Rules of Procedure

Summary of Rules of Procedure

An short annotated guide to the Rules of Procedure gives an overview of the most important rules MUN simulations should follow.  Further details follow below.

Rules Followed during Formal GA Meetings — Discussion Phase

  •  Quorum

The quorum is the number of Member States who need to be present for the PGA/Chair to open a meeting and for the GA to take decisions. The quorum for opening a GA meeting is one-third of the Member States in the Plenary and one-fourth of the Member States in the Main Committees. This rule is usually waived at the beginning of a session, based on the recommendation of the General Committee. The quorum for the adoption of resolutions/decisions and elections is a simple majority of Member States.

  • Points of order

Points of order can be raised by Member States at any point in the meeting. If a delegate believes that the Chairman is not following the Rules of Procedure or not being sufficiently active in ensuring others do so, he/she may raise a point of order. The Rules of Procedure require the Chairman to interrupt proceedings to hear the point of order and to rule immediately on it (where ‘rule’ means to declare either that the point of order has no merit or to accept it and direct any delegate who is out of order to conform to the Rules).

The Rules also provide that if any delegate believes that the Chairman’s ruling is incorrect, he/she may appeal against the ruling. Because the power within a Committee rests ultimately with the delegates themselves, an appeal must immediately be put to a vote. The Rules further provide that if the appeal is successful, the Chairman must immediately rule according to the appeal.

If the Chairman’s ruling on a point of order is appealed, the question put before the Committe is whether the Chairman’s ruling should be accepted or rejected. If a delegate felt the Chairman’s ruling should be accepted he/she would vote ‘Yes’ or would vote ‘No’ if he/she felt it should be rejected.

Any delegate at all times has an absolute right to raise a point of order or to challenge the Chairman’s ruling. But he/she does not have an obligation to do so and, before exercising his/her right, he/she should consider whether it is constructive to do so.

There will be many occasions in the course of most conferences where minor –or, sometimes, not-so-minor– departures from the Rules are in practice helpful to the conference. In such cases, chairmen may be tolerant for the sake of the greater good. On other occasions, some divergence from the Rules may be accidental and inconsequential.

Moreover, all points of order take up some of the time of the conference and they all have a confrontational dimension which may be unhelpful to the general mood of the conference.

There will be some cases in which the prudent and constructive thing to do is not to raise a point of order, even though one would be technically justified.

To appeal a Chairman’s ruling would be a highly confrontational act and, in practice, it very rarely occurs. However, as with other such ‘reserve powers’ (as they are known to constitutional lawyers), the very existence of the ability to appeal gives every Chairman a very strong incentive to always behave and rule correctly.

There is a widely-used convention for signaling the Chairman that the reason you are asking for the floor is to raise a point of order rather than simply seeking to add your name to the Speakers’ list. The delegate makes a ‘T’ with their hand and nameplate.

Syrian delegate requests right to speak
Syrian delegate requests right to speak

Some delegates at times attempt to abuse the right to raise points of order to ‘jump the queue’ of the Speakers’ list and speak instead on substance. At other times they may be simply using up time, sowing confusion and souring the atmosphere in an attempt to prevent the conference from reaching the conclusion desired by the majority of delegations.

  • Suspension of a meeting

A meeting can be suspended for a limited amount of time upon the request of a Member State or by the PGA. A suspended meeting is usually resumed on the same day.

  • Adjournment of a meeting

A meeting can be adjourned upon the request of a Member State or by the PGA. An adjournment calls a meeting to a close. Any continued consideration of an item will take place at another meeting usually on another day.

  • Adjournment of debate

Adjournment of debate ends parts or all of the consideration of the agenda item concerned. This can mean ending the debate, blocking action on a specific draft resolution/decision or ending the consideration of the item as a whole (i.e., closing the item for the remainder of the session). Member States requesting adjournment of debate specify which part of the consideration is to be ended. The motion to adjourn debate is put to an immediate vote, carried by a simple majority, after a maximum of two delegations have spoken in favour and two against. The term “no-action motion” is used when a motion for adjournment of debate is made to block action on a specific draft resolution or decision.

