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(Bern, 16-19 October 2011)
1. Inaugural ceremony
The inaugural ceremony of the 125th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union took place on 16 October 2011 at the Bernexpo Convention Centre in Bern, Switzerland, with Ms. Micheline Calmy‑Rey, the President of Switzerland, in attendance. Mr. Jean‑René Germanier, Speaker of the Swiss National Council (Lower House), in his introductory remarks, said that the Bernese State Councillor Charles-Albert Gobat had steered the IPU for 17 years from his office in the old town. When the politician went on to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1902 for his commitment to advancing democracy and protecting human rights, "Bern was honoured and all IPU action found greater legitimacy". Mr. Hansheiri Inderkum, President of the Council of States (Upper House), explained that the Council of States still reflected the manner in which the Founding Fathers of Switzerland had been able to peacefully resolve the dispute between towns and villages so that the Switzerland we knew today could emerge. "I am convinced", he said, "that our bicameral system has a future because it guarantees the country’s cohesion. I am likewise confident that the Inter-Parliamentary Union is in full bloom, for its contribution to international dialogue and to the achievement of the purposes of the United Nations is unmatched. "
The Mayor of the City of Bern, Mr. Alexander Tchäppät, said that the Swiss capital was famous for many reasons: the old town was among the first places to be designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and one of the oldest international organizations was located in Bern, the Universal Postal Union.
The President of the IPU, Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, explained that a great deal of what was going to be discussed in the Swiss capital in the coming days reflected the preoccupations facing the world today. "Countries in North Africa and the Middle East are undergoing profound changes. Popular aspirations for freedom and democracy have brought challenges that were unimaginable only a year ago. Undemocratic rule and repression cannot advance peace and security in any country", he added. Many countries, some of them not so far away from Switzerland, were going through tough economic times and uncertainty about the future. "Wherever we look, we see people suffering the consequences of crises and mismanagement, which are not of their making. As representatives of the people, we cannot let this sorry state of affairs continue".
The United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, recalled that the United Nations Charter began with the words "We the Peoples …". That was why, he said, "wherever I go, I seek out parliamentarians. You represent the peoples’ voice … the peoples’ hopes … the peoples’ will". 2011 was a year of remarkable advances, he added: "We heard the peoples’ call in Côte d’Ivoire, South Sudan, North Africa and beyond. Now we must do our utmost to help these nations in transition. And we must put new emphasis on preventive diplomacy to preserve peace and build healthy democracies elsewhere. Women make up half the world’s population. They represent even more of its unrealized potential. In many ways, women are the world’s next emerging economy. We must expand women’s role in every sphere. And that means in parliament too".
The ceremony concluded with a statement by Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey, who welcomed some 1,400 delegates from 130 countries and said that the IPU had a role to play in seeking answers to the challenges facing States and the international community today. "Your presence today in such large numbers", she added, "attests to your faith in the IPU and its role in addressing these challenges". She assured delegates that Bern would provide a working environment that was conducive to rich debates. She declared the 125th Assembly officially open.
2. Opening of the Assembly and election of its President
The 125th Assembly opened at the Bernexpo Convention Centre in the morning of Monday, 17 October, with the election by acclamation of Mr. J.-R. Germanier, Speaker of the Swiss National Council, 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. He gave the floor to the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Japan, Mr. T. Yokomichi, who thanked the IPU Members for their support following the earthquake and tsunami which had affected his country, and gave an update of the measures taken to rebuild and secure the affected areas.
