Frequently Asked Questions - Methods of Work

What is the difference between a Member State and an observer State?

Member States of the Commission are elected. All other States that are not members of the Commission are invited to attend sessions of the Commission and its working groups as observers. Observer States may participate in the collective effort to achieve a generally acceptable text. However, they cannot object to a decision being recorded and have no right to vote.

Are there other observers in UNCITRAL?

Sessions of the Commission and its subsidiary organs are open to representatives of international governmental and non-governmental organizations invited by the Commission. Those organizations do not participate in the decision-taking.

United Nations organs and specialized agencies brought into relationship with the United Nations are permitted to participate in the sessions and the work of the Commission and its subsidiary organs.

The Commission draws up, and updates as necessary, a list of international organizations with which UNCITRAL entertains a long-standing cooperation and which have been invited to Commission sessions. In addition, the Secretariat may be requested by the Commission or its subsidiary organs to invite a specific organization to the relevant session. It may also receive a request from an organization to be invited to a session, or it may itself take the initiative to invite an organization on the basis of its assessment of the relevance and potential contribution of the organization concerned to the proceedings of the relevant session. In such cases, the Secretariat shall inform the Member States of the Commission. Where an objection is raised, the decision will be taken by the Commission.

What are the criteria and procedures for inviting non-governmental organizations (NGOs)?


  •  Conformity of the aims and purpose of the organization with the spirit, purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations;
  •  Internationality in focus and membership.  The notion of "international organizations" has been interpreted broadly as encompassing regional and subregional organizations, as well as other organizations with demonstrated international expertise; 
  •  Ability of the organization to contribute meaningfully to the deliberations at the session in view of the organization's recognized competence in the subject matter under consideration at the session and its role in representing a particular sector or industry;
  •  Legal or commercial experience to be reported upon by the organization, which is not represented by other organizations already participating in the session.

The goal is to achieve in sum a balanced representation at the sessions of the major viewpoints or interests in the relevant fields in all areas and regions of the world, with the purpose of assisting UNCITRAL to formulate legal texts.  The status of a non-governmental organization with ECOSOC has not been a decisive factor in granting requests for invitation.


An interested organization meeting the above criteria may wish to send an official letter requesting to be invited to sessions of UNCITRAL or its particular working group(s) to the Secretary of UNCITRAL at The letter should be on the organization's letterhead, signed by an authorised official of the organization, and demonstrate that the organization meets the eligibility criteria listed above. It should include a copy of, or a web link to, the statute of the organization or other official documents confirming the organization's legal personality and status of an NGO.

Can individuals take part in sessions?

Individuals can partake in UNCITRAL sessions only as members of delegations of States or invited organizations.  Occasionally, they have also addressed the Commission or its working group as experts (e.g., as a special rapporteur or in other capacity) upon invitation of UNCITRAL.

How are UNCITRAL materials made publicly available?

UNCITRAL operates in a highly transparent environment. The Secretariat provides written materials for the Commission and each working group to consider at their respective sessions, which are made available on the UNCITRAL website in all six official languages of the United Nations in advance of each session. A report of each session, reflecting the main points raised and decisions taken, is posted on the UNCITRAL website as soon as possible after the session concerned. In addition, the Secretariat issues summary records of Commission meetings relating to the formulation of normative texts, though not for meetings of working groups and other discussions at the Commission session. By contrast with verbatim records, summary records contain condensed statements. Finally, the Commission has decided that, as a general rule, digital recordings of both Commission and working group sessions should be made publicly available by posting on the UNCITRAL website.

The reports and, where issued, summary records and the digital recordings of the sessions are made publicly available on the UNCITRAL website after the session concerned. They allow any organization or person to follow both the deliberations leading to the adoption of an UNCITRAL text and the reasons for the policy decisions and drafting reflected in each text. In order to create an environment that allows open and frank discussion on technical questions, it has been the practice in UNCITRAL not to allow live-streaming of UNCITRAL meetings relating to the preparation of normative texts (whether at Commission sessions or in meetings of working groups).