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127th IPU ASSEMBLY
1. Inaugural ceremony
The inaugural ceremony of the 127th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union took place on 21 October 2012 at the Québec City Convention Centre, with Mr. David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada, in attendance. Mr. Noël Kinsella, Speaker of the Canadian Senate, in his introductory remarks, underscored Canada’s long-standing commitment to the IPU. In 2012 Canada was marking the 100th anniversary of its formal affiliation to the Organization and hosting its fourth IPU Assembly. The IPU and the Parliament of Canada shared the goal of promoting the core values of parliamentary diplomacy and democracy. The IPU had established itself as a unique forum for dialogue among legislators from diverse parliaments and geopolitical regions. On behalf of the Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons, Ms. Chris Charlton welcomed participants to Québec City, whose exceptional history and multicultural character made it the perfect setting for a parliamentary debate on citizenship, identity and linguistic and cultural diversity in a globalized world. She emphasized the important work that remained to be done on finalizing the Plan of Action for gender-sensitive parliaments, which would help parliamentary institutions reflect on and promote gender equality in their structures, methods and daily work.
The message of the United Nations Secretary-General was delivered by Mr. Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, and outlined the priorities in the Secretary-General’s Five-Year Action Agenda. The United Nations welcomed the strategic partnership being developed with the IPU and encouraged the Organization to make further efforts to prevent conflict, build lasting peace and help countries in transition, as was currently the case in the Maldives and Myanmar. The IPU was acknowledged for highlighting the role of parliaments with regard to the responsibility to protect civilians, an issue of particular importance in view of the situation in Syria and elsewhere. In the words of the UN Secretary-General, "The international community has a moral responsibility, a political duty and a humanitarian obligation to stop the bloodshed and find peace for the people of Syria".
The President of the IPU, Mr. Abdelwahad Radi, said that much of what would be discussed in Québec City reflected the major preoccupations facing the world today. Referring to the theme of the Special debate, he emphasized the duty of all parliamentarians to uphold cultural, linguistic, ethnic, racial and religious diversity as a global value. That value should apply not only to individual societies but also to the IPU, which could not achieve universality without espousing full participation, integration and inclusiveness. He emphasized the IPU’s fundamental principle that IPU Assemblies must provide a space where all Member Parliaments and their delegates, without exception, could meet and engage with one another. "Peace and prosperity will never have a chance if there is no respect for differences in political views or genuine commitment to using dialogue to end disputes. If there is one lesson we can all draw from the Arab Spring, it must be the critical importance of political diversity on the one hand and dialogue to achieve peace and democracy on the other," he added.
The ceremony concluded with a statement by the Governor General of Canada, who echoed the words of the IPU President: “Parliament is the place where democracy is enacted in the hard work of governing and of loyal opposition, and it serves as the ultimate symbol of our values of equality, fairness and justice … In a sense, this Union can be viewed as the Parliament of parliaments, and your example as a forum for dialogue and cooperation continues to instruct and inspire”. Welcoming the delegates from 129 countries, and wishing them all an enlightening and productive gathering, he declared the 127th Assembly officially open.
2. Opening of the Assembly and election of its President
The 127th Assembly opened at the Québec City Convention Centre in the morning of Monday, 22 October, with the election by acclamation of Mr. Donald Oliver, Speaker pro tempore of the Canadian Senate and President of the Canadian Inter-Parliamentary Group, as President of the Assembly. The President said that it was a great honour for him to have been elected to preside over the Assembly’s work, and that he was looking forward to rich and productive deliberations over the coming week. The theme of the Special debate in particular, Citizenship, identity and linguistic and cultural diversity in a globalized world, was one to which he was deeply attached, having spent a great part of his political career promoting those key values.
Delegations of the following 129 Member Parliaments took part in the work of the Assembly: Afghanistan, Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lesotho, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mexico, Micronesia (Federated States of), Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The following Associate Members also took part in the Assembly: Parliament of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), East African Legislative Assembly, Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States, Inter-Parliamentary Committee of the West African Economic and Monetary Union, Latin American Parliament and the Transitional Arab Parliament.
Observers included representatives of: (i) United Nations system: United Nations, International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Bank, Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO); (ii) League of Arab States; (iii) African Parliamentary Union (APU), Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union (AIPU), Association of Senates, Shoora and Equivalent Councils in Africa and the Arab World (ASSECAA), Interparliamentary Assembly of Member Nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States (IPA CIS), Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO), Inter-Parliamentary Union of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IPU-IGAD), Maghreb Consultative Council, Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (PABSEC), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCEPA), Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-speaking Countries (TURKPA), Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and the Russian Federation, Parliamentary Union of the Organization of the Islamic Conference Member States (PUOIC); (iv) Socialist International; and (v) Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Human Rights Watch, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), Penal Reform International and World Scout Parliamentary Union (WSPU).
