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Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law [MPEPIL]

United Nations, Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

Volker Röben

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved.date: 21 May 2019

Subject(s):
NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) — Sustainable development — Developing countries — International organizations, practice and procedure — Subsidiary organs of international organizations — Universal international organizations

Published under the auspices of the Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law under the direction of Rüdiger Wolfrum.

A. Introduction

The Economic and Social Council (‘ECOSOC’ or ‘Council’) has the broad mandate of coordinating the economic, social, and development work of the UN that the Charter envisages in Art. 55 (c). The General Assembly (United Nations, General Assembly; ‘UNGA’) and the world conferences have been re-orientating the role of ECOSOC towards implementation of the 2030 sustainable development goals (‘SDGs’). The Charter-defined status as a limited membership principal organ, its competence and powers, and its functions enable ECOSOC to discharge this role.

B. Status, Organization, and Competence of ECOSOC

ECOSOC is a principal organ of the UN with limited membership. After an amendment that entered into force on 12 October 1973, Art. 61 (1) United Nations Charter now states that ECOSOC shall consist of 54 members. UNGA Resolution 2847 (XXVI) enlarged the ECOSOC membership to the present number, on the rationale that ‘enlargement of the Economic and Social Council will provide broad representation of the United Nations membership as a whole and make the Council a more effective organ for carrying out its functions under Chapters IX and X of the Charter of the United Nations’. There has been debate ever since on the efficacy of the enlarged membership of ECOSOC, with some advocating for a smaller number of the Council members meeting on a regular basis. Membership carries the right to participate in the Council’s deliberation and the right to vote. States not represented may be invited to participate in the deliberations but without a vote (Art. 69). Non-members may also be represented on subsidiary bodies of the Council. Art. 61 (1) provides that the members of ECOSOC are elected by the UNGA. The principle of equitable geographical distribution was established for the Council’s membership by UNGA Resolution 2847 (XXVI). Currently the pattern of representation remains: 14 African States, 11 Asian States, six Eastern European States, ten Latin American and Caribbean States, and 13 Western European and other States. The members of the Council are elected by the UNGA for a three-year term, Art. 61 (2). One third of the members of ECOSOC are determined by staggered elections at every regular session of the UNGA. Art. 18 (2) and Rule 145 of the UNGA Rules of Procedure declare the election of the members of ECOSOC an ‘important question’ for the UNGA, requiring a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting. There are no substantive criteria for election of a member to ECOSOC. The five permanent members of the Security Council (United Nations, Security Council; ‘UNSC’) have been continuously re-elected since becoming members of the ECOSOC, making them de facto permanent members of ECOSOC as well. Other States have also been frequently re-elected to ECOSOC (Egypt, Pakistan, Brazil, Australia, Germany). Each member of ECOSOC is entitled to only one representative (Art. 61 (4)). The representative can be accompanied by alternate representatives and advisers as may be required.

The Bureau is the executive organ of the Council elected at the beginning of each annual session. It consists of the President and four Vice-Presidents. The bureau proposes the agenda, draws up a programme of work, and organizes the session with the support of the UN Secretariat. In accordance with the provision of Art. 72 (1) that the Council shall adopt its own method of selecting its President, Rule 18 of the Rules of Procedure provides that the Council is to elect a President and four Vice-Presidents from among the representatives of its members at the first meeting each year, and these five constitute the Bureau. The election of the President is based on the principle of equitable geographical rotation among the regional groups represented in the Council. The principle of equitable geographical representation is also applied in the election of the four Vice-Presidents, meaning that they should be elected from regional groups other than the one to which the President belongs (Rule 18 (1) ECOSOC Rules of Procedure). ECOSOC receives secretarial support from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the UN Secretariat.

ECOSOC holds a substantive four-week session every July. The UNGA, in Resolution 61/16, decided to maintain the segment structure of the substantive sessions of ECOSOC. The following segments exist: High-Level segment ending with a ministerial declaration, Dialogue segment with the executive secretaries of the regional commissions, Coordination segment, Operational activities segment, Humanitarian affairs segment, and General segment. Ministers represent the members at the high-level segment of the Council’s annual sessions. Rule 41 of the Rules of Procedure of ECOSOC requires a quorum of one-third of its members for a meeting and a majority of its members for taking any decision.

