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(Panama, 15 - 20 April 2011)
1. Inaugural ceremony
The 124th IPU Assembly was inaugurated on 15 April 2011 at a ceremony held at the ATLAPA Convention Centre in Panama City, Panama, in the presence of H.E. Mr. Ricardo Martinelli, President of the Republic of Panama. Inaugural addresses were delivered by Mr. José Muñoz Molina, Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr. Joseph Deiss, President of the United Nations General Assembly, and Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, IPU President. The ceremony concluded with a statement by the President of Panama, who declared the 124th Assembly officially open.
2. Election of the President and keynote addresses
The 124th Assembly opened at the ATLAPA Convention Centre on the morning of Saturday, 16 April, with the election by acclamation of Mr. José Muñoz Molina, Speaker of the National Assembly of Panama, as President of the Assembly.
The President said that it was a great honour for him to have been elected to preside over the Assembly's work. After opening the general debate on the overall theme of Parliamentary accountability: Living up to people’s expectations, he invited Ms. Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, to deliver a keynote address.
Ms. Bachelet said she was very glad to take part in the IPU Assembly and have the opportunity to present the new UN entity for women, UN Women, to the IPU membership. Respect for women’s rights and the achievement of gender equality were core tenets of progress not only for women, but for society as a whole. Parliaments and their members - men and women - had an important role to play in the promotion of gender equality as legislators, overseers of government action, representatives of the people and opinion leaders.
UN Women was currently developing its three-year strategic plan. It had identified five thematic priorities for its operational activities: (1) enhancing women’s economic empowerment; (2) expanding women’s voice, leadership and political participation; (3) ending violence against women; (4) strengthening implementation of the women’s peace and security agenda; and (5) making gender-equality priorities central to national, local and sectoral planning and budgeting.
Ms. Bachelet described the situation of women in politics, highlighting recent progress in some regions and countries as well as interesting initiatives taken to secure a minimum number of women in decision-making positions, including through the adoption of positive action measures. Much more needed to be done and new challenges had to be considered and researched, such as the role of political parties, the often short career of women in politics, and women’s reluctance to enter politics.
Parliaments and the IPU were natural and important partners in the achievement of gender equality and the goals set by UN Women. Areas of cooperation with the IPU included: facilitating women’s access to parliament, including through legislative and constitutional reform; providing capacity-building support for women in parliament; helping parliaments ensure respect for women’s rights; carrying out cutting-edge research in new fields; and working together to combat violence against women.
Ms. Bachelet welcomed the IPU’s latest global survey on gender-sensitive parliaments, which would provide new avenues for cooperation and strategies to promote gender equality. She called on parliaments to develop and adopt gender priorities and plans at the beginning of each legislature, and pledged UN Women’s support in that endeavour. She repeated her wish for stronger cooperation with parliaments and the IPU.
After her address, Ms. Bachelet answered questions from delegates relating to the contributions of the IPU and parliaments to the Commission on the Status of Women, to an inclusive process in political decision-making, to the promotion of young women’s participation in politics and to rural outreach.
In the morning of Sunday, 17 April, the Vice-President of Panama and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Juan Carlos Varela, addressed the Assembly. He was very proud to present to the Assembly Panama’s views on the agenda items. In the two decades since it had emerged from a dictatorship, Panama had continually strengthened its democracy. Panamanians were proud of the progress made since the first general elections, which ushered in a peaceful political transition. The new Electoral Code allowed for free, fair and transparent elections. At the international level, Panama supported all initiatives aimed at reinforcing democracy. The Government of Panama condemned populist demagoguery, which tended to limit democratic rights, and the use of religious dogma to void fundamental freedoms of their substance. It had no army, but was home to strategic installations that were key for international transport. Panama was deeply attached to respect for international law, the guarantor of regional stability. It had worked to consolidate the United Nations Inter-Agency Regional Centre and strengthen the Americas regional logistics centre. It was committed to fighting organized crime by establishing a third regional centre, in coordination with other Latin American countries, to reinforce coordination on security issues and fight trafficking in drugs and arms and all other forms of organized crime. The Government had strengthened its action on economic issues; Panama was now a member of the Central America-European Union trade agreement; it had adhered to the agreement on the exchange of fiscal information, and therefore appeared on the list of countries considered to be transparent in that field. Panama had encouraged the ratification of a trade treaty with the United States and was negotiating free-trade treaties with Canada, Colombia and Peru. It had ratified the principal human rights instruments. At the subregional level, Panama had been deeply involved in finding a political solution to the crisis in Honduras. In 2012, it would celebrate the 500th anniversary of Vasco Nuñez de Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific Ocean, which it would commemorate at a large number of international events. For all of that, the Government requested the support of the world’s parliaments. Lastly, Panama supported the powerful movements for democracy that had emerged in a number of Arab countries, which it believed would herald the birth of the democracy that was indispensable for the well-being of the people. On behalf of Panama, of a land open to the world, where paths crossed and minds met, Mr. Varela wished the 124th Assembly fruitful deliberations.
