Consensus

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Many United Nations bodies take decisions by consensus, i.e. without a vote. As noted in a 2005 legal opinion, "consensus is considered as the absence of objection rather than a particular majority"[1].

Fifth Committee

In the mid-1980s, United States legislation generally referred to as the Kassebaum-Solomon Amendment required the reduction of the United States contribution to the regular budget to be reduced to 20 per cent unless major financial contributors such as the United States were afforded a greater say in the budget process.[2] In response, The General Assembly adopted resolution 40/237 of 18 December 1985 establishing the Group of High-Level Intergovernmental Experts (popularly known as the Group of 18), which issued a report (A/41/49) which led to the adoption of resolution 41/213 of 19 December 1986, which introduced the current "broadest possible agreement" standard (which, in practice, generally results in consensus-based decision-making) in the Fifth Committee through the following operative paragraph:

7. Considers it desirable that the Fifth Committee, before submitting its recommendations on the outline of the programme budget to the General Assembly in accordance with the provisions of the Charter and the rules of procedure of the Assembly, should continue to make all possible efforts with a view to establishing the broadest possible agreement;

Although this decision only originally covered negotiations over the budget outline, it was soon expanded to become the standard practice of the Fifth Committee on decisions other than elections, as reflected in resolution 49/143 of 23 December 1994:

Reaffirming the role of the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly with regard to budgetary and financial matters and the importance of making every effort to establish the broadest possible agreement in accordance with the practice established in the Fifth Committee and in conformity with Assembly resolution 41/213 of 19 December 1986,

Routine votes

Despite the general practice of consensus-based decision-making in the Fifth Committee, the actual decision-making standard set by resolution 41/213 is "the broadest possible agreement" and therefore voting is possible but uncommon. There are, however, a number of annual resolutions for which voting has become routine, namely:

  • Financing of UNDOF
Since 2018, Syria has proposed an oral amendment related to civilian posts approved in the mission staffing table. A vote on the oral amendment is generally requested by a member of the like-minded group.
  • Financing of UNIFIL
Annual G77 draft resolution with paragraphs stressing “that Israel shall pay the amount of 1,117,005 dollars resulting from the incident at Qana on 18 April 1996” and recalling previous resolutions on this matter, to which Israel proposes an amendment deleting the relevant paragraphs, on which a vote is requested by the Chair of the G77. Prior to the 73rd session, a vote would also be called on the draft resolution as a whole.
  • Estimates in respect of special political missions
Annual oral amendment proposed from the floor by Cuba and supported by delegations such as Iran, Nicaragua and Syria, proposing deletion of references to the concept of responsibility to protect and the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to protect. A vote on the oral amendment is generally requested by a member of the like-minded group.

Exceptions

There have been a number of contentious issues for which no consensus could be reached, including:

Session Resolution Date Agenda item Issue
73 73/268B 3 July 2019 Board of Auditors G77 and Russia opposed a number of BoA recommendations prompted submission of an L-document requesting SG not to implement those recommendations[3]
67 67/243 24 December 2012 Financing of ICTY Russia raised concerns about financing parameters for ICTY[4]
66 66/257 9 April 2012 Accountability G77 opposed reforms under the Change Management initiative[5]
64 64/248 24 December 2009 Scale of assessments Russia proposal alternative set of rates for regular budget scale[6]
60 60/260 8 May 2006 Reform G77 tabled L-document to block reforms proposed in SG report A/60/692[7]

Negotiation tactic

In addition to the above cases, L-documents have also occasionally been tabled as a negotiation tactic (i.e. a threat of a vote), usually by the G77, in order to force concessions, usually from the Partners/Like-Minded Group. The following is a non-exhaustive list of recent examples.

Session L-document Date Agenda item Sponsor Issue
73 A/C.5/73/L.6 20 December 2018 Scale of assessments Egypt, on behalf of the G77
73 A/C.5/73/L.7 20 December 2018 Peacekeeping scale of assessments Egypt, on behalf of the G77
69 A/C.5/69/L.11 23 December 2014 First performance report Bolivia, on behalf of the G77
63 A/C.5/63/L.9 22 December 2008 Development-related activities Antigua and Barbuda, on behalf of the G77

Committee for Programme and Coordination

The legal basis for consensus-based decision-making in the CPC is also resolution 41/213:

6. Agrees that…the Committee for Programme and Co-ordination should continue its existing practice of reaching decisions by consensus; explanatory views, if any, shall be presented to the General Assembly;

Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations

The longstanding practice of the C34 is to take decisions by consensus.[8]

See also

References

  1. Note to the President of the General Assembly regarding voting procedures on a resolution related to the equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council, 14 July 2005. United Nations Juridical Yearbook 2005, page 457
  2. Public Law No. 99-93, Section 143 Department of State Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1986 and 1987, August 16, 1985.
  3. A/73/671/Add.1
  4. A/67/675
  5. 66/638/Add.1
  6. A/64/482/Add.1
  7. A/60/831
  8. A/AC.121/SR.1 Special Committee on Peace-keeping Operations: Summary record of the first meeting, Friday, 26 March 1965