The United Nations (UN) is an international organization founded in 1945. It is currently made up of 193 Member States.
Its various organs and specialized agencies guide its mission and work, implementing the purposes and principles contained in its founding Charter.
Its activities include maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development, and upholding international law.
What is the History of the UN Foundation?
In 1899, The Hague hosted the International Peace Conference, where delegates aimed to elaborate instruments for settling crises peacefully, preventing wars, and codifying rules of warfare.
It adopted the Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes and established the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which began work in 1902. This court was the forerunner of the UN International Court of Justice.
The forerunner of the United Nations was the League of Nations, an organization conceived in circumstances of the First World War, and established in 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles “to promote international cooperation and to achieve peace and security.”
The Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, created the International Labour Organization (ILO) as an affiliated agency of the League of Nations.
The name “United Nations”, was coined by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
26 nations signed a document called The Declaration by United Nations in 1942, pledging their governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers (Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis) and binding themselves against making a separate peace.
United Nations Conference on International Organization (1945)
Representatives of 50 countries attended the conference held in San Francisco (USA) and signed the United Nations Charter.
The UN Charter of 1945 is the foundational treaty of the United Nations, as an inter-governmental organization.
What are the Components of the UN?
The main organs of the UN are
the General Assembly,
the Security Council,
the Economic and Social Council,
the Trusteeship Council,
the International Court of Justice,
and the UN Secretariat.
When the UN was founded in 1945, all 6 organizations were established.
1. General Assembly
The General Assembly is the main deliberative, policymaking, and representative organ of the UN.
The General Assembly of the UN has universal representation, with all 193 Member States being represented, making it the only UN body with such 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 assembly elects the President of the General Assembly each year to serve a one-year term of office.
Recently, the Maldives’ Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid was elected the President of the 76th session of the UNGA for 2021-22
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.
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.
2. Security Council
It has primary responsibility, under the UN Charter, for the maintenance of international peace and security.
The Security Council consists of fifteen member states, including five permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and ten non-permanent members who are elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly on a regional basis.
In January 2022, the UNSC got five new non-permanent members (Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, and the United Arab Emirates) after Estonia, Niger, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisi,a and Vietnam finished their terms.
Albania is joining for the first time while Brazil is taking an 11th turn. Gabon and Ghana each have been on the council three times before and the UAE once.
India, for the eighth time, entered the UNSC as a non-permanent member in 2021 and is on the council for two years i.e. 2021-22.
“Veto power” refers to the power of the permanent member to veto (Reject) any resolution of t 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 of 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.
3. 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 the 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 programs, and issues policy recommendations to the UN system and to Member States.
UN bodies within the purview of the ECOSOC:
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)
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
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)
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
Also Read: Specialized Agencies
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 are 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
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)
4. Trusteeship Council
It was established in 1945 by the UN Charter, under Chapter XIII.
Trust territory is a non-self-governing territory placed under 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.
5. 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.
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 chief administrative officer of the Organization, appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council for a five-year, renewable term.
The UNGA has also appointed Antonio Guterres as the ninth UN Secretary General (UNSG) for a second term beginning 1st January, 2022 and ending on 31st December, 2026.
UN staff members are recruited internationally and locally, and work in duty stations and on peacekeeping missions all around the world.
What about UN’s Funds, Programmes, Specialized Agencies and Others?
The UN system, also known unofficially as the “UN family”, is made up of the UN itself (6 main organs) and many affiliated programmes, funds, and specialized agencies, all with their own membership, leadership, and budget.
Funds and Programmes
The United Nations General Assembly created the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), originally known as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, in 1946. Its purpose was to provide emergency food and healthcare to children and mothers in countries that World War II had devastated.
In 1950, UNICEF’s mandate was extended to address the long-term needs of children and women in developing countries everywhere.
In 1953, it became a permanent part of the United Nations System, and the words “international” and “emergency” were dropped from the organization’s name, though it retained the original acronym, “UNICEF”.
Executive Board: A 36-member board establishes policies, approves programs and oversees administrative and financial plans. The members are government representatives who are elected by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), usually for three-year terms.
UNICEF relies on contributions from governments and private donors.
UNICEF’s Supply Division is based in Copenhagen (Denmark) and serves as the primary point of distribution for such essential items as vaccines, antiretroviral medicines for children and mothers with HIV, nutritional supplements, emergency shelters, family reunification, and educational supplies.