Delegations of the following 127 Member Parliaments took part in the work of the Assembly: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Palestine, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand, The Former Yugoslav Rep. of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Togo, 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: Andean Parliament, East African Legislative Assembly, Parliament of Economic Community of West African States, European Parliament, Latin American Parliament, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, 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), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), International Labour Organization (ILO), World Health Organization (WHO); (ii) International Organization for Migration (IOM), World Trade Organization (WTO); (iii) African Parliamentary Union (APU), Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union (AIPU), Asian Parliamentary Assembly (APA), Association of Senates, Shoora and Equivalent Councils in Africa and the Arab World (ASSECAA), Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA), Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), Confederation of Parliaments of The Americas (COPA), Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Eurasian Economic Community (EURASEC), Inter-Parliamentary Commission of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), League of Arab States, Inter-Parliamentary Union of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IPU-IGAD), Maghreb Consultative Council, Pan-African Parliament, Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM), Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (PABSEC), Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-speaking Countries (TURKPA), Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and the Russian Federation, Parliamentary Union of the Organization of the Islamic Conference Member States (PUOICM); (iv) Socialist International; and (v) International IDEA, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Of the 1,253 participants who attended the Assembly, 534 were members of parliament. The parliamentarians included 36 Speakers, 37 Deputy Speakers and 158 women parliamentarians (29.6%).
4. Choice of an emergency item (Item 2)
The Assembly had before it three requests for the inclusion of an emergency item: one submitted by the delegation of Namibia, entitled The plight of the people of famine-stricken Somalia and relief efforts by IPU Member Parliaments, a proposal submitted by the Palestinian delegation entitled Realizing the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and a third proposal, submitted by the Islamic Republic of Iran, entitled The need to further mobilize international support and strengthen international efforts to assist the Somali people suffering from famine.
After taking the floor, the delegations of Palestine and the Islamic Republic of Iran withdrew their proposals in favour of the one presented by Namibia, which was adopted by acclamation and added to the agenda as Item 6.
5. Debates and decisions of the Assembly and of the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs
(a) Debate on the emergency item
The plight of the people of famine-stricken Somalia and relief efforts by IPU Member Parliaments (Item 6)
The debate on the emergency item took place in the afternoon of Monday, 17 October. It was chaired by Mr. J.-R. Germanier, President of the 125th Assembly, and by the Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa, Mr. M.V. Sisulu, in his capacity as Vice-President of the Assembly. A total of 18 speakers from 17 parliamentary delegations and one Observer took part.
During the debate, speakers expressed their deep concern over the situation in Somalia and expressed their support, urging all parliamentarians to promote global inter-parliamentary cooperation aimed at advancing relief efforts to mitigate human suffering and hunger in the Horn of Africa.
The concerns expressed during the debate were reflected in the draft resolution, which was prepared by a drafting committee composed of representatives of the parliaments of: Argentina, Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, Namibia and the United Kingdom. It appointed Ms. U. Stephens (Australia) as its president and Ms. S. Tioulong (Cambodia) as its rapporteur.
(b) Report of the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs (Item 4)
The IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs met from 17 to 19 October. It began its first session with a briefing and discussion with Mr. J. Sampaio (Portugal), UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC). The session was chaired by Senator D. Dawson (Canada), and highlighted the need to enhance the role of parliaments in dealing with popular concerns over culture, identity and migration, which challenged the core values of democracy around the world.
The Committee stressed that parliaments and parliamentarians should consider various initiatives to enhance intercultural dialogue and cooperation, inter alia by organizing regular debates in parliament, establishing specific mechanisms to help maintain key issues on the parliamentary agenda, and taking follow-up action with a view to implementing the recommendations of the relevant IPU resolution adopted in 2007 on ensuring respect for peaceful co-existence.
The second session took the form of a panel discussion on Nuclear Weapons: The Road to Zero. The event, chaired by Speaker H. Jenkins of Australia, was held as a follow-up to the IPU resolution adopted in 2009 on advancing nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. The Committee heard presentations by prominent experts and engaged in a discussion on various ways of addressing the threats and challenges posed by nuclear weapons.
The Committee reaffirmed that nuclear weapon States had an obligation to implement the commitments they had undertaken through the Non-Proliferation Treaty and non-nuclear weapon States could help build a framework by prohibiting and criminalizing nuclear weapons in their national legislations, establishing regional nuclear weapons-free zones, and promoting common security models as alternatives to nuclear deterrence.
