5. The Conference of the Parties at work

The debates and discussions about agenda items are supported by reports of various entities. These include the Bureau of the COP, expert and working groups established by the COP, the Convention Secretariat, WHO, or other international agency upon the invitation of the COP.

5.1. Functions of the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to support the Conference of the Parties

The functions of the Convention Secretariat during the COP are clearly defined in the ROP (see Rules 14 and 15). The overall responsibility for organizing the COP resides with the Head of the Convention Secretariat.

The Governance and International Cooperation Team is responsible for the overall organization and smooth functioning of the COP, in coordination with other teams from the Convention Secretariat, WHO and external partners, including with host country governments when applicable. 

The Convention Secretariat’s Senior Legal Officer, with support from WHO Office of the Legal Counsel, ensures that legal advice is provided to the COP. The Secretaries of Committee A and Committee B are also staff of the Convention Secretariat. They are responsible for supporting the chairpersons with the conduct of the respective committees and overseeing the finalization of the reports of the committees. 

5.2. Conduct of business

The proceedings of the COP sessions are governed by Rules 32 to 48 of the ROP.

COP meetings usually run Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., with
a lunch break between the two meetings. Saturday meetings run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Evening meetings may be convened, if necessary, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The first day opens with a plenary meeting.

On the second day, the COP will break into Committee A and Committee B, each of which deals with specific issues related to the WHO FCTC. Additional plenary meetings may be held in the course of the session.

The last day closes with the final plenary.

5.3. Documentation

Documentation is distributed in the six official languages of the United Nations at least 60 days before the opening of the session and made available on the WHO FCTC website and the WHO FCTC smartphone application.

Provisional agenda: The Convention Secretariat, in consultation with the Bureau, is responsible for the preparation of the provisional agenda for each session of the COP and the coordination of the preparation of the corresponding documents.

Guide for Participants: The Convention Secretariat issues a Guide for Participants to the COP, with detailed information on the venue, visa requirements and logistical information. The Guide for Participants is issued at every COP as part of the documentation. 

Journals: The daily journal of the COP contains the most up-to-date information on meetings and events scheduled during the session. It also includes procedural summaries of discussions.
A preliminary journal is published before the COP opens. The journals are available, in the six official languages of the United Nations, on the WHO FCTC website and on the smartphone application.  Printed versions can be picked up at the venue’s documentation desk.

Report of the COP: On Saturday (the last day of the COP), the COP adopts the provisional report of the session. At this time, the report will contain a provisional record of the proceedings up to the
cut-off time of 6 p.m. Thursday.

After the session, the Convention Secretariat adds a summary of the proceedings and decisions that took place after the cut-off time, and the full report is shared with the Parties for any corrections. Parties have 15 days after the date of receipt of the report to inform the Convention Secretariat about any corrections.

The report is then finalized by the Convention Secretariat and made available on the WHO FCTC website in the six official languages of the United Nations. 

Verbatim record of plenary meetings: The verbatim record is a transcript of the discussions in the plenary meetings. It will be made available online a few months after the closure of the COP.

5.4. High-level Segment

COP sessions might include a High-level Segment. The objective of a High-level Segment is to bring together Heads of States or Heads of Governments, ministers from various ministries and heads of United Nations agencies to raise the profile of the WHO FCTC and discuss the implementation of the treaty.

More information about the High-level Segment will be available on the WHO FCTC website, as necessary.

5.5. The General Debate

The General Debate directly follows the agenda item entitled “Global progress in implementation of the WHO FCTC”.

The General Debate allows ministers of health, high-level officials or heads of delegations and regional groups to deliver their statements.

The speaker list: During the COP, the General Debate in the plenary meeting is the only time when the Secretariat will establish a speaker list in advance. In this regard, governments wishing to speak on developments in the implementation of the treaty are invited to notify the Convention Secretariat as soon as possible.

Interventions will be monitored by a “traffic light”. Individual statements are limited to three minutes (330 words) and statements on behalf of a WHO region to five minutes (550 words).

5.6. Organization of work

The adoption of the agenda and the organization of work are the first items to be discussed and adopted in the first plenary meeting. The plenary meetings, Committee A and Committee B meetings have a daily programme of work, with morning and afternoon meetings, and occasional evening meetings.

Drafting groups may be established by the two committees to aim to reach agreement by the interested Parties on the draft decisions.

5.6.1. Plenary: The COP opens with a plenary meeting chaired by the President of the COP. The plenary meetings deals with issues related to proceedings, observer applications and the global progress report. This is followed by the General Debate, which continues in the second plenary meeting. Usually, on the second or third day of the session, a plenary meeting is convened to validate the credentials of Party representatives. The plenary meeting also adopts reports of Committees A and B, which contain the draft decisions and were agreed by the Committees.

5.6.2. Committees A and B: The work of Committees A and B is governed by Rule 24quinquies. Committee A is generally entrusted with work on treaty instruments and technical matters. Committee B deals with work on reporting, implementation assistance, international cooperation, and institutional and budgetary matters.

