The UN General Assembly


The UN General Assembly, abbreviated as UNGA, is the only representative global body among the five organs of the United Nations. The other four major organs are the Secretariat, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) (Peterson 77). According to the United Nations’ charter, the function of the General Assembly is to deliberate and make decisions on the most important matters in the world, such as security, peace, international law, civil liberties, and brokering negotiations between disagreeing nations (Levine-Clark 572).

The General Assembly elects the non-permanent members of the Security Council and other affiliated bodies. It also appoints the secretary general based on the recommendations it receives from the Security Council. In addition, the organ looks at the reports from the other bodies of the United Nations to assess the financial statuses of its member states before approving the UN budget (Kim and Russett 637). The General Assembly also works with the Security Council to recruit the relevant personnel at the International Court of Justice. The aim of this paper is to analyze the General Assembly Membership, its activities, criticisms, and responses to the condemnations leveled against it.

General Assembly’s Membership

The General Assembly is the sole body of the UN that represents all the 193 affiliate nations. Each member state is at liberty to cast one vote during the organ’s elections (Kim and Russett 647). The leadership or the presidency of the Assembly changes annually. Voting blocs are created within factions, such as the G77, which is an alliance consisting of the developing countries that are part of the United Nations. For any resolution to pass in an election, it has to attain a two-thirds majority (Kim and Russett 648). The non-member observer states, such as the Vatican, are, however, not allowed to vote, but can give their recommendations during the General Assembly meetings.

The General Assembly membership of some countries, for example, Taiwan, is very complicated. The island has been without membership for more than two decades because China objects to the decision. China considers Taiwan part of its territory, which is the grounds the former uses to reject the latter’s membership (Peterson 81). In 2011, there was another controversial bid that wanted to recognize Palestine as a member state. The controversy stalled in the Security Council after the United States vowed to sanction it. In 2012, the Palestinian leaders wanted to change the territory’s status to a non-member bystander nation, just like the Vatican, which provides recommendations during the meetings of the General Assembly (Kim and Russett 651).

The General Assembly can punish member states that infringe on the principles of the UN Charter. For instance, in the 1960s, South Africa was banned from participating in the General Assembly delegations because of its involvement in apartheid, which violated the Security Council’s resolutions, as well as the United Nations’ principles and laws.

Dealings of the UN General Assembly

The United Nation was established in 1945, and since then, it has engaged in many human rights issues, including the control of arms, peacekeeping activities, and dealing with the North-South problem (Peterson 86). The organization was successful in the negotiations on the East-West conflict, which expanded its roles and responsibilities.

Political Activities

On the issue of peacekeeping, the United Nations played a major role in the independence of Namibia, which was the last colony in Africa, apart from South Sudan. Its mandate has expanded over the years to other activities, such as the observation of elections. Namibia became an independent nation because of the resolutions brought forth by the UN Security Council to establish the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG), which observed the state’s elections (Levine-Clark 572). Namibia gained independence in March 1990 and joined the United Nations a month later. At that particular time, Japan provided funding and personnel to observe the elections, which was rated by the international community as a noble initiative for assisting the United Nations in its peacekeeping activities (Levine-Clark 574).

Another peacekeeping activity the UN negotiated successfully was the conflict bedeviling the Central American states. The result was a peaceful general election done on February 25, 1990. Other peacekeeping efforts by the UN include those conducted in Cambodia, the Middle East, and South Africa, with the latter bringing to an end the issue of apartheid. The resolution of the Iran-Iraq conflict is also attributable to the United Nations’ efforts (Levine-Clark 575).

Economic Activities

The 18th Session of the General Assembly

During the 18th session of the General Assembly, the organ made the resolution to revive the economic growth of countries classified under the developing nations’ category (Malone 53). The 18th session took place on April 1990, with leaders from sixty nations attending to assist in passing the proposition. This was the first economic session that was held in ten years since 1980. The session served as a step in the right direction in relation to the North-South negotiations spearheaded by the UN during the 1990s (Malone 54).

Decade Declared for Natural Disaster Reduction

During the Assembly’s 44th session, the United Nations passed a decree whose objective was to reduce natural disasters. This resolution was supported by 155 out of the 159 member states present (Malone 60). It was made on January 1990, and it included a scientific and technological committee. A trust fund to finance the purpose was established right from the onset of the project. In all these efforts, Japan played a major role in the provision of finances among other things.

Drift-Net Fishing Problem

There was an international issue relating to the overuse of marine resources within the Northern and Southern pacific regions. During the 44th Assembly, resolutions were formulated to suspend drift net fishing for some time. The Assembly was in agreement that all the members needed to agree to halt the drift net fishing as of June 1992 (Luif 87).This was done with the understanding that such a decision would not have been made if there were effective marine resources or alternative conservation strategies.

Human Rights Activities

The United Nations General Assembly recognizes that all humans have a universal value that forms the basis for peace and stability in the world. Hence, the UN is actively involved in many activities that relate to promoting and protecting human rights across the world (Luif 90). For example, in 1989, the Assembly formulated the Conventions on the Rights of the Child by means of consensus. In addition, there was an amendment of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, which aimed to remove the death penalty (Luif 92). However, many of the member countries, including Japan, voted against the resolution. In 1948, the organ came up with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that contained 30 articles as per the UN’s interpretation of human rights.

