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(Geneva, 4-6 October 2010)
1. Opening of the Assembly
The 123rd Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union opened its proceedings at the Geneva International Conference Centre in the morning of Monday, 4 October, 2010. The President of the IPU, Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, welcomed the participants and declared the Assembly officially open. He was subsequently elected President of the Assembly and the Vice-Presidents of the IPU Vice-Presidents of the Assembly.
At the Opening, the Assembly endorsed a statement made by the President of the Assembly on the recent events in Ecuador. In his statement, the President said "I know that, like me, you have been watching the events in Ecuador with some consternation over recent days. I would like to state in the most unequivocal terms before this Assembly, and I believe I can say this on behalf of us all, that the IPU condemns the use of force against President Rafael Correa and wholeheartedly repudiates the recent threat to subvert constitutional order in the country.
We reiterate our support for and defence of the institution of parliament. The subversion of constitutional democracy and the defiance of the rule of law, which in this case has resulted in tragic loss of life, can never be condoned."
Delegations of the following 118 Member Parliaments took part in the work of the Assembly: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, 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, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Palestine, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Uruguay, 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, and the Transitional Arab Parliament.
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 Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); (ii) 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) International Organization for Migration (IOM), 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), Baltic Assembly, Commonwealth Parliamentary Assembly (CPA), Confederation of Parliaments of the Americas (COPA), Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA), 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 Assembly of Turkic-speaking Countries (TURKPA), Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States (PUOICM), Socialist International; (iv) Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) and the Kofi Annan Foundation.
Of the 1,023 delegates who attended the Assembly, 460 were members of parliament. The parliamentarians included 22 Speakers, 39 Deputy Speakers and 148 women parliamentarians (32%).
3. Choice of an emergency item (Item 2)
The Assembly had before it two requests for the inclusion of an emergency item: one submitted by the delegation of the United Arab Emirates, entitled The importance of international inter-parliamentary cooperation for natural disaster response, in particular with regard to relief aid to flood-stricken Pakistan, and another, presented by the delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, entitled The urgent need for immediate action by the IPU and its Member Parliaments to encourage international relief efforts in flood-stricken Pakistan. Considering that both proposals referred to the same situation, at the President’s suggestion, the Assembly decided to combine both proposals under the title Immediate action to support international relief efforts in response to natural disasters, in particular with regard to flood-stricken Pakistan. The proposal was adopted by acclamation 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
Immediate action to support international relief efforts in response to natural disasters, in particular with regard to flood-stricken Pakistan (Item 6)
The debate on the emergency item took place in the afternoon of Monday, 4 October. It was chaired by Mr. A. Alonso Díaz-Caneja (Mexico), Vice-President of the Assembly. A total of 41 speakers from 38 parliamentary delegations and one observer took part.
During the debate, speakers expressed their deep concern over the situation in flood-stricken Pakistan and other countries recently affected by natural disasters, and expressed their sympathy with the victims and their families. They urged all parliamentarians to seize that opportunity to promote international inter-parliamentary cooperation aimed at mitigating human suffering and accelerating rehabilitation and reconstruction by providing food, shelter and technical assistance to re-establish the agro industry, infrastructure and health and sanitation facilities. Several speakers also underscored the need to ensure that assistance reached the victims in Pakistan and to keep the world’s attention focused on the post-flood situation until such time as the flood-affected areas were fully reconstructed, a prerequisite for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Many speakers also underscored the need to immediately and effectively deal with the issue of climate change and improve parliamentary oversight of that issue with a view to mitigating the impact of future natural disasters. They urged all nations to comply with international commitments such as the Kyoto Protocol. They issued an urgent appeal to establish a global fund able to tackle unanticipated disasters and phenomena immediately, and urged the IPU to establish a committee to follow that important issue and promote and monitor the creation of such a fund.
The broad range of concerns expressed during the debates were reflected in the draft resolution, which was prepared by a drafting committee composed of representatives of the parliaments of: Bahrain, Benin, Cambodia, Canada, India, Iran (Islamic Rep. of), Mexico, Pakistan, Turkey and Uganda. It appointed Mr. H. Khan (Pakistan) as its president and Mr. B. Rae (Canada) as its rapporteur. The draft resolution was unanimously adopted by the Assembly on Wednesday, 6 October.