At the closing sitting of the 124th Assembly, on 20 April, Ms. S. Ataullahjan (Canada) reported briefly on the field visits carried out in Panama City on Sunday, 17 April. Organized in cooperation with UNICEF, the visits had focused on child-related issues in marginalized areas. Ms. Ataullahjan concluded by expressing renewed appreciation for the excellent cooperation between the IPU and UNICEF.
Delegations from the parliaments of the following 119 countries took part in the work of the Assembly: Afghanistan, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Micronesia (Federated States of), Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The following Associate Members also took part in the Assembly: the Andean Parliament, the Central American Parliament, the East African Legislative Assembly, the Inter-Parliamentary Committee of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), and the Latin American Parliament.
Observers comprised representatives of: (i) the United Nations system: United Nations, International Labour Organization (ILO), Food and Agriculture Organization (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), UN Women, World Health Organization (WHO), Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO); (ii) African Union, International Organization for Migration (IOM); League of Arab States and Organization of American States; (iii) African Parliamentary Union (APU), Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union (AIPU), Asian Parliamentary Assembly (APA), Confederation of Parliaments of the Americas (COPA), European Parliamentarians for Africa (AWEPA), Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States (IPA CIS), Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Eurasian Economic Community, Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, Inter-Parliamentary Commission of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), Inter-Parliamentary Union of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IPU-IGAD), Pan-African Parliament, Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (PABSEC), Parliamentary Assembly of the Turkic-Speaking Countries (TURKPA), Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and the Russian Federation, Parliamentary Union of the Organization of the Islamic Conference Members (PUOICM); and (iv) Socialist International, 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), Parliamentary Forum on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), and the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC).
Of the 1,190 delegates who attended the Assembly, 615 were members of national parliaments. The parliamentarians included 35 presiding officers, 44 deputy presiding officers and 182 women (29.6%).
4. Choice of an emergency item
On 16 April, the President informed the Assembly that five requests for the inclusion of an emergency item had been initially received. The delegations of Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran and New Zealand had subsequently decided to present a joint proposal entitled "Strengthening democratic reform in emerging democracies, including in North Africa and the Middle East". That had left three proposals to be considered by the Assembly: "Call for urgent global action to assist earthquake- and tsunami-hit Japan and to prevent the impact of the disaster on the region as a whole", submitted by Pakistan, "Parliamentary action to strengthen the right to self-determination of peoples within the framework of international law", submitted by Venezuela, and the above-mentioned joint proposal.
Ms. F. Mirza, Speaker of the Parliament of Pakistan, explained the reasons underlying the Pakistani proposal. At the request of the Japanese delegation and in a spirit of cooperation, Pakistan was prepared to withdraw its proposal on the understanding that the President would make a declaration on behalf of the Assembly on the disaster in Japan. The President informed the Assembly that he intended to issue such a declaration.
Mr. D. Vivas (Venezuela) explained that the Venezuelan proposal focused on events in North Africa and the Middle East, and the acts of aggression by the US imperialism and its allies against the people of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Considering that some of the ideas expressed were included in the joint proposal put forward by Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran and New Zealand, he withdrew the proposal.
Ms. N. Ali Assegaf (Indonesia) expressed her deep condolences and sympathy to the people of Japan. She was confident that the resilience and strength of the Japanese people would help them to recover. The IPU should help countries manage transitions democratically and peacefully and she hoped that the joint proposal would be adopted.
The President of the Assembly noted that of the three remaining proposals, two had been withdrawn. The Assembly therefore adopted the joint proposal submitted by Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran and New Zealand and included it in the Assembly agenda.
At the beginning of the closing session, the President of the Assembly read out a declaration, which expressed solidarity with the people of Japan in the face of the earthquake and tsunami that had caused enormous loss of life and devastation. It called on the international community to provide generous human, material and financial support.
