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Functions and powers of UN General Assembly

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LAHORE: During its 71-year old history, the 193-member United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has had only one Pakistani as its President in 1962, when the country’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Chaudhary Muhammad Zafarullah Khan (1893-1985) was elected for this prestigious slot.

Zafarullah Khan had earlier served as Pakistan’s first foreign minister between 1947 and 1954.

A devout Ahmedi by faith, Zafarullah Khan also remains the only Pakistani to have served on the Netherlands-based International Court of Justice (ICJ).

He remained on the court as a judge until 1958 when he became the court’s vice president.

He left Netherlands in 1961 to take over as Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

During his time at the United Nations, Zafarullah had also represented the State of Palestine in a de facto capacity.

He left the UN in 1964 to return to the International Court of Justice.

In 1970, he became the first and only Pakistani to serve as the ICJ President, a position he had held till 1973.

Earlier in his career, Zafarullah Khan had rendered his services as a member of the Executive Council of the Viceroy of India between 1935 and 1941.

In September 1941, Zafarullah Khan was appointed a Judge of the Federal Court of India, a position he held until June 1947.

The current United Nations General Assembly President is Ambassador Peter Thomson of Fiji, who had succeeded Mogens Lykketoft, a veteran Danish politician.

The Presidency of the General Assembly rotates among five groups of member states: African, Asian, Eastern European, Latin American/Caribbean, and Western European and other member states.

A new president, 21 vice-presidents, and the chairmen of the six main committees of the General Assembly are elected at the start of each regular session.

All the 193 UN member states belong to the UNGA, and each state, large or small, has one vote and is allowed to send up to five representatives.

According to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, Russian media house Sputnik and the CNN, the UNGA meets every year in regular session commencing on the Tuesday of the third week in September, counting from the first week that contains at least one working day.

English, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and French are the General Assembly’s official and working languages

Established in October 1945, the major powers of the UNGA are to approve the United Nations budget, receive and consider reports from other parts of the United Nations, appoint the non-permanent members to the Security Council and the secretary-general on the recommendation of the Security Council, and make recommendations in the form of General Assembly Resolutions.

It votes on important issues, such as recommendations on peace and security and the election of Security Council members, require a two-thirds majority of member states, while other questions are decided by a simple majority.

The UNGA can make recommendations on any matters within the scope of the UN Charter or affecting the powers and functions of other UN organs, except issues under discussion of the Security Council.

These recommendations cover a wide range of areas, including cooperation for maintaining world peace and security, the development of international law, the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the international collaboration in the economic, social, humanitarian, cultural, educational and health fields.

Though these recommendations do not carry the legal weight as a Security Council resolution does, the General Assembly may also take action if the Security Council fails to act, owing to the negative vote of a permanent member, a veto, in a case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression.

It can consider the matter immediately with a view to making recommendations to member states for collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.

The UNGA has, so far, initiated extensive political, economic, and humanitarian actions affecting the lives of millions of people throughout the world.

Outstanding examples include the Millennium Declaration of 2000 and the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document which reflected a commitment to attaining peace, security and disarmament, poverty eradication, safeguarding human rights, promoting the rule of law, and protecting the environment, among others.

Though the United Nations General Assembly recommendations do not carry the legal weight as a Security Council resolution does, the General Assembly may also take action if the Security Council fails to act, owing to the negative vote of a permanent member, a veto, in a case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression.

If a member state does not pay its annual dues, it is not allowed to vote under the Charter. However, exceptions can be made if the member state can show that conditions beyond its control contribute to the inability to pay.

Research conducted by the Jang Group and Geo Television Network shows that while India had filled up the General Assembly membership form under the British Rule on October 30, 1945, Afghanistan had followed suit on November 19, 1946 and Pakistan did the same on September 30, 1947.

The General Assembly hall, which has a capacity of more than 1,800 people, is the biggest meeting place in the UN building. It was designed collectively by 11 famous architects including Liang Sicheng from China.

Source: Daily News (September 23, 2016)

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