Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Ben Saul
Chapter 32: The United Nations General Assembly and terrorism
At first glance, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly is not a natural source of international law either in general or with specific reference to terrorism. The Charter of the United Nations (Charter) gives the General Assembly very broad powers to consider ‘any questions or any matters’ within the scope of the Charter and to ‘make recommendations’ to member states and to the Security Council on those questions or matters (Article 10). Its mandate is thus expansive and wide-ranging. However, the General Assembly’s powers are of recommendation only, and when contrasted to the binding power of the Security Council, they suggest an actor that is limited in its ability to generate or affect international law. The fact that the General Assembly passes large numbers of resolutions on an annual basis, some of which are contradictory and many of which have little impact, contributes to the image of the General Assembly as an actor with a secondary impact at best. This is only a partial image, however. The universality of the General Assembly’s membership and the fact that it operates on a ‘one state, one vote’ basis give it considerable legitimacy and power as an international actor. Its decisions, ranging from resolutions to the creation of legally binding treaties thus have normative power and the potential to become part of customary and formal law.
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