United Nations
الأمم المتحدة
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Organisation des Nations unies
Организация Объединённых Наций
Organización de las Naciones Unidas
Flag of the United Nations.svg Emblem of the United Nations.svg
United Nations Members.svg
Map showing the Member states of the United Nations
This map does not represent the view of its members or the UN concerning the legal status of any country,[1] nor does it accurately reflect which areas' governments have UN representation.
HeadquartersInternational territory in New York City
Official languages Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish
Membership 193 member states
 -  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
 -  Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro
 -  General Assembly President Joseph Deiss
 -  Security Council President Hardeep Singh Puri
 -  United Nations Charter signed 26 June 1945 
 -  Entry into force of Charter 24 October 1945 

The United Nations (UN) is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace. The UN was founded in 1945 after World War II to replace the League of Nations, to stop wars between countries, and to provide a platform for dialogue. It contains multiple subsidiary organizations to carry out its missions.

There are currently 193 member states, including every internationally recognised sovereign state in the world but the Vatican City. From its offices around the world, the UN and its specialized agencies decide on substantive and administrative issues in regular meetings held throughout the year. The organization has six principal organs: the General Assembly (the main deliberative assembly); the Security Council (for deciding certain resolutions for peace and security); the Economic and Social Council (for assisting in promoting international economic and social cooperation and development); the Secretariat (for providing studies, information, and facilities needed by the UN); the International Court of Justice (the primary judicial organ); and the United Nations Trusteeship Council (which is currently inactive). Other prominent UN System agencies include the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The UN's most visible public figure is the Secretary-General, currently Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, who attained the post in 2007. The organization is financed from assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states, and has six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.[2]


Main article: History of the United Nations
File:Chile signs UN Charter 1945.jpg

The League of Nations failed to prevent World War II (1939–1945). Because of the widespread recognition that humankind could not afford a Third World War, the United Nations was established to replace the flawed League of Nations in 1945 in order to maintain international peace and promote cooperation in solving international economic, social and humanitarian problems. The earliest concrete plan for a new world organization was begun under the aegis of the U.S. State Department in 1939. Franklin D. Roosevelt first coined the term 'United Nations' as a term to describe the Allied countries. The term was first officially used on 1 January 1942, when 26 governments signed the Atlantic Charter, pledging to continue the war effort.[3] On 25 April 1945, the UN Conference on International Organization began in San Francisco, attended by 50 governments and a number of non-governmental organizations involved in drafting the Charter of the United Nations. The UN officially came into existence on 24 October 1945 upon ratification of the Charter by the five permanent members of the Security Council—France, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States—and by a majority of the other 46 signatories. The first meetings of the General Assembly, with 51 nations represented, and the Security Council, took place in Westminster Central Hall in London in January 1946.[4]

The organization was based at the Sperry Gyroscope Corporation's facility in Lake Success, New York, from 1946–1952, before moving to the United Nations Headquarters building in Manhattan upon its completion.

Since its creation, there has been controversy and criticism of the United Nations. In the United States, an early opponent of the UN was the John Birch Society, which began a "get US out of the UN" campaign in 1959, charging that the UN's aim was to establish a "One World Government." After the Second World War, the French Committee of National Liberation was late to be recognized by the US as the government of France, and so the country was initially excluded from the conferences that aimed at creating the new organization. Charles de Gaulle criticized the UN, famously calling it le machin ("the thing"), and was not convinced that a global security alliance would help maintain world peace, preferring direct defence treaties between countries.[5]

Legal basis of establishmentEdit

Shortly after its establishment the UN sought recognition as an international legal person due to the case of Reparations for Injuries Suffered in the Service of the United Nations[6] with the advisory opinion delivered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The question arose whether the United Nations, as an organisation, had "the capacity to bring an international claim against a government regarding injuries that the organisation alleged had been caused by that state."[7]

The Court stated : the Organization was intended to exercise and enjoy, and is in fact exercising and enjoying functions and rights which can only be explained on the basis of the possession of a large measure of international personality and the capacity to operate upon an international plane ... Accordingly, the Court has come to the conclusion that the Organization is an international person. That is not the same thing as saying that it is a State, which it certainly is not, or that its legal personality and rights and duties are the same as those of a State ... What it does mean is that it is a subject of international law and capable of possessing international rights and duties, and that it has capacity to maintain its rights by bringing international claims.[8]


Main article: United Nations System

The United Nations' system is based on five principal organs (formerly six–the Trusteeship Council suspended operations in 1994, upon the independence of Palau, the last remaining UN trustee territory);[9] the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Secretariat, and the International Court of Justice.

