General Considerations and Denationalization
The formal and procedural roles and responsibilities of the Chairman are to ensure that the business of the conference is conducted in an orderly and efficient manner and in accordance with the Rules of Procedure. In many such Rules, functions and powers of the presiding officers are listed under a distinct heading although additional functions and powers are also often found elsewhere in the Rules.
In practice, the role, responsibilities and powers of the Chairman in formal and procedural matters are even broader. Thus, for example, the Chairman can represent the conference, thank the host country, congratulate individuals, express condolences and so forth on behalf of the conference. He/she may also hold a press conference or otherwise communicate with audiences outside the conference on behalf of the conference.
More crucially, the Chairman also has a key role in the conference’s decision-making process. Typical Rules of Procedure require the Chairman to put questions and announce all decisions. When he/she says the conference has made a decision, he/she speaks on behalf of the conference.
Indeed, the Chairman has a structural role in the conference: not only is the seating arranged so that all delegates face the Chairman, but also all statements intended to be heard by the whole Committee must be addressed to the Chairman. Once more, the Chairman personifies the Committee as a whole.
These three ways in which the Chairman represents and acts on behalf of the conference point to the central responsibility and constraint to which the Chairman is subject: he/she is called upon to behave not in an individual or national role but as an embodiment of the whole conference.
In other words, the Chairman acts for the conference and only with its consent. This relationship is often expressed in the words:
‘The Chairman is the servant of the conference.’
This description should not, however, suggest that there is anything passive or merely reactive about the Chairman’s role. It is up to him/her to understand what needs to be done and to take appropriate initiatives, as required, to ensure it happens. He/she acts for the good of the conference and in the belief that his/her actions help produce the results desired by the conference participants.
Because the Chairman represents the whole conference, he/she cannot simultaneously represent one of the participating delegations.
Most Rules of Procedure specify that the Chairman shall not vote, but logic and tradition (and indeed some more recent Rules of Procedure) are far more constraining. Chairmen are expected to cease operating as a member of their national delegation as long as they are acting as Chairman. If, as is often the case, they are delegation leader, another member of that delegation must take over the role of speaking and voting on behalf of the delegation. The Chairman should speak and act impartially on behalf of the conference as a whole and not seek to promote any national or personal views.
The Chairman must all the times:
- treat all delegates equally
- be seen to behave impartially
- not appear to favour any party and
- not appear to favour any side of a contentious issue