Chapter IX of the UN Charter defines the organization’s function of international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, pursuant to Arts 1 (3) and 55 of the Charter. Art. 60 identifies ECOSOC (under the authority of the UNGA) as the organ assigned with the responsibility of carrying out this function of the organization. Art. 62 contains a general definition of the competence and powers of the Council, with Arts 63–66 and 68–72 adding more specific functions and powers. These are powers of analysis, recommendation, convention-making, and coordination. In addition, ECOSOC, has, as do all principal organs, the power to set up subsidiary bodies within its competence.

C. Analysis, Recommendations, and Convention-Making

Under Art. 62 (1), ECOSOC has the three basic powers: (i) to make or initiate studies; (ii) to make reports with respect to international economic, social, cultural, educational, health, and other related matters, and (iii) to make recommendations to the UNGA, to members of the United Nations, and to specialized agencies.

The first two powers of analysis are interrelated as ECOSOC will initiate studies or conduct them as requested by the UNGA and thereafter give reports concerning its findings. The studies and reports gather information that will then be used by ECOSOC, its subsidiary bodies, or other UN organs to adopt resolutions and decisions concerning international economic, social, cultural, and other related matters, or the drafting of international conventions. ECOSOC addresses requests for studies to the Secretary-General, its own subsidiary bodies, or the specialized agencies. Based on its agreements with the specialized agencies, ECOSOC may task these as well to carry out studies and reports for its consideration. In the same manner, ECOSOC can co-operate with non-governmental organizations (‘NGOs’) with consultative status and it can entrust them with making or initiating studies and reports on its behalf. It can also address requests to international conferences, experts, or bodies of experts. Independent experts or expert bodies may only be entrusted with studying technical questions. ECOSOC may indicate the sources and materials to be used in the preparation of studies and reports. ECOSOC subsidiary bodies have those powers as well, in their relevant capacities, to make or initiate studies and reports.

ECOSOC can act through recommendations. Recommendations are specifically mentioned in Art. 62 (2), which indicates the importance of this instrument for the discharge of the Council’s functions. ECOSOC has the power to make recommendations on international economic, social, cultural, educational, health, and related matters. Making recommendations can be regarded as one of the main duties of ECOSOC with most of its resolutions up to date resting on this power. These recommendations can take the form of either resolutions or decisions. They are made by ECOSOC on its own initiative or on the initiative of the UNGA (Art. 60). Recommendations can be addressed to the UNGA, to specialized agencies and to the membership of the UN in general, and to specific groups of members as well as to individual members. Recommendations will be addressed to the UNGA when budgetary action by the UNGA pursuant to the Charter is required. On the basis of Arts 62 (1) and 63 (2), ECOSOC may also make recommendations to the specialized agencies defined in Art. 57. The relationship agreements with the specialized agencies concluded under Art. 63 (1) contain detailed provisions on recommendations of ECOSOC to the respective agencies. ECOSOC also has the power to coordinate the activities of these specialized agencies through recommendations to the UNGA and to the members of the United Nations (Arts 63 (2), 58). Even though the text of Art. 62 (1) only lists the UNGA, members of the UN, and the specialized agencies as addressees of the recommendations of ECOSOC, in practice ECOSOC has made many recommendations to other bodies within the UN, non-governmental organizations, Member States of the UN, and individuals upon their request. Recommendations addressed to States or group of States can call for specific legislative action by them or for ratification of a particular treaty. It is a reasonable interpretation of the Charter and ECOSOC practice thereunder that ECOSOC may make recommendations whenever deemed necessary and to any organization or other actor which requests assistance. Recommendations have per se no binding character on members, regardless of the differing terminology used (eg, ‘commends’, ‘refers’, ‘calls upon’). But, according to Art. 56, all UN members have the obligation to take joint and separate actions in cooperation with the organization to achieve the objectives in Art. 55. The obligation of co-operation stipulated in Art. 56 has as its addressee all members of the UN, regardless of their membership in ECOSOC. This means that members must respect recommendations from ECOSOC and its subsidiary agencies taken under Art. 62 (1). In addition, current ECOSOC members are under a duty of loyalty to the organ, which would give rise to a heightened requirement to justify their actions in respect of recommendations adopted by the Council. Finally, under certain circumstances, recommendations of ECOSOC to implement principles of international law may be considered binding on members, in which circumstances all UN Member States are to comply with the recommendations. Agreements with specialized agencies may provide for other legal effects in respect of ECOSOC recommendations, such as a duty to be prepared to consult with ECOSOC. ECOSOC also has the power to enter into internationally binding agreements as well as non-binding memoranda of understanding with the specialized agencies (Art. 63 (1) cl. 1). Such agreements shall be subject to approval by the UNGA (Art. 63 (1) cl. 2). For the other principal organs, ECOSOC recommendations may also have certain legal effects. That will hold true namely for those addressed to the UNGA in response to a request addressed by the UNGA to the Council. The Council may also issue binding requests to the Secretary General (Art. 98 cl. 1).