Four of the five principal organs are located at the main United Nations headquarters located on international territory in New York City. The International Court of Justice is located in The Hague, while other major agencies are based in the UN offices at Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi. Other UN institutions are located throughout the world.

The six official languages of the United Nations, used in intergovernmental meetings and documents, are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish,.[2] The Secretariat uses two working languages, English and French. Four of the official languages are the national languages of the permanent members of the Security Council (the United Kingdom and the United States share English as a de facto official language); Spanish and Arabic are the languages of the two largest blocs of official languages outside of the permanent members (Spanish being official in 20 countries, Arabic in 26). Five of the official languages were chosen when the UN was founded; Arabic was added later in 1973. The United Nations Editorial Manual states that the standard for English language documents is British usage and Oxford spelling, the Chinese writing standard is Simplified Chinese. This replaced Traditional Chinese in 1971 when the UN representation of China was changed from the Republic of China to the People's Republic of China.

General AssemblyEdit

UN General Assembly hall

United Nations General Assembly hall

Main article: United Nations General Assembly

The General Assembly is the main deliberative assembly of the United Nations. Composed of all United Nations member states, the assembly meets in regular yearly sessions under a president elected from among the member states. Over a two-week period at the start of each session, all members have the opportunity to address the assembly. Traditionally, the Secretary-General makes the first statement, followed by the president of the assembly. The first session was convened on 10 January 1946 in the Westminster Central Hall in London and included representatives of 51 nations.

When the General Assembly votes on important questions, a two-thirds majority of those present and voting is required. Examples of important questions include: recommendations on peace and security; election of members to organs; admission, suspension, and expulsion of members; and, budgetary matters. All other questions are decided by majority vote. Each member country has one vote. Apart from approval of budgetary matters, resolutions are not binding on the members. The Assembly may make recommendations on any matters within the scope of the UN, except matters of peace and security that are under Security Council consideration.

Conceivably, the one state, one vote power structure could enable states comprising just eight percent of the world population to pass a resolution by a two-thirds vote (see List of countries by population). However, as no more than recommendations, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which a recommendation by member states constituting just eight percent of the world's population, would be adhered to by the remaining ninety-two percent of the population, should they object.

Security CouncilEdit

United Nations Security Council

United Nations Security Council chamber

Main article: United Nations Security Council

The Security Council is charged with maintaining peace and security among countries. While other organs of the United Nations can only make 'recommendations' to member governments, the Security Council has the power to make binding decisions that member governments have agreed to carry out, under the terms of Charter Article 25.[10] The decisions of the Council are known as United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The Security Council is made up of 15 member states, consisting of 5 permanent members–China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States–and 10 non-permanent members, currently Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Colombia, Gabon, Germany, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa. The five permanent members hold veto power over substantive but not procedural resolutions allowing a permanent member to block adoption but not to block the debate of a resolution unacceptable to it. The ten temporary seats are held for two-year terms with member states voted in by the General Assembly on a regional basis. The presidency of the Security Council is rotated alphabetically each month.[11]


Main article: United Nations Secretariat
The United Nations Building

The United Nations Secretariat Building at the United Nations headquarters in New York City

The United Nations Secretariat is headed by the Secretary-General, assisted by a staff of international civil servants worldwide. It provides studies, information, and facilities needed by United Nations bodies for their meetings. It also carries out tasks as directed by the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, the UN Economic and Social Council, and other UN bodies. The United Nations Charter provides that the staff be chosen by application of the "highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity," with due regard for the importance of recruiting on a wide geographical basis.

The Charter provides that the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any authority other than the UN. Each UN member country is enjoined to respect the international character of the Secretariat and not seek to influence its staff. The Secretary-General alone is responsible for staff selection.

The Secretary-General's duties include helping resolve international disputes, administering peacekeeping operations, organizing international conferences, gathering information on the implementation of Security Council decisions, and consulting with member governments regarding various initiatives. Key Secretariat offices in this area include the Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter that, in his or her opinion, may threaten international peace and security.