Seeking the floor and addressing the Chair

The most universal rules of debate are:

  • no one (other than the Chairman) may intervene in the debate (i.e. speak so as to be heard by the conference) without having been given the floor by the Chairman; and
  • when anyone other than the Chairman intervenes, they must address their remarks to the Chairman (although everyone understands that what they say is meant for the whole conference).
Delegates at a Human Rights Council session, hold up their plaques to request the floor

Delegates at a Human Rights Council session, hold up their plaques to request the floor

The purpose of these rules is clear. They ensure that only one person speaks at any given time and allow the Chairman to steer the debate. They also tend to dampen any tendency towards quarrels between delegates, at least in the formal setting. This is extremely important as quarrelsome behaviour is inimical to agreement.

The first rule also means that delegates have to exert themselves to be given the floor. A delegate can seek the floor (i.e. ask for permission to speak) in two ways, namely by:

  • asking the Chairman or the secretary (who often helps the Chair to keep track of such requests) to add his/her name to the list of speakers. He/she can do this by approaching the Chairman or the secretary directly while the conference is not in session, or by passing a message to them
  • signalling from the floor (i.e. from his/her seat, while the conference is in session) that he/she wants to speak. The widely-used convention is that the delegate raises his/her nameplate or sticks it vertically in its holder, lowering it when he/she believes his/her request has been noted or, at the latest, once he/she has spoken.

The Chairman (or the secretary as his/her assistant) keeps at all times a list of delegations wishing to address the conference. This is known as a Speakers list. While the Rules of most conferences specify that the floor should be given to delegations in the order in which their requests are received, in practice, the Chairman often has some leeway.

Rules followed when taking action on draft resolutions

  • Voting on Resolutions

It is assumed that all tabled draft resolutions/decisions will be adopted without a vote (i.e., by consensus). If a resolution will not be adopted by consensus, the PGA/Chair is usually informed beforehand that a vote will be requested.

  • Voting on Amendments

Amendments to a tabled draft resolution/decision are either formally submitted and issued as L-documents by the day before the scheduled action, or proposed orally from the floor, if no Member State objects. If there are several amendments proposed, the PGA/Chair decides on the sequence of consideration. If amendments are adopted, the draft resolution will be considered as “draft resolution L.XX as amended.”

  • Voting on paragraphs (“paragraph vote,“ “division of proposal,” “divided vote,” “separate vote”)

A Member State can request a separate vote on parts of a draft resolution before the adoption of the whole text. This can pertain to parts of a paragraph, an entire paragraph or several paragraphs. If challenged, the request for a paragraph vote will be put to an immediate vote, carried by a simple majority, after a maximum of two delegations have spoken in favour of and two against the request. A paragraph vote will be immediately followed by the consideration of the whole draft resolution/decision. Adoption without a vote remains the assumption. If all operative paragraphs are rejected, the draft resolution/decision is considered rejected as a whole. These cases are rare.

  • Explanation of a vote

Before and after action is taken on a draft resolution/decision, Member States can explain their vote or — in the case of an adoption by consensus — their position. The main sponsor and the co-sponsors of a draft resolution cannot make explanations of vote. An explanation of vote concerning a paragraph vote is made only after action is taken on the whole resolution/decision. Member States are asked to refrain from making explanations of vote on the same draft resolution/decision in both the Main Committee and the Plenary unless their vote has changed.

  • The spoken word

Other rules of debate are not spelt out in the written Rules of Procedure but are enshrined in the tradition ‘culture’ of each conference. For example, normally it is the tradition for each Member State to make one statement during the General Debate and if they request to speak a second time, it is the tradition for them to start by apologizing.  This is not articulated in any Rule of Procedure but is a long-standing tradition.