UNICEF’s Recent Initiatives:
Children’s Climate Risk Index
First Global Report on Assistive Technology (GReAT).
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), formerly the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, is the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency.
The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) establishes its mandate.
UNFPA works directly to tackle Sustainable Development Goals on health (SDG3), education (SDG4) and gender equality (SDG5)
Its mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, ‘every childbirth is safe’ and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.
In 2018, UNFPA launched efforts to achieve three transformative results, ambitions that promise to change the world for every man, woman, and young person:
Ending unmet need for family planning
Ending preventable maternal death
Ending gender-based violence and harmful practices
UNFPA Publication:State of World Population Report
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the UN’s global development network.
UNDP was established in 1965 by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
It provides expert advice, training and grants support to developing countries, with increasing emphasis on assistance to the least developed countries.
The UNDP Executive Board is made up of representatives from 36 countries around the world who serve on a rotating basis.
It is funded entirely by voluntary contributions from member nations.
UNDP is central to the United Nations Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG), a network that spans 165 countries and unites the 40 UN funds, programs, specialized agencies and other bodies working to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
UNDP Publication: Human Development Index
The United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) is a global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda and promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system.
It was founded by UN General Assembly as a result of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Conference) in June 1972.
UNEP and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) established Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988 to assess climate change based on the latest science.
Since its founding, the UNEP has played a key role in the development of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).
The secretariats for the following nine MEAs are currently hosted by UNEP:
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS)
Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer
Minamata Convention on Mercury
Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal
Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants
Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade
Headquarters: Nairobi, Kenya
- ‘Making Peace with Nature’ report
- Emission Gap Report
- Adaptation Gap Report
- Global Environment Outlook
- Invest into Healthy Planet
- Major Campaigns:
- Beat Pollution
- World Environment Day
- Wild for Life.
United Nations Environment Assembly
The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) is the governing body of the UN Environment Programme.
It is the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment.
It meets biennially to set priorities for global environmental policies and develop international environmental law.
It was created in June 2012, during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also referred to as RIO+20.
United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) is the United Nations programme working towards a better urban future.
Its mission is to promote socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development and the achievement of adequate shelter for all.
It was established in 1978 as an outcome of the First UN Conference on Human Settlements and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat I) in Vancouver, Canada, in 1976.
2nd United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1996, set the twin goals of the Habitat Agenda:
- Adequate shelter for all
- Development of sustainable human settlements in an urbanizing world.
The 3rd United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) was held in 2016 in Quito, Ecuador.
It elaborated on Goal-11 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.
UN-Habitat maintains its headquarters at the United Nations Office in Nairobi, Kenya.
Recently, the UN-Habitat has identified issues associated with Jaipur city like multi-hazard vulnerabilities, weak mobility and a Green-Blue economy, and has laid out a plan to increase sustainability in the city.
World Food Programme (WFP) is the leading humanitarian organization saving lives and changing lives, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience.
The WFP was established in 1963 by the FAO (The Food and Agriculture Organization) and the United Nations General Assembly.
Share the Meal
Global Report on Food Crisis
The Food Security Information Network (FSIN), a global initiative co-sponsored by FAO, WFP, and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), facilitates the report, which is the flagship publication of the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC).
In Feb 2022, India signed an agreement with the WFP for the distribution of 50,000 MT of wheat that it has committed to sending to Afghanistan as part of a humanitarian assistance.
UN Specialized Agencies
The UN specialized agencies are autonomous organizations working with the United Nations. All were brought into a relationship with the UN through negotiated agreements.
Some existed even before the First World War. Some were associated with the League of Nations. Others were created almost simultaneously with the UN. Others were created by the UN to meet emerging needs.
Articles 57 and 63 of UN Charter provides provision of creating specialized agencies.
Also Read: Sources Of International Law
In 1945, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was created In Quebec City, Canada, by the first session of the newly created United Nations.
FAO is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger.
FAO is also a source of knowledge and information, and helps developing countries in transition modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices, ensuring good nutrition and food security for all.
Under Chicago Convention, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was established in 1944, as a UN specialized agency. It manages the administration and governance of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention).
It provides the principles and techniques of international air navigation and fosters the planning and development of international air transport to ensure safe and orderly growth.
