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> United Nations (UN). The UN in Brief. Not so well known . . .
Most of us have heard about United Nations peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance. But the many other ways the UN affects all our lives are not always so well known. This website takes a look at the United Nations — how it is set up and what it does — to illustrate how it works to make the world a better place for all people.
The UN is central to global efforts to solve problems that challenge humanity. Cooperating in this effort are more than 30 affiliated organizations, known together as the UN system. Day in and day out, the UN and its family of organizations work to promote respect for human rights, while also promoting gender equality and the advancement of women, protecting the environment, fighting disease and reducing poverty. UN agencies define the standards for safe and efficient air travel and help improve telecommunications and enhance consumer protection. The United Nations leads the international campaigns against drug trafficking and terrorism. Throughout the world, the UN and its agencies assist refugees, set up programmes to clear landmines, help expand food production and lead the fight against AIDS.
In September 2000, Member States, represented at the highest level — including 147 Heads of State and Government — expressed their collective vision in the Millennium Declaration. They set out measurable goals in every area of UN endeavour — the Millennium Development Goals. In September 2008, world leaders renewed commitments to achieving those Goals by 2015 and set out concrete plans and practical steps for action.
United Nations Headquarters.
Welcome to United Nations Headquarters
>> Visiting the United Nations in New York
The Headquarters of the United Nations is located along the East River in New York City, on 1st Avenue between 45th and 46th Street. This 18-acre site belongs to the Organization’s 193 Member States. Your visit to the United Nations begins as you enter the General Assembly building.
Standing on the eastern shore of Manhattan Island, on the banks of New York City’s East River, United Nations Headquarters remains both a symbol of peace and a beacon of hope. To its 18 acres come representatives of the earth’s six billion people, to discuss and decide issues of peace, justice and economic and social well being.
Every year, over 1 million visitors from around the world enter the Visitors Centre, located on 1st Avenue, between 45th and 46th Street.
Visitors can experience special exhibits in the Visitors Lobby galleries or just visit the UN Bookshop, the Gift Shop, the United Nations Postal Administration Sales Counter, or the Inquiries Desk for free handouts, such as posters, brochures, or resources for educators and students.
>> Visiting the United Nations in Geneva
The United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) is the second largest United Nations centre after the Headquarters in New York. UNOG is housed in the Palais des Nations, an outstanding testimony to twentieth century architecture, situated in a beautiful park overlooking Lake Geneva, with a splendid view of the Alps and, on a clear day, Mont Blanc.
The League of Nations was established in 1919 following the devastation caused by the First World War. It was decided to erect a building at par with the League’s aspirations for the creation of a more stable world. The Palais was erected between 1929 and 1938 and donations from Member States have largely contributed to its interior design.
The Palais stands in the 45-hectare Ariana Park among majestic trees many of which are over 100 years old. The City of Geneva has made the park available to the United Nations for its offices for as long as the United Nations exists.
Palais des Nations, historic home of the United Nations in Geneva, the city of peace.
The Palais, a beautiful art deco building in the Ariana Park overlooking Lake Geneva, is the largest and most active centre for conference diplomacy in the world, the place “where nation can meet nation”.
It has more than 30 meeting rooms, most of which are equipped for simultaneous translation. The meeting rooms can seat a total of more than 8,500 people.
It is also home to unique collections of art and knowledge – a “living museum” donated by governments and individuals as expressions of their commitments to improving international peace, human rights and the well-being of the world’s people.
Along with New York, Geneva and Nairobi, Vienna is one of the four headquarters of the United Nations. The Vienna International Centre (VIC), commonly known as “UN City”, was designed by Austrian architect Johann Staber and construction costs were borne by the host country. Opened on 23 August 1979, it has been rented to the United Nations for 99 years at a symbolic rate of 1 Austrian schilling (7 Euro cents) annually.
The VIC complex, which covers an area of 180,000 m², has extraterritorial status; it accommodates about 4,200 international civil servants from over 100 countries and its 14 conference rooms host an average of 2,000 conferences annually. Located at the Centre are the United Nations Office at Vienna (UNOV), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO PrepCom), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), as well as a number of smaller UN Offices and entities.
On daily guided tours, visitors can learn about the work of the United Nations and experience the Vienna International Centre’s striking architecture and vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere. Special programmes for children and school groups are available and visitors can also book a lecture or specialized tour on the art on display at the VIC.