Of the 1,256 participants who attended the Assembly, 624 were members of parliament. The parliamentarians included 42 Speakers, 35 Deputy Speakers and 175 women parliamentarians (28%).
4. Choice of an emergency item (Item 2)
On 22 October, the President informed the Assembly that the following four requests for the inclusion of an emergency item had been received: The violence perpetrated by armed terrorist groups against Christians and other minorities in Syria and attempts to drive them out of Syria, proposed by the Syrian Arab Republic; The international role of parliamentarians in prohibiting the defamation of religions and the desecration of religious symbols and shrines by contributing to the conclusion of an international agreement on the criminalization of such acts and by recognizing respect for religions as a prerequisite for international peace, understanding and cooperation, proposed by the United Arab Emirates; The security and humanitarian impacts of the crisis in Syria, including in neighbouring countries, proposed by the United Kingdom; and The institutional and security situation in Mali, proposed by Mali. Following a roll-call vote, the item on Mali was adopted and added to the agenda as Item 6.
5. Debates and decisions of the Assembly and of the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs
(a) Debate on the emergency item
The institutional and security situation in Mali (Item 6)The debate on the emergency item was held in the afternoon of Monday, 22 October, with the President of the 127th Assembly, Mr. D. Oliver, in the Chair.
During the debate, the speakers expressed their deep concern over the institutional and security crisis in Mali which, in the view of many, had extended beyond the confines of a regional crisis, being fuelled by trafficking of all sorts across continents, and threatened the stability not only of the Sahel but also of North Africa and beyond. Furthermore, it was exacerbated by extreme poverty and underdevelopment.
The Assembly referred the emergency item to a drafting committee composed of representatives of Belgium, Canada, France, Malaysia, Mali, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay. It appointed Mr. P. Mahoux (Belgium) as its president and Ms. D. Brodie (Malaysia) as its rapporteur. The drafting committee met on 23 October to finalize the draft resolution.
At its last sitting, held on 26 October, the Assembly adopted the resolution unanimously.
(b) Special debate
Citizenship, identity and linguistic and cultural diversity in a globalized world (Item 3)The Special debate was conducted over four sittings, which took place on 22, 23 and 25 October and covered various aspects of the theme under consideration. A total of 96 speakers from 89 delegations took part in the debate, which was chaired by the President of the Assembly. At the first sitting, the Foreign Minister of Canada, Mr. J. Baird, delivered a keynote address on the protection of diversity as a global value. The second sitting was introduced by the Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana, Ms. J. Bamford-Addo, and featured a substantive message from the Director-General of UNESCO, Ms. I. Bukova, on the question of respecting diversity while building social cohesion. The third sitting, on 23 October, was introduced by Mr. T. Henare, Chairman of the Committee on Maori Affairs in the Parliament of New Zealand, who spoke about the question of enhancing political participation by and representation of minorities and indigenous peoples. At the last sitting, on 25 October, the participants explored best practices and innovative ideas for managing citizenship in a globalized and rapidly changing environment. The sitting was introduced by three high-level speakers: Mr. K. Vollebaek, High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Grand Chief Edward John, President of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, and Ms. M. Kumar, Speaker of India’s Lok Sabha.
(c) Report of the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs (Item 4)
The IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs met from 22 to 25 October. Its discussions were framed by the recently adopted UN General Assembly resolution on interaction between the United Nations, national parliaments and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (A/RES/66/261) and a number of recent UN processes.
The Committee’s first sitting took the form of a round-table discussion on multilateralism and the role of parliamentary diplomacy. The event brought together representatives from regional parliamentary bodies involved in various ways in international efforts to promote national reconciliation, peace-building and conflict prevention. It provided a unique opportunity for the participants to share information and experiences, and to identify ways and means of making parliamentary diplomacy more coherent and effective.
To mark United Nations Day (24 October), the Committee’s second sitting took the form of a debate on the question Does the United Nations take democracy seriously enough? The participants touched on a number of areas in which the United Nations and the IPU were working together, in particular the rule of law, integrity of elections and the promotion of good governance and greater transparency in the work of parliaments.
In another event to mark United Nations Day, the Committee launched a new IPU Handbook for parliamentarians on Supporting Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. The Handbook, produced in cooperation with Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) and the World Future Council, was designed to be a practical tool for legislators. It identified good practices and model legislation in that area, and contained a series of recommendations for parliamentary action aimed at building a nuclear-weapon-free world.