(b) Report of the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs (Item 4)
The Committee met from 4 to 6 October 2010. It was briefed by the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, on the outcome of the recent UN Summit on the MDGs. He focused in particular on the section, “The Way Forward”, which identified the steps that still needed to be taken to achieve all the MDGs. It was considered that gender equality had the largest multiplier effect and was an area where the IPU could make a significant contribution.
The leader of the delegation of Indonesia presented the IPU Report on the MDGs, tabled on the occasion of the 3rd World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, and subsequently circulated as a parliamentary contribution to the preparatory process of the MDG Summit. It detailed the IPU’s work over the past decade to help advance the MDGs, galvanize political support, make the case for more and better development financing, and generally encourage action on the ground.
The IPU comparative study on how parliaments worked in support of the MDGs was also presented to the Committee. The study, which reviewed parliamentary mechanisms for the MDGs in seven countries (India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and South Africa), was commented on by the delegation of Kenya and others that were exploring similar mechanisms. Several delegations recounted their experiences and the challenges they encountered. Parliamentarians from both developed and developing countries stated their commitment to continue to work towards achieving the MDGs by the target date of 2015.
The Committee devoted its second session to the Brussels Programme of Action and preparations for the Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC IV), scheduled for 2011. It heard presentations from the UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, the International Coordinator of LDC Watch and a member of parliament from the National Assembly of Malawi. The presentations addressed challenges and successes in LDCs, parliamentary involvement in LDC-related work and the priority areas to be included in the new programme of action for LDCs.
In the ensuing roundtable discussion, participants and presenters underscored the importance of parliamentary involvement in the design, implementation and review of the programme of action for LDCs. Participants referred to the importance of good governance, institutional strengthening and fighting corruption for achieving the MDGs. They requested more frequent reviews of programme implementation and suggested that future programmes include a reference to parliaments, thereby legitimizing their role in the programme.
As it was the first time that parliaments were involved at such an early stage of establishing a programme for LDCs, the opportunity should not be missed. Parliaments were encouraged to take action well in advance of the Parliamentary Forum in May 2011 on the eve of LDC IV, identify and engage with authorities involved in the design of the new programme for the LDCs at the national level, and ensure parliamentary participation at regional and global preparatory meetings.
In a separate session, the Committee reviewed cooperation between the IPU and the UN system over the past five years. It heard the 2010 report of the UN Secretary-General on Cooperation between the United Nations, national parliaments and the IPU, and welcomed the growing, more substantive partnership between the two organizations. It discussed the text of the forthcoming UN General Assembly resolution on the issue and underscored the importance of all Member Parliaments engaging actively with their foreign ministries, with a view to garnering robust support among UN Member States.
Several delegations took the floor to underscore the evolving role of parliaments in international relations, and the fact that UN-IPU relations at the global level could play an important role in helping to further clarify relations between the legislature and the executive at the national level. That held true particularly in countries where parliaments as institutions were still in the process of building their capacities and establishing themselves as strong and effective players on the national scene. The general feeling was that there was scope for the United Nations and the IPU to forge a strategic partnership, and from that perspective, the forthcoming session of the UN General Assembly provided an important opportunity.
The Committee discussed political challenges facing the UN Climate Change Conference (COP16/CMP6), to be held in Cancún from 29 November to 10 December 2010. The IPU and the Mexican Congress would be organizing a Parliamentary Meeting in the wings of the UN Conference with the support of UNDP on 6 December, and legislators were encouraged to join their national delegations to the Climate Change Conference in December.
The Committee felt that, in view of the poor results of COP15, urgent progress was needed to restore faith in the ability of the Parties to take the process forward. It was vital to secure a tangible outcome in Cancún, and parliamentarians bore their share of responsibility for the success of the event. The Committee was briefed on the format of the Parliamentary Meeting in Cancún by the Chairperson of the External Relations Committee of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies. The meeting was expected to adopt an outcome document, which would be presented to the UN Conference. The Mexican Congress had prepared a preliminary draft, which the IPU had sent to all Member Parliaments for their comments. In its final form, the document should be a succinct but powerful political declaration for both governments and parliaments.