ECOSOC has the power to make draft conventions on any matter falling within its competence as defined by Arts 1, 55, and 62 (1) and (2). Conventions within the meaning of Art. 62 (3) are international treaties in the sense of Art. 1 (a) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969). ECOSOC may make draft conventions on its own initiative, on the initiative of the UNGA, or upon request of its subsidiary organs, a specialized agency, an NGO with consultative status, or a conference convened pursuant to Art. 62 (4). ECOSOC may request its subsidiary bodies, the Secretary-General, or other UN bodies to prepare a draft convention. The Council may also accept drafts prepared by any of these bodies, as well as bodies outside of the UN system. Members are usually invited to present comments on drafts, and non-members may also be invited to do so. Pursuant to Rule 78 of ECOSOC’s Rules of Procedure, the Secretary-General should consult any specialized agency specially affected by a draft convention. NGOs having consultative status may also be invited to comment on drafts (Rule 83). Draft conventions are adopted as resolutions of ECOSOC or included in its decisions. Drafts may be prepared for submission to the UNGA, which adopts them and opens them for signature. Where a draft needs broad discussion it may be referred to an international diplomatic conference of States. The substantial growth in multilateral treaty-making on social, economic, and environmental matters makes it necessary to strive for their harmonization. That need arises both at the stage of negotiating and drafting treaties and at the stage of implementation. Because of its institutional expertise in matters falling under Arts 1 (3) and 55, ECOSOC has a role at both stages. There are no clear substantive guidelines in the Charter on the relationship between ECOSOC and the UNGA in the preparation of draft conventions.

10 According to Art. 62 (4), ECOSOC has the power to call international conferences regarding any matters that fall within its competence, pursuant to rules adopted by the UNGA. International conferences may be called apart from their function in relation to draft conventions prepared by the Council. Conferences called by ECOSOC can be at either the global or the regional level depending on the matter at issue. They can also concern the creation of new specialized agencies where required (cf Art. 59). ECOSOC is to prescribe the terms of reference and prepare a provisional agenda for the conference (Rule 2 of UNGA Res 366 (IV)) and provisional rules of procedure (Rule 7(a)). The conference remains free to alter both the agenda and the rules of procedure. The Council can decide which States to invite to the conference (Rule 3 (1)). ECOSOC may also invite non–UN Member States whose interests are directly affected by the conference and who should be given the same rights as the other members (Rule 3). ECOSOC may also invite specialized agencies and NGOs which have consultative status. National liberation movements are entitled to participate as observers. The Secretary-General is responsible for the administration of the conference, under the direction of ECOSOC, and may appoint an executive secretary for this purpose. International conferences can be called either by the UNGA or by ECOSOC. There are no substantive guidelines in the Charter on the kinds of conferences that can be called by the UNGA and the kinds that can be called by ECOSOC. Recently, ECOSOC has been convening large-scale ‘world conferences’ with governmental and non-governmental participation. The general nature of the power vested in ECOSOC suggests that it can call any kind of international conference so long as it does not interfere with rules prescribed by the UN, or with those conferences called by the UNGA. In practice, conflicts and overlap of powers concerning international conferences are avoided through the rules adopted by the UNGA pursuant to Art. 62 (4). On the basis of a draft prepared by the Secretary-General and approved by ECOSOC, the UNGA adopted Resolution 366 (IV) laying down the rules for calling international conferences, which are binding on the Council. According to Rule 1 of UNGA Res 366 (IV), ECOSOC can take the initiative to call an international conference on any matter falling within its powers after consultation with the Secretary-General and the specialized agencies, once it is satisfied that the work to be done by the conference cannot be done by any other organ of the UN or by any specialized organ. In other words, even though the Council has the power to call international conferences on any matter within its competence, it should only do so after consultation with the Secretary-General and after assessing the importance of the conference envisaged. As other UN organs such as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and specialized agencies also have the power to call international conferences on similar matters, system-wide coordination functions are performed by the UNGA Committee on Conferences.

