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The United Nations (World Organisations)

The United Nations (World Organisations)

Headquarters: New York, the USA.

Membership: The UN had 193 mernber-states as of 2019. (The only major independent country which is not a member of the UN is Switzerland.)

Official Languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

Flag: The UN Flag shows a world map with a wreath of olive branches around it on a blue background. The branches symbolise peace.

The United Nations (World Organisations)

ORIGIN of United Nations

The United Nations is an international organisation of 193 nations that have committed themselves to maintaining world peace and security and working for the betterment of humanity,

The origin of the UN dates back to the early stages of the Second World War when Great Britain, the Commonwealth nations and nine other nations met in London on June 12, 19.1 to sign the Inter-Allied Declaration for a free, peaceful and secure world. The Declaration was followed by the Atlantic Charter by the then president of America, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the then prime minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, to promote economic cooperation and total disarmament as well. The objectives of the Atlantic Charter were approved by the ‘Declaration by United Nations’, signed on January 1, 1942 by representatives of 26 nations. Twenty-one other nations later signed the Declaration.

The concept of establishing an international organisation to work for world peace and progress gained approval through the Moscow Declaration on General Security on October 30, 1943. The signatories to the Moscow Declaration, along with China, the (erstwhile) Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain, then discussed the basic plan for the peacekeeping organisation (at the Dumbarton Oaks (Washington D.C.) conference from August 21 to September 28, 1944).

The UN Charter, the constituting instrument of the UN, was drawn up at the ‘UN Conference on International Organisation’ which met at San Francisco from April to June 1945. The Charter, based on the Dumbarton Oaks proposals, was signed on June 26, 1945 by the fifty nations attending the conference. Poland signed the Charter later, and is considered one of the original 51 member states.

The UN officially came into existence on October 24, 1945, after the requisite number of ratifications of the Charter were deposited with the UN Department of States. The UN Day is, thus, celebrated on October 24 each year.

The UN is often considered the successor organisation to the League of Nations which was founded in January 1920, after the First World War. The League was dissolved in April 1946, and the UN took its place.


The UN Charter lists four objectives of the UN–

(i) preserve world peace and security;

(ii) encourage nations to be fair in their actions towards each other;

(iii) assist nations to cooperate in solving problems; and

(iv) serve as an agency through which nations can work towards these goals.

Over the years, the UN has committed itself towards promoting the creation of independent and democratic societies; protection of human rights; saving children from starvation and disease; providing relief assistance to refugees and disaster victims; countering global crime, drugs and disease; and assisting countries devastated by war and the long-term threat of landmines.

STRUCTURE of United Nations

The UN has six principal organs as established by the founding Charter. These bodies are supported by numerous related agencies, operational programmes and funds and through special agreements with separate, autonomous, inter-governmental agencies, known as specialised agencies. The main areas of work are-peace and security, justice and human rights, humanitarian assistance and economic development.

The six main UN organs are as follows:


The General Assembly is the main deliberative body. It is composed of all UN members, each with one yote. It meets once every year; the session commences on the first Tuesday following September 1.

The president of the General Assembly is elected for every session. Twenty-one vice-presidents and chairmen of the six committees (listed below) of the Assembly are also elected. Special sessions may also be convened at the request of the Security Council or a majority of UN members or when requested by a member concurred with by a majority of the rest. Emergency special sessions are also held.


The General Assembly can discuss any matter within the scope of the UN Charter and give suggestions on questions and issues provided they are not already on the agenda of the Security Council. When lack of unanimity among members in the Security Council render it unable to fulfil its primary responsibility of ensuring world peace in the face of aggression or breach of peace, the General Assembly can consider the issue and make suggestions for collective action in order to restore a peaceful and secure international climate. It receives and studies reports from other UN organs as well as the annual report of the Secretary-General on the functioning of the United Nations Organisation (UNO); admits new members; directs activities for development; sets policies and determines programmes for the secretariat; appoints the Secretary-General; and approves the UN budget.

Where decisions are concerned, two-thirds majority of members is required on important issues such as peace and security, new membership and budgetary matters; a simple majority would do in other cases.

Main Committees

The General Assembly’s work is carried on by six Main Committees the Disarmament and International Security Committee, Economic and Financial Committee, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee, Special Political and Decolonisation Committee, Administrative and Budgetary Committee, and Legal Committee. They are known as the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Committee respectively. The Assembly president along with its vice-presidents and chairmen of the main committees constitute the 29-member General Committee which coordinates the Assembly proceedings and proceedings of the committees. There is also the nine-member Credentials Committee which is constituted at the start of every General Assembly session to study the credentials of delegates. The General Assembly has a couple of standing committees, namely, a Committee on Contributions and an Advisory Committee.

Subsidiary Bodies

The Assembly’s ad hoc bodies for addressing specific issues are the Special Committee on Peace-keeping Operations, Commission on Human Rights, Conference on Disarmament, International Law Commission, UN Commission on International Trade Law, Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, Conciliation Commission for Palestine, Special Committee on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to the Colonial Countries and Peoples and Special Committee on the Policies of Apartheid of the Government of the Republic of South Africa.


The Council is composed of five permanent members (China, the UK, the USA, France and Russia (formerly, the USSR)] and ten non-permanent members. The non-permanent members are elected for a two-year term by the General Assembly by a two-thirds majority.

