United Nations

The United Nations (UN) is an international organization founded in 1945. It is currently made up of 193 Member States.

Its mission and work guided by the purposes and principles contained in its founding Charter and implemented by its various organs and specialised agencies.

Its activities include maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development, and upholding international law.

United Nations Principal Organs

The UN functions through its 6 principal organs. They are:

  1. General Assembly
  2. Security Council
  3. UN Secretariat
  4. Economic and Social Council
  5. Trusteeship Council
  6. International Court of Justice

General Assembly

  • The General Assembly is the main deliberative, policymaking, and representative organ of the UN.
  • All 193 Member States of the UN are represented in the General Assembly, making it the only UN body with universal representation.
  • Each year, in September, the full UN membership meets in the General Assembly Hall in New York for the annual General Assembly session, and general debate, which many heads of state attend and address.
  • Decisions on important questions, such as those on peace and security, admission of new members, and budgetary matters, require a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly.
  • Decisions on other questions are by a simple majority.
  • The President of the General Assembly is elected each year by the assembly to serve a one-year term of office.
  • 6 Main Committees: Draft resolutions can be prepared for the General Assembly by its six main committees: (1) First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), (2) Second Committee (Economic and Financial), (3) Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural), (4) Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), (5) Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), (6)Sixth Committee (Legal).
    • Each Member State may be represented by one person on each Main Committee and on any other committee that may be established upon which all Member States have the right to be represented.
    • Member States may also assign advisers, technical advisers, experts or persons of similar status to these committees.
  • Other Committees:
    • General Committee: It meets periodically throughout each session to review the progress of the General Assembly and its committees and to make recommendations for furthering such progress. It is composed of the President of the General Assembly and 21 Vice-Presidents of the Assembly and the Chairmen of the six Main Committees. The five permanent members of the Security Council serve as Vice-Presidents, as well.
    • Credentials Committee: It is mandated to examine the credentials of representatives of Member States and to report to the General Assembly.

Security Council

  • It has primary responsibility, under the UN Charter, for the maintenance of international peace and security.
  • The Security Council is made up of fifteen member states, consisting of five permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and ten non-permanent members elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly on a regional basis.
  • “Veto power” refers to the power of the permanent member to veto (Reject) any resolution of Security Council.
  • The unconditional veto possessed by the five governments has been seen as the most undemocratic character of the UN.
  • Critics also claim that veto power is the main cause for international inaction on war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, the United States refused to join the United Nations in 1945 unless it was given a veto. The absence of the United States from the League of Nations contributed to its ineffectiveness. Supporters of the veto power regard it as a promoter of international stability, a check against military interventions, and a critical safeguard against U.S. domination.

Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

  • It is the principal body for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and recommendations on economic, social and environmental issues, as well as implementation of internationally agreed development goals.
  • It has 54 Members, elected by the General Assembly for overlapping three-year terms.
  • It is the United Nations’ central platform for reflection, debate, and innovative thinking on sustainable development.
  • Each year, ECOSOC structures its work around an annual theme of global importance to sustainable development. This ensures focused attention, among ECOSOC’s array of partners, and throughout the UN development system.
  • It coordinates the work of the 14 UN specialized agencies, ten functional commissions and five regional commissions, receives reports from nine UN funds and programmes and issues policy recommendations to the UN system and to Member States.

UN bodies within the purview of the ECOSOC:

  • Specialized agencies
    • International labour Organization (ILO)
    • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
    • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
    • World Health Organization (WHO)
    • World Bank Group
    • International Monetary Fund (IMF)
    • International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
    • International Maritime Organization (IMO)
    • International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
    • Universal Postal Union (UPU)
    • World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
    • World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
    • International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
    • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
    • World Tourism Organization (WTO)
  • Functional commissions
    • Statistical Commission
    • Commission on Population and Development
    • Commission for Social Development
    • Commission on Human Rights
    • Commission on the Status of Women
    • Commission on Narcotic Drugs
    • Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
    • Commission on Science and Technology for Development
    • Commission on Sustainable Development
    • United Nations Forum on Forests
  • Regional Commissions
    • Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)
    • Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
    • Economic Commission for Europe (ECE)
    • Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)
    • Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)
  • Standing Committees
    • Committee for Programme and Coordination
    • Commission on Human Settlements
    • Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations
    • Committee on Negotiations with Intergovernmental Agencies
    • Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
  • Ad hoc bodies
    • Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on Informatics
  • Expert bodies composed of governmental experts
    • Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods and on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals.
    • United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names
  • Expert bodies composed of members serving in their personal capacity
    • Committee for Development Policy
    • Meeting of Experts on the United Nations Programme in Public Administration and Finance
    • Ad Hoc Group of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters
    • Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
    • Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for Development
    • Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
  • Related bodies
    • International Narcotics Control Board
    • Board of Trustees of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women
    • Committee for the United Nations Population Award
    • Programme Coordination Board of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
    • Funds and programs which send reports to ECOSOC
    • United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
    • United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
    • United Nations Development Fund for Women
    • United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
    • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
    • Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
    • United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
    • United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
    • Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP)
    • World Food Programme (WFP)

Trusteeship Council

  • It was established in 1945 by the UN Charter, under Chapter XIII.
  • Trust territory is a non-self-governing territory placed under an administrative authority by the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations.
  • A League of Nations mandate was a legal status for certain territories transferred from the control of one country to another following World War I, or the legal instruments that contained the internationally agreed-upon terms for administering the territory on behalf of the League of Nations.
  • United Nations trust territories were the successors of the remaining League of Nations mandates and came into being when the League of Nations ceased to exist in 1946.
  • It had to provide international supervision for 11 Trust Territories that had been placed under the administration of seven Member States and ensure that adequate steps were taken to prepare the Territories for self-government and independence.
  • By 1994, all Trust Territories had attained self-government or independence. The Trusteeship Council suspended operation on 1 November 1994.

International Court of Justice (ICJ)

  • The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and began work in April 1946.
  • The ICJ is the successor of the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ), which was established by the League of Nations in 1920.
  • It is situated at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). It has 193 state parties.
  • Unlike the six principal organs of the United Nations, it is the only one not located in New York (USA).
  • It settles legal disputes between States and gives advisory opinions in accordance with international law, on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies.


  • The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for terms of office of nine years by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. These organs vote simultaneously but separately.
  • In order to be elected, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of the votes in both bodies.
  • In order to ensure a measure of continuity, one-third of the Court is elected every three years and Judges are eligible for re-election.
  • ICJ is assisted by a Registry, its administrative organ. Its official languages are English and French.
  • The 15 judges of the Court are distributed in the following regions:
    1. Three from Africa.
    2. Two from Latin America and the Caribbean.
    3. Three from Asia.
    4. Five from Western Europe and other states.
    5. Two from Eastern Europe.
  • Unlike other organs of international organizations, the Court is not composed of representatives of governments. Members of the Court are independent judges whose first task, before taking up their duties, is to make a solemn declaration in open court that they will exercise their powers impartially and conscientiously.
  • In order to guarantee his or her independence, no Member of the Court can be dismissed unless, in the unanimous opinion of the other Members, he/she no longer fulfills the required conditions. This has in fact never happened.

UN Secretariat

  • The Secretariat comprises the Secretary-General and tens of thousands of international UN staff members who carry out the day-to-day work of the UN as mandated by the General Assembly and the Organization’s other principal organs.
  • The Secretary-General is the chief administrative officer of the Organization, appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council for a five-year, renewable term.
  • UN staff members are recruited internationally and locally, and work in duty stations and on peacekeeping missions all around the world.
  • The Secretariat has five regional commissions:
    1. ECA – Economic Commission for Africa
    2. ECE – Economic Commission for Europe
    3. ECLAC – Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean
    4. ESCAP – Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific
    5. ESCWA – Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

  • The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, commonly known as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) or the UN Human Rights Office, is a department of the Secretariat of the United Nations that works to promote and protect the human rights that are guaranteed under international law and stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.
  • The OHCHR was established by the UN General Assembly on 20 December 1993 in the wake of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights.
  • The office is headed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who co-ordinates human rights activities throughout the UN System and acts as the secretariat of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

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