D. Coordinating Other UN Bodies

11 A principal function and power of ECOSOC is to coordinate the work of 14 specialized agencies of the UN, ten functional commissions, and five regional commissions. The UNGA receives reports through ECOSOC from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for [UNHCR]), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (‘UNICEF’). By virtue of Arts 57 and 63, the Council can coordinate the work of specialized agencies based on international agreements (treaties). There is also the possibility that the Council may effect a relationship with inter-governmental organizations other than the specialized agencies. The power to create subsidiary organs includes the power to elect their members. Under Arts 65 and 66 (1) (3), ECOSOC may perform functions providing assistance to the UNGA and the UNSC. Such assistance can be also rendered to members (Art. 66 (2)), including technical assistance. The Council can make suitable arrangements for consultation with international intergovernmental organizations, and also with national organizations after consultation with the UN member concerned (Art. 72 cl. 2). Pursuant to Art. 71 cl. 1, ECOSOC relates and co-operates with NGOs concerned with matters within its competence. ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31 outlines the requirements necessary for any organization to be granted consultative status by the Council. The aim of the consultative status is to provide the NGOs with access to ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies, but it also allows interaction of the NGOS with other mechanisms of the UN as well as giving NGOs the opportunity to take part in special events organized by the UNGA. There are three types of consultation status: general, special, and roster. The general consultative status is mainly granted to the large, well-established international NGOs dealing with most activities of the Council and its subsidiary bodies. Special consultative status is given to organizations with competence in particular fields. Roster consultative status is for NGOs that do not attain the merits of either general or special consultative status, but are considered by the Council to make occasional and useful contributions towards the achievement of the objectives of the Council and its subsidiary bodies. Furthermore, there are also powers stipulated in other Chapters of the Charter (Art. 66 (3)). ECOSOC may request advisory opinions of the International Court of Justice on legal questions arising within the scope of its activities (Art. 96 (2)), make reports to the UNGA (Art. 15 (2)), and entrust functions to the Secretary-General (Art. 98).

12 In general terms, ECOSOC is not to duplicate the work of the specialized agencies (cf Art. 57 (1)) and thus operates mostly in those areas for which no agency exists. The specialized agencies with competence in social and economic matters shall be brought into a relationship with the UN (Art. 57) by means of agreements concluded with ECOSOC (Art. 63). Such agreements may specify any functions and powers that ECOSOC holds over the respective agency. Rule 77 of ECOSOC’s Rules of Procedure and its relationship agreements with the specialized agencies provide for consultation so as to avoid overlapping activities. ECOSOC subsidiary organs also have the power specified in Art. 62 (3). But the Charter does not contain a prohibition for ECOSOC to undertake activities that are also of direct concern to a specialized agency. ECOSOC has five regional commissions, one for every region that is represented in the Council, in order to ensure equitable geographical representation. The first was the Economic Commission for Europe (‘ECE’) in 1945, to study the various economic problems affecting the whole of Europe. The second to be formed was the Economic Commission for Latin America (‘ECLA’), which would perform similar functions in the Latin American region. There are also the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (‘ESCAP’), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (‘ECLAC’), and the Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (‘ESCWA’).

E. Subsidiary Bodies

13 According to Arts 7 (2) and 68, ECOSOC shall establish subsidiary organs as may be found necessary within its area of competence. Functional commissions have become the instrument for ECOSOC to carry out its function of ensuring implementation of the major UN conferences in the social and economic field, and the multilateral conventions spawned there.

14 The Committee for Programme and Coordination (‘CPC’) was established as an Ad Hoc Working Group of ECOSOC through its Resolution 920 (XXIV) in 1962, and was later changed into the present standing committee in 1966 through Resolution 1171 (XLI). The committee is the main subsidiary organ for both the UNGA and ECOSOC with the task of planning, programming, and coordinating work across the organization. It prepares and makes recommendations of ECOSOC to the UNGA, to the specialized agencies, and to the members upon their request.