The Committee devoted its third session to the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPoA) and follow-up to the Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC IV), held in Istanbul in May 2011. The session was moderated by Mr. M. Traore (Burkina Faso), and featured a keynote address by Mr. C.S. Diarra, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS). The presentations addressed the main outcomes of LDC IV and plans for follow-up and the important role of parliaments in the achievement of national development commitments. Participants were briefed on the joint IPU-UN-OHRLLS project in support of LDC parliaments and a related Guidance Note developed by the IPU.
During the session held in the afternoon of 17 October, the Committee examined developments in cooperation between the United Nations, national parliaments and the IPU. It heard a presentation by Ms. K. Komi (Finland), a member of the IPU Advisory Group on United Nations Affairs, on the main findings and recommendations of the most recent field mission conducted by the Advisory Group to Ghana and Sierra Leone.
The Committee took stock of preparations for the UN General Assembly debate on Interaction between the United Nations, national parliaments and the IPU - a stand-alone item on the agenda of the current 66th session. While underscoring the importance of the previous resolution (65/123) and the need to further consolidate the gains achieved, it was agreed that there was room for further progress.
In the morning of 19 October, the Committee held a panel discussion on The green economy: A breakthrough for sustainable development? The debate was held in the run-up to the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as the Rio+20 Conference. It was moderated by Brazilian MP H. Napoleão, and featured a prominent group of parliamentarians, UN officials, international experts, and representatives of civil society and the private sector.
The Committee stressed that the sustainable development agenda related to both developed and developing countries and by most standards, remained largely unrealized. The economy was using up far more resources than could be replaced or preserved at the cost of a lower quality of life, and poverty and inequality persisted in spite of an overall increase in total wealth.
At its last sitting, the Committee discussed preparations for the 2011 session of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 17/CMP 7), to be held in December 2011 in Durban, South Africa. The session was chaired by Mr. C. Frolick, coordinator at the South African Parliament. The Committee was briefed on the current negotiations, challenges and requirements for the conclusion of a global agreement on climate policies that encompassed adaptation, mitigation, finance, technology, forests and capacity-building. It exchanged views on a draft parliamentary message to the UN Conference, which should be a succinct but powerful political declaration.
The Advisory Group to the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs also met during the 125th Assembly. It underscored that, although the Committee was still a fledgling structure, additional efforts should be made to sensitize Member Parliaments to the Committee’s mandate with a view to increasing participation by legislators and enhancing the Committee’s status.
(c) Panel discussion (First Standing Committee subject item at 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 (Item 3(a))
The panel discussion took place in the morning of 20 October. It was chaired by Mr. S.H. Chowdhury (Bangladesh), the Committee’s President. The co-Rapporteurs, Mr. M. Gyöngyösi (Hungary) and Mr. J.J. Mwiimbu (Zambia), presented their draft reports, which identified the elements of good governance how it contributed to peace and security. The reports analysed the recent events in the Middle East and North Africa, with particular reference to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Participants heard keynote presentations from Mr. M. El Galad, Editor-in-Chief of the Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, Ms. S. Sekkenes, Senior Adviser, Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, UNDP, and Ms. K. Jabre, Manager of the IPU Gender Partnership Programme.
Delegates from 48 parliaments and one regional parliamentary organization took the floor during the ensuing debate. There was broad agreement among delegates on the importance of good governance, which inter alia presupposed political accountability, efforts to curb corruption, and the promotion of gender equality. Participants provided a number of good practices, as well as suggestions on ways to enhance democratic governance. Many delegates underscored that the Arab Spring was an expression of peoples’ fundamental desire for dignity and freedom, and that the revolts in several Arab countries had come in response to the oppressive nature of former or current regimes. Others argued that, for economic or geostrategic reasons, various foreign powers had supported the former regimes, thus delaying the development of democracy in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt.
