UNESCO: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization

UNESCO General Conference - 33rd Session

 Basic Information
About the General Conference

  • Composition

  • Functions

  • Frequency

  • Stages of the General Conference

  • Structure and functioning

  • Information Office

  • Documents

  • Essential reading

  • Seating arrangements for delegates

  • Working languages

  • Registration

  • Credentials

  • List of Speakers

  • Composition

    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).


    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 two years a programme and 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 (six-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 31 times in ordinary session and 4 times in extraordinary session. The most recent session was held in Paris, at UNESCO Headquarters, from 15 October to 3 November 2001.

    Stages of the General Conference

    The General Conference begins with an opening ceremony in plenary, temporarily presided over by the head of the delegation whose country was President 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 Commitee. Next, the Director-General introduces the general policy debate by presenting the draft medium-term strategy 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

    Plenary meeting
    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.
    General Committee
    The General Committee of the General Conference consists of the President and Vice-Presidents of the General Conference, and the Chairpersons of its subsidiary bodies. The General Committee 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 General Committee on the progress of the work.

    Subsidiary bodies
    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 UNESCOís programme, but each commission considers a great variety of topics connected with the central one.

    Four statutory committees
    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 21 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 Headquarters Committee consists of 24 members elected at the previous session; it advises the Director-General on questions concerning the Organizationís Headquarters. It reports thereon to the General Conference.

    Information Office

    To find out all you want to know about the schedule, content and workings of the General Conference, contact the Delegatesí Information Office. The daily schedule of meetings will be displayed in the hall of the Conference Building and on the closed-circuit television screens; it will also be announced in the Journal of the General Conference. Detailed information on the General Conference and its workings, in particular the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure, can be found in the "Manual of the General Conference (2002 Edition)" which is available in meeting rooms.


    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, delegates will find at their place a complete set of the documents needed for the work of the body which is using that room. It is recommended that that set of documents should remain in the room so that it can be updated.

    Essential reading

    Two documents: C/1 (Agenda) and C/2 (Organization of work) must be read so that you can decide which commissions and meetings you will attend. The same applies to the Journal of the General Conference, which is issued every day, starting on the first day of the session.

    Seating arrangements for delegates

    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. The number of seats per delegation varies according to the room. Places will be set aside for observers.

    Working languages

    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.) and the Journal of the General Conference are available in English and French only.


    Registration will take place at the Delegatesí Reception Desk in the foyer opposite Room I of the Conference Building, at the Fontenoy site. You will be given your badge, which must be shown at the entrances of all buildings and at security checks. The same service also registers persons accompanying delegates and provides them with a special visitorís badge which allows them to enter the buildings throughout the General Conference. Representatives from intergovernmental organizations and observers from non-governmental organizations and Foundations are requested to register at the NGO Reception Desk (Fontenoy Building, Room III).


    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.

    List of Speakers

    Before or at the beginning of the session, check with the Speakersí 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 Speakersí 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.