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Since the early 1990s, the IPU has been working closely with the United Nations to make international relations and decision-making more transparent as well as more effective. The idea is to create a two-way direct line of communication between the world's foremost international organization, the United Nations, and the national parliaments that are members of the IPU. Two major conferences of Speakers of parliaments have come to define the terms and overall objectives of this cooperation.

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The first Conference of Presiding Officers of National Parliaments took place in August 2000 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, just a few days prior to the Millennium Summit of Heads of State and Government. Organized with the full support of the United Nations, the conference concluded with a Declaration entitled The Parliamentary Vision For International Cooperation at the Dawn of the Third Millennium. With this Declaration, the Presiding Officers of the world's parliaments committed themselves and their institutions to join forces with the United Nations to help address the tremendous new challenges facing the world community. The commitment of Member States for greater cooperation with the world of parliaments was embedded in the final declaration of the 2000 Summit, known as the Millennium Declaration. This declaration calls, inter alia, for the United Nations to work with national parliaments, through the IPU, in the pursuit of peace and security, economic and social development, international law and human rights, democracy, and gender issues.

The Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, also hosted at United Nations headquarters, took place in September 2005. The Conference evaluated the work of the parliamentary community to help advance the Millennium Development Goals and other key objectives of the United Nations. In their final declaration, entitled Bridging the democracy gap in international relations: A stronger role for parliament, parliamentary leaders pledged to support a reformed United Nations that would have more frequent and structured interaction with national parliaments. Important objectives of this interaction include:

  • contributing to and monitoring international negotiations and debates at the UN and related agencies,
  • overseeing the enforcement of what is adopted by governments,
  • ensuring national compliance with international norms and the rule of law,

The Third World Conference of Speakers of Parliament followed in July 2010, and the Fourth Conference took place in August-September 2015.

Echoing the IPU's renewed commitment to work with the United Nations, the outcome document of the 2005 World Summit that took place only days after the second World Conference of Speakers stated: "we [Heads of State and Government] call for strengthened cooperation between the United Nations and national and regional parliaments, in particular though the Inter-Parliamentary Union, with a view to furthering all aspects of the Millennium Declaration in all fields of the work of the United Nations and ensuring the effective implementation of United Nations reform." In recognition of the important contribution that parliaments have made and will continue to make to the work of the United Nations - both by providing direct input and by helping translate global commitments into national legislation and policies - in November 2002 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution granting observer status to the IPU. In the same spirit, a resolution on cooperation between the United Nations and the IPU allowed for circulation of official IPU documents in the General Assembly. This arrangement enables the IPU to make a more direct political contribution to the United Nations through the many resolutions and declarations adopted at IPU Assemblies and specialised meetings.

Cooperation activities between the two organizations include an annual Parliamentary Hearings at the United Nations, which seeks to act as a parliamentary sounding board to one or two priority topics on the UN agenda, as well as other specialised gatherings on the occasion of United Nations regular meetings and ad hoc international conferences. In addition to the political contribution that the IPU makes to the United Nations through its statements and resolutions, the two organisations work closely together to advance specific issues through many joint operational activities, publications and meetings. Aside from the United Nations proper, the IPU also cooperates with a growing body of United Nations specialised agencies and programmes to focus more effectively on a number of issue-specific subject areas.