At its last sitting, the Committee was briefed on the results of the Beijing +15 review on gender equality. While some progress had been made, important challenges remained, which required the active participation of parliaments. Issues of particular relevance included the need to: improve enforcement of the existing legislative framework and oversight of gender policies; review and amend discriminatory legislation and practices; base policies on sex-disaggregated data and analysis; and mainstream gender into the work of parliaments. The Committee urged all Member Parliaments to discuss follow-up of the Beijing commitments and monitor progress.
The Committee heard a presentation on the new United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, UN Women. It welcomed the establishment of that body and called on parliaments to support it and follow its work. The Committee expressed the wish that a strong working relationship with the IPU be established, particularly in the areas of political empowerment of women, institutional gender mainstreaming, support to parliaments in promoting gender-sensitive legislation, combating violence against women, and implementation of relevant UN resolutions.
The Committee took note of the new composition of its Advisory Group. Recalling the work undertaken by the Group over the past few years, in particular the field missions to examine the implementation of the One UN projects in Tanzania and Viet Nam, the Group was encouraged to continue to explore modalities to best carry forward its mandate. That discussion would be continued during the next meeting of the Group, on 1 December at UN Headquarters in New York, immediately preceding the Annual Parliamentary Hearing at the United Nations (2-3 December 2010).
(c) Panel discussion (First Standing Committee subject item at 124th Assembly):
Providing a sound legislative framework aimed at preventing electoral violence, improving election monitoring and ensuring the smooth transition of power (Item 3(a))
The panel discussion took place in the morning of 5 October. It was chaired by Mr. T. Boa (Côte d’Ivoire), President of the Standing Committee on Peace and International Security. Mr. W. Madzimure (Zimbabwe) presented the draft report by the co-Rapporteurs in the absence of Mr. J.D. Seelam (India). The draft report focused on the elements of a sound legal framework, the causes of electoral violence and the role and responsibility of parliaments and parliamentarians.
Participants also heard keynote presentations from Mr. N. Kaczorowski, Head, Election Department, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Organisation for Security and Co‑operation in Europe, and Mr. A. Bradley, Director of Global Programmes, Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA). They stated that a sound legal framework for free and fair elections encompassed a wide range of elements, ranging from the choice of electoral system to the creation of appropriate dispute-settlement mechanisms.
Forty-four legislators from as many parliaments took part in the ensuing debate. They noted that at election time, when the stakes were particularly high, the struggle for power sometimes took violent forms. Violence occurred in particular when politics was seen as a zero-sum game. Electoral violence was a reflection of the ability of the political system to manage the tension between the competing interests of society. Women were disproportionately affected by electoral violence: women candidates were often vulnerable targets and were deterred from participating in the political process by a climate of intimidation.
A number of factors were identified that could contribute to, or mitigate, the risk of electoral violence, not least voter education. Citizens needed to understand the political process in order to be able to participate effectively. Greater knowledge of the purpose of elections, the place of parliament and the role of political parties in a democratic system of governance contributed to a healthy political environment. The ultimate test of an election was whether or not the results were acceptable to citizens. The perception of an uneven playing field or manipulated election results heightened the risk of violence.
The independence of the national electoral commission, which managed the entire electoral process, was seen by several participants as a sine qua non for a free and fair election. The impartiality of the judiciary and the security forces was also crucial. The State administration, at all levels, must respect strict neutrality throughout the electoral process.
Election observation by national and international observers could play a significant role in building confidence in the electoral process. To be effective, observation must take place over the entire electoral cycle, not just on polling day. More work was required to develop standards for observation of the post-election phase, including the announcement of election results and the management of legal challenges thereto.
(d) Panel discussion (Second Standing Committee subject item at 124th Assembly):
The role of parliaments in ensuring sustainable development through the management of natural resources, agricultural production and demographic change (Item 3(b))
The panel discussion took place in the afternoon of 5 October, with Mr. P. Martin-Lalande (France), President of the Second Standing Committee, in the Chair. One of the two co-Rapporteurs appointed by the 122nd Assembly, Mr. A. Cherrar (Algeria), was in attendance. The other, Ms. K.G. Ferrier (Netherlands), had been prevented from attending. She was replaced at the session by her parliamentary colleague, Mr. K. Putters, who complemented Mr. Cherrar's presentation of the draft report that had been prepared jointly by both co-Rapporteurs.
