What Happens at the UN General Assembly?

Every year in September, global leaders gather at the United Nations headquarters in New York for the U.N. General Assembly. This year, it begins on Tuesday, September 25.


What is the U.N. General Assembly’s general debate?


The so-called “general debate” is the meeting at the beginning of the General Assembly in which representatives from every country take turns delivering speeches. There is no real debating that takes place, rather it is a time for each country to address whatever topics are most important to their governments.


Why does Brazil speak first?


Brazil has spoken first since 1947 and this has now become a tradition. According to the United Nations, during the organization’s early years, no one ever wanted to be the first to speak, and Brazil always ended up volunteering to go first. The host country, which is the United States, always speaks second.


What determines the speaking order of the remaining countries?


After the United States speaks, the order is set by a complex system that involves multiple factors. Heads of state usually speak first, followed by heads of government and then other government representatives, such as foreign ministers. The United Nations says other considerations include geographical balance, the order in which the request to speak was made, and other factors.


How long can a leader speak?


Speakers are asked to try to keep their statements to 15 minutes, but in practice a government official can speak as long as he or she likes. The United Nations says the longest speech made during the General Assembly was given by Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who spoke for four and half hours in 1960. However, that speech was not made during the general debate.


What else goes on at the General Assembly?


Besides the general debate, the General Assembly is a time for member states, which number 193, to decide on the U.N.’s budget, elect non-permanent members of the Security Council, and attend a host of side meetings on various issues. As well as formal meetings, the assembly is an opportunity for leaders around the world to meet for private discussions.

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