Delegates from other Arab countries drew attention to the political reforms taking place in their countries, which, in some cases, had been underway for a number of years. While applauding the co-Rapporteurs’ efforts to capture the complex political situation in the Middle East and North Africa, some delegates invited them to deepen their analysis. Participants suggested that it might be useful to distinguish between the importance of good governance for the promotion of peace and security, and the evaluation of recent events in the Middle East and North Africa, which were the result of a complex set of historical and political circumstances.
(d) Panel discussion (Second Standing Committee subject item at 126th Assembly):
Redistribution of power, not just wealth: Ownership of the international agendas (Item 3(b))
The panel discussion took place in the afternoon of 18 October, with Mr. S. Alhusseini (Saudi Arabia), President of the Second Standing Committee, in the Chair. He was replaced in the Chair subsequently by the First Vice-President, Ms. B. Contini (Italy).
The two co-Rapporteurs who had been appointed at the 124th Assembly, Lord Judd (United Kingdom) and Mr. O. Benabdallah (Morocco), presented their respective draft reports. They were joined by a non-parliamentary expert, Ms. Y. Li, Head of the Debt and Development Finance Branch, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Following the three introductory statements, an exchange of views took place, with a total of 31 delegates taking the floor.
The discussion focused on the need for a fundamental re-assessment of power relations between States and citizens and the need to identify ways and means of improving the system of international governance.
Given the ever increasing number of global challenges and cross-border issues, the existing mechanisms for problem-solving tended to reflect the priorities of those in positions of power rather than those most affected by problems. The recent wave of uprisings referred to as the "Arab Spring" showed that the masses were disillusioned with governments that failed to provide a fair voice and an equitable share of the economic pie.
At the global level, trust in multilateral institutions had been eroded and many of those institutions were perceived as reflecting the needs of the post-World War II powers and large economies, at the expense of the developing nations. Multilateral institutions and forums for global problem-solving were in dire need of reform if they intended to remain relevant in an increasingly multipolar world and able to tackle the problems of climate change, resource constraints, hunger, poverty and insecurity. Echoing the sentiments reflected by the co-Rapporteurs in their reports, most delegates were critical of power equations that underlay decision-making in international bodies such as the UN Security Council, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the G20.
Delegates pointed to the pervasive influence of media moguls and the non-transparent nature of corporate power, in particular the preponderant influence of lobbyists representing private-corporate interests. They endorsed the co-Rapporteurs' conclusion that it was necessary to ensure greater transparency in decision-making through freedom of information and a register of lobbyists, both at the national and international levels.
The draft reports and the panel discussion served as reminders that effective international accountability depended on strong, vibrant local, regional and national systems of democracy.
(e) Panel discussion (Third Standing Committee subject item at 126th Assembly):
Access to health as a basic right: The role of parliaments in addressing key challenges to securing the health of women and children (Item 3(c))
The panel discussion took place in the morning of 18 October with Mr. O. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu (Ghana), President of the Standing Committee on Democracy and Human Rights, in the Chair. The President asked Ms. S. Ataullahjan (Canada), Mr. F. Sardinha (India) and Ms. P. Turyahikayo (Uganda), who had been appointed co-Rapporteurs at the 124th Assembly in Panama, to present the draft report they had jointly prepared. Following their presentation, they invited participants to make contributions with a view to enriching the report and laying the foundations for the future draft resolution.
The participants heard presentations by Dr. F. Bustreo, Assistant Director-General, Family, Women's and Children's Health, World Health Organization, and Dr. C. Presern, Director of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.
More than 180 delegates attended the panel, of whom 55 took the floor during the debate. The health of women and children as a human rights issue was of deep concern to parliaments. Inadequate, weak and failing health systems, insufficient financial and human resources, particularly in the context of entrenched poverty, the marginalization of women and girls as well as the social and economic inequalities that hindered certain groups from accessing health services, were underlying causes of poor health among women and children.