Main article: Secretary-General of the United Nations
Ban Ki-moon 1-2

The current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

The Secretariat is headed by the Secretary-General, who acts as the de facto spokesperson and leader of the UN. The current Secretary-General is Ban Ki-moon, who took over from Kofi Annan in 2007 and has been elected for a second term to conclude at the end of 2016.[12]

Envisioned by Franklin D. Roosevelt as a "world moderator", the position is defined in the UN Charter as the organization's "chief administrative officer",[13] but the Charter also states that the Secretary-General can bring to the Security Council's attention "any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security",[14] giving the position greater scope for action on the world stage. The position has evolved into a dual role of an administrator of the UN organization, and a diplomat and mediator addressing disputes between member states and finding consensus to global issues.[15]

The Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly, after being recommended by the Security Council, any member of which can veto,[16] and the General Assembly can theoretically override the Security Council's recommendation if a majority vote is not achieved, although this has not happened so far.[17] There are no specific criteria for the post, but over the years, it has become accepted that the post shall be held for one or two terms of five years, that the post shall be appointed on the basis of geographical rotation, and that the Secretary-General shall not originate from one of the five permanent Security Council member states.[17]

Secretaries-General of the United Nations[18]
No. Name Country of origin Took office Left office Note
1 Trygve Lie Flag of Norway Norway 2 February 1946 10 November 1952 Resigned
2 Dag Hammarskjöld Flag of Sweden Sweden 10 April 1953 18 September 1961 Died while in office
3 U Thant Flag of Burma (1948-1974) Burma 30 November 1961 1 January 1972 First Secretary-General from Asia
4 Kurt Waldheim Flag of Austria Austria 1 January 1972 1 January 1982
5 Javier Pérez de Cuéllar Flag of Peru Peru 1 January 1982 1 January 1992 First Secretary-General from the Americas
6 Boutros Boutros-Ghali Flag of Egypt Egypt 1 January 1992 1 January 1997 First Secretary-General from Africa
7 Kofi Annan Flag of Ghana Ghana 1 January 1997 1 January 2007
8 Ban Ki-moon Flag of South Korea South Korea 1 January 2007 Incumbent

International Court of JusticeEdit

International Court of Justice

Peace Palace, seat of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands

Main article: International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), located in The Hague, Netherlands, is the primary judicial organ of the United Nations. Established in 1945 by the United Nations Charter, the Court began work in 1946 as the successor to the Permanent Court of International Justice. The Statute of the International Court of Justice, similar to that of its predecessor, is the main constitutional document constituting and regulating the Court.[19]

It is based in the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands, sharing the building with the Hague Academy of International Law, a private centre for the study of international law. Several of the Court's current judges are either alumni or former faculty members of the Academy. Its purpose is to adjudicate disputes among states. The court has heard cases related to war crimes, illegal state interference and ethnic cleansing, among others, and continues to hear cases.[20]

A related court, the International Criminal Court (ICC), began operating in 2002 through international discussions initiated by the General Assembly. It is the first permanent international court charged with trying those who commit the most serious crimes under international law, including war crimes and genocide. The ICC is functionally independent of the UN in terms of personnel and financing, but some meetings of the ICC governing body, the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, are held at the UN. There is a "relationship agreement" between the ICC and the UN that governs how the two institutions regard each other legally.[21]

Economic and Social CouncilEdit

Main article: United Nations Economic and Social Council
United Nations Economic and Social Council

The ECOSOC chamber

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) assists the General Assembly in promoting international economic and social cooperation and development. ECOSOC has 54 members, all of which are elected by the General Assembly for a three-year term. The president is elected for a one-year term and chosen amongst the small or middle powers represented on ECOSOC. ECOSOC meets once a year in July for a four-week session. Since 1998, it has held another meeting each April with finance ministers heading key committees of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Viewed separate from the specialized bodies it coordinates, ECOSOC's functions include information gathering, advising member nations, and making recommendations. In addition, ECOSOC is well-positioned to provide policy coherence and coordinate the overlapping functions of the UN’s subsidiary bodies and it is in these roles that it is most active.

Specialized institutionsEdit

Main article: List of specialized agencies of the United Nations

There are many UN organizations and agencies that function to work on particular issues. Some of the most well-known agencies are the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the World Bank and the World Health Organization.

It is through these agencies that the UN performs most of its humanitarian work. Examples include mass vaccination programmes (through the WHO), the avoidance of famine and malnutrition (through the work of the WFP) and the protection of vulnerable and displaced people (for example, by the UNHCR).

The United Nations Charter stipulates that each primary organ of the UN can establish various specialized agencies to fulfil its duties.