F. The Role of ECOSOC in Institutional Sustainable Development

15 Art. 62 (1) states the competence of ECOSOC as economic, social, cultural, educational, health, and related matters, to which is added promoting respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all (Art. 62 (2)). Although the word ‘development’ does not appear, it is used explicitly in Art. 55 (a) concerning the promotion of higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development’. It encompasses all matters that under the theory of functionalism are capable of being furthered by international co-operation and where international co-operation will remove causes for conflict between States and within States. The list of related matters is not exhaustive but encompasses those that have subsequently emerged. Thus, with the emergence of the concept of sustainable development, this also forms a related matter to those that are mentioned. The general function of the ECOSOC here includes co-operating with other international bodies within or without the scope of the UN such as the WTO, IMF, and World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development [IBRD]), regional organizations such as the European Union, and non-governmental organizations, and considering reports of UN inter-agency bodies and mechanisms for coordination and recommending ways to enhance their interaction and complementarity of efforts. Also related in this sense is the topic of climate change, which is one factor, if not the determinative factor, for future sustainable development, now shaped by the 2030 Agenda, the SDGs, and the Paris Agreement.

16 Under Arts 10 and 66 (3) of the Charter, the UNGA may shape the role of ECOSOC and assign functions and powers to ESOCOC within the broad parameters laid down by the Charter. During the 2005 World Summit, heads of States or governments of the UN members agreed that there was a need for a more effective council that would stand as a principal organ for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue, and recommendations on issues of economic and social developments, as well as for implementation of the international development goals agreed upon at the major United Nations conferences and summits, including the millennium development goals. The summit, which led to the adoption of UNGA Resolution 61/16 for strengthening ECOSOC, was the climax of recent efforts and increasing support for strengthening the role of ECOSOC to promote its efficiency and effectiveness. In response to these calls, the leaders and government delegates mandated ECOSOC with a central role as the central mechanism for system-wide coordination and thus promoted the integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major UN conferences in the economic, social, and related fields. It encompasses the coordination of the activities of the United Nations system and its specialized agencies and supervision of subsidiary bodies, in particular its functional commissions, in the economic, social and related fields. ECOSOC shall function as a ‘quality platform for high level engagement’ among all actors, including the Member States, international financial institutions, the private sector, and civil society. The UNGA also resolved that ECOSOC should develop better response mechanisms to cope with rapidly growing developments, especially in the economic and financial sector. During the summit, the leaders also mandated the ECOSOC to hold Annual Ministerial Reviews (‘AMRs’) and biennial Development Cooperation Forums (‘DCFs’). The substantive functions of ECOSOC translate into legislative and administrative functions performed by ECOSOC and its subsidiary organs in the sense that ECOSOC will adopt normative and individual acts. The legal effect of these acts must be determined on a case-by-case basis.

17 Correspondingly, the Council was assigned with new functions. Three such functions are: to implement the world conferences, notably through the High-level Political Forum (‘HLPF’) on Sustainable Development, to hold the AMR to provide political leadership, and to hold the biennial DCF to review trends in international development co-operation. ECOSOC’s annual High-Level Segment now includes the AMR and the DCF. The distinctive feature of these functions is to govern the iterative process towards the goals of 2030 Agenda. This governance is based on bringing together the political (ministerial) authority of members and aims to integrate all aspects and actors of sustainable development. There is necessarily some overlap between these functions.