Some progress had been made in reducing child and maternal deaths as a result of the concerted efforts by the international community over the past few years. However, while some countries were on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) relating to the health of women and children (MDGs 4 and 5), many others were unlikely to meet their targets. The high number of preventable maternal and child deaths remained unacceptable. Participants called on the international community to sustain and scale up its support as a matter of urgency. They highlighted parliaments’ pivotal contribution to legislative, oversight, budgetary and sensitization efforts required for the health-related MDGs to be achieved by 2015.
The key challenges faced by parliaments in addressing women’s and children’s health included insufficient political space to inform the budget allocations for maternal and child health, and a lack of resources and access to information for their work. As a result, an accountability gap persisted with respect to the provision of resources and implementation of programmes to ensure improved health outcomes for women and children. Participants provided examples of mechanisms and initiatives employed by their parliaments to promote the health of women and children in their countries. Increasingly, countries recognized health as a basic right in their constitutions. Albeit to varying extents and not without challenges, parliamentarians - both men and women - were increasingly working towards ensuring that improvements in women’s and children’s health were achieved through their legislative, oversight, representation and advocacy functions. Parliamentary mechanisms such as committees and caucuses were used as avenues for advancing MDGs 4 and 5. Those mechanisms were used to inform public opinion on maternal and child health issues, mobilize stakeholders and link parliamentary action to initiatives by other stakeholders. Legislative reforms in support of improved health outcomes included passing laws to remove financial impediments to access to health care for all, laws to promote gender equality and access to sexual and reproductive health care, and marriage licence laws to prevent abuse against women and girls. At all levels, prevention was considered to be better than cure.
The following means of enhancing the contribution of parliaments were identified: tackling underlying issues including poverty; enhancing legal frameworks to address gender inequality and promote sexual health and reproductive rights; expanding maternity protection for working women; improving access to quality health care and medicines among poor and marginalized populations; increasing the legal age for marriage; ensuring improved access to sexual and reproductive health education for adolescents; and instituting mechanisms and structures to improve accountability. Parliamentarians were urged to participate in national and regional initiatives relating to maternal and child health.
Parliaments should pay more attention to issues such as legislation on mental, sexual and reproductive health, nutrition, and the needs of vulnerable groups. They should also address the issue of the high number of deaths due to unsafe abortions. Participants underscored the importance of strengthening solidarity and partnership with other stakeholders working for the health of women and children, including the United Nations, civil society and the private sector.
The IPU was called upon to provide a space to facilitate exchange and cooperation among its Members on health-related issues, particularly with regard to developing appropriate legislative frameworks.
The resolution to be adopted at the 126th Assembly in Kampala should reflect those concerns and identify a framework for parliaments’ contribution to improved action and accountability on women’s and children’s health. The resolution and framework should take into account the prevailing realities in the different countries rather than seek to impose a specific approach. It should also include measures to promote follow-up by IPU Members.
6. Closing session of the Assembly
At its last sitting, on Wednesday 19 October, the Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution on the emergency item entitled The plight of the people of famine-stricken Somalia and relief efforts by IPU Member Parliaments.
Before the closing of the Assembly, the outgoing President of the IPU paid tribute to two retiring IPU staff members, Mr. Marcelo Bustos Letelier, Director of Assembly Affairs and Relations with Member Parliaments, and Ms. Ingeborg Schwartz, Secretary of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, for their devoted service to the Organization. Both the new President of the IPU and the President of the Assembly joined in that tribute. The President of the Assembly then declared the Assembly closed.
7. Amendments to the Statutes and Rules
At its 189th sitting, the Governing Council approved amendments to Articles 5.2 and 5.3 of the Statutes. The amendments foresaw statutory sanctions for Associate Members in arrears of the payment of their contributions. The 125th Assembly, after hearing the opinion of the Governing Council, adopted those amendments.