> United Nations (UN). How the UN Works.
The United Nations was established on 24 October 1945 by 51 countries committed to preserving peace through international cooperation and collective security. Today, nearly every nation in the world belongs to the UN: membership totals 192 countries.
When States become Members of the United Nations, they agree to accept the obligations of the UN Charter, an international treaty that sets out basic principles of international relations. According to the Charter, the UN has four purposes:
- to maintain international peace and security;
- to develop friendly relations among nations;
- to cooperate in solving international problems and in promoting respect for human rights;
- and to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations.
The United Nations is not a world government and it does not make laws. It does, however, provide the means to help resolve international conflicts and formulate policies on matters affecting all of us. At the UN, all the Member States — large and small, rich and poor, with differing political views and social systems — have a voice and a vote in this process.
The United Nations has six main organs. Five of them — the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council and the Secretariat — are based at UN Headquarters in New York. The sixth, the International Court of Justice, is located at The Hague in the Netherlands.
>> The General Assembly
All UN Member States are represented in the General Assembly — a “parliament of nations” which meets regularly and in special sessions to consider the world’s most pressing problems. Each Member State has one vote. Decisions on such key issues as international peace and security, admitting new members and the UN budget are decided by two-thirds majority. Other matters are decided by simple majority. In recent years, a special effort has been made to reach decisions through consensus, rather than by taking a formal vote. The Assembly cannot force action by any State, but its recommendations are an important indication of world opinion and represent the moral authority of the community of nations.
The Assembly holds its annual regular session from September to December. When necessary, it may resume its session or hold a special or emergency session on subjects of particular concern. Its work is also carried out by its six Main Committees, other subsidiary bodies and the UN Secretariat.
During the main part of its 2008 session, the Assembly took up more than 150 different topics, including United Nations reform, restoring respect for the rule of law, the needs of small island developing States, climate change and related humanitarian dangers, and participation by all States in the global trading system. It addressed the situation in many different countries and regions, including Iraq and the Darfur region of the Sudan.
>> The Security Council
The UN Charter gives primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security to the Security Council, which may meet whenever peace is threatened. Under the Charter, all Member States are obligated to comply with Council decisions.
The Council is made up of 15 members. Five of them are permanent members: China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and United States. The other 10 are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. Member States are considering changes in the composition and methods of work of the Council so that it better reflects current political and economic realities.
The adoption of a Council decision requires nine votes in favour. Except in case of a vote on procedural matters, the Council cannot adopt a decision if one of the permanent members casts a veto.
When the Council examines a complaint concerning a threat to peace, it first explores ways of reaching agreement by peaceful means. It may set forth principles for a peaceful settlement or undertake mediation. When a dispute leads to fighting, the Council seeks to bring it to an end as soon as possible. It may send peacekeeping forces to supervise a truce and keep opposing forces apart.
The Council may take measures to enforce its decisions. It may impose economic sanctions or an arms embargo. In some occasions, the Council has authorized Member States to take “all available means”, including collective military action, to ensure that its decisions are carried out.
The Council also recommends to the General Assembly a candidate for the post of Secretary-General and proposes the admission of new United Nations Member States.
>> The Economic and Social Council
The Economic and Social Council, under the overall authority of the General Assembly, coordinates the economic and social work of the United Nations and the UN family of organizations. As the central forum for discussing international economic and social issues and for formulating policy recommendations, the Council plays a key role in fostering international cooperation for development. It also consults with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), thereby maintaining a vital link between the United Nations and civil society.
The Council has 54 members, elected by the General Assembly for three-year terms. It meets throughout the year and holds a major session in July, during which a high-level meeting of Ministers discusses major economic, social and humanitarian issues.
The Council’s subsidiary bodies meet regularly and report back to it. These bodies focus on such issues as social development, the status of women, crime prevention, narcotic drugs and sustainable development. Five regional commissions promote economic development and cooperation in their respective regions.
>> The Trusteeship Council
The Trusteeship Council was established to provide international supervision to 11 Trust Territories administered by seven Member States, and guarantee that appropriate measures were taken to prepare such Territories for autonomy or independence.
By 1994, all Trust Territories had achieved autonomy or independence, either as autonomous States or by joining neighbouring independent countries. The last to do so was the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (Palau), administered by the United States, which became the 185th Member State of the United Nations.