G. Implementation of World Conferences

18 UNGA Resolution 57/270B entrusted ECOSOC and its subsidiary organs with an important role in the integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major UN conferences and summits of the 1990s, which taken together form the UN Development Agenda. Heads of State and Government in the 2005 World Summit outcome document have called for further strengthening of ECOSOC and entrusted it with new functions in sustainable development (UNGA Res 60/1, paras 155 and 156). In the Rio+20 outcome document ‘The Future We Want’ (UNGA Res 66/288), the Heads of State and Government mandated the establishment of the HLPF on Sustainable Development. The HLPF replaces the Commission on Sustainable Development. It is to be the main UN platform on sustainable development and it has a central role in the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including review of progress made on the SDGs, as mandated by UNGA Resolution 67/290 and UNGA Resolution 70/299. The HLPF meets annually under the auspices of ECOSOC for eight days, including a three-day ministerial segment. A key instrument of the HLPF is the Voluntary National Review. As part of its follow-up and review mechanisms, the 2030 Agenda encourages UN Member States to ‘conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels, which are country-led and country-driven’ (para. 79). These national reviews are expected to serve as a basis for the regular reviews by the HLPF, which are voluntary, State-led, undertaken by both developed and developing countries, and inclusive of relevant stakeholders (para. 84). This bottom-up element of self-perception to drive collective progress coupled with top-down review may be seen to be a precursor of the Nationally Determined Contributions that characterize the new approach of the Paris Agreement to climate action.

19 The work of further ECOSOC commissions has also been streamlined and integrated into the sustainable development agenda. The Commission on Population and Development was established by ECOSOC Resolution 3 (III) in 1946 with the name ‘Population Commission’ and renamed by UNGA Resolution 49/128. The Council together with this Commission form the mechanism that implements the programme of action of the international conference on population and development at the international, regional, and national levels. The Commission for Social Development was established in 1946 by ECOSOC Resolution 10 (II) under the name ‘Social Commission’. The Commission was updated in 1966 by ECOSOC Resolution 1139 (XLI), which renamed it and readjusted its role. The Commission acts as a preparatory and advisory body to ECOSOC on social development matters. Following the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, the Commission has been entrusted with the key role of the follow-up and implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration and programme of action. The mandate of the Commission was reviewed and its membership was increased to 46 to ensure equitable geographical representation. The UN Forum on Forests was established by ECOSOC as a subsidiary body by Resolution 2000/35. The Forum should aim at providing a coherent, transparent, and internationally accepted framework for policy implementation on all types of forests based on the forest principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Chapter II of Agenda 21. Other functional commissions established by ECOSOC to coordinate and promote co-operation in social and development matters include: the Commission on the Status of Women, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, and the Commission on Science and Technology for Development. The Statistical Commission is a subsidiary organ of ECOSOC tasked with coordinating the UN-wide statistical system.

H. Annual Ministerial Review (AMR)

20 The aim of the AMR is to assess the progress in achieving the internationally agreed goals arising from the major UN conferences and summits, and now the 2030 SDGs. The AMR holds global and thematic reviews with national voluntary presentations on the progress and the challenges facing the members in achieving these goals. The themes have included poverty and hunger (2007), sustainable development (2008), the agreed global health goals (2009), gender equality and the empowerment of women (2010), and education for all (2011). In 2015, the AMR addressed the transition from the millennium development goals (‘MDGs’) to the SDGs. Pursuant to UNGA Resolution 61/16 (‘Strengthening of the Economic and Social Council’), on 15 December 2006 ECOSOC also adopted Decision E/2006/274 on the modalities of the involvement of ECOSOC’s subsidiary machinery in the preparation of the first 2007 AMR.

I. Development Cooperation Forum (DCF)

21 The objective of the DCF is to enhance the coherence and effectiveness of activities of different development partners. It reviews trends and progress in international co-operation. It has the power to give guidance and make recommendations on how to improve the quality of development co-operation. It involves joint action and dialogue between developed and developing countries, as well as international organizations, civil society organizations, and individuals. The forum gives voice to many stakeholders, encouraging multi-shareholder participation in development co-operation.

22 Financing is an increasingly important aspect of sustainable development, including in the global transition to a sustainable energy system. ECOSOC, through the DCF, implements the Monterrey Consensus on financing for development, which has led to commitments from States, including the Second Global Conference on Financing for Development in Doha in 2008 and the Third International Conference on Financing for Development held in Addis Ababa in 2015. The Addis Ababa action plan foresees the Forum on Financing for Development for as part of a dedicated and strengthened follow-up process to the Conference. The inaugural meeting on the overall theme ‘Financing for sustainable development: follow-up to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA)’, was held in 2016 under the auspices of ECOSOC. The forum included the Special high-level meeting with the Bretton Woods institutions, the WTO, and UNCTAD.

23 Since 1998, there has been an annual high-level joint ECOSOC–Bretton Woods meeting, including the WTO and UNCTAD, on themes of economic co-operation of concern to these institutions, and this coordination now extends to financing for development.

