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Contact Details

Main: http://www.un.org/
Main: http://www.unsystem.org/
ReliefWeb: http://www.reliefweb.int/

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1945-06-26 San Francisco CA USA


Established 26 Jun 1945, San Francisco CA (USA), on signature of the Charter of the United Nations -- Charte des Nations Unies. The Charter had been drawn up by representatives of 50 countries, Aug-Oct 1944, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC (USA), at the United Nations Conference on International Organization, on the basis of proposals worked out by representatives of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. Poland, not represented at the Conference, signed it later and became one of the original 51 member states. The United Nations officially came into existence on 24 Oct 1945, when the Charter had been ratified by China, France, USSR, UK, USA and a majority of the other signatories. United Nations Day is now universally celebrated on 24th October.

The name "United Nations" was devised by US President Franklin D Roosevelt. It was first used in the "Declaration by United Nations" of 1 Jan 1942, when representatives of 26 nations pledged their governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers and subscribed themselves to a common programme of purposes and principles embodied in the T-XT4104 - Atlantic Charter. This was followed by the Moscow Declaration, 30 Oct 1943, in which the signatories recognized "the necessity of establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organization, based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving states, and open to membership by all such states ... for the maintenance of international peace and security". The United Nations was sometimes referred to in early official documents as United Nations Organisation (UNO).

The resolution for dissolution of the H-XH2906 - League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations, was adopted by the 21st and final session of the Assembly of the League on 18 Apr 1946. The "Common Plan for the Transfer of League of Nations Assets" was drawn up jointly by a United Nations Committee and the Supervisory Commission, acting on behalf of the United Nations and the League of Nations respectively, and was approved by the first General Assembly of the United Nations on 12 Feb 1946, Pursuant to provisions of the Plan, certain material assets of the League were transferred to the United Nations. Since then the Archives of the League of Nations have been maintained at the United Nations Library at Geneva.

The United Nations Charter may be amended by a vote of two thirds of the members of the General Assembly and ratification by two thirds of the members of the United Nations, including the five permanent members of the Security Council. The Charter has been amended five times: in 1965, increasing membership of the Security Council from 11 to 15 (Article 23) and the number of affirmative votes of the Council on procedural matters from seven to nine and on all other matters from seven to nine including the concurring votes of the five permanent members (Article 27); in 1965, increasing membership of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) from 18 to 27 and, in 1973, to 54 (Article 61); in 1968, increasing the number of votes required in the Security Council to convene a General Conference to review the Charter from seven to nine (Article 109).

'Human Rights' On 16 Feb 1946, by resolution 5 (I), ECOSOC established a permanent Commission on Human Rights, consisting of government representatives whose task was to elaborate a Declaration defining the Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms to which the Charter makes reference seven times. The resultant document, T-XT4399 - Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), was adopted by the General Assembly in Dec 1948 and serves as a statement of principle, morally binding on member states of the United Nations. In Dec 1966, the General Assembly adopted two International Covenants: on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and on Civil and Political Rights, Resolution 2200 (XXI). The Covenants entered into force 3 Jan 1976 and 23 Mar 1976 respectively.

'Legal Status' The United Nations is an organization composed of states which have accepted the obligations contained in the UN Charter. Article 104 of the Charter states that "The Organization shall enjoy in the territory of each of its members such legal capacity as may be necessary for the exercise of its functions and the fulfillment of its purposes". Article 105 declares that "The Organization shall enjoy in the territory of each of its members such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the fulfillment of its purposes". It further declares that "Representatives of the members of the United Nations and officials of the Organization shall similarly enjoy such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the independent exercise of their functions in connection with the Organization". In Feb 1946, the General Assembly approved a Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. The Convention provides, among other things, that UN property and assets shall enjoy immunity from legal process and be free from all direct taxes and customs duties and that UN officials and experts shall enjoy such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the independent exercise of their functions. The UN may also issue to its officials laissez-passer (passports), recognized as valid documents by member states.

In Jun 1947, the United Nations concluded an agreement with United States of America on all matters of privileges and immunities in regard to the UN Headquarters. The agreement entered into force in Nov 1947. Section 8 of Article III of the agreement states, inter alia, that the United Nations "shall have the power to make regulations, operative within the headquarters district, for the purpose of establishing therein conditions in all respects necessary for full execution of its functions. No federal, state or local law or regulation of the United States which is inconsistent with a regulation of the United Nations authorized by this section, shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be applicable within the headquarters district".

Following the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte and of others serving the United Nations in Palestine, the General Assembly, in Dec 1948, requested an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the question of reparation for injury suffered in the service of the UN. The Court, in April 1949, rendered the unanimous opinion that the UN is an international person - though not a state or a "super-state" - and has the capacity to maintain its rights by bringing international claims against member as well as non-member states to obtain reparation for damages caused to itself or to any of its agents. When the UN was bringing such a claim, it could do so only by basing it upon a breach of obligations due to itself. The Court declared that respect for this rule would usually prevent a conflict between the action of the UN and such rights as the agent's national state might possess. It further held that to ensure the efficient and independent performance of its missions and to afford effective support to its agents, the Organization itself must be able to provide them with adequate protection.