Mr. T. Morimoto (Japan) expressed deep appreciation for the declaration, which was a source of encouragement and hope to all those working tirelessly to reconstruct the country. As in the past, Japan would share its experience with other countries and international organizations, and would continue to contribute to common efforts to reduce the effects of natural disasters whenever and wherever they struck.
5. Debates and decisions of the Assembly and its Standing Committees
(a) General Debate on the political, economic and social situation in the world (Item 3)
The general debate on the political, economic and social situation in the world, under the theme of Parliamentary accountability: Living up to people’s expectations, took place in the morning and afternoon of 16 and 17 April and in the morning of 19 April. A total of 104 speakers from 90 delegations took part in the debate, which was chaired by the President of the Assembly. During the sittings, the President invited several Vice-Presidents, members of the delegations of Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iceland, Jordan, Lesotho and New Zealand, to replace him in the Chair.
(b) First Standing Committee (Peace and International Security)
(i) Providing a sound legislative framework aimed at preventing electoral violence, improving election monitoring and ensuring the smooth transition of power (Item 4)
The Committee held three sittings: two on 16 April and one on 18 April, with Mr. S.H. Chowdhury (Bangladesh), Vice-President, in the Chair. In addition to the reports and the preliminary draft resolution prepared by the co-Rapporteurs, Mr. J.D. Seelam (India) and Mr. W. Madzimure (Zimbabwe), the Committee had before it amendments to the draft resolution submitted by the delegations of Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Sweden, Venezuela and the Latin American Parliament.
The first sitting began with the presentation of the joint report and preliminary draft resolution by the two co-Rapporteurs. A presentation was also made by Mr. T.A. Diabacte, Deputy Director of the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division. In all, 48 speakers from 42 parliaments and one parliamentary organization took the floor during the debate, after which the Standing Committee appointed a drafting committee composed of representatives of Argentina, Bangladesh, Gabon, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Palestine, Republic of Korea, South Africa, United Kingdom, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Mr. Diabacte was invited to participate in an advisory capacity.
The drafting committee met in the afternoon of 16 April and the morning of 17 April. It appointed Mr. G. Schneeman (South Africa) as its president and rapporteur. It examined 89 amendments submitted by 11 delegations and by the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians and adopted many of them.
The First Standing Committee considered the consolidated draft in the afternoon of 18 April. Several delegations took the floor, seeking clarification, proposing that amendments which had been rejected or accepted by the drafting committee be re-examined, or expressing support for the text. Some of the proposed amendments were adopted by consensus, while others were put to a vote. The Standing Committee adopted the draft resolution by consensus and requested the drafting committee rapporteur to present it to the Assembly.
The draft resolution was submitted to the plenary sitting of the Assembly in the afternoon of 20 April and adopted by consensus, with reservations expressed by 18 delegations on preambular paragraph 6 and by three delegations on preambular paragraph 8.
(ii) Selection of subject item and co-Rapporteurs for the First Standing Committee at the 126th Assembly
The Bureau of the First Standing Committee met on 18 April with Mr. S.H. Chowdhury (Bangladesh), Vice-President, in the Chair. It examined seven proposals submitted by IPU Member Parliaments for the subject to be debated by the Standing Committee at the 126th Assembly. The Bureau was unable to reach a consensus, and decided to bring the choice of subject item to the Committee’s next plenary sitting. Three proposals were debated; one was subsequently withdrawn by its sponsor, and the committee voted on the two remaining proposals. Following the votes, the First Standing Committee proposed the following subject to the Assembly for inclusion in the agenda of the 126th Assembly: Promoting and practising good governance as a means of advancing peace and security: Drawing lessons from recent events in the Middle East and North Africa. The subject item was subsequently approved by the Assembly, which appointed Mr. J.J. Mwiimbu (Zambia) and Mr. M. Gyöngyösi (Hungary) as co Rapporteurs.
(c) Second Standing Committee (Sustainable Development, Finance and Trade)
(i) The role of parliaments in ensuring sustainable development through the management of natural resources, agricultural production and demographic change (Item 5)
The Second Standing Committee held sittings on 17 and 19 April, with its President, Mr. P. Martin-Lalande (France), in the Chair. In addition to a report and preliminary draft resolution prepared by the co-Rapporteurs, Mr. A. Cherrar (Algeria) and Ms. K. Ferrier (Netherlands), the Committee had before it amendments to the draft resolution submitted by the delegations of Belgium, Canada, China, Cuba, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, Venezuela and the Latin American Parliament. Two additional sub-amendments were submitted by the delegation of Norway.
