The General Assembly is the largest of all the organs of the United Nations. This is the great deliberative body of the Organisation which discusses every matter within the scope of the Charter. It consists of all the member-States.
Though each member-State may send up to five representatives to participate in its deliberations, yet member-States have only one vote each.
Important questions specified in the Charter maintenance of peace and security, the election of members to other organs, the admission, suspension or expulsion of member-States, matters relating to trusteeship, and budgetary questions are decided by two-thirds majority of the members present and voting. All other questions are decided by a simple majority of those voting.
The Assembly itself, and voting by simple majority, may add new categories of questions which are to be decided by a two-thirds majority. Normally, the Assembly has to meet in regular session once every year, in September, but special sessions may be convened at the request of the Security Council, or by a majority of the member-States.
The President is elected by the General Assembly for each session. It also elects seven Vice-Presidents and appoints six Working Committees: (1) Political and Security; (2) Economic and Financial; (3) Social, Humanitarian and Cultural; (4) Trusteeship; (5) Administrative and Budgetary; and (6) Legal all appointed for the session. Besides, the Assembly also constitutes at every session two procedural, two standing and five special committees.
The Assembly elects by a two-thirds majority of those present and voting non- permanent members of the Security Council for two years. The Charter requires that in electing these members, the General Assembly shall pay due regard to the contribution that they may make to the maintenance of peace and security and to the other purposes of the United Nations, and also to equitable geographical distribution.
It also chooses all the eighteen members of the Economic and Social Council, and members of the Trusteeship Council. By a complicated system of parallel voting, the Security Council and the General Assembly, independently of each other, elect the fifteen judges of the International Court of Justice, no two of whom may be the nationals of the same country. Finally, the Assembly appoints the Secretary-General who is the head of the UN Secretariat.
But the most important functions of the General Assembly are initiative, discussion, study and recommendation. It has the right to discuss all questions and matters within the scope of the Charter and within the activity of the United Nations.
The Assembly is competent to take up and discuss any question bearing on the maintenance of peace and security submitted to it by any member-State, by the Security.
Council or, in certain circumstances, by a non-member, and make its recommendations either to the. Security Council or to the member-States direct. But there is one limitation which the Charter places on the powers of the General Assembly.
While the Security Council is dealing with any dispute or situation, the General Assembly may not take up that matter for consideration and make recommendations on the subject unless the Security Council requests it to do so.
The Secretary-General informs the Assembly of any matters concerning peace and security which are being dealt with by the Security Council. As soon as the Security Council has ceased to deal with these matters, the Secretary-General informs the Assembly or the member-States, if the Assembly is not in session.
The General Assembly has the right to call the attention of the Security Council to situations which are likely to endanger peace. Subject to the provision of not making a recommendation on a dispute or situation being dealt with by the Security Council, the General Assembly may recommend measures for the peaceful adjustment of any situation likely to impair the general welfare of friendly relations among nations.
This includes violation of the purposes and principles of the United Nations as well. It is true that the recommendations of the Assembly are not legally binding, but they do serve as an important instrument for bringing the weight of public opinion in the world to bear upon the members of the United Nations.
In particular, the right of discussion and accommodation comprises questions of cooperation in the maintenance of international peace and security, including disputes brought before the Assembly, as well as the principles governing disarmament and regulation of armaments. The Assembly may call the attention of the Security Council to situations likely to endanger international peace and security.
The Assembly may also discuss the powers and functions of other organs of the United Nations and establish subsidiary organs necessary for the performance of its functions. The General Assembly is given wide power to initiate studies for the purpose of promoting international cooperation in political, economic, social, cultural, educational and health matters.
The studies so initiated should include the encouragement of the progressive development and codification of International Law and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion. It, also, has the power to consider principles governing disarmament and the regulation of armaments and make recommendations.
In promoting international cooperation in economic, social, cultural, educational and health matters, the General Assembly works mainly through the Economic and Social Council.
The Council itself is the principal organ of the United Nations but it acts under the authority of the General Assembly. Finally, the General Assembly considers and approves the budget of the United Nations, and decides on the share of expenses to be borne by each member-State.