Having achieved its task, the Trusteeship Council, which is now made of the five permanent members of the Security Council, amended its rules of procedure and will meet as and where occasion may require.
For further information: The United Nations and decolonization
>> The Secretariat
The Secretariat carries out the substantive and administrative work of the United Nations as directed by the General Assembly, the Security Council and the other organs. At its head is the Secretary-General, who provides overall administrative guidance.
The Secretariat consists of departments and offices with a total staff of about 8,100 under the regular budget, drawn from some 175 countries. Duty stations include UN Headquarters in New York, as well as UN offices in Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi and other locations.
Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Ban Ki-moon is the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations. His priorities have been to mobilize world leaders around a set of new global challenges, from climate change and economic upheaval to pandemics and increasing pressures involving food, energy and water. He has sought to be a bridge-builder, to give voice to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, and to strengthen the Organization itself.“I grew up in war”, the Secretary-General has said, “and saw the United Nations help my country to recover and rebuild. That experience was a big part of what led me to pursue a career in public service. As Secretary-General, I am determined to see this Organization deliver tangible, meaningful results that advance peace, development and human rights.”Mr. Ban took office on 1 January 2007. Highlights of his tenure have included:
Promoting sustainable development
One of the Secretary-General’s first major initiatives was the 2007 Climate Change Summit, followed by extensive diplomatic efforts that have helped put the issue at the forefront of the global agenda. Subsequent efforts to focus on the world’s main anti-poverty targets, the Millennium Development Goals, have generated more than $60 billion in pledges, with a special emphasis on Africa and the new Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health. At the height of the food, energy and economic crises in 2008, the Secretary-General successfully appealed to the G20 for a $1 trillion financing package for developing countries and took other steps to guide the international response and protect the vulnerable and poor.
The Secretary-General pressed successfully for the creation of UN Women, a major new agency that consolidates the UN’s work in this area. His advocacy for women’s rights and gender equality has also included the “Unite to End Violence against Women” campaign, the “Stop Rape Now” initiative, the creation of a “Network of Men Leaders” and the establishment of a new Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Within the UN itself, the Secretary-General has increased the number of women in senior management positions by more than 40 per cent, reaching the highest level in the Organization’s history.
Supporting countries facing crisis or instability
The Secretary-General has sought to strengthen UN peace efforts, including through the New Horizons peacekeeping initiative, the Global Field Support Strategy and the Civilian Capacity Review, a package of steps to improve the impact of the 120,000 United Nations “blue helmets” operating in the world’s conflict zones. A mediation support unit, along with new capacity to carry out the Secretary-General’s good offices, have been set up to help prevent, manage and resolve tensions, conflicts and crises. Accountability for violations of human rights has received high-level attention through inquiries related to Gaza, Guinea, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, legal processes in Lebanon and Cambodia, and advocacy for the “responsibility to protect,” the new United Nations norm aimed at prevent and halt genocide and other grave crimes. He has also sought to strengthen humanitarian response in the aftermath of mega-disasters in Myanmar (2008), Haiti (2010) and Pakistan (2010), and mobilized UN support for the democratic transitions in North Africa and the Middle East.
Generating new momentum on disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation
The Secretary-General has sought to rejuvenate the disarmament agenda through a five-point plan, efforts to break the deadlock at the Conference on Disarmament and renewed attention to nuclear safety and security in the aftermath of the tragedy at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
Strengthening the UN
The Secretary-Generalhas introduced new measures aimed at making the United Nations more transparent, effective and efficient. These include heightened financial disclosure requirements, compacts with senior managers, harmonization of business practices and conditions of service, the adoption of International Public Sector Accounting Standards, and continued investments in information technology and staff development.
The Secretary-General was born in the Republic of Korea on 13 June 1944. He received a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Seoul National University in 1970. In 1985, he earned a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.At the time of his election as Secretary-General, Mr. Ban was his country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. His 37 years of service with the Ministry included postings in New Delhi, Washington D.C. and Vienna, and responsibility for a variety of portfolios, including Foreign Policy Adviser to the President, Chief National Security Adviser to the President, Deputy Minister for Policy Planning and Director-General of American Affairs.Mr. Ban’s ties to the United Nations date back to 1975, when he worked for the Foreign Ministry’s United Nations Division. That work expanded over the years, with assignments that included service as Chairman of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization and Chef de Cabinet during the Republic of Korea’s 2001-2002 presidency of the UN General Assembly. Mr. Ban has also been actively involved in issues relating to inter-Korean relations.The Secretary-General speaks English, French and Korean. He and his wife, Madam Yoo (Ban) Soon-taek, whom he met in high school in 1962, have one son, two daughters and three grandchildren. Since 2007, Mrs. Ban has devoted her attention to women’s and children’s health, including autism, the elimination of violence against women, and the campaign to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.