A total of 47 speakers took the floor during the plenary debate, after which the Standing Committee appointed a drafting committee composed of representatives of Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chile, Gabon, Ghana, India, Namibia, Norway and Peru.
The drafting committee met on 18 April. It appointed Mr. D. Adams (Australia) as its president and Mr. T. Wickholm (Norway) as its rapporteur. It examined 128 amendments to the preliminary draft resolution, adopting some either in full or in part. A number of other amendments were accepted in letter or spirit.
In the afternoon of 19 April, the Second Standing Committee examined the consolidated draft resolution paragraph by paragraph and made a number of further changes. It had to vote in four instances.
In the afternoon of 20 April, the draft resolution was submitted to the Assembly, which adopted it unanimously.
(ii) Selection of subject item and co-Rapporteurs for the Second Standing Committee at the 126th Assembly
The Bureau of the Second Standing Committee met on 19 April with the Committee President in the Chair. It examined proposals submitted by IPU Member Parliaments for the item to be debated by the Second Standing Committee at the 126th Assembly. The Bureau voted to approve the subject item Redistribution of power, not just wealth: Ownership of the international agendas, which it subsequently submitted to the Second Standing Committee. The Committee also voted on and approved the proposal, which was subsequently approved by the Assembly for inclusion in the agenda of the 126th Assembly. The Assembly appointed Lord Judd (United Kingdom) and Mr. O. Benabdallah (Morocco) as co Rapporteurs.
(d) Third Standing Committee (Democracy and Human Rights)
(i) Transparency and accountability in the funding of political parties and election campaigns (Item 6)
The Third Standing Committee held three sittings, on 16, 17 and 19 April, with its President, Mr. J.C. Mahía (Uruguay), in the Chair. The Committee had before it a report and preliminary draft resolution prepared by the co-Rapporteurs, Ms. M. Kubayi (South Africa) and Mr. P. Moriau (Belgium), along with amendments to the draft resolution submitted by the delegations of Canada, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Romania, Sweden, Venezuela, and by the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians.
In all, 47 speakers took part in the debate.
The Committee designated a drafting committee composed of representatives of Bahrain, Canada, Ecuador, Ghana, Indonesia, Malaysia, Monaco, Philippines, Switzerland, Togo and Uruguay. It met on 18 April and began its work by appointing Mr. C. Cellario (Monaco) as president and Ms. M. Kubayi (South Africa) as rapporteur. It considered the proposed amendments and incorporated some of them into the draft resolution.
On 19 April, the Third Standing Committee considered the consolidated text of the draft resolution presented by the drafting committee and adopted the amended resolution. The delegations of Algeria and Sudan expressed reservations on operative paragraph 9 and preambular paragraph 17 respectively.
The Assembly, meeting in plenary on 20 April, adopted the resolution by consensus.
(ii) Selection of subject item and co-Rapporteurs for the Third Standing Committee at the 126th Assembly
The Bureau of the Third Standing Committee met on 18 April with the Committee President, Mr. J.C. Mahía (Uruguay), in the Chair. It examined various proposals submitted by Member Parliaments for inclusion in the agenda of the 126th Assembly. At its sitting on 19 April, the Third Standing Committee decided to add the subject item Access to health as a basic right: The role of parliaments in addressingkey challenges to securing the health of women and children to the agenda of the 126th Assembly. It took note of the nomination of Ms. P. Turyahikayo (Uganda) as co-Rapporteur. Ms. S. Ataullahjan (Canada) and Mr. C. Sardinha (India) were also nominated as rapporteurs after the Committee’s meeting. The item and proposed co-Rapporteurs were subsequently approved by the Assembly on 20 April.
(e) Emergency item
Strengthening democratic reform in emerging democracies, including in North Africa and the Middle East (Item 8)
The Assembly referred the emergency item it had adopted on 16 April to a drafting committee composed of representatives of Australia, Belgium, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Oman, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Togo and Venezuela. It appointed Ms. N. Ali Assegaf (Indonesia) as president and Mr. H. Jenkins (Australia) as rapporteur. It met on 17 April, and drafted a resolution that was adopted unanimously by the Assembly on 20 April.