The United Nations organized the 1974 World Food Conference in response to the food crises of the early 1970s, which were causing widespread famine and malnutrition, primarily in the Sahelian countries of Africa. The conference recognized that food insecurity and famine were not merely failures in food production but rather structural problems related to poverty.
As a major outcome of the conference, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution established the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in 1977 as an international financial institution. IFAD was created to address these structural problems and provide support for agricultural development in order to combat poverty and food insecurity.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a United Nations agency whose mandate is to advance social justice and promote decent work by setting international labour standards.
It sets international labour standards, promotes rights at work and encourages decent employment opportunities, the enhancement of social protection and the strengthening of dialogue on work-related issues.
As an agency of the League of Nations, it was created in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I.
9 International Labour Conventions and 10 Recommendations which dealt with hours of work in industry, unemployment, maternity protection, night work for women, minimum age, and night work for young persons in industry were adopted in less than two years (by 1922).
By signing of the United Nation agreement whereby the ILO became the first United Nations specialized agency in 1946.
The Organization won the Nobel Peace Prize on its 50th anniversary in 1969 for pursuing decent work and justice for workers.
In 1980, the ILO played a major role in the emancipation of Poland from dictatorship by giving its full support to the legitimacy of the Solidarnosc Union, based on respect for Convention No. 87 on freedom of association, which Poland had ratified in 1957.
It emphasised that the future of work is not predetermined: Decent work for all is possible but societies have to make it happen. It is precisely with this imperative that the ILO established its Global Commission on the Future of Work as part of its initiative to mark its centenary in 2019.
Its job is to undertake an in-depth examination of the future of work that can provide the analytical basis for the delivery of social justice in the 21st century.
UN Monetary and Financial Conference (1944, also called Bretton Woods Conference), Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, United States was held to regulate the international monetary and financial order after the conclusion of World War II.
It resulted in foundation of International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1945.
UN Monetary and Financial Conference (1944, also called Bretton Woods Conference), was held to regulate the international monetary and financial order after the conclusion of World War II. It resulted in foundation of IBRD in 1945. IBRD is the founding institution of World Bank
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) – is the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships.
International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that is responsible for issues that concern information and communication technologies (ICT). It is the oldest among all the specialised agencies of UN.
It was founded in 1865 and based in Geneva, Switzerland. It works on the principle of international cooperation between governments (Member States) and the private sector (Sector Members, Associates and Academia).
ITU is the premier global forum through which parties work towards consensus on a wide range of issues affecting the future direction of the ICT industry.
It allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, develop the technical standards that ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect and strive to improve access to ICTs to underserved communities worldwide.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was founded in 1945 with the objective of developing the “intellectual and moral solidarity of humanity” as a means of building lasting peace. It is located in Paris (France).
In this spirit, UNESCO develops educational tools to help people live as global citizens free of hate and intolerance.
By promoting cultural heritage and the equal dignity of all cultures, UNESCO strengthens bonds among nations.
United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) promotes industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalisation and environmental sustainability.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is the United Nations’ specialized agency for health.
It was established in 1948, and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
It is an inter-governmental organization and works in collaboration with its Member States usually through the Ministries of Health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for
- providing leadership on global health matters,
- shaping the health research agenda,
- setting norms and standards,
- providing evidence-based policy options,
- providing technical support to countries,
- and monitoring and assessing health trends.
UNCTAD supports developing countries to access the benefits of a globalized economy more fairly and effectively. It helps to use trade, investment, finance, and technology as vehicles for inclusive and sustainable development.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is a global leader in the fight against illicit drugs and international crime.
It was established in 1997 through a merger between the United Nations Drug Control Programme and the Centre for International Crime Prevention.
UNODC is mandated to assist Member States in their struggle against illicit drugs, crime and terrorism.
During the aftermath of the Second World War in 1950, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was created to assist millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes.
In 1954, UNHCR won the Nobel Peace Prize for its groundbreaking work in Europe.
The start of the 21st century has seen UNHCR help with major refugee crises in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
It also uses its expertise to help many internally displaced by conflict and expanded its role in helping stateless people.
United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is the main economic and social development centre of the UN in the region, headquartered in Bangkok (Thailand) in 1947.
It responds to the development needs and priorities of the region through its convening authority, economic and social analysis, normative standard-setting and technical assistance.