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The Online Mandate Registry

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008 at 7:16 pm Written by:

I was checking out the real UN site to work out what’s the hold up with the General Assembly transcripts. I haven’t had one arrive on my server since A/62/PV.103 in June, and we’re already way into the 63rd session.

The list of Session 62 resolutions is here and it records meetings all the way up to A/62/PV.122 in September, without links to the verbatim transcript documents. (The videos all go on-line right away, because that’s easy to do.) The resolutions passed in those meetings are also on-line, so I perused them and stumbled onto A/RES/62/278 which said:

The General Assembly Recognizes the usefulness of the existing online mandate registry, and… Notes that one of the important findings of the process is the difficulty of identifying resources associated with one particular mandate, which limited the potential of the review process to fulfil its objective of strengthening and updating the programme of work of the Organization and improving the allocation of resources for the effective implementation of mandates;

The Online Mandate Registry?

Search for it: It’s here.

I had a good look and noted this finding down onto the Wikipedia Page for United Nations so other people could find it, as not everyone reads this blog. It’s been going since 2006. The Introduction explains:

Legislative mandates express the will of the Member States and are the means through which the membership grants authority and responsibility to the Secretary-General to implement its requests. The resolutions adopted from year to year by each of the principal organs are the primary source of mandates. Mandates are both conceptual and specific; they can articulate newly developed international norms, provide strategic policy direction on substantive and administrative issues, or request specific conferences, activities, operations and reports.

For this reason, mandates are not easily defined or quantifiable; a concrete legal definition of a mandate does not exist. Resolutions often signify directives for action by employing words such as “requests”, “calls upon”, or “encourages” but an assessment to distinguish the level of legal obligation arising from the use of these different words has yielded no definitive answers. Such ambiguity in resolutions may be deliberate “to make it easier for Member States to reach decisions.” But since the membership has indicated a wish to use its review of mandates to examine opportunities for programmatic shifts, it is both necessary and desirable to identify a working definition of the unit of analysis and delineate the scope of the exercise.

Guided by the 2005 World Summit Outcome and subsequent discussions in the plenary, I have defined a mandate as a request or a direction, for action by the United Nations Secretariat or other implementing entities, that derives from a resolution of the General Assembly or one of the other relevant organs.

To facilitate the review and as a companion piece to this report, the Secretariat has compiled an electronic registry of mandates originating from the resolutions of the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council. The registry of mandates, along with accompanying guidance for users, is accessible at

The executive summary is more forthright:

The single greatest symptom of the lack of a coherent system for evaluating mandates and their effectiveness is the uncoordinated and burdensome mass of reports requested from the Secretariat. The quantity of the reports obscures their quality and impact, overwhelming the Member States and overburdening the Secretariat. Because information is not often provided on the overall picture of the Organization’s work in an area, it is difficult through those reports to judge the effectiveness of mandates in meeting the Organization’s objectives.

Year after year, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and the Security Council continue to adopt new mandates on the same issues, sometimes even under more than one agenda item in the same organ, usually without introducing new ideas or approaches. While some overlap of mandates from different organs is inevitable and different perspectives desirable, the existence of many interrelated mandates is generally confusing, redundant and wasteful.

The proliferation of mandates has in some cases led to overlapping, uncoordinated and inconsistent architecture for implementing mandates, in which the whole may be less than the sum of the parts. Little guidance is provided on what to do with older mandates that address the same issues, which therefore linger on over the years.

A fundamental and recurring challenge has been the adoption, year after year, of hundreds of mandates which must be implemented within resource constraints that do not keep pace. Member States confer additional responsibilities with neither corresponding funds nor guidance on how resources should be reallocated. This gap leads to real costs for the Organization and the people it serves.

So, to be clear, the semi-disastrous 2005 World Summit had its outcome adopted as a resolution, in which paragraph 164(b) said: “The General Assembly and other relevant organs will review all mandates older than five years”, and the secretariat quite reasonably decided that the first thing they needed to do was make an online registry of all mandates.

Just in case you aren’t completely clear what a mandate is, Paragraph 164 was indeed itself interpreted as a mandate, number 17171 in the database, to be precise.

I found the meeting where Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon presented this registry to the UN:

That is why the decision to conduct the review, even if it was not the most glamorous that heads of State and Government made last September, was one of the most meaningful and potentially historic. It is also a daunting challenge. While there are real opportunities to achieve results in the short term, to conduct a full review of mandates will take time and sustained commitment. But the outcome could be extremely rewarding, particularly for those we serve around the world.

Members of the Assembly, it is your review; you are the ones who are going to undertake it. I am only giving you the tools to conduct it: an online registry of mandates and, in the report before you, an analytical framework.

The registry, which responds to requests from several Member States, is a searchable electronic inventory of still-active mandates originating from the resolutions of the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council. It will enable you to find all the mandates you have adopted and to view them in a convenient way.

See, computerization is important for organization. Pity they chose such a poorly laid out and utterly cludgy java servlet database for it, rather than using on a copy of MediaWiki with all its high level Web2.0 structures. Out here in wikipedialand, we’ve been constructing our own mandate registry. Just think how cool it would be if the UN staff inserted their information in this place rather than burying it behind horrible codes and 1980s style database interfaces.

Oh well, never mind. I’m sure it looks all completely reasonable to the e-Envoy in his experience.

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