>> The International Court of Justice
The International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, is the main judicial organ of the UN. Its 15 judges are elected by the General Assembly and the Security Council, voting independently and concurrently. The Court decides disputes between countries, based on the voluntary participation of the States concerned. If a State agrees to participate in a proceeding, it is obligated to comply with the Court’s decision. The Court also gives advisory opinions to the United Nations and its specialized agencies.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN). It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and began work in April 1946.
The seat of the Court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). Of the six principal organs of the United Nations, it is the only one not located in New York (United States of America).
The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies.
The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for terms of office of nine years by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. It is assisted by a Registry, its administrative organ.
>> The UN System
The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and 13 other independent organizations known as “specialized agencies” are linked to the UN through cooperative agreements. These agencies, among them the World Health Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization, are autonomous bodies created by intergovernmental agreement. They have wide-ranging international responsibilities in the economic, social, cultural, educational, health and related fields. Some of them, like the International Labour Organization and the Universal Postal Union, are older than the UN itself.
In addition, a number of UN offices, programmes and funds — such as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) — work to improve the economic and social condition of people around the world. They report to the General Assembly or the Economic and Social Council.
All these organizations have their own governing bodies, budgets and secretariats. Together with the United Nations, they are known as the UN family, or the UN system. Together, they provide technical assistance and other forms of practical help in virtually all economic and social areas.
See the United Nations System organization chart here.
The Charter established six principal organs of the United Nations: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat. The United Nations family, however, is much larger, encompassing 15 agencies and several programmes and bodies.
>>> General Assembly
The following Bodies report directly to the General Assembly.
Advisory Subsidiary Body
Programmes and Funds
- International Trade Centre (ITC)
- Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
- United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
- United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
- United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
>>> United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF)
>>> United Nations Volunteers (UNV)
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
- United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
- United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT)
- United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
- United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
- United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)
Research and Training Institutes
- United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR)
- United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR)
- United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI)
- United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)
Other UN Entities
- International Computing Centre (ICC)
- Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)
- United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)
- United Nations System Staff College (UNSSC)
- United Nations University (UNU)
- UN Women
>>> Security Council
The following bodies report directly to the Security Council.
- 1540 Committee
- Counter-Terrorism Committee
- International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
- International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)
- Military Staff Committee
- Peacekeeping Operations and Missions
- Sanctions Committees
- Standing Committees and Ad Hoc Committees
- UN Compensation Commission
- Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict
- Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions
Advisory Subsidiary Body
The following bodies report directly to Economic and Social Council.
- Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
- Commission on Narcotic Drugs
- Commission on Population and Development
- Commission on Science and Technology for Development
- Commission for Social Development
- Commission on the Status of Women
- Commission on Sustainable Development
- Statistical Commission
- United Nations Forum on Forests
- Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)
- Economic Commission for Europe (ECE)
- Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)
- Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
- Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)
- Committee on Negotiations with Intergovernmental Agencies
- Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations
- Committee for Programme and Coordination
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
- Intergovernmental Working Group of Experts on International Standards of Accounting and Reporting
Expert Bodies composed of members serving in their personal capacity
- Committee for Development Policy
- Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters
- Committee of Experts on Public Administration
- Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Other related Bodies
- Executive Board of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women
- International Narcotics Control Board
- Committee for the United Nations Population Award
- Programme Coordinating Board of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
>> Specialized Agencies, Related Organizations, Funds, and other UN Entities
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
- International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
- International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
- International Labour Organization (ILO)
- International Maritime Organization (IMO)
- International Monetary Fund (IMF)
- International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
- United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
- Universal Postal Union (UPU)
- World Bank Group
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
- World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
- World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
- International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (2)
- Preparatory Commission for the Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) (3)
- Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) (3)
- World Trade Organization (WTO)
Secretariats of Conventions
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
UN Trust Funds
- United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) (4)
- United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP) (5)
(1) The United Nations Peacebuilding Commission has a direct reporting relationship with the Security Council and the General Assembly, and non-subsidiary relationship with the Economic and Social Council and the Office of the Secretary-General.
