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United Nations Regional Groups
The United Nations Regional Groups are the geopolitical regional groups of member states of the United Nations. Originally, UN member states were unofficially grouped into five geopolitical regional groups. What began as an informal means of sharing the distribution of posts for General Assembly committees has taken on a much more expansive role. Many UN bodies are allocated on the basis of geographical representation. Top leadership positions, including Secretary-General and President of the General Assembly, are rotated among the regional groups. The groups also coordinate substantive policy and form common fronts for negotiations and bloc voting.
League of Nations
The precedent of the geographic distribution of seats was set by the United Nation's predecessor, the League of Nations. Under the League's system, a Nomination's Committee was created in order to create election slates for distribution of seats in the Council of the League.
This proved a difficult task as the number of seats was on the Council was constantly changing. However, from 1926 to 1933 an unofficial pattern of distribution emerged where the non-permanent seats on the Council were distributed along the following lines:
- 3 for Latin American states
- 1 for a Scandinavian state
- 1 for a Little Entente state (Czechoslovakia, Romania or Yugoslavia)
- 1 for a member of the British Commonwealth
- 1 for a Far Eastern state
- 1 seat each for Spain and Poland
During the drafting of the United Nations Charter, the idea of geographic distribution of seats of the new organisation's bodies was one of the priorities of the drafters. On the United States' recommendation, the very first General Committee of the United Nations was composed of:
- The five permanent members of the Security Council
- 3 Latin American states
- 2 British Commonwealth states
- 2 Eastern European states
- 1 Western European state
- 1 Middle Eastern state
This distribution began the precedent of using regional groups for the allocation of seats in United Nations bodies. For example, the first election to the Security Council used a similar scheme, allocating seats along the following lines:
- The five permanent members of the Security Council
- 2 Latin American states
- 1 British Commonwealth state
- 1 Eastern European state
- 1 Western European states
- 1 Middle Eastern state
Elections to the Economic and Social Council also followed along similar lines, but instead allocated seats to "Near East states" and not "Middle Eastern states."
However, these arrangements were not formal and were based on "Gentlemen’s Agreements" agreed upon by the United States and the Soviet Union regarding the distribution of seats in United Nations bodies.
Following a wave of decolonization, there were multiple admissions into the United Nations from African, Asian and Pacific states. After the Bandung Conference in 1955, there was increasing solidarity among post-colonial states which led to pressure being put on the United Nations for increased representation of these states. This pressure led to the passage of Resolution 1192 (XII) of 12 December 1957, which established a formal pattern for distribution of seats on the General Committee.
This was followed on 17 December 1963 by Resolutions 1990 (XVIII) and 1991 (XVIII). These resolutions further outlined the distribution of seats on the General Committee, but also outlined how seats would be geographically distributed on the Economic and Social and Security Councils. The resolutions outlined the regions as follow:
- African and Asian states
- Latin American states
- Eastern European states
- Western Europe and Other states
On 20 December 1971 Resolution 2847 (XXVI) formally set up the present distribution system that is in place for the Economic and Social Council. It also split the African and Asian states region into two separate regions, one for Asia and one for Africa.
Finally, on 19 December 1978 Resolution 33/138 was passed by the General Assembly. This resolution called for equitable geographic distribution of the presidency and vice-presidencies of the General Assembly, as well as of the chairmanship of the seven main committees.
The most recent change to the regional grouping system was in 2011, when the Asia Group was renamed the Group of Asia and the Pacific Small Island Developing States, also Asia and the Pacific Group or Asia-Pacific Group, in order to recognise the growing role Pacific island nations play in the United Nations System.
