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General Knowledge / World GK / International Organisations

United Nations and Its Specialised Agencies

The United Nations (UN) was instituted to maintain international peace and security, to formulate friendly relations among different countries and to encourage international cooperation in solving social, economic and humanitarian problems. It is also involved in promotion and encouragement of respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights. It acts as a centre for harmonising the actions of different nations to achieve its aims.

The United Nations Organisation was established in the year 1945. The number of member states in the UN are 193. The headquarters of United Nations is located in New York. The number of official languages of UN are six namely, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. The UN Charter provided for six main organs of the UN. They are,

  1. The General Assembly

  2. The Security Council

  3. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

  4. The Trusteeship Council

  5. The International Court of Justice (ICJ)

  6. The Secretariat

UN General Assembly

The General Assembly is the important organ of the UN consisting of representatives of all the members-states of the UN. Generally in September, it holds regular annual session. Each member-state has one single vote and all the members are equally placed, unlike the UN Security Council.

Decisions of General Assembly are taken based on simple majority vote, but in the cases of security, peace, UN budget and election of new UN Security Council members, a two-thirds majority is required.

Powers and Activities

  • The UN General Assembly elects the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council for every two years

  • In combination with the Security Council, it elects the Judges for the International Court of Justice

  • It also elects the members of ECOSOC and Trusteeship Council

  • It appoints the Secretary General of the United Nations, based on the recommendation of UN Security Council.

  • General Assembly approves the UN budget. It also receives and considers the reports from other UN organs

UN Security Council

It is an important organ of the UN dealing with basic responsibility of maintaining the World Peace and Security. It consists of 15 nations as its members of which 5 are permanent in nature - The US, France, China, The UK and Russia. The remaining 10 members are non-permanent members, who are elected by a two-thirds majority of the UN General Assembly for a term of 2 years.

Out of these 10 non-permanent seats, 5 seats are allocated to Afro-Asian region, two seats are allocated to Latin America, one seat is allocated to Eastern Europe and the remaining two seats are allotted to Western Europe and others.

Veto Power of Permanent Members

The 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council have special voting rights called "Veto" power. Any decision in the UN Security Council can only be taken with the support of at least 9 members that includes 5 permanent members. Thus, no decision can be taken in the Security Council, even if one of the five permanent members votes against the proposal.

Powers and Activities

Decisions that are taken by the UN Security Council are binding on all the member-states of the UN, since the UN charter provides that the decisions of the Security Council are made in the name of all the UN members.

The powers of the UN Security Council include, taking decisions to settle disputes among different member-states, approving admission of nations as new members of UN, requisitioning military forces from different member-states for peace-keeping operations, recommending to the General Assembly in the appointment of new Secretary General, etc.

The UN Security Council was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988 for its role in ensuring World peace by means of conflict resolution.

Economic and Social Council

Economic and Social Council is the Chief Coordinating Agency of the United Nations in the social and economic sectors between the UN and its specialised institutions. ECOSOC consists of only 54 members. It generally meets two times in a year.

The main activities of ECOSOC include, conducting studies and giving recommendations on educational, social, economic, health and related matters in the world giving special focus to least developed countries.

ECOSOC carries out its activities through 9 functional commissions, 5 regional commissions and different standing committees. The 9 functional commissions were set up to focus on specific areas like status of women, social development, human rights, population and development, etc.

The five regional commissions of ECOSOC are :

  1. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

  2. Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), Geneva, Switzerland

  3. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Santiago, Chile

  4. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Bangkok, Thailand

  5. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Beirut, Lebanon

The main functions of these commissions are to help in raising the economic activity levels in their respective regions and to strengthen the economic relations among the States and with others.

International Court of Justice

  • International Court of Justice is the chief judicial organ of the United Nations

  • It is also commonly called the World Court

  • ICJ consists of 15 Judges

  • It is situated at The Hague in Netherlands

  • Its main function is to resolve the disputes referred to it by the member-states and to give advisory opinion on matters brought up to it by the UN General Assembly or Security Council.

UN Specialized Agencies

As per the terms of the UN Charter, there are sixteen specialised agencies, which are autonomous organisations established to deal with specific issues. ECOSOC coordinates between the UN and these agencies and also among the agencies.

Sl. No. Name of the Agency Year of Establishment Headquarters Purpose
1. Universal Postal Union (UPU) 1875* / 1948 Berne To improve the world postal services
2. International Labour Organisation (ILO) 1919* / 1946 Geneva To encourage productive employment and to improve labour conditions
3. International Telecommunication Union (ITU) 1934* / 1947 Geneva To promote cooperation in use of telecommunications
4. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 1945* / 1946 Rome To deal with the problems of food and agriculture
5. UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 1946 Paris To promote and spread education, knowledge and mutual understanding of people
6. International Bank for Re-construction and Development (IBRD) 1944 / 1945 Washington D.C. To mobilise and allocate capital for world economic development and trade
7. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) 1947 Montreal To encourage cooperation in air navigation and transport
8. International Monetary Fund (IMF) 1944 / 1945 Washington D.C. To promote financial & monetary stability and assist in revival of international trade
9. World Health Organization (WHO) 1947 Geneva To promote the highest possible levels of health to all people
10. World Meteoro-logical Organization (WMO) 1951 Geneva To improve the world meteoro-logical activities
11. International Finance Corporation (IFC) 1955* / 1957 Washington D.C. To encourage economic development by helping in the growth of productive private enterprises
12. International Maritime Organization (IMO) 1959 London To facilitate cooperation in maritime activities
13. International Development Association (IDA) 1961 Washington D.C. To help in economic development by giving soft loans to the less developed member-states
14. UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) 1967 Vienna To encourage industrial development
15. World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) 1970 Geneva To encourage for protection of intellectual property
16. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) 1977 Rome To extend financial assistance to the least developed countries in order to increase production of food

*(1st mentioned year is the year of its establishment. 2nd mentioned year is the year of becoming Specialised Agency of UN)

Special Institutitons under UN

The following are the special bodies created by the UN General Assembly and / or ECOSOC to deal with the specific areas of trade and development, environment, research and training, relief and welfare, etc.

Sl. No. Name of the Body Year of Establishment Headquarters Objective
1. UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) 1946 New York To assist the Least Developed Countries by providing child healthcare services
2. UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 1951 Geneva To render relief and rehabilitation to the refugees
3. World Food Programme (WFP) 1963 Rome To furnish aid in the form of food for social and economic development projects and also for relief operations during the natural disasters
4. UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) 1963 Geneva To render training to the UN personnel and to the officials of countries dealing with UN schemes
5. UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 1964 Geneva To encourage international trade
6. UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) 1964 Geneva To carry on research on matters related to social development
7. UN Development Programme (UNDP) 1965 New York To assist Least Developed Countries in their socio-economic development
8. UN Population Fund (UNFPA) 1967 New York To promote population related programmes
9. UN Environment Programme (UNEP) 1972 Nairobi To facilitate international cooperation in matters that affect the human environment
10. UN University (UNU) 1972 Tokyo To conduct training and research on development welfare and human survival
11. UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW) 1976 Santo Domingo To assist in integrating women into development process
12. UN Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS) 1978 Nairobi To render technical assistance to human settlement and planning schemes of the Governments
13. UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) 1980 Geneva To conduct research in fields related to disarmament
14. University for Peace (UPeace) 1980 San Jose, Costa Rica To conduct research on all matters that affect peace of the world
15. UN International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) 1991 Vienna To tackle drug trafficking and drug abuse. It was later converted as United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 1997