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Annual sessions

The International Law Commission holds its annual session in Geneva, Switzerland for a period of ten to twelve weeks (as approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations).


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Duration of the session

The Statute of the Commission does not specify the duration of its sessions. Until 1973, the Commission’s sessions normally lasted ten weeks. In 1973, the General Assembly approved a twelve-week period for the Commission’s twenty-sixth session, in 1974. [1] The General Assembly subsequently approved, “in the light of the importance of its existing work programme, a twelve-week period for the annual sessions of the International Law Commission, subject to review by the General Assembly whenever necessary”. [2]

Since 1974, the Commission’s sessions have normally lasted twelve weeks. [3] By subsequent resolutions, most recently resolution 50/45 of 11 December 1995 (E, F, S, R, C, A), the Assembly expressed the view that the requirements of the work for the progressive development of international law and its codification and the magnitude and complexity of the subjects on the agenda of the Commission made it desirable that the usual duration of its sessions be maintained.



Extracts from
The Work of the International Law Commission, 8th ed., vol. 1

At its forty-eighth session, in 1996, the Commission considered the duration of its sessions in connection with the examination of its work procedures requested by the General Assembly in resolution 50/45. The Commission expressed the view that, in principle, it should be able to determine on a year-to-year basis the necessary length of the following session (i.e., twelve weeks or less), having regard to the state of work and any priorities laid down by the General Assembly for the completion of particular topics. The Commission favoured reverting to the previous practice of holding ten-week sessions, with the possibility of extending this to twelve weeks in particular years, as required, and especially in the last year in a quinquennium. [4] Since 1996, the Commission’s forty-ninth, fifty-fourth to fifty-seventh, fifty-ninth to sixty-second [5] sessions, held in 1997, 2002 to 2005 and 2007 to 2010, respectively, consisted of ten weeks; its fiftieth session, held in 1998, consisted of eleven weeks, and its fifty-first to fifty-third, fifty-eighth and sixty-third sessions, held in 1999 to 2001, 2006 and 2011, respectively, consisted of twelve weeks.

Split sessions

There is no statutory provision concerning dividing the Commission’s annual session into two parts. The Commission has traditionally held a single annual session, with the exception of the seventeenth session which was held in Geneva and Monaco in 1965 and 1966.

At its forty-fourth session, in 1992, the Commission considered the possibility of dividing its annual session into two parts in the context of the review of its programme, procedures and methods of work. The Commission considered the advantages in terms of the effectiveness of its work as well as the disadvantages in terms of administrative and financial problems. The Commission concluded that the suggestion to divide its annual session into two parts had not received enough support at that time and therefore improvements in the effectiveness of its work should continue to be sought under the current arrangements, for the time being. [6]

At its forty-eighth session, in 1996, the Commission returned to the question of holding a split session in connection with the organization and length of its sessions. Those in favour of a single session argued that a continuous session was necessary to assure the best results on priority topics, including careful consideration of proposed draft articles, while maintaining progress and direction on other topics. Those in favour of a split session argued that it would facilitate reflection and study by members, improve productivity as a result of inter-sessional preparation for the second part, encourage informal inter-sessional work, give Special Rapporteurs time to reconsider proposals, allow concentrated work by the Drafting Committee or a working group at the end of the first part or the beginning of the second part of the session, and facilitate better and more continuous attendance of members. Noting that a split session might not be significantly more expensive than a continuous session, the Commission decided to recommend that a split session be held as an experiment in 1998 in order to assess the advantages and disadvantages in practice. [7]

The fiftieth session of the Commission, in 1998, was divided into two parts, with the first part of the session being held in Geneva and the second in New York . The Commission agreed to continue the practice of split sessions as of 2000, scheduling the sessions to take place in two rather evenly split parts, with a reasonable period in between. [8]

At its fifty-first session, in 1999, the Commission examined the advantages and disadvantages of holding split sessions in response to General Assembly resolution 53/102 of 8 December 1998 (E, F, S, R, C, A). The Commission concluded that a split session was more efficient and effective and facilitated the uninterrupted attendance of its members based on its experience in 1998. The Commission further concluded that there were no disadvantages to a split session and that any resulting cost increase should be more than offset by increased productivity and cost-saving measures. In particular, the Commission suggested adjusting the organization of work during sessions so that one or two weeks at the end of the first part of the session and/or the beginning of the second part of the session could be devoted exclusively to the meetings which require the attendance of a limited number of the Commission’s members. [9] This measure was put into effect at the fifty-third session of the Commission, in 2001, pursuant to General Assembly resolutions 54/111 of 9 December 1999 (E, F, S, R, C, A) and 55/152 of 12 December 2000 (E, F, S, R, C, A). [10]