The aims are contained in the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations, which reads as follows:

"We the peoples of the United Nations determined

to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and

to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and

to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and

to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

and for these ends

to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and

to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and

to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and

to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.

Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations".

The four principal 'Purposes' of the United Nations are:

To maintain international peace and security;

To develop friendly relations among nations;

To cooperate internationally in solving international economic, social, cultural and humanitarian problems and in promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms;

To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in attaining these common ends.

The United Nations acts in accordance with the following 'Principles':

It is based on the sovereign equality of all its members.

All members are to fulfil in good faith their Charter obligations.

They are to settle their international disputes by peaceful means without endangering peace, security and justice.

They are to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against any other state.

They are to give the United Nations every assistance in any action it takes in accordance with the Charter, and shall not assist states against which the United Nations is taking preventive or enforcement action.

The United Nations shall ensure that states which are not members act in accordance with these principles in so far as it is necessary for the maintenance of international peace and security.

Nothing in the Charter authorizes the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.


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Main Organs (6):

(1) General Assembly of the United Nations, the main deliberative organ, meets: in Regular Annual Session in New York NY (USA), commencing third Tuesday in September; in special session at the request of the Security Council, of a majority of UN members or of one member if the majority concurs; in emergency special session called within 24 hours of a request by the Security Council on the vote of any 9 Council members or by a majority of United Nations members or by one member if the majority concurs. It comprises delegations of all member states, each with one vote. Delegations consist of up to 5 representatives, 5 alternate representatives and as many advisers and experts as required. Decisions on ordinary matters are reached by a simple majority of those present and voting; on important matters, as defined by Article 18 of the Charter, by a two-thirds majority.

The Assembly may discuss and make recommendations on any matter within the scope of the Charter and may discuss the powers and functions of all other organs. It initiates studies and makes recommendations to member states and to other organs for promoting international cooperation in political, social, economic, cultural, educational and health matters. It may also consider general principles of cooperation for maintaining peace, including those governing disarmament and the regulation of arms. The sole exception arises when the Security Council is dealing with a dispute or situation, when the Assembly may discuss the matter but may not make a recommendation unless requested to do so by the Council. However, should the Council fail to act on an apparent threat to peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression because of a negative vote by one of its 5 permanent members, the Assembly may take up the matter immediately - in emergency special session called at 24 hours notice if necessary - and recommend collective measures, including the use of armed force.

Because the Assembly has powers to discuss the working and functions of the other organs it has a central position in the Organization. It has to consider the annual and special reports submitted to it by all UN organs, including the Security Council. It also elects the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council, all 54 members of the Economic and Social Council and the elected members of the Trusteeship Council. The General Assembly and the Security Council, voting independently, elect the Judges of the International Court of Justice. On recommendation of the Security Council, the General Assembly admits new members and appoints the Secretary-General. It also considers and approves the United Nations budget and apportions expenses among member states. While the decisions of the Assembly have no binding legal force on governments, they carry the weight of world opinion on major international issues, as well as the moral authority of the world community.

Most of the UN day-to-day work derives from General Assembly decisions - the will of the majority of members as expressed in resolutions adopted by the Assembly. The work is carried out:

  • by committees and other bodies established by the Assembly to study and report on specific issues, such as disarmament, outer space, peace-keeping, decolonization, human rights;
  • in international conferences called for by the Assembly;
  • by the Secretariat of the United Nations - the Secretary-General and his staff of international civil servants.

--'Main and other sessional committees'

The General Assembly may decide to consider items on its agenda itself or it may refer questions to one of 6 Main Committees, on which all members have the right to be represented:

  • First Committee - Disarmament and International Security;
  • Second Committee - Economic and Financial;
  • Third Committee - Social, Humanitarian and Cultural;
  • Fourth Committee - Special Political and Decolonization;
  • Fifth Committee - Administrative and Budgetary;
  • Sixth Committee - Legal.

These committees submit proposals for approval to a plenary meeting of the whole Assembly. Voting in committees and sub-committees is by a simple majority.

'General Committee' meets during each session to make recommendations regarding inclusion of items in the agenda, allocation of items and organization of the Assembly's work. It comprises the President and 21 Vice-Presidents of the Assembly and the Chairmen of the Main Committees.

'Credentials Committee', appointed by the General Assembly on the proposal of the President at each session, verifies the credentials of representatives.

'Subsidiary and Expert Bodies of the General Assembly'

---Also linked to the General Assembly:

(2) E-XE3376 - United Nations Security Council (UNSC) - which has established the following:

Also linked to the Security Council:

(3) E-XE3377 - ECOSOC, to which report:

Note: B-XB2745 - World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which has cooperated with the UN since its inception and became a UN related agency in 1977, became a specialized agency in 2003.

Autonomous organizations linked to the General Assembly:

Other Bodies:

(4) E-XE3378 - United Nations Trusteeship Council - operations formally suspended 1 Nov 1994 but continues to exist.

(5) F-XF3379 - International Court of Justice (ICJ).