> United Nations (UN). What the UN does for Peace?
UN action for peace
>> In Africa
UN peace efforts have taken many forms over the years, including the long campaign against apartheid in South Africa, active support for Namibian independence, a number of electoral support missions and 25 peacekeeping operations. The most recent operations were established in Darfur, the Sudan(2007) and in the Central African Republic and Chad (2007). Of course, the UN had already been on the ground in Sudan, to address what the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator had called the worst non-natural humanitarian crisis in the world. And in 2005, acting on findings of widespread human rights violations, the Security Council referred the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
The UN has also undertaken wide-ranging diplomatic efforts to restore peace in the Great Lakes region, and it is helping to prepare for a referendum on the future of Western Sahara. Elsewhere in Africa, UN field missions continue their peace-building activities in the Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia and the West Africa region.
>> In Asia and the Pacific
Since 2002, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has worked to promote national reconciliation and to fulfil the tasks entrusted to the United Nations in the 2001 Bonn Agreement — including the areas of human rights, the rule of law and gender — as well as managing all UN humanitarian, relief, recovery and reconstruction activities in Afghanistan, in coordination with the Afghan government.
UNAMA integrates all UN activities in Afghanistan, including those of 16 UN agencies, working together with their Afghan government counterparts and with national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
When a peacekeeping mission in Tajikistan completed its work in 2000, a UN office was opened to provide the political framework and leadership for various peace-building activities. And UN military observers continue to monitor the ceasefire line between India and Pakistan in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
In East Timor, UN-brokered talks between Indonesia and Portugal culminated in a May 1999 agreement which paved the way for a popular consultation on the status of the territory. UN-supervised voter registration led to an August 1999 ballot in which 78 per cent of East Timorese voted for independence — leading to the establishment of the independent state of Timor-Leste in 2002. A mission remains in the country to assist in consolidating stability, democratic governance and national reconciliation.
>> In Europe
A United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus continues to supervise the ceasefire lines, maintain the buffer zone and undertake humanitarian activities on that divided island. Its presence provides a conducive environment for the diplomatic efforts of the Secretary-General and his Special Adviser, aimed at promoting negotiations and achieving a comprehensive settlement.
The UN worked strenuously towards resolving the conflict in the former Yugoslavia while providing relief assistance to millions of people. From 1992 to 1995, UN peacekeepers helped bring peace and security to Croatia, protect civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and ensure that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was not drawn into the war. Following the 1995 Dayton-Paris peace agreements, four UN missions helped secure the peace.
Today, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) continues to work with the people of Kosovo to create a functioning, democratic society with substantial autonomy. Established in 1999 following the end of NATO air bombings and the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces, UNMIK brings together efforts by the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations under the umbrella of the UN.
In Abkhazia, Georgia, while the UN military observer mission carries out its peacekeeping mandate, diplomatic efforts have continued to find a comprehensive settlement of the Georgian/Abkhaz conflict.
>> In the Americas
UN peacemaking and peacekeeping have been instrumental in resolving protracted conflicts in Central America. In 1989, in Nicaragua, the peace effort led to voluntary demobilization of the resistance movement, whose members turned in their weapons to the UN. In 1990, a UN mission observed Nicaragua’s elections — the first UN-observed elections in an independent country. In El Salvador, peace talks mediated by the Secretary-General ended 12 years of fighting and a UN peacekeeping mission verified implementation of all agreements. And in Guatemala, UN-assisted negotiations ended a 35-year civil war.
>> In the Middle East
UN concern over the Arab-Israeli conflict spans nearly six decades and five full-fledged wars. The UN has defined principles for a just and lasting peace, including two benchmark Security Council resolutions — 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) — which remain the basis for an overall settlement.
The UN has supported other initiatives aimed at solving underlying political problems, and has dispatched various peacekeeping operations to the region. The UN’s first military observer group was set up in 1948 and maintains its presence in the area to this day. The UN’s first peacekeeping force was also set up there, during the Suez crisis of 1956. Two peacekeeping forces are currently in the region. One, established in 1974, maintains an area of separation on the Golan Heights between Israeli and Syrian troops. The other, established in 1978, contributes to stability in southern Lebanon. Following the 2006 crisis, this mission has been monitoring the cessation of hostilities, supported the deployment of the Lebanese armed forces and helped to deliver humanitarian assistance.
