associations and organizations with a view to enhancing coherence and efficiency in global and interregional parliamentary cooperation. Although there were various activities at the national and regional levels, the Committee believed that there was scope for closer cooperation on policy with both regional and subregional parliamentary organizations.

The Committee heard a presentation on the status of United Nations reform and the report of the mission by its Advisory Group to Viet Nam earlier in the year. Such IPU missions to pilot countries undertaking One UN reform had enhanced the role of parliaments in developing national strategies and had established better mechanisms for parliaments to engage in international assistance and cooperation. The Committee welcomed the report, underscoring the need for a more coherent approach to aid delivery, which in turn should lead to greater effectiveness, transparency and accountability of UN operations. The Committee urged its Advisory Group to continue with such field missions and to report on progress.

The Committee heard a briefing from the Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat on the negotiations on climate change which, it was hoped, would lead to a firm agreement at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen. Parliamentarians pledged to engage with the authorities of their country to tackle remaining hurdles and join their national delegations to the COP15.  A parliamentary meeting would also be convened by the IPU and the Danish Folketing in Copenhagen on 16 December.

The Committee reviewed the implementation of the IPU’s recent resolution on Parliamentary oversight of State policies on foreign aid, and discussed the IPU’s involvement with the Development Cooperation Forum established by the United Nations Economic and Social Council. A senior United Nations official and the Director of the International Budget Partnership joined the Committee. The latter presented the results of the recent Study on the role of parliaments in budget transparency and accountability.

The Committee recommended that: parliaments ensure that national budgetary accounts were made public and follow up annual audit reports; strategic partnerships were developed between parliaments, civil society and supreme audit institutions; parliaments should contribute to a gradual change in donor practices, with a view to incorporating international aid in the regular budgetary exercise; and parliaments should be involved in drafting codes of practice for greater budget transparency. 

The Committee welcomed recent IPU initiatives in the area of aid effectiveness. Those included the IPU’s contribution to a regional initiative in Asia, called the Capacity Development for Development Effectiveness Facility, which aimed to build knowledge and capacities for greater development effectiveness. An expert study commissioned by the IPU to review parliamentary involvement in development policies and programmes in Zambia and the United Republic of Tanzania had also yielded promising results.

The IPU should prepare a handbook for parliamentarians on aid effectiveness. It was also suggested that additional case studies, representing wider regional representation, would be useful. Moreover, the IPU should assess the needs of parliament more systematically to measure the training they required in order to better analyse public finances, budgets and development programmes.

As the United Nations was approaching its 65th anniversary, the Committee reiterated its strong support for the mission, principles and objectives of the United Nations, in particular the need for all Member States to ensure full compliance with international law.

(c)   Panel discussion (First Standing Committee subject item at 122nd Assembly):

Cooperation and shared responsibility in the global fight against organized crime, in particular drug trafficking, illegal arms sales, human trafficking and cross border terrorism (Item 3(a))

The panel discussion took place in the morning of 20 October. It was chaired by Mr. T. Boa (Côte d’Ivoire), President of the Standing Committee on Peace and International Security. The co-Rapporteurs, Ms. M.T. Ortuño (Mexico) and Mr. A. Wiriyachai (Thailand), presented their draft report, which focused on the current situation of organized crime in the world, the existing and developing international legal framework, the challenges ahead, and the role and responsibility of parliaments and parliamentarians. Participants also heard keynote presentations from Mr. P. Lapaque, Chief of the Organized Crime and Anti-Money Laundering Unit of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Mr. A. Steen, Chairman of the British All-Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficking of Women and Children.

The panel was opened with a video presentation, which highlighted the sheer magnitude of organized crime around the world and the devastating effect it had on hundreds of thousands of innocent victims. Moving testimonies by victims of human trafficking underscored the extent of their suffering, but also the indifference with which their plight was treated by society at large. As Mr. A. Steen pointed out, hundreds of conferences were being held to discuss human trafficking, but few parliamentarians had actually ever met or talked to a victim of human trafficking. That was indicative of a certain disconnection between the work of public officials and lawmakers and the brutal reality on the ground.

A substantive discussion followed, with some 40 legislators from as many parliaments, as well as the representative of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), taking the floor. Participants presented their national experiences in combating the various forms of organized crime. They recognized the need for more concerted and intense action in dealing with that growing phenomenon in practically all countries. As one participant observed, national legislation and response mechanisms were moving at a snail’s pace, compared to the speed with which new and ever more aggressive forms of organized crime were being developed.

Public opinion was all too often unaware of the organized nature of human trafficking, a modern-day form of slavery. One participant drew attention to statistics according to which there were twice as many victims of human trafficking today than there were slaves in shackles during the 350 years of slavery. New or re-emerging forms of organized crime included piracy, abduction of children, domestic slavery and bartering, such as oil for weapons. The nexus between organized crime and political life also needed to be carefully examined.

Women and children tended to be the choice victims of the various networks of organized crime. With tighter security measures in place, more and more women were being used as shields to defend the real perpetrators of organized crime. They were the ones going to jail instead of the main ringleaders for prostitution, and they were used as pawns to carry out cross-border acts of terrorism and drug trafficking, roles traditionally reserved for men. All of those facts had a devastating impact on the world’s most vulnerable sectors of society, as well as on families and communities.