Each committee shall elect a Chairperson and two Vice-Chairpersons, with due regard to representation from each of the six WHO regions. Informal consultations to select the officers of the committees shall take place before the opening of the session. The plenary meeting decides on the officers before the committees begin their work.

Committee A and Committee B do not adopt decisions. The committees will present their reports containing the draft decisions for adoption by the COP in a plenary meeting.

5.6.3. Drafting groups: Committees A and B may establish drafting groups as necessary. Usually, drafting groups are convened to allow Parties to reach consensus on a specific draft decision if it was not possible to do so in committee meetings. Each drafting group will be chaired by a Party’s representative. The Convention Secretariat will provide support as needed, such as on-screen drafting.

5.6.4. Decisions: All COP decisions related to an agenda item are titled and numbered. They start with a number of background paragraphs (preamble), which are followed by a number of paragraphs urging specific actions, called operational paragraphs.

For some agenda items, the COP will simply take note of the report without adopting a decision. For other agenda items, a decision is made following a discussion.

Pre-session: Reports to the COP often contain a draft decision, which can be used as a basis for further discussions and negotiations for a final decision. Parties interested in submitting a draft decision prior to the session are encouraged to do so as early as possible. 

In session: Parties have the right to propose decisions at the session, but these have to be submitted at least 24 hours prior to discussion. The Convention Secretariat will arrange the translation and circulate the draft decisions as Conference Papers in the session. 

Proposals for decisions cannot be tabled after an agenda item is closed, unless the COP decides to reopen the agenda item (see Rule 48 of the ROP).

To be tabled, a draft decision needs to be submitted in person to the Secretary of the plenary meeting or of Committee A or Committee B. The submission should include one electronic version and one hard copy of the draft text, signed and dated on every page by the initiator as well as by the
co-sponsor, if any. It must also indicate the agenda item number under which the draft decision is tabled.

Once submitted, the text is edited and formatted by the Convention Secretariat into an official document of the COP as a Conference Paper, which will be translated into the six official languages of the United Nations. The Convention Secretariat requires a minimum of 24 hours to process a draft decision. The 24hour rule requires that a draft decision be circulated to all Parties the day before it can be considered for adoption. However, this rule can be waived (see Rule 33 of the ROP).

The conference papers will be distributed and used as the basis for negotiations. In cases in which
a drafting group has been established, the final agreed text will be reported back to the respective committee. This is done either by projecting it on the screen, (if that is the case, the text will have to be read out to enhance interpretation), or issuing a Conference Paper (if time permits), or a white paper will be circulated in the room.

The agreed draft decisions are then included in a report of the respective committees to be adopted during the next plenary meeting.

5.7. Negotiation and consultation practices

Parties can consult on developing draft decisions in a number of ways. Here are the two most common practices:

Negotiations before tabling: Parties consult one another prior to the COP and submit, if necessary,
a new draft decision. This practice saves time and enables quick adoption.

Negotiations after tabling: Parties decide to discuss and negotiate the draft decision contained in the pre-session documents in session with no prior consultation. In some cases, a few interested Parties will gather together on the margins of the meeting and report back with proposed text. In other cases, a drafting group will be established. However, the Chairpersons should facilitate efforts to reach
a consensus as much as possible, either in plenary or committee meetings before setting up drafting groups.

If no consensus is reached, the committees will report to the plenary meeting on the need to make
a decision on whether to defer the agenda item to a future session of the COP, to take note of the report without adopting a decision, or to proceed with voting in accordance with the Rules 49–56.

5.8. Languages and interpretation

The COP is a Governing Body meeting that follows the United Nations procedures regarding languages and interpretation. All official documentation is made available in the six official languages of the United Nations.

Only plenary, committee and informal regional meetings will include interpretation into the six official languages of the United Nations.

5.9. Seating arrangements

Parties will be seated in English-language alphabetical order for the first plenary meeting, with the letter of the first row drawn by lot before the session.

Beginning on the second day, Parties usually prefer to be seated according to WHO region. Observers will be seated in a specified area. The public will be seated in the public gallery.

5.10. Informal regional meetings

The six WHO regions will hold daily informal regional meetings during the COP. Usually those meetings take place in the morning before the plenary or Committees meetings. The schedule for the regional meetings will be reflected in the journals.

The regional meetings usually are chaired by regional coordinators, with the support from Bureau Members of the respective regions and with the assistance of the Convention Secretariat. It is up to the Parties in the regions to decide whether they will invite the observers to the COP to participate in these meetings.

5.11. Bilateral or information meetings

Any other bilateral meetings or information meetings can be arranged by the delegations. Requests for meeting rooms should be sent to the Convention Secretariat by email at least 24 hours prior to the meeting. Upon the availability of the rooms and, on first-come, first-serve basis, the Convention Secretariat will accommodate these requests.