Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

General debate | UN multimedia products

General debate

Q1. What is the general debate?

The general debate is the annual meeting of Heads of State and Government at the beginning of the General Assembly session. It is usually the first debate of the session and — with the exception of the high-level meetings — the only one in which Heads of State and Government regularly participate.

Q2. Which languages are available?

The general debate web site is available in English and in French and both landing pages offer live streaming in the respective language; each speaker's page offers audio and on-demand video in the six official languages of the UN and of the floor.

Q3. How long does the general debate last?

According to the General Assembly Rules of Procedure, the general debate is to be held without interruption for nine working days. However, in practice, seven days is usually sufficient to accommodate all speakers.

Q4. Where does the general debate take place?

The general debate takes place in the General Assembly Hall at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Q.5 What is the theme of the general debate?

The 2015 theme is “The United Nations at 70 – a new commitment to action”.

Q.6 How is the theme selected?

The President-elect of the General Assembly suggests a topic/theme of global concern for the upcoming general debate, based on informal discussions with Member States, the current President of the General Assembly, and the Secretary-General.  Shortly after his/her election, usually no later than early August, the President-elect sends a letter to all Member States announcing the theme for the upcoming general debate and inviting them to focus their speeches on the proposed theme.

Q7. When is the general debate held this year?

The general debate of the 70th session of the General Assembly opens on Monday, 28 September to Saturday, 3 October 2015. The meetings of the general debate are generally held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. However, each meeting lasts until all scheduled speakers have spoken. Depending on how closely speakers comply with the recommended time limit, the morning meetings may run into the lunch break, and the afternoon meetings well into the night.

Q8. What are the length and the order of the speeches?

A voluntary 15-minute time limit for statements is to be observed in the general debate. Member States are informed by a note verbale from the Secretary-General at the end of May that the speakers list for the general debate is formally opened for signing up. The speaking order of the general debate is different from the speaking order of other General Assembly debates.

Speaking order of the general debate:

  • The President of the General Assembly calls the meeting to order;
  • The Secretary-General introduces the “Report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization” (technically, not part of the general debate);
  • The President of the General Assembly opens the general debate and makes a speech;
  • Brazil is always the first Member State to speak in the general debate (regardless of the level of representation) since the 10th session of the General Assembly, in 1955;
  • The United States of America as the host country is the second Member State to speak (regardless of the level of representation);
  • For all other Member States, the speaking order is based on the level of representation, preference and other criteria such as geographic balance;
  • Only the Holy See, the State of Palestine and the European Union are invited to participate in the general debate and their speaking slots are determined by the level of representation.

Q9. Do Members States have a right of reply?

Yes, the right of reply in response to a statement is made in writing by a Head of State. The letter is addressed to the Secretary-General, who will circulate it to all Member States. During the general debate, statements in exercise of the right of reply to any other speaker are made at the end of each day.

A delegation, or a group of delegations, may demonstrate their disagreement with a speaker by getting up simultaneously and leaving the General Assembly Hall during a speech.

Q10. Is the general debate opened to the public?

No, the general debate and the General Assembly are not opened to the public. Due to the large number of VIPs attending, additional security measures are taken in and around the UN premises. Access to the premises is more restricted than usual and is restricted to delegates and their staff; staff members of the United Nations Secretariat and of the funds, programmes and agencies of the United Nations system; accredited media; and affiliates who are wearing a United Nations grounds pass. In addition, members of civil society who are invited to attend the high-level meetings are required to be in possession of a meeting-specific pass at all times.

Q11. Will the guided tours still take place during the general debate?

The guided tours are suspended from Wednesday, 23 September 2015, until the close of business on Tuesday, 6 October 2015. On Wednesday, 7 October 2015, guided tours will resume and the building will reopen to the public.

UN Multimedia Products

Q12. Where can I find the Member States statements?

Each speaker has a dedicated page featuring his/her statement (in one or more of the six official languages), a video and downloadable sound files (.mp3) in six languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). Content can be browsed by date and country/speaker.

Statements delivered in the General Assembly hall are available on the general debate web site and the PaperSmart portal.

Q13. Where can I find the statements audio files?

Audio files of speeches in digital format (.mp3) will be available for download free of charge from the general debate web site and the United Nations Audiovisual Library web site. Audio enquiries and requests should be addressed to the United Nations Audio Library:

Q14. Where can I find the general debate photos?

Photographs in digital format (.jpg) of each speaker will be available on the general debate web site.  You can also download free of charge all General Assembly general debate high resolution photographs after registering on the United Nations photo web site.  Photo enquiries and requests should be addressed to the United Nations Photo Library:

Q15. Where can I find videos and DVDs of the general debate?

Delegations may request one DVD of each statement free of charge. Digital files formats (such as MPEG2 and MPEG4 (H.264)) are also available on demand and can be downloaded online on the general debate web site. Additional copies of DVDs, Betacam SP, back orders or any other special requests are subject to charge. To request a videotape of a statement, contact the United Nations Video Library:

Telephone: (212) 963-7650, 963-0656 or (917) 367-9231
E-mail: video-library@un.org and redi@un.org

Live television feeds will be available through commercial carriers. For information, contact United Nations Television: (212) 963-7650.

Broadcasters interested in accessing United Nations Television live coverage of the high-level meetings and the general debate should call (212) 963-7650.

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