WFP, IAEA and Specialized agencies of the United Nations
No. Acronyms Flag Agency Headquarters Head Established in
1 FAO Food and Agriculture OrganizationFlag of Italy Rome, Italy Flag of Senegal Jacques Diouf 1945
Flag of IAEA
International Atomic Energy AgencyFlag of Austria Vienna, Austria Flag of Japan Yukiya Amano 1957
Flag of ICAO
International Civil Aviation OrganizationFlag of Canada Montreal, Canada Flag of France Raymond Benjamin 1947
Flag of the United Nations
International Fund for Agricultural Development Flag of Italy Rome, Italy Flag of Nigeria Kanayo F. Nwanze 1977
5 ILO International Labour OrganizationFlag of Switzerland Geneva, Switzerland Flag of Chile Juan Somavía 1946 (1919)
Flag of the International Maritime Organization
International Maritime OrganizationFlag of the United Kingdom London, United Kingdom Flag of Greece Efthimios E. Mitropoulos 1948
7 IMF International Monetary Fund Flag of the United States Washington, D.C., USA Flag of France Christine Lagarde 1945 (1944)
Flag of ITU
International Telecommunication UnionFlag of Switzerland Geneva, Switzerland Flag of Mali Hamadoun Touré 1947 (1865)
Flag of UNESCO
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural OrganizationFlag of France Paris, France Flag of Bulgaria Irina Bokova 1946
10 UNIDO United Nations Industrial Development OrganizationFlag of Austria Vienna, Austria Flag of Sierra Leone Kandeh Yumkella 1967
11 UPU
Flag of UPU
Universal Postal UnionFlag of Switzerland Bern, Switzerland Flag of France Edouard Dayan 1947 (1874)
12 WB World BankFlag of the United States Washington, D.C, USA Flag of the United States Robert B. Zoellick 1945 (1944)
13 WFP
World Food ProgrammeFlag of Italy Rome, Italy Flag of the United States Josette Sheeran 1963
14 WHO
Flag of WHO
World Health OrganizationFlag of Switzerland Geneva, Switzerland Flag of Hong Kong Margaret Chan 1948
Flag of the United Nations
World Intellectual Property OrganizationFlag of Switzerland Geneva, Switzerland Flag of Australia Francis Gurry 1974
16 WMO
Flag of the World Meteorological Organization
World Meteorological Organization Flag of Switzerland Geneva, Switzerland Flag of Russia Alexander Bedritsky 1950 (1873)
Flag of the United Nations
World Tourism OrganizationFlag of Spain Madrid, Spain Flag of Jordan Taleb Rifai 1974


Main article: Member states of the United Nations
UN member states animation

An animation showing the timeline of accession of UN member states, according to the UN. Note that Antarctica has no government; political control of Western Sahara is in dispute; and the territories administered by the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Kosovo are considered by the UN to be provinces of the People's Republic of China and Republic of Serbia, respectively.

With the addition of South Sudan on 14 July 2011[22], there are currently 193 United Nations member states, including all fully recognized independent states[23] apart from Vatican City (the Holy See, which holds sovereignty over the state of Vatican City, is a permanent observer).[24]

The United Nations Charter outlines the rules for membership:

  1. Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states that accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.
  2. The admission of any such state to membership in the United Nations will be effected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.
United Nations Charter, Chapter 2, Article 4,

Group of 77Edit

The Group of 77 at the UN is a loose coalition of developing nations, designed to promote its members' collective economic interests and create an enhanced joint negotiating capacity in the United Nations. There were 77 founding members of the organization, but the organization has since expanded to 130 member countries. The group was founded on 15 June 1964 by the "Joint Declaration of the Seventy-Seven Countries" issued at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The first major meeting was in Algiers in 1967, where the Charter of Algiers was adopted and the basis for permanent institutional structures was begun.[25]

Stated objectivesEdit

Peacekeeping and securityEdit

Main article: United Nations peacekeeping
United Nations peacekeeping missions 2009

UN peacekeeping missions. Dark blue regions indicate current missions, while light blue regions represent former missions.

The UN, after approval by the Security Council, sends peacekeepers to regions where armed conflict has recently ceased or paused to enforce the terms of peace agreements and to discourage combatants from resuming hostilities. Since the UN does not maintain its own military, peacekeeping forces are voluntarily provided by member states of the UN. The forces, also called the "Blue Helmets", who enforce UN accords, are awarded United Nations Medals, which are considered international decorations instead of military decorations. The peacekeeping force as a whole received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.[26]

The founders of the UN had envisaged that the organization would act to prevent conflicts between nations and make future wars impossible, however the outbreak of the Cold War made peacekeeping agreements extremely difficult because of the division of the world into hostile camps. Following the end of the Cold War, there were renewed calls for the UN to become the agency for achieving world peace, as there are several dozen ongoing conflicts that continue to rage around the globe.

