UNESCO. General Conference

Identity area

Type of entity

Corporate body

Authorized form of name

UNESCO. General Conference

Parallel form(s) of name

  • UNESCO. Conférence générale

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Description area

Dates of existence



The first session of the General Conference opened on 20 November in Paris with a solemn ceremony at the Sorbonne. It worked until 10 December in the Hotel Majestic with the participation of representatives from 30 governments entitled to vote. The first Director General of UNESCO, Julian Huxley, was elected on 6 December 1946.
From 1946 to 1952, the General Conference took place every year, since 1952 every second year.


The General Conference normally takes place in Paris at UNESCO Headquarters.

Legal status

The General Conference is one of the three constitutional organs of UNESCO (besides the Executive Board and the Secretariat).

Functions, occupations and activities

The General Conference consists of the representatives of the States Members of the Organization, usually represented at ministerial level. At each session of the General Conference, several Heads of State and/or Government pay official visits to UNESCO.
It meets every two years and is also attended by representatives of Associate Members and observers from States Non Members as well as intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

The functions of the General Conference are:

• 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.

Mandates/sources of authority

The General Conference determines the policies and the main lines of work of the Organization (following article IV of the Constitution).

Internal structures/genealogy

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 UNESCO’s 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 Organization’s Headquarters. It reports thereon to the General Conference.

General context

Working languages:
English and French since 1946, Spanish in 1947 and since 1950, Russian since 1954, Arabic since 1974 and Chinese since 1980.

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Created by Julia Pohle, June 2009.



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