(6) 'Secretariat' performs the administrative functions of the United Nations. It services the other organs and administers the programmes and policies laid down by them. It is headed by the Secretary-General, who is appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council. Article 100 of the Charter states that: "In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instruction from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization. They shall refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the Organization. Each member of the United Nations undertakes to respect the exclusively international character of the responsibilities of the Secretary-General and the staff and not to seek to influence them in the discharge of their responsibilities".

'Secretary-General' Secretaries-General normally serve for 5 years but may serve further terms. As of 2009, none has served more than 2 terms.

  • Trygve Lie (Norway) held office from Feb 1946 to his resignation in Nov 1952;
  • Dag Hammarskjöld (Sweden), from Apr 1953 to Sep 1961, when he died in a plane crash;
  • U Thant (Burma, now Myanmar), from Nov 1961 (when appointed acting Secretary-General) to Dec 1971, having been formally appointed in Nov 1962;
  • Kurt Waldheim (Austria), Jan 1972 to Dec 1981;
  • Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (Peru), Jan 1982 to Dec 1991;
  • Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt), Jan 1992 to Dec 1996;
  • Kofi A Annan (Ghana), Jan 1997 to Dec 2006;
  • Ban Ki-moon (Korea Rep), the current Secretary-General.

'Deputy Secretary-General' This post was established on 19 Dec 1997, to help manage Secretariat operations, to raise the United Nations profile and leadership in economic and social spheres and to strengthen it as a leading centre for development policy and assistance.

  • Ms Louise Fréchette, the first to hold this post, assumed responsibilities in Feb 1998;
  • Mark Malloch Brown took over the post on 1 Apr 2006;
  • Dr Asha-Rose Migiro took office on 1 Feb 2007.

'Departments and Offices of the Secretariat' -

  • Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG) - including:
  • -Protocol and Liaison Services.
  • Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) - including:
  • -Internal Audit Division;
  • -Monitoring, Evaluation and Consultation Division;
  • -Investigations Division.

Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) - including:

  • -Office of the Legal Counsel;
  • -General Legal Division;
  • -Codification Division;
  • -Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea;
  • -International Trade Law Branch;
  • -Treaty Section;
  • -Secretariat of the Administrative Tribunal.

Department of Political Affairs (DPA) - including:

  • -Security Council Affairs Division;
  • -Electoral Assistance Division;
  • -Office of the Under-Secretary-General Special Advisor on Cyprus;
  • -Office of the Under-Secretary-General Special Advisor on Africa.

Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA) - including:

  • -Weapons of Mass Destruction Branch;
  • -Conventional Arms Branch;
  • -Monitoring, Database and Information Branch;
  • -Regional Activities.

Department of Peace-Keeping Operations (DPKO) - including:

  • -Office of the Under-Secretary-General;
  • -Peacekeeping Best Practices Unit;
  • -Executive Office;
  • -Mine Action Service;
  • -Military Division;
  • -Civilian Police Division;
  • -Office of Operations (including Asia and Middle East Division, Africa Division, Europe and Latin America Division, Situation Centre);
  • -Office of Mission Support (including Logistics Support Division, Administrative Support Division).

E-XE3242 - United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) - including:

Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) - including:

  • -Office of the Under-Secretary-General;
  • -Development Policy and Planning Office;
  • -Financing for Development Office;
  • -Office of ECOSOC Support and Coordination;
  • -Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women;
  • -Division for the Advancement of Women;
  • -Division for Sustainable Development;
  • -Secretariat for the United Nations Forum on Forests;
  • -Division for Social Policy and Development;
  • -Division for Public Administration and Development Management;
  • -Statistics Division;
  • -Population Division.

Department for General Assembly and Conference Management - including:

  • Central Planning and Coordination Service;
  • -General Assembly and ECOSOC Affairs Division;
  • -Interpretation, Meetings and Publishing Division;
  • -Translation and Editorial Division;
  • -German Translation Service.

Department of Public Information (DPI) - including:

  • -Information Centres Services;
  • -News and Media Division, including News Centre, UN Radio and CyberSchoolBus;
  • -Strategic Communications Division, including Palestine and Decolonization Section;
  • -Outreach Division, including Dag Hammarskjöld Library (DHL), Cartographic Section, NGO Section, Publications Service and Sales and Marketing Section.

Department of Management - including:

'Other United Nations organs linked to the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council' -

'United Nations Programmes and Funds' -

'UN Research and Training Institutes' -

'Staff Services' -

'Inter-Agency Programmes' -

United Nations System

F-XF1000 - United Nations System is composed of the following bodies, in addition to the various committees and commissions of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council mentioned above:

'Peace-Keeping' -

Civilian component of peace-keeping forces:

Also, previously grouped the following bodies no longer in operation:

'Other Bodies' -

'Instrumental in setting up':

Treaties with which the United Nations is associated and which are not quoted elsewhere in this description:


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Relations with Inter-Governmental Organizations

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Relations with Non-Governmental Organizations

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Type I Classification

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Type II Classification

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Subjects *

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UN Sustainable Development Goals **

GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal



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* Subject classification is derived from the organization names and aims.
** UN SDGs are linked to the subject classification.

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