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General Assembly Plenary

represented by Pete Burgess and Dominik Köhler

After the opening ceremony at the UN Headquarters, the delegates met at 8 p.m. to begin the first task before the General Assembly (GA): The setting of the agenda. The topics before the GA were:

  1. New Approaches to Nuclear Non-Proliferation;
  2. Advancing United Nations Reform; and
  3. The Impact of Migration on Development.

For Australia, the three topics all carried significant importance not just in internal and regional politics, but also on a global level. Australia wished to leave the agenda as originally constructed, so in order 1, 2, 3. From the 192 Member States, around 170 of whom were present at the conference, many of the smaller nations were torn between topics 2 and 3. The reform of the UN carried special importance for them as together with one unified voice, they intended to make a strong claim for more equitable representation of nations within the UN. The reform of the Security Council was inevitably one aspect of the reform which was cited in many conversations. When the final vote was cast, the agenda was indeed changed to the order 2, 3, 1 showing signs of a growing dissatisfaction at some of the structural and procedural qualities of the United Nations.

Debate resumed on Wednesday at 2 p.m. and a number of speakers were able to bring some issues to the fore that the Assembly then discussed in more detail during informal caucusing sessions which ranged from around 20 to 40 minutes. Australia, together with its regional partners Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and a number of other Pacific countries, began to work on proposals to reform the working methods of the GA. Proposals included greater effectiveness, efficiency and accountability of the organ, and also touched on greater unity between UN organs, gender mainstreaming and budgetary reform.

A second working paper, concerning the reform of the UN peacekeeping missions, was also raised to our attention. Together with our close partners Canada and New Zealand, we joined a coalition of African and Asian countries. The mandate review was one of the key elements of this working paper. The strengthening of the General Assembly’s position within the UN was another theme, with goals to create a more robust and effective peacekeeping system. This was, of course, proposed with respect for the Security Council’s primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security, but the paper also called for a significant improvement in co-operation between the General Assembly and the Security Council. This concept of improved communication and co-operation was one of the most prominent themes throughout the conference.

Discussion on these topics proved to be very fruitful over the course of the conference in contrast to many delegations that chose to focus their efforts towards Security Council reform. The subject of Security Council reform draws proposals from almost every angle and the success of which demands a complex procedure including an amendment of the UN Charter and the approval and ratification from all 5 Permanent Members of the Security Council.

Thursday saw a shift from the initial fray of ideas towards a more purposeful and co-operative approach as delegates became aware of the time constraint that existed for such a vast topic. Efforts were made to seek support for a rising number of working papers, and many delegates found enough work in just collecting signatures. However, throughout the day as all delegations sought to have their voice heard, there was a lack of willingness from all sides to compromise and merge papers and ideas together. The result of this was that the number of working papers continued to rise past 20, many of those carrying only a handful of sponsors in addition to the remaining signatories required for the paper to be accepted by the dais. As Thursday drew to a close, many of the working groups had begun to focus almost exclusively on their own working, without enough attention being paid to other papers on the floor, many of which were inevitably dealing with very similar issues.

When the chair opened the final day of committee sessions on Friday, there were more than 30 working papers currently being circulated. The chair strongly recommended that the committee start the process of merging papers, warning that when the committee moved later into voting procedure, only around 15 draft resolutions would be accepted. In contrast to Thursday, there was real progress made by the delegations in merging papers and the number of papers began to decrease. Australia continued to look for papers in circulation bearing similarities to the two papers already carrying our sponsorship. We found a group, led by Oman, Kuwait and a number of other Middle Eastern countries, who had also been tackling the topic of GA reform, and we began the difficult but ultimately successful process of merging the two papers. We were also trying to find partners for the draft resolution on peacekeeping. Tensions rose as the committee moved quickly through the final hours towards voting procedure.

By 3 p.m., the GA Plenary entered into voting procedure with 15 accepted draft resolutions. Both papers sponsored by Australia had survived. During voting procedure, which lasted around 3 hours, no delegates were allowed to leave the room and strict decorum was enforced. When we finally left our seats at 6.30 p.m., the committee had adopted 12 of the original 15 draft resolutions, making them resolutions outright. All delegates were delighted to have achieved so much during the week, and have hard results to show for it. There was still, however, one more task awaiting the committee on Saturday.

On Saturday morning, the GA Plenary needed to approve reports and resolutions by the other GA bodies. This session took place in one of the larger conference rooms in the UN. All the resolutions proposed to the GA by the different bodies were accepted, with the board high on the wall to the right of the committee carrying all 192 Member States lighting up predominantly green each time as delegations cast their vote.

The Closing Ceremony marking the end of the conference took place back in the General Assembly Hall. With around 2,000 students from over 30 different countries filling the Hall, the atmosphere was one of satisfaction and relief. There was also a great appreciation shared by all delegations for what had been learned over the past week. Friendships had been made and a seed had been planted in each of the young people present, an inspiration to use the many years ahead to courageously endeavour to bring about the change they all wanted to see in the world.