The General Assembly today adopted a special decision‑making procedure, including the use of electronic voting, for adopting draft resolutions and decisions when it cannot hold in‑person meetings under “the most exceptional circumstances”, such as a COVID‑19‑induced lockdown.
Adopting decision “A/75/L.7/Rev.1” by a recorded vote of 123 in favour, 19 against with 29 abstentions, the Assembly set out a procedure that allows the 193‑member organ to continue its business through electronic voting and other means in such extraordinary situations.
By the text, which was introduced by Liechtenstein on behalf of the main sponsors, the Assembly decided that Member States may vote “in favour” or “against” or indicate “abstain” through an electronic means provided by the Secretariat. The votes cast by Member States will become visible to other Member States five minutes before the closure of the voting period. The voting process will be considered valid if a majority of Member States are present during the voting process, and if the votes in favour reach the required majority, the proposal will be considered adopted.
The Assembly further decided that the procedure set out in this decision should strictly apply without discrimination and only in the most exceptional circumstances, “when an in‑person meeting of the General Assembly is not possible for a prolonged period of time owing to concrete and ongoing risks to the safety and well-being of representatives of Member States and United Nations personnel.”
The decision also entrusted the Assembly President with the power to determine what circumstances can trigger the use of the adopted procedure, “after consultation with the Chairs of the Main Committees and guided by the recommendation of the Secretary‑General”. Such determination should be made also in consultation with the Medical Director, the head of the Department of Safety and Security of the Secretariat and the host State authorities.
Before action on “L.7/Rev.1”, the Assembly rejected, by a recorded vote of 33 in favour, 86 against with 42 abstentions, a proposal tabled by Cuba to amend that text. That amendment, or “A/75/L.15”, would have had the General Committee make a recommendation as to what circumstances should trigger the use of the exceptional procedure. The revision would also have had the Assembly decide that the special procedure applies only to those essential matters, such as the budgets put forward by the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), mandate renewals and the rescheduling and postponing of the Assembly‑mandated meetings and events.
Before and after the votes, many delegations took the floor to explain their positions.
The draft decision’s main proponents argued that the Assembly must be equipped with methods to effectively continue its business under any circumstances, with Liechtenstein’s representative stressing that the amendment would defeat the purpose of the new procedure by changing “the trigger and scope” of the proposed mechanism. He therefore called on Member States to reject the amendment.
Costa Rica’s representative said its contents would give each member of the General Committee a veto power while adding another level of difficulty to the Assembly’s decision‑making process. “We have the collective responsibility to protect ourselves as best we can from a future crisis,” she stressed, calling on States to vote against the amendment.
Echoing these views, the representatives of Sweden, the United States, the United Kingdom and France expressed support for the draft decision.
The representatives of Brazil, Singapore, Spain and Indonesia said their delegations voted in favour of the draft decision while agreeing with some of the points raised regarding the scope of the mechanism and the negotiation process.
Those who opposed the draft decision argued that electronic voting is fraught with technical and other challenges and that the adoption of a new, electronic mechanism would further disadvantage the delegations of developing countries, which already suffer from technological and logistical challenges. They also insisted that the legality of changing the rules of procedure should be discussed in the Six Committee (Legal), expressing regret that the main sponsors rushed to adopt the decision without enough consultations.
The Russian Federation’s representative said that the time has come for the text’s sponsors to enjoy their triumph with a toast of champagne, but they should realize that they created disagreement and disputes in the Assembly. “Thanking” those proponents for not heeding the views of other delegations and not allowing enough time to consider the matter, he expressed his deep disappointment and made an appeal that the special procedure not be used. He said his delegation would look into the accuracy of Secretariat’s statement that the decision has no budgetary implications.
Cuba’s representative said that the proposed draft decision does not address legitimate concerns of his and other delegations. Any substantial decision concerning the rules of procedure must be adopted by consensus. His delegation made several alternative proposals, but the sponsors of the text did not show flexibility. This left him with no option but to vote against the draft decision.
China’s representative said e‑voting is not adequate for ensuring business continuity. Sponsors of the text rejected alternative proposals, which forced his delegation, together with several others, to propose an amendment. E‑voting has loopholes, such as cybersecurity issues.
India’s representative said that the Assembly adopted more than 30 resolutions during its seventy‑fourth session despite the restrictions placed by the coronavirus, asking why some delegations are trying to “fix something that worked well”. The silence procedure gives equal power to all States. Breaking the silence is not a veto. E‑voting will allow delegations to hide behind the computer screen. While frontline workers are risking their lives to fight the pandemic, “why can’t diplomats of 193 countries come to the Headquarters to cast their ballots,” he said.
Nicaragua’s representative stressed that the United Nations must be able to “set the example” in times of crisis, including by pressing forward with its essential business. However, discussions on changes to the Assembly’s rules of procedure have been imposed by a group of countries without factoring in the need for consensus. Describing the draft decision as an imposition that could compromise the Assembly’s democratic rules, he said it should be taken up in the Sixth Committee (Legal).
The representative of Belarus regretted that the proposals made on 12 November to reach out to the Sixth Committee were not supported by Member States.
The representatives of Iran, Syria, Myanmar, Venezuela and Burundi also opposed the new procedure.
Also speaking were the representatives of South Africa, Slovakia, Argentina, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Kyrgyzstan and Uganda.
The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 16 November, to discuss equitable representation in the Security Council and other reforms in the 15‑member organ.