J. Ad Hoc Advisory Groups and Ad Hoc Meetings on Humanitarian Emergencies

24 UNGA Resolution 61/16 tasked the Peacebuilding Commission to benefit from the Council’s experiences in the area of post-conflict peace-building and the success of its Ad Hoc Advisory Groups. The aim of these Advisory Groups is to assess and review the humanitarian needs of individual countries, and create long-term support programmes that would foster long-term sustainable development in the African States. By Resolution 2002/1, adopted by the Council on 15 July 2002, ECOSOC instituted an Ad Hoc Advisory Group on African Countries Emerging from Conflict. By Resolution 2017/26, adopted by the Council on 25 July 2017, the Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti was reinstated, demonstrating the relevance of this instrument in supporting individual UN Member States emerging from internal conflict as well as democratic institution-building. This Group is to ensure that international assistance to Haiti was adequate, coherent, coordinated, and effective.

K. Economic and Social Human Rights

25 ECOSOC may use its general powers to advance economic and social fundamental rights that normatively flank sustainable development policies. It has used the power to receive communications concerning the violation of economic and social human rights. For communications concerning the infringement of trade union rights, there is a specific procedure. Acting upon a request from ECOSOC, the International Labour Organization (ILO) as a specialized agency has established a Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission on Freedom of Association. All allegations regarding infringements of trade union rights received by ECOSOC from governments or trade union or employers’ organizations against ILO Member States will be forwarded to the Governing Body of the ILO, which will consider the question of their referral to the Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission. ECOSOC has also used the power to set up subsidiary organs to this effect. These are expert bodies composed of members serving in their personal capacity. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which administers the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), is a subsidiary body of ECOSOC. The Committee was established under ECOSOC Resolution 1985/17 to carry out the monitoring assigned to ECOSOC in Part IV of the Covenant. The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, also a subsidiary organ of the Council, considers the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNGA Res 61/295). ECOSOC oversees implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples adopted by UNGA Resolution 1514 (XV). The UN Human Rights High Commissioner (Human Rights, United Nations High Commissioner for [UNHCHR]) reports to ECOSOC on cross-cutting issues of protecting economic, social, and cultural human rights. A good example is the report, UN Doc E/2011/90, 26 April 2011, on the use of indicators in realizing economic, social, and cultural rights.

L. Limits

26 There are certain limits on the work of ECOSOC. ECOSOC is bound by Art. 2 (7) of the Charter, barring it from intervening in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of States. Given the broad definition of the functions of ECOSOC by Art. 61 (1), (2), the Council can concern itself with matters that might otherwise be considered domestic jurisdiction, including taxation. ECOSOC is not limited to the international aspects of economic and social questions. Rather it may concern itself with the conditions prevalent in individual States, provided that the primary responsibility of each State for its economic and social policies is safeguarded. ECOSOC needs the permission of a member to make or initiate field studies or surveys in the member’s territory.

27 As a principal organ of the UN, ECOSOC autonomously executes its responsibilities and interprets its competences and powers. However, the UNGA, as the organ representing the full UN membership, has undertaken continuous efforts to reform and coordinate the work of ECOSOC with the other organs to ensure an organization-wide integrated approach to sustainable development. In particular, the UNGA has established an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Integrated and Coordinated Implementation of and Follow-up to the Outcomes of the Major United Nations Conferences and Summits in the Economic and Social Fields, which also concerns ECOSOC. Pursuant to Art. 13 (1) (a), the UNGA also has the function, power, and responsibility to progressively develop international law on the matters set forth in Chapters IX and X of the Charter. In respect to the preparation of draft conventions, their relationship can be regarded as one of coordination and cooperation, with ECOSOC increasingly being assigned the role of following up the implementation of major UN-sponsored multilateral conventions on social and economic matters.