Apart from allowing member states with related international interests to liaise, discuss and coordinate their voting and other activities at the United Nations, the main function of the regional groups is to distribute membership quotas in United Nations bodies and leadership positions. According to convention, the non-permanent membership seats of the United Nations Security Council is apportioned between regional groups according to a set formula. Other bodies, such as the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the United Nations Human Rights Committee, also have set membership quotas for each regional group. The position of the President of the United Nations General Assembly rotates amongst the groups on a ten-year cycle (the current rule being that each regional group fills the position twice during the cycle, in effect it rotates on a five-year cycle).
|Regional Group||Number of members||% of members||UNSC permanent members||UNSC elected members||ECOSOC members||HRC members||UNGA President years|
|Africa||54||28||0||3||14||13||4 and 9|
|Asia and the Pacific||53||27.5||1||2||11||13||1 and 6|
|EEG||23||12||1||1||6||6||2 and 7|
|GRULAC||33||17||0||2||10||8||3 and 8|
|WEOG||28+1||15||3||2||13||7||0 and 5|
|Total UN members||193||100||5||10||54||47||All years|
Populations of regional groups
|Regional Group||Number of members||Population (approx., rounded WP numbers)||% of UN members population|
|Asia and the Pacific||53||4.24 billion||58.5%|
|Eastern European||23||340 million||4.69%|
|Latin American and Caribbean||33||621 million||8.57%|
|Western European and Others||28+1||904 million||12.49%|
|Total UN members||193||7.24 billion||100%|
The regional groups
The African Group consists of 54 Members States (28% of United Nations members), and is thus the largest regional group by number of Member States. It is the only regional group that has a territory that coincides with the traditional continent of which its name originates. Its territory is composed entirely of land from Africa.
The African Group has three seats on the Security Council, all non-permanent. The Group also has 14 seats on the United Nations Economic and Social Council and 13 seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council. In the rotation for the election of the President of the United Nations General Assembly, the Group is responsible for electing nationals from its Member States in years ending with 4 and 9; most recently, Sam Kutesa of Uganda was elected to this position in 2014.
Member States of the African Group are as follow:
- Burkina Faso
- Cabo Verde
- Central African Republic
- Côte d'Ivoire
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Equatorial Guinea
- Gambia (Republic of The)
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- South Sudan
- United Republic of Tanzania
Asia and the Pacific Group
The Group of Asia and the Pacific Small Island Developing States (formerly the Asia Group), or Asia and the Pacific Group, consists of 55 Members States (27.5% of United Nations members) and is the second largest regional group by number of member states after the African Group. Its territory is composed of much of the continents of Asia and Oceania with the exception of a few countries.
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia are members of the Eastern European Group, while Australia, New Zealand and Israel are members of the Western European and Others Group. Cyprus is the only European Union state which is a member of the Asia and the Pacific Group. Additionally, Turkey participates in meetings of the Asia and the Pacific Group, but is for the purpose of elections considered part of the Western European and Others Group.
The Asia and the Pacific Group has three seats on the Security Council: China's permanent seat, and two non-permanent seats. The Group also has 11 seats on the Economic and Social Council and 13 seats on the Human Rights Council. In the rotation for the election of the President of the United Nations General Assembly, the Group is responsible for electing nationals from its Member States in years ending with 1 and 6; most recently, Peter Thomson of Fiji was elected to this position in 2016.
Member States of the Asia and the Pacific Group are as follow:
- Brunei Darussalam
- North Korea
- Iran (Islamic Republic of)
- Lao People's Democratic Republic
- Marshall Islands
- Micronesia (Federated States of)
- Papua New Guinea
- South Korea
- Saudi Arabia
- Solomon Islands
- Sri Lanka
- State of Palestine
- Syrian Arab Republic
- United Arab Emirates
- Viet Nam
Eastern European Group
The Eastern European Group consists of 23 Members States (12% of United Nations members), and as such is the regional group with the fewest member states. Its territory is composed of land from Eastern Europe, as well as parts of Central Europe Southeast Europe.
The Eastern European Group has two seats on the Security Council: Russia's permanent seat and one non-permanent seat. The Group also has six seats on the Economic and Social Council and six seats on the Human Rights Council. In the rotation for the election of the President of the United Nations General Assembly, the Group is responsible for electing nationals from its Member States in years ending with 2 and 7; most recently, Miroslav Lajčák of Slovakia was elected to this position for 2017.
