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Organs of the United Nations

The UN has six main organs:
  • 1. General Assembly 
  • 2. Security Council 
  • 3. Economic & Social Council 
  • 4. Trusteeship Council 
  • 5. International Court of Justice 
  • 6. Secretariat

The General Assembly ( HeadQuarters - New york)

It consists of all 192 member nations and functions as the main deliberative body. It meets once a year on the third Tuesday of the month of September and session lasts for two weeks. It has the under mentioned aspects :

(i) At each session the Assembly elects a new President, 21 Vice-Presidents and Chairmen of the six main committees. For proper geographical representation, the Presidency of the Assembly rotates every year among the five geographical groups–Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, and Western Europe and other stares. Special session can be called by the Secretary General at the request of the Security Council by the majority of members or of by one member of majority of the members approve of the same.

(ii) Decisions on the important questions are taken by the two-third majority. The issues are of the nature of peace and security, new membership and budget.

(iii) Decisions on other issues are taken by a simple majority.

(iv) The work of the meeting is divided into six main committees as given below :
  • Disarmament and International Security Committee
  • Economic and Financial committee
  • Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee
  • Special Political and Decolonisation Committee
  • Administrative and Budgetary Committee
  • Legal Committee
(v) In all the committees, each member state is represented.

(vi) There is a general committee which is responsible for the proceedings of the General Assembly and also its committees as well as Credential Committee.

(vii) The General Committee is made of 28 members, the President and 21 Vice-Presidents of the General Assembly and Chairmen of six main committees.

(viii) The Credential Committee is composed of nine members appointed by the General Assembly on the proposal of the President of each session.

(ix) The General. Assembly has two standing Committees as mentioned below :
  • An Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions
  • A Committee on Contributions
(x) The General Assembly may establish subsidiary and ad-hoc bodies in order to deal with specific matters. These include the following subject-issues :
  • 1. Committee on Peace Keeping Operations
  • 2. Human Rights Committee
  • 3. Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space
  • 4. Conciliation Commission on Palestine
  • 5. Conference on disarmament
  • 6. International Law Commission
  • 7. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation
  • 8. Special committee on the Implementation of Declaration of the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples.
  • 9. Commission on International Trade and Law
(xi) The General Assembly has the right to decide any issue connected with the Charter .

(xii) Excepting those disputes which are on the agenda of the Security Council, the General Assembly has the power to make recommendations over all other issues.

(xiii) Recommendations of the General Assembly have no compulsion power on the member state, but the same has the weightage of  world opinion.

(xiv) The General Assembly receives reports from the other organs, admits new members, directs activities of development, sets policies and determines programmers for the Secretariat, appoints the Secretary General who submits annual reports on the work of the Assembly and approves the UN Budget.

(xiii) Under the resolution 'Uniting for Peace' adopted by the General Assembly in Nov. 1950 the same is empowered to take action in the following cases: 
  • In case of threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression the General Assembly steps in if the Security Council fails to exercise its primary responsibility for international peace and security because of lack of unanimity amongst its permanent members.
  • In such a case, General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately and make  recommendation for collective measures by the members.
  • Even the option for use of armed forces for restoration of peace and security can be approved by the General Assembly to meet the challenges of crisis.
Security Council ( HeadQuarters _ New york)

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.

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.

Secretariat ( Headquarters - New York )

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 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.

Envisioned by Franklin D. Roosevelt as a "world moderator", the position is defined in the UN Charter as the organization's "chief administrative officer", 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", 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.

The Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly, after being recommended by the Security Council, where the permanent members have veto power. 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.

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.

Economic and Social Council - ECOSOC (Headquarters - New York)

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.

Functional commissions

  • Commission for Social Development
  • Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR): Disbanded 2006, replaced by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly.
  • Commission on Narcotic Drugs
  • Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
  • Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD)
  • Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD)
  • UN Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW)
  • Commission on Population and Development
  • UN Statistical Commission
  • United Nations Forum on Forests

Regional commissions

  • Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) - Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) - Santiago, Chile
  • Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) - Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) - Baghdad, Iraq.

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.

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.

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.


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