The General Conference consists of the representatives of the States Members of the Organization. It meets every two years, and is attended by Member States and Associate Members, together with observers for non-Member States, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Foundations.
The General Conference determines the policies and the main lines of work of the Organization (article IV of the Constitution):
- discussing all the issues concerning the general policy of the Organization, and occasionally by focusing on certain major themes;
- adopting for the next four years a programme and , for the next two years a budget, the draft of which is submitted to the General Conference and is the outcome of a consultation process between the Member States and the Secretariat;
- electing the Members of the Executive Board;
- appointing, every four years, the Director-General;
- adopting the (eight-year) Medium-Term Strategy of the Organization.
The General Conference meets every two years in ordinary session. If required, it may also hold extraordinary sessions.
Since the founding of UNESCO, the General Conference has met 39 times in ordinary session and 4 times in extraordinary session.
The General Conference begins with an opening ceremony in plenary, temporarily presided over by the President elected at the previous session.
It approves its agenda, prepared by the Executive Board, then elects its President and Vice-Presidents, on the proposal of the Nominations Committee.
Next, the Chairperson of the Executive Board and the Director-General introduce the general policy debate by presenting the report on the activities of the Organization and the draft programme and budget .
During the last three days of the session, the Plenary resumes its work in order to consider and adopt the reports of the Commissions and the budget by the Commissions become decisions (called Resolutions) of the General Conference.
Structure and functioning
The general assembly of the Member States, or plenary meeting, examines the recommendations submitted to it and takes all decisions. Heads of delegations attend the plenary meeting and take part in the general policy debate.
The Bureau of the General Conference consists of the President and Vice-Presidents of the General Conference, and the Chairpersons of its subsidiary bodies. The Bureau steers the work of the session and coordinates the work of the commissions. It sets the agenda of the plenary meetings, draws up the list of speakers in the general policy debate, and examines requests for the inclusion of new items in the agenda. Each commission chairperson makes a regular report to the Bureau on the progress of the work.
The General Conference may set up, at each session, whatever subsidiary bodies it deems necessary for the conduct of its work. In view of the many topics to be addressed, the plenary meeting refers a large part of the agenda items to the commissions and committees. The elected bureau of each commission consists of a Chairperson, four Vice-Chairpersons and a Rapporteur, who are assisted by a secretariat composed of staff members specially seconded to the commission for the duration of the session. The agendas of the commissions are organized around one of the main themes of UNESCO’s programme, but each commission considers a great variety of topics connected with the central one.
- The Credentials Committee is made up of nine members elected at the first plenary meeting on the proposal of the Temporary President; it checks the credentials of participants.
- The Legal Committee consists of 24 members elected at the previous session; it is responsible for considering draft amendments to the Constitution or Rules of Procedure of the General Conference, and legal matters which are submitted to it.
- The Nominations Committee consists of the heads of all the delegations with voting rights at the General Conference; it examines and submits to the General Conference proposals concerning the composition of commissions and committees and other bodies whose members must be elected by the General Conference.
- The Bureau steers the work of the General Conference and coordinates the work of commissions and committees; it is made up of the President and Vice-Presidents of the General Conference and the chairpersons of the subsidiary organs.
- The Headquarters Committee consists of 24 members elected at the previous session; it advises the Director-General on questions concerning the Organization’s Headquarters. It reports thereon to the General Conference.
The Delegates’ Information Bureau is responsible for the website of the General Conference; the daily newsletter; the announcements on the flat-screens and the MAG.
The e-journal of the GC includes the agenda of the proceedings of the day and reports on the debates and the proceedings of the previous day. It provides information on the side events such as special meetings and official visits. It will also announce the activities foreseen in the framework of OPEN UNESCO.
The Information team coordinates the information available on the screens - located throughout Fontenoy, Miollis and Bonvin buildings - announcing the agenda and timetable of the programme commissions, results of elections etc.
The MAG is a magazine which will be available on the first day of the 39th session of the general conference. It offers an overview of the special meetings and the side events taking place throughout the Conference.
Delegates are welcome to contact the Delegates’ Information Bureau for any update on the work of the General Conference.
To indicate which documents your delegation would like to receive during the General Conference, in what language and how many copies, all you need to do is fill in G.C./Form 18 which can be obtained from the Documents Distribution service, in the basement of the Conference Building.
You will find your documents every day in your pigeon-hole at that counter. In each meeting room, a certain number of documents needed for the work of the body which is using that room will be available.
It is recommended that that set of documents should remain in the room so that it can be updated.
In the plenary meeting rooms and in the commissions, Member States have a place which is allocated in alphabetical order according to the name of each country in French, starting with a country which is chosen by drawing lots. For the 40th session, seating will start by Serbia.
The number of seats per delegation varies according to the room. Places will be set aside for observers.
The working languages are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
Simultaneous interpretation is provided in these six languages; all documents which require a decision by the General Conference are also published in these languages.
Information documents (C/INF), reports (C/REP), website and the Journal of the General Conference are available in English and French only.
Credentials must be sent one week before the opening date of the session (Rule 23 of the Rules of Procedure of the General Conference).
Delegations whose credentials have not yet been presented to the Director-General are requested to hand them directly to the Secretariat of the Credentials Committee, which is responsible for checking the credentials of all the delegations.
Before or at the beginning of the session, check with the Speakers’ List service that the day and time when the head of your delegation is due to speak in the general policy debate in plenary correspond to the request made by your delegation.
If your country is not yet on the Speakers’ List, and if the head of your delegation would like to speak in plenary, the registration must be carried out by the above-mentioned service as early as possible, preferably before the end of the second day of the session.
One of the improvements introduced this year with the website is the easy mobile access. Once you have navigated with your phone to https://en.unesco.org/generalconference/39 you can even create a desktop shortcut to your home screen to quickly access the website and the agenda, without opening the browser. Just remember, you still need to be connected to the Internet for them to work.
Depending on your system you can:
- On android: open your browser and navigate to https://en.unesco.org/generalconference/39. Once you are there, tap the three-dot menu icon near the URL, and select "Add to homescreen".
- On iPhone: using the browser, navigate to https://en.unesco.org/generalconference/39. After the website loads, tap on the share icon at the bottom of the browser and tap on "Add to Home Screen". Then, if you want, you can customize the name of the application and tap on "Add" from top-right.
After that, an icon will be added to your home screen.