The United Nations General Assembly is made up of all 189 UN members. The Assembly meets in regular session once a year under a president elected from among the representatives. The regular session usually begins on the third Tuesday in September and ends in mid-December. Special sessions can be convened at the request of the Security Council, of a majority of UN members, or, if the majority concurs, of a single member. A special session was held in October 1995 at the head of government level to commemorate the UN's 50th anniversary.
Voting in the General Assembly on important questions--recommendations on peace and security; election of members to organs; admission, suspension, and expulsion of members; budgetary matters--is by a two-thirds majority of those present and voting. Other questions are decided by majority vote. Each member country has one vote. Apart from approval of budgetary matters, including adoption of a scale of assessment, Assembly resolutions are not binding on the members. The Assembly may make recommendations on any matters within the scope of the UN, except matters of peace and security under Security Council consideration.
As the only UN organ in which all members are represented, the Assembly serves as a forum for members to launch initiatives on international questions of peace, economic progress, and human rights. It can initiate studies; make recommendations; develop and codify international law; promote human rights; and further international economic, social, cultural, and educational programs.
The Assembly may take action on maintaining international peace if the Security Council is unable, usually due to disagreement among the permanent members, to exercise its primary responsibility. The "Uniting for Peace" resolutions, adopted in 1950, empower the Assembly to convene in emergency special session to recommend collective measures-including the use of armed force-in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression. Two-thirds of the members must approve any such recommendation. Emergency special sessions under this procedure have been held on nine occasions. The most recent, in 1982, considered the situation in the occupied Arab territories following Israel's unilateral extension of its laws, jurisdiction, and administration to the Golan Heights.
During the 1980s, the Assembly became a forum for the North-South dialogue-the discussion of issues between industrialized nations and developing countries. These issues came to the fore because of the phenomenal growth and changing makeup of the UN membership. In 1945, the UN had 51 members. It now has 189, of which more than two-thirds are developing countries. Because of their numbers, developing countries are often able to determine the agenda of the Assembly, the character of its debates, and the nature of its decisions. For many developing countries, the UN is the source of much of their diplomatic influence and the principal outlet for their foreign relations initiatives.
Several non-member states, international organizations and other entities have observer status at the General Assembly. The observers are:
- Holy See
- Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee
- Caribbean Community
- Commonwealth Secretariat
- European Community
- International Organization for Migration
- International Organization of la Francophonie
- International Seabed Authority
- International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea
- International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
- League of Arab States
- Organization of African Unity
- Organization of the Islamic Conference
- International Committee of the Red Cross
- International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent
- Sovereign Military Order of Malta
This text originally came from http://www.state.gov/p/io/rls/fs/2001/index.cfm?docid=4842