At its sixty-third session, in 2011, the Commission stressed the importance of retaining split sessions for the efficiency and effectiveness of its work and recalled its decision of 1999 on the matter. It further emphasized its view that only a split session allowed sufficient time for the preparation of the commentaries on the texts adopted during the first part of the session, which was necessary for the Commission to fulfil its mandate effectively. In addition, given that several members of the Commission might not be able to attend the entire ten- or twelve-week duration of an undivided session, the efficacy of the Commission would be hampered if the undivided session were to be reintroduced. [11]

The Commission reached these conclusions on the understanding that it would maintain a flexible need-based approach to the nature and duration of its sessions. [12] The Commission’s fifty-second to sixty-third sessions, from 2000 to 2011, were each held in two parts.

Location

The Commission has held all of its sessions in Geneva, except for its first session, which was held in New York (at Lake Success) in 1949; its sixth session, which was held at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris in 1954; the second part of its seventeenth session, which was held in Monaco in January 1966; and the second part of its fiftieth session, which was held in New York in 1998.

Article 12 of the Statute initially provided that the Commission would meet at the Headquarters of the United Nations, in New York, while recognizing the right of the Commission to hold meetings at other places after consultation with the Secretary-General. However, the Commission decided, after consulting with the Secretary-General, to hold its second to seventh sessions, from 1950 to 1955, in Geneva . [13] The Commission preferred Geneva to New York because its atmosphere and law library were more favourable for the studies of a body of legal experts and because its location simplified arrangements for its sessions by the Secretariat. [14] In 1955, the General Assembly, acting on the recommendation of the Commission, [15] amended article 12 of the Statute to provide for the Commission to meet at the European Office of the United Nations at Geneva . [16]

In introducing the practice of split sessions, the Commission has considered holding the second part of its split sessions in New York , towards the middle of the quinquennium, in order to enhance the relationship between the Commission and the General Assembly and its Sixth Committee. [17]

 


[1]  General Assembly resolution 3071 (XXVIII) of 30 November 1973 (E, F, S, R, C, A).

[2]  General Assembly resolution 3315 (XXIX) of 14 December 1974 (E, F, S, R, C, A).

[3]  The thirty-eighth session, in 1986, was reduced to ten weeks for budgetary reasons. In response to the view expressed by the Commission, the twelve-week session was restored the following year. See Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1986, vol. II (Part Two), para. 252 and General Assembly resolution 41/81 of 3 December 1986 (E, F, S, R, C, A). The fifty-seventh session, in 2005, was reduced to eleven weeks as a cost-saving measure. See Official Records of the General Assembly, Sixtieth Session, Supplement No. 10 (A/60/10), para. 497.

[4]  See Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1996, vol. II (Part Two), paras. 148 (m) and 224-226; and Official Records of the General Assembly, Sixty-sixth Session, Supplement No. 10 (A/66/10 and Add.1), para. 389.

[5]  In 2005, the Commission decided to reduce the length of its fifty-seventh session by one week as a cost-saving measure. See Official Records of the General Assembly, Sixtieth Session, Supplement No. 10 (A/60/10), para. 497.

[10]  See ibid., 2001, vol. II (Part Two), para. 260.

[11]  See Official Records of the General Assembly, Sixty-sixth Session, Supplement No. 10 (A/66/10 and Add.1), paras. 389-391.

[13]  See Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1949, Report to the General Assembly, para. 40; ibid., 1950, vol. II, document A/1316, para. 22; ibid., 1951, vol. II, document A/1858, para. 91; ibid., 1952, vol. II, document A/2163, para. 55; ibid., 1953, vol. II, document A/2456, para. 173; ibid., 1954, vol. II, document A/2693, para. 79; and ibid., 1955, vol. II, document A/2934, para. 29. The Commission initially decided to hold its sixth session in Geneva. However, this session was held in Paris. See Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1954, vol. II, document A/2693, para. 1.

[14]  See Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1953, vol. II, document A/2456, para. 173; and ibid., 1955, vol. II, document A/2934, para. 26.

[16]  General Assembly resolution 984 (X) of 3 December 1955 (E, F, S, R, C, A).

[17]  See Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 2000, vol. II (Part Two), para. 734; and Official Records of the General Assembly, Sixty-sixth Session, Supplement No. 10 (A/66/10 and Add.1), para. 388.

 


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