At its third sitting, on 25 October, the Committee took stock of the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (also known as Rio+20), in a sitting entitled What prospects for sustainable development?
The Committee’s final sitting examined the progress made and obstacles encountered in the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, five years after its adoption in 2007. The participants noted positive developments, such as the adoption of a national plan of action for implementing the Declaration in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Declaration’s incorporation into Bolivian law. Overall, however, they noted the wide gap that existed between the standards and their implementation. Parliamentarians would have an opportunity to make a significant difference in the run-up to the next World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014.
The Advisory Group to the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs also met during the 127th Assembly, with Mr. M. Traoré (Burkina Faso) in the Chair. As part of its agenda, the Advisory Group discussed the implementation of UN General Assembly Resolution 66/261, in particular from the perspective of the development of a parliamentary component to major UN processes, and the annual Parliamentary Hearing, which was designed to provide parliamentary input to the work of the United Nations. In the context of the current process to reform and strengthen the Committee, the Advisory Group members exchanged views on the revision of the Group’s mandate and rules, and on the type of operational activities it would like to conduct in the year ahead.
The full report of the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs is available for downloading.
(d) Panel discussion (First Standing Committee subject item at 128th Assembly):
The responsibility to protect: The role of parliaments in safeguarding citizens’ lives) (Item 4(a))The panel discussion was held in the afternoon of 23 October with the President of the First Standing Committee, Mr. S.H. Chowdhury (Bangladesh), in the Chair. The co-Rapporteurs, Mr. L. Ramatlakane (South Africa) and Mr. S. Janquin (France), presented their draft reports, which focused on the concept of the responsibility to protect, how it had been applied, in particular during the recent events in the Middle East and North Africa, and the role that parliaments had to play.
The participants heard introductory presentations by Ms. T. Park, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for R2P, and Mr. E. Luck, former Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect.
Delegates from 28 parliaments and one regional parliamentary body took the floor during the ensuing debate. The participants acknowledged that parliaments should be more involved in ensuring application of the responsibility to protect, a concept that was constantly changing. They underscored that prevention was better than cure and that before any intervention the international community should exhaust all avenues for a peaceful settlement of disputes. They stated in no uncertain terms that national sovereignty must be respected and that the responsibility to protect should be invoked only in exceptional circumstances of blatant violations of international and humanitarian law, such as genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Any military intervention should be expressly authorized by the UN Security Council, be proportionate and have a reasonable chance of success. The participants pointed out that inaction was an option the effects of which should be weighed up against the possible consequences of an intervention, in particular collateral damage, in order for a reasoned decision to be taken.
Turning to the role of parliaments, several delegates provided examples of good practice and offered a number of suggestions on ways and means of enhancing the work of parliaments. Parliaments could set up and monitor early warning systems in order to identify as soon as possible any situation of risk requiring inter-parliamentary mediation. Some delegates appealed for enhanced parliamentary oversight, through which parliaments could hold up government action to scrutiny and to some extent guide such action. The participants requested inter alia that the IPU set up a basic legislative mechanism that would provide parliaments with effective oversight tools. They stressed that resorting to the responsibility to protect not only presupposed prevention and intervention policies but should also expressly provide for a reconstruction phase. Parliaments should be committed to overseeing government action to that end. Furthermore, the participants pointed to the need for parliaments to strengthen good governance, underscoring its crucial importance for peace and security.
(ed) Panel discussion (Second Standing Committee subject item at 128th Assembly):
Fair trade and innovative financing mechanisms for sustainable development (Item 4(b))The panel discussion took place in the afternoon of 25 October, with Mr. S. Alhusseini (Saudi Arabia), President of the Second Standing Committee, in the Chair. He was replaced for a part of the session by the First Vice-President, Ms. B. Contini (Italy).
The two co-Rapporteurs appointed at the 126th Assembly, Mr. F.-X. de Donnea (Belgium) and Mr. R. Chitotela (Zambia), presented their joint draft report. Their introductory statements were followed by an exchange of views during which a total of 26 delegates took the floor.
The discussion focused on ways of achieving sustainable development objectives through fair international trade and increased reliance on innovative sources of development finance. The report prepared by the co-Rapporteurs offered a broad overall framework for the debate while placing special emphasis on issues such as fair trade practices, the challenge of sustaining adequate levels of development finance at a time of economic and financial crisis, and the need to explore the potential of innovative financing mechanisms (private funds for the health sector, air ticket levy schemes, a tax on foreign exchange transactions and the use of guarantees and insurance).