A vote is given to each member of the Security Council. Retiring members cannot be re-elected. The Council members are permanently represented at the UN headquarters. UN members not represented in the Security Council can participate in Security Council discussions though they would not have a vote.

The presidency of the Council rotates monthly, in accordance with the English alphabetical order of the members’ names.


The Security Council has the primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security. It can call upon the armed forces and other facilities of the members for assistance, if its efforts for ar agreement by peaceful means fail. The Military Staff Committee comprising Chiefs of Staffs of the permanent members or their representatives assists the Council. The Council also makes recommendations to the Assembly on the appointment of the Secretary-General and, with the Assembly, elects the judges of the International Court.

The Council functions continuously. A representative of each of its members must be present as all times at the UN (United Nations) headquarters, though the Council may sit elsewhere also.

An affirmative vote of nine members is required for decisions on procedural questions. For all others, apart from the affirmative vote of nine members, it is required that none of the permanent members veto the decision. If a permanent member abstains, it is not considered a veto. A provision states that members involved in a dispute do not vote when the issue is under the Council’s consideration for its peaceful settlement.


At present, the Council has two standing committees-the Committee of Experts on Rules of Proce dure and the Committee on the Admission of New Members. The Council may also establish ad hoc committees and commissions, away from the headquarters.


ECOSOC is composed of 54 members elected for a three-year term by two-thirds of General Assembly member-states. Members are elected according to a system based on geographic distribution.

Each member has one vote. A majority of the members is required for making decisions. The president of the Council is elected annually. The retiring members as well as the president are eligible for immediate re-election.

ECOSOC holds one five-week substantive session a year, alternating between Now York and Geneva, and one organisational session in New York. Special sessions may also be convened, if required.


ECOSOC performs UN functions concerned with world economic, social, cultural, educational and related issues under the General Assembly. It may consult international non-governmental organisations and national organisations in performance of its duties.

Commissions, Committees and Other Bodies

These are five regional economic commissions to deal with regional economic problems. These commissions are-Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), Geneva; Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Addis Ababa; Economic Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Baghdad; Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean (ECLAC), Santiago, Chile; and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Bangkok

There are nine functional commissions of ECOSOC Statistical Commission; Commission on Population and Development; Commission for Social Development; Commission on Human Rights (and a Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities); Commission on the Status of Women; Commission on Narcotic Drugs (and a Sub-Commission on Illicit Drug Traffic and Related Matters in the Near and Middle East); Commission on Science and Technology for Development; Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice; and Commission on Sustainable Development

The nine standing committees and subsidiary expert bodies are the Committee for Programme and Coordination; Commission on Human Settlements; Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations; Committee on New and Renewable Sources of Energy and on Energy for Development: Ad hoc Group of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters; and Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods.

A number of other special bodies, operational programmes and funds report to ECOSOC (and/or to the General Assembly). These have been discussed separately.


The Council was established to help ‘trust territories’ (territories not fully self-governing at the end of the Second World War) become self-governing or independent, and was composed of the five permanent members of the Security Council. By October 31, 1994, all the trust territories had achieved self-government or independence either as separate states or by joining neighbouring independent states. The last such territory to achieve independence was the Pacific Islands (or Palau Islands), which was being administered by the US. Following Palau’s independence (on October 31, 1994), the Security Council terminated the Trusteeship Agreement, and the Trusteeship Council formally suspended its operations on November 1, 1994.

In recent times, there has been a proposal to use the Council as a trustee of the “global commons, environment and resource systems”.


The core judicial organ of the UN, the Court was set up by a Statute, an integral part of the UN Charter. All UN members are party to the Statute (Switzerland is also party to the Statute) to decide legal disputes submitted to it by states, and to rend 7 opinion on legal questions referred to it by recognised international organs and agencies.

The Court, headquartered at the Hague, has 15 independent judges, not more than one from a state, elected for a nine-year term. They can be re-elected immediately. The judges are chosen by the General Assembly and Security Council in independent sittings from among those chosen by national groups in the Permanent Court of Arbitration-set up by the 1899 and 1907 Hague Conventions-or by national groups appointed for the reason. A quorum of nine judges constitute the Court which functions continuously.

The Court elects its president and vice-president for a three-year term.

The Court is open only to states party to its statute. Other states may apply to the Court if they meet certain conditions laid down by the Security Council. The jurisdiction of the Court extends to cases referred to it by the parties and matters specified in the UN Charter or treaties in force. The Court itself decides disputes regarding its jurisdiction.

A majority of the judges is required for decision-making. If votes fall equal, the president exercises his vote. The judgement is final, though a revision may be asked for within 10 years from the date of the judgement

The Court may form chambers of three or more judges to decide upon specific cases. For ir.stance, a seven-member Chamber for Environmental Matters was set up in 1993.

The official languages of the Court are English and French


The Secretariat is responsible for administering the programmes and day-to-day work of the UN. It is headed by the Secretary-General, who acts as the chief administrative officer of all the five other organs of the UNO. Appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council for a five year term, the Secretary-General is assisted by Under. Secretaries-General, Assistant Secretaries-General and the Deputy Secretary-General. (The last post was created by the General Assembly in 1997.) There is also a staff of over 8000 people based at the UN headquarters in New York and other parts of the world.

The Office of Internal Oversight, set up in 1994, is in charge of preventing misuse of funds and fraud within the UN system.

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