A 2005 RAND Corp study found the UN to be successful in two out of three peacekeeping efforts. It compared UN nation-building efforts to those of the United States, and found that seven out of eight UN cases are at peace, as compared with four out of eight US cases at peace.[27] Also in 2005, the Human Security Report documented a decline in the number of wars, genocides and human rights abuses since the end of the Cold War, and presented evidence, albeit circumstantial, that international activism—mostly spearheaded by the UN—has been the main cause of the decline in armed conflict since the end of the Cold War.[28] Situations where the UN has not only acted to keep the peace but also occasionally intervened include the Korean War (1950–1953), and the authorization of intervention in Iraq after the Persian Gulf War in 1990.

The UN has also drawn criticism for perceived failures. In many cases, member states have shown reluctance to achieve or enforce Security Council resolutions, an issue that stems from the UN's intergovernmental nature—seen by some as simply an association of 192 member states who must reach consensus, not an independent organization. Disagreements in the Security Council about military action and intervention are seen as having failed to prevent the 1994 Rwandan Genocide,[29] failed to provide humanitarian aid and intervene in the Second Congo War, failed to intervene in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and protect a refugee haven by authorizing peacekeepers to use force, failure to deliver food to starving people in Somalia, failure to implement provisions of Security Council resolutions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and continuing failure to prevent genocide or provide assistance in Darfur. UN peacekeepers have also been accused of child rape, sexual abuse or soliciting prostitutes during various peacekeeping missions, starting in 2003, in the Congo,[30] Haiti,[31][32] Liberia,[33] Sudan and what is now South Sudan,[34] Burundi and Côte d'Ivoire.[35] In 2004, former Israeli ambassador to the UN Dore Gold criticized what it called the organization's moral relativism in the face of (and occasional support of)[36] genocide and terrorism that occurred between the moral clarity of its founding period and the present day. Gold specifically mentions Yasser Arafat's 1988 invitation to address the General Assembly as a low point in the UN's history.[37]

In addition to peacekeeping, the UN is also active in encouraging disarmament. Regulation of armaments was included in the writing of the UN Charter in 1945 and was envisioned as a way of limiting the use of human and economic resources for the creation of them.[38] However, the advent of nuclear weapons came only weeks after the signing of the charter and immediately halted concepts of arms limitation and disarmament, resulting in the first resolution of the first ever General Assembly meeting calling for specific proposals for "the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction".[39] The principal forums for disarmament issues are the General Assembly First Committee, the UN Disarmament Commission, and the Conference on Disarmament, and considerations have been made of the merits of a ban on testing nuclear weapons, outer space arms control, the banning of chemical weapons and land mines, nuclear and conventional disarmament, nuclear-weapon-free zones, the reduction of military budgets, and measures to strengthen international security.

The UN is one of the official supporters of the World Security Forum, a major international conference on the effects of global catastrophes and disasters, which took place in the United Arab Emirates in October 2008.

On 5 November 2010 Ivor Ichikowitz, founder and executive chairman of Paramount Group, supported UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s call for greater support, equipment and training for African peacekeeping forces. Ichikowitz stated that African Union troops should receive the same support as UN personnel.[40]

Human rights and humanitarian assistanceEdit


Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1949

The pursuit of human rights was a central reason for creating the UN. World War II atrocities and genocide led to a ready consensus that the new organization must work to prevent any similar tragedies in the future. An early objective was creating a legal framework for considering and acting on complaints about human rights violations. The UN Charter obliges all member nations to promote "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights" and to take "joint and separate action" to that end. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though not legally binding, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948 as a common standard of achievement for all. The Assembly regularly takes up human rights issues.

The UN and its agencies are central in upholding and implementing the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A case in point is support by the UN for countries in transition to democracy. Technical assistance in providing free and fair elections, improving judicial structures, drafting constitutions, training human rights officials, and transforming armed movements into political parties have contributed significantly to democratization worldwide. The UN has helped run elections in countries with little or no democratic history, including recently in Afghanistan and East Timor. The UN is also a forum to support the right of women to participate fully in the political, economic, and social life of their countries. The UN contributes to raising consciousness of the concept of human rights through its covenants and its attention to specific abuses through its General Assembly, Security Council resolutions, or International Court of Justice rulings.