M. Outlook

28 ECOSOC has been the object of attempts at reform ever since the entry into force of the Charter. There have also been ECOSOC-internal reform efforts directed towards improving its relationship with international financial institutions and other governmental organizations, improving its working methods, expanding the scope of its application, and establishing new subsidiary bodies to focus on emerging issues, especially in developing countries. Agreement on a comprehensive ECOSOC reform, to elaborate further on UNGA Resolution 61/16 and ECOSOC Decision 2006/206 regarding the adaptation of its working methods, is still pending. However, the mainstreaming of sustainable development in the work of the UN has given these attempts clearer direction. The Council is coordinating much of the organization’s action, including the integration of its economic, social, and environmental dimensions. Crucially, the Council’s mandate for this work is supported by the international community of States, through the series of world conferences on sustainability. This institutionalization in turn strengthens the concept of sustainable development, the SDGs, the integration of climate action under the Paris Agreement, and the global priority of moving to a sustainable energy system that will be accessible to all. The Council provides the machinery that underpins the strategic nature of sustainable development, with goals to be achieved within a timeframe, the integration of social, economic, and environmental concerns, and the combination of bottom-up individual State action coupled with top-down review towards the collective objective.

Select Bibliography

  • L Delbez ‘Les Pouvoirs Du Conseil Économique et Social’ in C Rousseau (ed) Etudes en L’honneur de Georges Scelle vol 1 (Librairie Générale de Droit et de Jurisprudence Paris 1950) 213–40.
  • E Schwelb ‘Amendments to Articles 23, 27 and 61 of the Charter of the United Nations’ (1965) 59 AJIL 834–56 and (1966) 60 AJIL 371–78.
  • GJ Mangone (ed) UN Administration of Economic and Social Programs (Columbia University Press New York 1966).
  • SS Goodspeed ‘Political Considerations in the Economic and Social Council’ in M Waters (ed) The United Nations: International Organization and Administration (Macmillan New York 1967) 349.
  • WR Sharp The UN Economic and Social Council (Columbia University Press New York 1969).
  • E Schwelb ‘The 1971 Amendment to Article 61 of the United Nations Charter and the Arrangements Accompanying It’ (1972) 21 ICLQ 497–529.
  • H Weitz M Childs and J Glasserman An Approach to the Analysis of Resolutions of the Economic and Social Council (United Nations Institute for Training and Research New York 1972).
  • P Alston ‘The United Nations’ Specialized Agencies and Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ (1979–1980) 18 ColumJTransnatlL 79–118.
  • JP Renninger ECOSOC: Options for Reform (United Nations Institute for Training and Research New York 1981).
  • C Rucz Le Conseil Économique et Social de l’O.N.U. et la cooperation pour le developpement (Economica Paris 1983).
  • R Wolfrum (ed) Die Reform der Vereinten Nationen. Möglichkeiten und Grenzen (Duncker & Humblot Berlin 1989).
  • P Orliange ‘La Commission Du Développement Durable’ (1993) 39 Annuaire Français de Droit International 820–32.
  • B Bassin ‘The United Nations in Global Economic and Social Policy-Making’ in K Hüfner (ed) Agenda for Change: New Tasks for the United Nations (Leske & Budrich Opladen 1995) 229–38.
  • R Lagoni ‘ESOCOC’ in R Wolfrum (ed) United Nations: Law, Policies, and Practice vol 1 (Nijhoff München 1995) 466.
  • MP Williams Silveira ‘UN Commission on Sustainable Development’ (1996) 7 YIntlEnvL 374–81.
  • A Ounaies ‘La réforme du Conseil Economique et Social des Nations Unies (ECOSOC)’ (1998) Etudes Internationales 55–70.
  • P Taylor and AJR Groom The United Nations at the Millennium: The Principal Organs (Continuum London 2000).
  • B Baker and V Röben ‘Institutional Aspects of Financing Sustainable Development after the Johannesburg Summit of 2002’ (2003) 63 ZaöRV 517–50.
  • A Novosseloff ‘L’ONU ou la réforme perpétuelle’ (2004) 50 AFDI 535–44.
  • G Rosenthal The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (Dialogue on Globalization Occasional Papers No 15/February 2005, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung New York 2005).
  • J Prantl ECOSOC Ad Hoc Advisory Groups on African Countries Emerging from Conflict: The Silent Avant-Garde (UN Publications New York 2006).
  • R Sabel Procedure at International Conferences: A Study of the Rules of Procedure at the UN and at Inter-governmental Conferences (2nd edn CUP Cambridge 2006).
  • ‘The Economic and Social Council’ in B Simma and others (eds) The Charter of the United Nations vol II (3rd edn OUP Oxford 2012) 1667–1828.

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