Sometimes a tradition may after many years be mistaken by a delegate to be a Rule of Procedure because it is has been observed for such a long time.

Informal Meetings

MUN simulations refer to informal consultations as moderated and unmoderated caucuses. Although these types of meetings do occur at the UN this terminology is not used. Delegates at the UN engage in informal consultations. The different types of informal consultations are summarized in the article The Process of Informals in the Fifth Committee that was published in the UN Chronicle. A moderated caucus at the UN would correspond to an informal consultation where the Chair remains to preside over the meeting but the rules of procedure are suspended. This type of meeting would be referred to at the UN as a formal informal. The Chair, however, is not always present at a formal informal meeting. It can also be led by a facilitator appointed by the Bureau. At other times, delegates may meet in the corner of a conference room or in another location to discuss a draft resolution. This type of meeting is called an informal informal and is most similar to what is called an unmoderated caucus in MUN simulations.

Differences between GA rules and MUN rules of procedure

The main difference between GA rules and MUN rules of procedure is that the latter use parliamentary rules of procedure, such as Roberts Rules of Order. The United Nations is not a parliament and these rules, therefore, do not provide an appropriate format for guiding meetings at the UN.

GA rules of procedure are simpler than the parliamentary rules used in MUN simulations. For one, GA rules only have one point, a Point of Order. MUN simulations also include Points of Information, Points of Inquiry and Points of Privilege. In addition, at the UN speakers do not yield time to another speaker and motions are not required to be seconded.

Some of the differences are superficial. Although a delegate cannot raise a point of information in a formal meeting, he/she can ask any question they want of another delegate during an informal meeting which are an essential element of the negotiation process. Thus, from an educational prespective, a MUN delegate still has the opportunity to enhance their learning by asking questions of other delegates as long as it occurs in the appropriate context.

Delegates Voting

GMUN delegates voting

Other differences are more meaningful. Within the context of the General Assembly, every Member State has one vote regardless of how large or small they are. Seconding motions may make sense in a parliamentary forum where an assembly may not want to waste time on motions that only one person wants. However, in the context of the UN General Assembly, each delegation represents an entire nation. Given the level playing field established by the principle of ‘one country, one vote,’ requiring motions to be seconded would contradict this principle. As a result, each Member State has the right to table a draft resolution or an amendment to a resolution without needing it to be seconded by another Member State. Many MUN simulations require a certain number of signatures before a resolution or amendment can be tabled. While co-sponsors are common at the UN, this is not a requirement.

Likewise, any Member State can make a motion such as requesting a vote on a draft resolution or an amendment without requiring another Member State to second it.  In parliamentary fora, if there is no one to second a motion it is not considered by the assembly. At the UN all it takes is one Member State to put forward a motion for it to be considered. Again, this is based on the principle that each Member State has the same right to bring a matter before the General Assembly for consideration as long as it is related to an item on the GA’s agenda.

At MUN conferences, the rules of procedure figure much more prominently in the proceedings than they do at the UN. While part of the reason for this is due to the use of parliamentary procedures, another reason for it is that most of the proceedings in MUN simulations take place during formal meetings which increases the need to introduce motions during formal meetings.  Since much of the negotiation process at the UN occurs during informal consultations, there is less of a need to introduce various motions during formal meetings. For example, due to the fact that the great majority of decisions at the UN are made by consensus these days, motions dealing with amendments are less frequent than they are during MUN simulations.

One final difference that has been noted between the way meetings are conducted at the UN versus MUN simulations relates to the power of the presiding officer. In some MUN simulations, the Chair’s decisions are final. At the UN, a presiding officer, like the PGA or the Chair of a Committee, serves at the discretion of Member States. Presiding officers can make recommendations and rule on points of order but any decision they make can be appealed by any Member State and put to a vote by the full membership. This is an important principle that needs to be emphasized in MUN simulations. The power of the General Assembly lies with the Member States. Giving presiding officers final say on any matter contradicts this basic principle of the GA.

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