The purpose of the United Nations Human Rights Council, established in 2006,[41] is to address human rights violations. The Council is the successor to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which was often criticized for the high-profile positions it gave to member states that did not guarantee the human rights of their own citizens.[42] The council has 47 members distributed by region, which each serve three-year terms, and may not serve three consecutive terms.[43] A candidate to the body must be approved by a majority of the General Assembly. In addition, the council has strict rules for membership, including a universal human rights review. While some members with questionable human rights records have been elected, it is fewer than before with the increased focus on each member state's human rights record.[44]

The rights of some 370 million indigenous peoples around the world are also a focus for the UN, with a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples being approved by the General Assembly in 2007.[45] The declaration outlines the individual and collective rights to culture, language, education, identity, employment and health, thereby addressing post-colonial issues that had confronted indigenous peoples for centuries. The declaration aims to maintain, strengthen and encourage the growth of indigenous institutions, cultures and traditions. It also prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their active participation in matters that concern their past, present and future.[45] The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is the UN's central coordinating body for matters relating to the concerns and rights of the world's indigenous peoples. The forum is an advisory body within the framework of the United Nations System that reports to the UN's Economic and Social Council.

In conjunction with other organizations such as the Red Cross, the UN provides food, drinking water, shelter and other humanitarian services to populaces suffering from famine, displaced by war, or afflicted by other disasters. Major humanitarian branches of the UN are the World Food Programme (which helps feed more than 100 million people a year in 80 countries), the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees with projects in over 116 countries, as well as peacekeeping projects in over 24 countries.

Social and economic developmentEdit

Millennium Development Goals

  1. eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
  2. achieve universal primary education;
  3. promote gender equality and empower women;
  4. reduce child mortality;
  5. improve maternal health;
  6. combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases;
  7. ensure environmental sustainability; and
  8. develop a global partnership for development.

The UN is involved in supporting development, e.g. by the formulation of the Millennium Development Goals. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is the largest multilateral source of grant technical assistance in the world. Organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS, and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria are leading institutions in the battle against diseases around the world, especially in poor countries. The UN Population Fund is a major provider of reproductive services.32 Un agencies performing tasks on development are coordinating their efforts through the United Nations Development Group or UNDG.[46]

The UN also promotes human development through some related agencies, particularly the UNDP.[47] The World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund (IMF), for example, are independent, specialized agencies and observers within the UN framework, according to a 1947 agreement. They were initially formed as separate from the UN through the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1944.[48]

The UNDP annually publishes the Human Development Index (HDI), a comparative measure ranking countries by poverty, literacy, education, life expectancy, and other factors.[49]

The Millennium Development Goals (declared in the United Nations Millennium Declaration, signed in September 2000) are eight goals that all of the then 192 United Nations member states have agreed to try to achieve by the year 2015.[50]


From time to time, the different bodies of the United Nations pass resolutions that contain operating paragraphs that begin with the words "requests", "calls upon", or "encourages", which the Secretary-General interprets as a mandate to set up a temporary organization or do something. These mandates can be as little as researching and publishing a written report, or mounting a full-scale peacekeeping operation (usually the exclusive domain of the Security Council).

Although the specialized institutions, such as the WHO, were originally set up by this means, they are not the same as mandates because they are permanent organizations that exist independently of the UN with their own membership structure. One could say that original mandate was simply to cover the process of setting up the institution, and has therefore long expired. Most mandates expire after a limited time period and require renewal from the body, which set them up.

One of the outcomes of the 2005 World Summit was a mandate (labelled id 17171) for the Secretary-General to "review all mandates older than five years originating from resolutions of the General Assembly and other organs". To facilitate this review and to finally bring coherence to the organization, the Secretariat has produced an on-line registry of mandates to draw together the reports relating to each one and create an overall picture.[51]

Greening the BlueEdit

In 2007, On 5 June World Environment Day 2007, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made public his ambition to make the United Nations more efficient in its operations: “I would like to see our renovated Headquarters complex eventually become a globally acclaimed model of efficient use of energy and resources. Beyond New York, the initiative should include the other United Nations headquarters and offices around the globe.” The UN's progress towards achieving this goal is communicated through the initiative Greening the Blue (see external links below).


Over the lifetime of the UN, over 80 colonies have attained independence.[52] The General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples in 1960 with no votes against but abstentions from all major colonial powers. Through the UN Committee on Decolonization,[53] created in 1962, the UN has focused considerable attention on decolonization. It has also supported the new states that have arisen as a result of self-determination initiatives. The committee has overseen the decolonization of every country larger than 20,000 km² and removed them from the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, besides Western Sahara, a country larger than the UK only relinquished by Spain in 1975.