Members of the Eastern European Group are as follow:
Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
The Latin American and Caribbean Group, or GRULAC, consists of 33 Members States (17% of all UN members). Its territory is composed of entirely of land from South and Central America, as well as some islands in the Caribbean and Mexico in North America . Any differences arise from the presence of dependent territories of European countries.
The Latin American and Caribbean Group has two seats on the Security Council, both non-permanent. The Group also has 10 seats on the Economic and Social Council and eight seats on the Human Rights Council. In the rotation for the election of the President of the United Nations General Assembly, the Group is responsible for electing nationals from its Member States in years ending with 3 and 8; most recently, María Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador was elected to this position in 2018.
Member States of the Latin American and Caribbean Group are as follow:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Bolivia (Plurinational State of)
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)
Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
The Western European and Others Group, or WEOG, consists of 28 Members States (15% of United Nations members). Its territory is composed of land dispersed on all of the continents, but mostly centered in Western Europe and North America. Additionally, the United States states acts as an observer, as it is not formally part of any regional group.
Including the United States, the Western European and Others Group has five seats on the Security Council: three permanent seats (France, United Kingdom, United States), and two non-permanent seats. The Group also has 13 seats on the Economic and Social Council and seven seats on the Human Rights Council. In the rotation for the election of the President of the United Nations General Assembly, the Group is responsible for electing nationals from its Member States in years ending with 0 and 5; most recently, Volkan Bozkır of Turkey was elected to this position in 2020.
Member states of the Western European and Others Group are as follow:
The following states participate in the Western European and Others Group as observers only:
Cyprus, an EU member state, is neither a member of WEOG or the Eastern European Group. Due to its geographical location and the close ties with Russia, Cyprus decided to remain neutral between the two European Groups and thus is a member of the Asia and the Pacific Group.
As of 2010, Kiribati (geographically in Oceania) has never been elected to be a member of any regional group, despite other Oceania nations belonging to the Asia and the Pacific Group. Until 2017, despite its membership in the United Nations, Kiribati had never delegated a permanent representative. In September 2017, Teburoro Tito became the country's first permanent representative.
The United States of America voluntarily chooses not to be a member of any group, and attends meetings of the Western European and Others Group as an observer only. However, it is considered to be a member of WEOG for putting forward candidates for electoral purposes in the United Nations General Assembly.
Calls for reform
The great variation in size (from 21 to 53) between the regional groups is problematic in that it may mean that equal representation is more difficult to achieve. Additionally, some of the groups might be in need of reforms due to political changes within the group. Many members of the Eastern European Group have been in recent years been aligning themselves with the Western European and Others Group due to their admission into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. Additionally, some members of the Western European and Others Group also feel disenfranchised due to increased coordination between European Union states that are in the group.
In 1995, the Australian Government proposed that the regional groups be reorganised in seven groups as follows:
- Western Europe (24 members)
- Central and Eastern Europe (22 members)
- Middle East and the Maghreb (19 members)
- Africa (43 members)
- Central Asia and the Indian Ocean (17 members)
- East Asia and Oceania (25 members)
- America (35 members)
This proposal would create a homogenous Middle-Eastern group, as well as met the demand of South Pacific state who have called for their own region.
In 1997, a Canadian study proposed that the regional groups be reorganised into nine groups as follows:
- Eurasia (21 members)
- Asia/Pacific (25 members)
- Mediterranean/Gulf (19 members)
- Northern Europe (20 members)
- Southern Europe (19 members)
- North Africa (23 members)
- South Africa (23 members)
- America (19 members)
- Caribbean (16 members)
This proposal would create groups of similar size, while also keeping in mind the local politics of the regions.
In 2000, the government of Nauru, in its general debate address, called for a new regional group from Oceania. This new group would give more representation to pacific island nations, who are at present grouped together with the Middle-East, Central Asia and East Asia, limiting their opportunities. Aside from Nauru, this proposed bloc may also include Australia and New Zealand (both in the WEOG), Japan, South Korea, the ASEAN countries, and the rest of Oceania.
- IAEA Areas
- List of members of the United Nations Security Council
- List of members of the United Nations Economic and Social Council
- List of members of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
- United Nations geoscheme
- Continental union
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