Given the exceptionally broad scope of subject, Mr. U. Hoffmann, of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), was invited to provide a comprehensive scientific overview of the problem of managing the earth's resources. He focused on why agriculture was so important for both developed and developing countries and what policy changes were required in the light of global warming.
Following the three introductory statements, an exchange of views took place, with a total of 36 delegates taking the floor, one third of whom were women.
The delegates agreed that there was good reason to feel concerned over the question of how to feed the planet's growing population, provide it with sustainable living conditions and manage its natural resources in a responsible way. It was vital to adopt an integrated and proactive approach. The discussion focused on a number of interrelated policy areas indentified in the draft report as being of primary importance for achieving that objective.
Both the draft report and the panel discussion served as reminders that, together with governments, management agencies and private stakeholders, legislators were largely responsible for putting in place and implementing sustainable development policies.
(e) Panel discussion (Third Standing Committee subject item at 124th Assembly):
Transparency and accountability in political party funding (Item 3(c))
The panel discussion took place in the afternoon of 5 October with Mr. J.C. Mahía (Uruguay), President of the Standing Committee on Democracy and Human Rights, in the chair. The President pointed out that Mr. A. Destexhe (Belgium), who had been appointed one of the co-Rapporteurs at the 122nd Assembly in Bangkok, was no longer a member of parliament, and had therefore been replaced by Mr. P. Moriau (Belgium). The latter, together with Ms. M. Kubayi (South Africa), the other co‑Rapporteur, presented their draft reports. They said that they intended to present a unified report following the panel discussion and asked participants to make contributions that would enrich the report and the future draft resolution. The participants heard a presentation by Mr. A. Bradley, Director of Global Programmes, International IDEA. Thirty-two delegates took the floor during the debate.
Political parties played an important role in the political process. They helped articulate the wishes of the people and transform them into policies and actions that responded to those wishes. As key instruments in the democratic sphere, therefore, they needed resources to function properly. Those resources could come from both public and private sources. Participants provided examples of how political parties were funded in their countries and mechanisms that had been put in place to ensure their responsible use. It was clear from the discussions that many countries provided for public funding of political parties. Such funding could be direct in the form of subsidies allocated by the State, most often taking into account the representativeness of the parties based on their electoral weight. Indirect funding included the allocation of airtime on State-owned media to parties to express their views. Other mechanisms included tax deductions.
Participants recognized the importance of private funding for political parties. However, many delegates expressed concern that a part of such funding could come from dubious sources. In many countries, the authorities had to deal with money laundering, drug money and money obtained form other criminal and illegal activities. Delegates insisted that such money should not find its way into the political process as it could be used to undermine democracy. Discussions also focused on the negative role that some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and large corporate entities could play by unduly influencing the political process and decision-making through generous funding of political parties. There were divergent views on the judiciousness of allowing funding from foreign sources but broad agreement that where such funding was allowed, measures should be taken to ensure that it was not used to unduly influence or subvert political and other outcomes in the countries of the recipient parties.
Given that the purpose of public funding was to set a level playing field for all actors in the political process, special attention should be paid to women and the creation of conditions that would allow them to compete on an equal footing with men.
Participants underscored the importance of setting guidelines to foster transparency and accountability, key precepts of democracy. Reference was made to limiting the amount of funding that could be received from various sources, the need for parties to disclose the sources and extent of funding they received and to report on how those funds were utilized, in particular when the funding came from public sources.
As for mechanisms for sanctioning violations of funding regulations, participants were divided between instituting stringent punitive measures for defaulting parties and establishing self-regulatory mechanisms, including codes of conduct and integrity for political parties.
In any case, funding to political parties should aim primarily to give a voice to the people in the political and democratic process rather than subvert their will. Parliaments, together with NGOs and the media, could play a key role in building a culture of transparency and responsibility in political life.
The resolution to be adopted at the 124th Assembly in Panama should reflect those concerns and identify mechanisms that the IPU could institute to help parliaments ensure transparency and accountability. Such mechanisms should take into account the prevailing realities in the different countries rather than seek a one-size-fits-all approach.