The UN declares and coordinates international observances, periods of time to observe some issue of international interest or concern. Using the symbolism of the UN, a specially designed logo for the year, and the infrastructure of the United Nations System, various days and years have become catalysts to advancing key issues of concern on a global scale. For example, World Tuberculosis Day, Earth Day and International Year of Deserts and Desertification.


Top 10 donators to the UN budget, 2011[54]
Member state Contribution
(% of UN budget)
Flag of the United States United States 22.000%
Flag of Japan Japan 12.530%
Flag of Germany Germany 8.018%
Flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom 6.604%
Flag of France France 6.123%
Flag of Italy Italy 4.999%
Flag of Canada Canada 3.207%
Flag of the People&#039;s Republic of China China 3.189%
Flag of Spain Spain 3.177%
Flag of Mexico Mexico 2.356%
Other member states 27.797%

The UN is financed from assessed and voluntary contributions from member states. The General Assembly approves the regular budget and determines the assessment for each member. This is broadly based on the relative capacity of each country to pay, as measured by their Gross National Income (GNI), with adjustments for external debt and low per capita income.[55]

The Assembly has established the principle that the UN should not be overly dependent on any one member to finance its operations. Thus, there is a 'ceiling' rate, setting the maximum amount any member is assessed for the regular budget. In December 2000, the Assembly revised the scale of assessments to reflect current global circumstances. As part of that revision, the regular budget ceiling was reduced from 25% to 22%. For the least developed countries (LDCs), a ceiling rate of 0.01% is applied.[55] In addition to the ceiling rates, the minimum amount assessed to any member nation (or 'floor' rate) is set at 0.001% of the UN budget. Refer to the table for major contributors.

A large share of UN expenditures addresses the core UN mission of peace and security. The peacekeeping budget for the 2005–2006 fiscal year was approximately $5 billion (compared to approximately $1.5 billion for the UN core budget over the same period), with some 70,000 troops deployed in 17 missions around the world.[56] UN peace operations are funded by assessments, using a formula derived from the regular funding scale, but including a weighted surcharge for the five permanent Security Council members, who must approve all peacekeeping operations. This surcharge serves to offset discounted peacekeeping assessment rates for less developed countries. As of 1 January 2011, the top 10 providers of assessed financial contributions to United Nations peacekeeping operations were: the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, China, Canada, Spain and the Republic of Korea.[57]

Special UN programmes not included in the regular budget (such as UNICEF, the WFP and UNDP) are financed by voluntary contributions from other member governments. Most of this is financial contributions, but some is in the form of agricultural commodities donated for afflicted populations. Since their funding is voluntary, many of these agencies suffer severe shortages during economic recessions. In July 2009, the World Food Programme reported that it has been forced to cut services because of insufficient funding.[58] It has received barely a quarter of the total it needed for the 09/10 financial year.

Personnel policyEdit

The UN and its agencies are immune to the laws of the countries where they operate, safeguarding UN's impartiality with regard to the host and member countries.[59]

Despite their independence in matters of human resources policy, the UN and its agencies voluntarily apply the laws of member states regarding same-sex marriages, allowing decisions about the status of employees in a same-sex partnership to be based on nationality. The UN and its agencies recognize same-sex marriages only if the employees are citizens of countries that recognize the marriage. This practice is not specific to the recognition of same-sex marriage but reflects a common practice of the UN for a number of human resources matters. It has to be noted though that some agencies provide limited benefits to domestic partners of their staff and that some agencies do not recognise same-sex marriage or domestic partnership of their staff.[citation needed]


Main article: Reform of the United Nations
Kofi Annan

In 2005, then-Secretary General Kofi Annan published his report In Larger Freedom, a proposal for reform of the UN.

Since its founding, there have been many calls for reform of the United Nations, although little consensus on how to do so. Some want the UN to play a greater or more effective role in world affairs, while others want its role reduced to humanitarian work.[60] There have also been numerous calls for the UN Security Council's membership to be increased, for different ways of electing the UN's Secretary-General, and for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.