Victims needed to be protected, assisted and rehabilitated and under no circumstances treated as criminals. While in many societies good laws were in place, much more needed to be done in terms of real and effective implementation. The experience of the UK Parliament showed how a small group of legislators could take very effective action, overseeing government response and demanding more robust measures to tackle organized crime. A regional network of parliamentary action groups against human trafficking had been set up as the phenomenon knew no boundaries. The importance of other regional initiatives, such as joint databases and shared information and monitoring systems, could not be underestimated.

Participants agreed that in order to combat organized crime it was necessary to: (1) overcome the widespread indifference towards the victims of organized crime; (2) draw inspiration from the good practices and bold legislation that had been developed by many parliaments; and develop joint action and a strategic approach to the fight against organized crime.

(d)   Panel discussion (Second Standing Committee subject item at 122nd Assembly):

The role of parliaments in developing South-South and Triangular Cooperation with a view to accelerating achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (Item 3(b))

The panel discussion took place in the morning of 20 October, with Mr. P. Martin-Lalande (France), President of the Second Standing Committee, in the Chair.  The co-Rapporteurs, Mr. F.-X. de Donnea (Belgium) and Mr. G. Lubinda (Zambia) presented a draft report on the item with a view to fostering a more formal debate during the 122nd IPU Assembly in Bangkok. They pointed out that the subject of South-South cooperation was so vast that any attempt to make a comprehensive presentation would necessarily be lengthy.

That opinion was echoed by Mr. V. Yu, Coordinator of the Global Governance for Development Programme at the South Centre, who addressed the panel as an invited expert. The Centre was one of the leading intergovernmental think tanks of developing countries, providing quality technical analysis based on a political message of South-South solidarity and justice-based ideology.

Following the three introductory statements, an exchange of views took place, with a total of 36 delegates taking the floor, nearly one third of whom were women.  The delegates agreed that South-South cooperation was an essential ingredient in the new development agenda and that it offered viable opportunities for developing countries to pursue the objective of sustained economic growth.  That was all the more true in the context of the global economic crisis, when the South was facing additional constraints and challenges. 

Parliaments of both developed and developing countries should be proactive in building support for the innovative North-South development partnership models that had been agreed by the United Nations in Monterrey in 2002 and reaffirmed in Doha in 2008.

Regional integration as a specific form of South-South cooperation was examined.  The free movement of goods, services, capital and people stimulated investment, spurred economic growth and increased South-South trade.  The right mix of regional competition and measured protection was crucial to smooth integration into the global trading system. It also helped make regional integration an effective vehicle for growth and accelerated poverty reduction.  The weaker countries especially encountered difficulties associated with globalization, which made regional integration a mandatory and unavoidable approach.

Both the draft report and the panel discussion served as reminders that legislative support for South-South cooperation by parliaments was indispensable for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, in particular as they related to poverty reduction.

(e)   Panel discussion (Third Standing Committee subject item at 122nd Assembly):

Youth participation in the democratic process (Item 3(c))

The panel discussion took place in the afternoon of 20 October with Mr. Y. Zhumabayev (Kazakhstan), First Vice-President of the Standing Committee on Democracy and Human Rights, in the Chair. The co‑Rapporteur, Ms. M. Lugaric (Croatia), presented her draft report and invited participants to make proposals to enrich the final rapport and the draft resolution, which she was currently drafting. The participants also heard presentations by Ms. N. Shepherd, Chief of the United Nations Programme on Youth, Mr. A. Guerrero, Director of Partnerships at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Mr. R. Amalvy, Director of External Communication, World Scout Bureau. During the course of the debate, 37 delegates took the floor.

Young people had a right to participate in decision-making. One quarter of the world population should not be excluded from decision-making processes. The challenge was not only to guarantee youth the right to participate but also to guarantee the effective and efficient enjoyment of that right. Education that fostered participation was important.  So were promoting a culture of inclusion from an early age, building capacity, providing youth with the means to take action and youth representation in executive bodies.

Participation by youth in policy and decision-making and in the management of public affairs allowed them to contribute with a fresh perspective and make sure that their needs were taken into account and that laws, policies and programmes met those needs. Contrary to what young people often heard, youth were not only the future, they were also the present.  Parliamentary action should centre on both the fight against the exclusion of youth from political life and the apathy that they displayed towards the political process.

While the age group that corresponded to the category "youth" as defined by the United Nations ran from 15 to 24 years, preparations for youth participation should start much earlier and participation extended much longer.  Efforts to strengthen youth participation in politics could draw inspiration from the policies and strategies implemented to strengthen women’s participation in politics. Young women faced discrimination on two fronts - as youth and as women.

Ensuring greater participation by youth in parliament could be achieved by making sure that the minimum age for voting and the minimum age of eligibility for running for office was one and the same.  If young persons were considered able to vote, they should also be considered able to take up a seat in parliament.  Quotas could also be adopted to guarantee a minimum number of young people in parliament.

Regarding parliamentary structures, the establishment and proper functioning of parliamentary bodies dealing with youth issues was an important means of ensuring that their needs were taken on board.  Parliaments must guarantee the participation of youth in the work of their committees. A sound and modern communication strategy, based on new communication tools, should be adopted by parliaments with a view to informing and consulting youth.  Cooperation should also be forged among parliaments, youth parliaments and youth associations.

The IPU was urged to incorporate youth participation in its activities, along the lines of the measures that had been taken to promote women’s participation. It should require parliaments to include youth in their delegations. Moreover, it should set up a mechanism, as had been done for women, that would allow youth parliamentarians to meet and make a contribution to the work of the Organization for example by holding an alternative Assembly of Young Parliamentarians in the wings of statutory IPU Assemblies.

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