Meet the General Assembly First Committee
When the United Nations was formed in October 1945, Chapter IV of the UN Charter mandated the formation of the General Assembly and Article 22 allowed for the General Assembly to “establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its functions.”
With the adoption of its Rules of Procedure the General Assembly established its six main committees: First Committee, Disarmament and International Security; Second Committee, Economic and Financial; Third Committee, Social, Humanitarian and Cultural; Fourth Committee, Special Political and Decolonization; Fifth Committee, Administrative and Budgetary; and Sixth Committee, Legal. The responsibilities and structure of these committees were amended by resolution 2632 (XXV). Today’s post on the AMUN Accords focuses on the General Assembly’s First Committee.
The First Committee’s responsibilities (as amended) are outlined in Annex IV of the General Assembly’s Rules of Procedure, paragraphs 32 and 33:
The Special Committee, recognizing that the role of the First Committee is essentially political, recommends that this Committee devote itself primarily to problems of peace, security and disarmament.
The Special Committee, not wishing to make any specific recommendation concerning the allocation of agenda items, did not feel that it should take any decision on the proposal that the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation should be submitted to the First Committee.
With a mandate to address disarmament and international security, the First Committee confronts topics that present a threat to global peace and affect Member States’ peace and security. The First Committee attempts to find multinational solutions that improve international security and promote peace. Broadly, the First Committee’s discussions focus on seven themes: nuclear weapons, other weapons of mass destruction, outer space (disarmament aspects only), conventional weapons, regional disarmament and security, other disarmament measures and international security, and the disarmament machinery.
Under the rules of the General Assembly, the work of GA Committees can begin only once the general debate of the Plenary body is concluded, generally in early- to mid- September. The agenda for committee work is decided by the General Assembly at the beginning of each session. The First Committee generally concludes its work by late October or early November, and the work of the First Committee can never be scheduled to occur concurrently with the work of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization). During its working time, the First Committee passes a few decisions and, on average, 50 resolutions, of which, approximately half pass by consensus. Many of the resolutions that are passed are recurring and are passed annually with little, or no, change to the resolution text. This fact emphasizes, at once, the enduring significance of the First Committee’s work, but it also highlights some of the tensions within the committee, which can seem to stall progress on a number of issues.
The First Committee also hears reports from two UN Bodies, the UN Conference on Disarmament (UNCD) and the UN Disarmament Commission (UNDC). Substantive and organizational support for the First Committee’s work is provided by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and Secretariat members for the First Committee come from the UN’s Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM). During their annual deliberations, First Committee may hear from the Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBT-O) and the Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and it may hold formal and informal meetings with the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs and with representatives of disarmament entities worldwide. The First Committee also receives reports from the Secretary-General on the work of Regional Centers of the Office of Disarmament Affairs and on any other matters that the Secretary-General wishes to emphasize.
Since 2012, all proceedings of the General Assembly First Committee are broadcast live on UN Live TV in the six official languages of the UN and the language of the speaker. Archives of past First Committee meetings are also available. All documents produced by the proceedings of the First Committee are available, including lists of draft proposals, reports to the General Assembly Plenary, Voting Records and all Resolutions. Additionally, archives of all past sessions are available. These resources are a treasure trove for students of disarmament and for students who will be representing a country on the First Committee in a Model United Nations simulation.
In its most recent session, the 72nd, lasting from 2-25 October, the Committee began with a public address by General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák where he stressed that, “The evolving global environment does not look promising,” and that member states must redouble their efforts at reducing arms and armaments so that more focus can eventually be given to development and humanitarian assistance. General Debate, on an agenda accepted by the Plenary body, occurred from 2-10 October, followed by thematic debate from 11-25 October. Find most of the statements from Member States at ReachingCriticalWill.org, the disarmament branch of the Women’s League for Peace and Freedom, the oldest women’s peace organization in the world.
An excellent summation of the work of the General Assembly First Committee for the last 20 years can be found at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) website, an NGO that works with governments worldwide on disarmament programs. It is worth noting some of the landmark documents of the first committee.
- Recommendations by the First Committee led to the passage of the first ever UN Resolution by the General Assembly on 24 January 1946, Resolution 1 (I) “Establishment of a Commission to Deal with the Problems Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy.”
- On 20 November 1959, the General Assembly Plenary passed Resolution 1378 (XIV) “General and complete disarmament,” a First Committee Resolution, which was the first passed by the UN that was co-sponsored by every Member State at the time.
- The General Assembly is authorized under the UN Charter to hold special sessions as requested by the Member States. There have been three special sessions focused on Disarmament:
- The 15th Special Session on Disarmament (31 May – 25 June 1998): Resolutions and decisions, Report of the Committee, Special Report to the General Assembly.
- The 12th Special Session on Disarmament (7 June – 10 July 1982): Resolutions and decisions, and Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the 12th Special Session.
- The 10th Special Session on Disarmament (23 May – 30 June 1978): Resolutions and Decisions.
- The 10th Special Session also established:
- The UN Conference on Disarmament,
- The Disarmament Commission,
- The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), an autonomous institute within the UN that researches disarmament solutions and promotes action with other Member States, IGOs, NGOs, and the private sector.
- The Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, that serves as the Board of Trustees to the UNIDIR and advise the Secretary-General on disarmament matters.
- The 10th Special Session also established:
The General Assembly First Committee remains relevant today and completes important work within the United Nations system. You can follow the news of the General Assembly First Committee at the UN News Center or by following @UN on Twitter or following the United Nations Facebook Page.
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