Delegates made a number of proposals for ways to enrich the content of the draft report. They also expressed the hope that the future draft resolution would address inter alia a number of other questions, including the impact of remittances, the need to avoid overlap between official development assistance and innovative financing mechanisms, and the question of who would be responsible for monitoring financial transaction tax proceeds.
The panel discussion served as a reminder that the overall objective of sustainable development could not be achieved without introducing new financial approaches and correcting the imbalances of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminated against the poorest and the weakest.
(f) Panel discussion (Third Standing Committee subject item at 128th Assembly):
The use of media, including social media, to enhance citizen engagement and democracy (Item 4(c))The panel discussion took place in the morning of Monday, 22 October, with Mr. O. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu (Ghana), President of the Third Standing Committee, in the Chair.
The two co-Rapporteurs appointed at the 126th Assembly, Ms. C. Charlton (Canada) and Ms. M.T. Kubayi (South Africa), presented their draft joint report. They were joined by an expert, Mr. A. Williamson, former Director of the Digital Democracy Programme at the Hansard Society. Following their introductory statements, they invited participants to make contributions with a view to adding new elements to the report and laying the groundwork for the future draft resolution. A total of 36 delegates took the floor.
The discussion focused on the careful balance to be struck between the rights of people to freedom of expression and the need for mechanisms to hold the media and social media participants to account.
In almost all countries, many people took part in the democratic and legislative processes using social media and most parliaments used the Internet or social media to engage citizens in the parliamentary process. Individual parliamentarians were connected to their constituencies by social media. That showed that media, including social media, were effective means of enhancing citizen engagement and democracy.
Social media, nevertheless, had no mechanisms for ensuring that participants, or even the media themselves, were held to account. Parliaments and individual members could not answer all comments or control the media they used. Guidelines were therefore needed to enable all those using social media to ensure transparency and accountability.
Delegates agreed that social media were better than traditional media at attracting younger people and encouraging them to take part in democracy. Social media were by nature more horizontal than hierarchical, and worked on the basis of personal relationships between "friends". That prompted younger people to participate in them without considering the responsibilities they entailed. For social media to function democratically, mechanisms were needed to promote and oversee the accountability of the media and the participants, in order to protect freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights.
Many delegates mentioned the digital divide between men and women, between developed and least or less developed countries, and between urban and rural areas. They suggested that the international community should support those countries in need of assistance to overcome the digital divide. Traditional media also had to continue to be developed as effective tools for informing citizens and involving them in the democratic process.
The panel discussion provided a good opportunity to share experiences among countries. Some participants raised the issue of media accountability. Several stressed the importance of the media being diverse and independent in order for them to play an objective role in promoting democracy and citizen participation. Funding for the media was equally important, and care should be taken to avoid an overconcentration of the media in a few hands.
The final report and the resolution to be adopted at the 128th Assembly in Quito should reflect those concerns.
6. Closing session of the Assembly
At its last sitting, on Friday 26 October, the Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution on the emergency item entitled The institutional and security situation in Mali. The Assembly heard a presentation by the drafting committee on the outcome of the Special debate and unanimously adopted the Québec City Declaration on Citizenship, identity and linguistic and cultural diversity in a globalized world. Following a presentation by two representatives of the IPU Gender Partnership Group, Ms. R. Kadaga (Uganda) and Mr. F. Drilon (Philippines), the Assembly also unanimously adopted the Plan of Action for Gender-sensitive Parliaments.
The Assembly took note of the report on the work conducted by the IPU Committee on United Nations Affairs during the Québec Assembly and asked that it be circulated widely among Member Parliaments and at the United Nations. It heard a video message from parliamentarians around the world appealing to parliaments to make use of the new IPU Handbook on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament with a view to mobilizing fresh parliamentary action in support of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
Mr. F. Bustamante, speaking on behalf of the host Parliament of the 128th IPU Assembly, invited all IPU Member Parliaments to attend the next IPU Assembly in Quito, Ecuador. The representatives of the IPU geopolitical groups took the floor to express their gratitude and appreciation to the Parliament and Government of Canada, the City of Québec and the people of Canada, for the warm hospitality extended to them and the excellent organization of the meetings.
The President of the IPU, Mr. A. Radi, and the President of the 127th IPU Assembly, Mr. D. Oliver, made closing remarks, underscoring the success of the Assembly in terms of the quality of the deliberations, the high level of participation and the importance of the outcome documents that had been adopted. The President of the Assembly then declared the Assembly closed.