The UN has also been accused of bureaucratic inefficiency and waste. During the 1990s, the United States withheld dues citing inefficiency, and only started repayment on the condition that a major reforms initiative was introduced. In 1994, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) was established by the General Assembly to serve as an efficiency watchdog.[61]

An official reform programme was begun by Kofi Annan in 1997. Reforms mentioned include changing the permanent membership of the Security Council (which currently reflects the power relations of 1945), making the bureaucracy more transparent, accountable and efficient, making the UN more democratic, and imposing an international tariff on arms manufacturers worldwide.[citation needed]

In September 2005, the UN convened a World Summit that brought together the heads of most member states, calling the summit "a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take bold decisions in the areas of development, security, human rights and reform of the United Nations."[62] Kofi Annan had proposed that the summit agree on a global "grand bargain" to reform the UN, renewing the organization's focus on peace, security, human rights and development, and to make it better equipped at facing 21st century issues. The World Summit Outcome Document delineated the conclusions of the meeting, including: the creation of a Peacebuilding Commission, to help countries emerging from conflict; a Human Rights Council and a democracy fund; a clear and unambiguous condemnation of terrorism "in all its forms and manifestations"; agreements to devote more resources to the Office of Internal Oversight Services; agreements to spend billions more on achieving the Millennium Development Goals; the dissolution of the Trusteeship Council, because of the completion of its mission; and, the agreement that individual states, with the assistance of the international community, have the "responsibility to protect" populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity- with the understanding that the international community is prepared to act "collectively" in a “timely and decisive manner” to protect vulnerable civilians should a state "manifestly fail" in fulfilling its responsibility.[63]

The Office of Internal Oversight Services is being restructured to more clearly define its scope and mandate, and will receive more resources. In addition, to improve the oversight and auditing capabilities of the General Assembly, an Independent Audit Advisory Committee (IAAC) is being created. In June 2007, the Fifth Committee created a draft resolution for the terms of reference of this committee.[64][65] An ethics office was established in 2006, responsible for administering new financial disclosure and whistleblower protection policies. Working with the OIOS, the ethics office also plans to implement a policy to avoid fraud and corruption.[66] The Secretariat is in the process of reviewing all UN mandates that are more than five years old. The review is intended to determine which duplicative or unnecessary programmes should be eliminated. Not all member states are in agreement as to which of the over 7000 mandates should be reviewed. The dispute centres on whether mandates that have been renewed should be examined.[67] Indeed, the obstacles identified – in particular, the lack of information on the resource implications of each mandate – constituted sufficient justification for the General Assembly to discontinue the mandate review in September 2008. In the meantime, the General Assembly launched a number of new loosely related reform initiatives in April 2007, covering international environmental governance, ‘Delivering as One’ at the country level to enhance the consolidation of UN programme activities and a unified gender organization. Whereas little was achieved on the first two issues, the General Assembly approved in September 2010 the establishment of ‘UN Women’ as the new UN organization for gender equality and the empowerment of women. UN Women was established by unifying the resources and mandates of four small entities for greater impact and its first head is Ms. Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile.[citation needed]


Some have questioned whether or not the UN might be relevant in the 21st century.[68] While the UN’s first and second Charter mandates require the UN : “To maintain international peace and security.... (and if necessary to enforce the peace by) taking preventive or enforcement action,”[69] due to its restrictive administrative structure, the permanent members of the Security Council themselves have sometimes prevented the UN from fully carrying out its first two mandates.[70] Without the unanimous approval, support (or minimally abstention) of all 5 of the permanent members of the UN's Security Council, the UN's charter only enables it to "observe", report on, and make recommendations regarding international conflicts. Such unanimity on the Security Council regarding the authorization of armed UN enforcement actions has not always been reached in time to prevent the outbreak of international wars.[70] Even with all of these restraints and limitations in place on the UN’s abilities to respond to situations of conflict, still various studies have found the UN to have had many notable successes in the 65 years of its existence.

In 1962 UN secretary general U Thant provided valuable assistance and took a great deal of time, energy and initiative as the primary negotiator between Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, thus providing a critical link in the prevention of a nuclear Armageddon at that time.[71] A 2005 RAND Corporation study found the UN to be successful in two out of three peacekeeping efforts. It compared UN nation-building efforts to those of the United States, and found that seven out of eight UN cases are at peace, as opposed to four out of eight US cases at peace.[72] Also in 2005, the Human Security Report documented a decline in the number of wars, genocides and human rights abuses since the end of the Cold War, and presented evidence, albeit circumstantial, that international activism — mostly spearheaded by the UN — has been the main cause of the decline in armed conflict since the end of the Cold War.[73]

See alsoEdit

Relations between specific states and the United NationsEdit


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Further readingEdit


  • Gold, Dore. Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004.

External linksEdit

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