Criticisms of the UN General Assembly

Philosophical and Moral Criticisms

The UN General Assembly has been criticized for fueling global chaos. Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the United Nations, published a book in 2004 in which he criticized the moral relativism of the body in supporting terrorism and genocide. This is mainly because the UN was established by the nations that had declared war on the bloc’s powers during the Second World War; for that reason, it was easy for them to do evil. When the ambassador published his book, only 75 out of the 184 member states were free democracies (Peterson 100). Although the organ was in a position to amend the requirements of dictatorships, it did not. Another strongly criticized action of the UN General Assembly is the moment of silence it held to respect North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong–il, after his death. It appeared as though the assembly condoned the ideologies of the dictator, fueling a lot of criticism (Peterson 102).

Population Control and Abortion Criticisms

Different groups have criticized the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA), which has been supporting governments to carry out coercive sterilizations and forced abortions (Peterson 104). The UN and the United States conflicted as a result of this revelation, which made the latter to withhold its UNFPA funding. Although this concept remains controversial, it is possible for the organization to try to control the world’s total population.

Administrative Criticisms

The UN assembly has also been criticized for bias. There are rumors that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), including the United States, China, the United Kingdom, Russia, and France, do not monitor each other. If these accusations were indeed true, it would appear that the UNSC only addresses the strategic benefits and political motives of the five permanent members (Malone 110). For instance, in 1991, these countries pulled their resources together to protect the oil-rich Kuwait during the war, yet they did not do the same in 1994 during the Rwandan genocide.

Membership Criticisms

Critics are of the opinion that the permanency of some member states should be eliminated. According to some scholars, the General Assembly should include non-nuclear power states as permanent members to ensure there is democracy within it (Kim and Russet 652). The concept that any country can be a member on a non-permanent basis is considered inadequate by critics.

Veto Power

The veto power of the five permanent nations is another criticism that the Security Council faces. This is because the veto power of just one permanent nation among the five is enough to stop any possible resolution from being passed by the council (Peterson 108). This means that the opinion of one permanent member is considered more important than that of the non-permanent nations, which hinders important diplomatic responses to crises.

Fait Accompli

Fait accompli is a situation where permanent members get together in private to present self-seeking resolutions to the UN council. Although such actions are condemned by the United Nations, they still take place.

Allegations of Globalism

UN’s activities have been the center stage for controversies and criticisms, which started barely five decades after its formation. John Birch was one of the earliest opponents of the UN; he even created a campaign to get the United States out of the organization. Birch felt that the aim of the UN was to create a ‘One World Government’, which would only favor a few countries (Luif 99).

Response by the UN General Assembly

The UN General Assembly has been revitalizing its activities for many years. The motivating factors have been to increase the power of the Assembly to make the debates more fruitful and less repetitive (Weiss, Forsythe, and Coate 47). However, the organization has continued to resist reforms, such as the involvement of developing nations in making decisions. Despite the resistance, there are small reforms taking place. In April 2007, the General Assembly authorized an overhaul of the international criminal justice system because it considered it unprofessional, slow, ineffective, and cumbersome, just like many critics had proposed (Peterson 150). In response, the General Assembly introduced a new internal justice system in 2009, which started interviewing potential judges with the objective of ensuring the organization operates autonomously as required.

The former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in the report he presented to the UN Security Council, condemned the Assembly for passing resolutions based on the opinions of a few member states. Michael Doyle, Annan’s aid at the time, recommended that the Assembly incorporates hearings with expert testimonies. Lately, the General Assembly has been enhancing its work to ensure it is significant and substantive. The 59/313 resolution, which was adopted in 2005, created a more influential role for the president of the assembly to ensure that the resolutions made represented the views of the majority member states (Levine-Clark 570).

The UN General Assembly reformed the administrative and financial sectors in accordance with the recommendations of a report created under Japan’s initiative. These reforms were executed over a period of three years. During the 44th Assembly meeting in 1989, the final report was relinquished to the council. In the report, notable changes were observed, such as, the introduction of the consent formula and the reduction of the UN staff. The report also stated that there were small improvements made in the integration and reorganization of the inter-governmental structures for purposes of both economic and social activities (Levine-Clark 574). Since the three-year reforms were completed, Japan has sustained its efforts to provide a more competent management strategy of the United Nations, to promote sound operations (Weiss, Forsythe, and Coate 66).

In conclusion, the UN General Assembly as an internationally recognized body has made noteworthy strides during its meetings, such as the Millennium declaration that led to the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS), to help third world nations develop more (Peterson 175). Other actions include the declaration of universal human rights, which recognize all humans as having an equal value, and the passing of the ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution, which has helped the organ in its peacekeeping activities. The UN Assembly with no doubt requires significant modifications to its policies to address the criticisms it faces; this, however, is not an overnight issue. For that reason, the small changes that the UN General Assembly implements annually will help in improving the services offered by the United Nations. Although the yearly progress will be slow, the organ will eventually address all its objectives.

Works Cited

Kim, Soo Yeon, and Bruce Russett. “The New Politics of Voting Alignments in the United Nations General Assembly.” International Organization 50.4 (1996): 629-652. Print.

Levine-Clark, Michael. “‘We the Peoples:’ The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century.” Journal of Government Information 28.5 (2001): 571-574. Print.

Luif, Paul. EU Cohesion in the UN General Assembly. Paris: European Union Institute for Security Studies, 2003. Print.

Malone, David. The UN Security Council: From the Cold War to the 21st Century. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2004. Print.

Peterson, M. J. The UN General Assembly. London: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Weiss, Thomas George, David P. Forsythe, and Roger A. Coate. The United Nations and Changing World Politics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994. Print.

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