On the diplomatic front, the United Nations actively participates in efforts to reach a negotiated solution as a member of the “Quartet” — comprising the UN, the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation. In 2003, a “Road Map” to a permanent two-State solution, presented by the Quartet, was accepted by both parties but has not yet been implemented. Meanwhile, the UN continues, through the actions of the Security Council and other bodies, as well as of the Secretary-General and his Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, to promote a peaceful resolution of the situation.
The end of occupation and the formal restoration of Iraqi sovereignty in 2004 marked a new phase in Iraq’s transitional process, leading to the 2005 elections. With the support of UNAMI, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and the UN Electoral Assistance Division, and despite the constant threat of violence, Iraqis turned out to exercise their political rights, leading to the inauguration of a new Government in 2006.
On 19 August 2003, the UN headquarters in Baghdad was the target of a terrorist attack that resulted in 22 deaths, including the head of mission, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and more than 150 injured
Halting the spread of arms and reducing and eventually eliminating all weapons of mass destruction are major goals of the United Nations. The UN has been an ongoing forum for disarmament negotiations, making recommendations and initiating studies. It supports multilateral negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament and in other international bodies. These negotiations have produced such agreements as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1968), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (1996) and treaties establishing nuclear-free zones.
Other treaties prohibit the development, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons (1992) and bacteriological weapons (1972); ban nuclear weapons from the seabed and ocean floor (1971) and outer space (1967); and ban or restrict other types of weapons. By 2009, 156 countries had become parties to the 1997 Ottawa Convention outlawing landmines. The UN encourages all nations to adhere to this and other treaties banning destructive weapons of war. The UN is also supporting efforts to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons — the weapons of choice in the vast majority of conflicts worldwide. The UN Register of Conventional Arms and the system for standardized reporting of military expenditures help promote greater transparency in military matters.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, through a system of safeguards agreements, ensures that nuclear materials and equipment intended for peaceful uses are not diverted for military purposes. And in The Hague, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons collects information on chemical facilities worldwide and conducts routine inspections to ensure adherence to the chemical weapons convention.
UN peacemaking brings hostile parties to agreement through diplomatic means. The Security Council, in its efforts to maintain international peace and security, may recommend ways to avoid conflict or restore or secure peace — through negotiation, for example, or recourse to the International Court of Justice.
The Secretary-General plays an important role in peacemaking. The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter that appears to threaten international peace and security, use good offices to carry out mediation or exercise quiet diplomacy behind the scenes — either personally or through special envoys. The Secretary-General also undertakes preventive diplomacy aimed at resolving disputes before they escalate.
The UN is increasingly undertaking activities that address the underlying causes of conflict.
The Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) was created by both the General Assembly and the Security Council in their respective resolutions A/60/180 and S/RES/1645 (2005).
The Commission fills an important gap in the UN system in the relief-to-development continuum. It brings together the government of a specific country together with all the relevant international and national actors to discuss and decide on a long-term peacebuilding strategy with the aim of preventing a relapse into conflict.
It is mandated to: “marshal resources and to advise on and propose integrated strategies for post-conflict peacebuilding and recovery.” The PBC focuses attention on reconstruction, institution-building and sustainable development, in countries emerging from conflict.
The United Nations increasingly carries out activities to address the underlying causes of conflict.
The Security Council sets up UN peacekeeping operations and defines their scope and mandate in its efforts to maintain international peace and security. Most operations involve military duties, such as observing a ceasefire or establishing a buffer zone while negotiators seek a long-term solution. Others may require civilian police or other civilian personnel to help organize elections or monitor human rights. Operations have also been deployed to monitor peace agreements in cooperation with the peacekeeping forces of regional organizations.
Peacekeeping operations may last for a few months or continue for decades. The UN operation at the ceasefire line between India and Pakistan in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, for example, was established in 1949, and UN peacekeepers have been in Cyprus since 1964. In contrast, the UN was able to complete its 1994 mission in the Aouzou Strip between Libya and Chad in a little over a month.
Since the UN first deployed peacekeepers in 1948, nearly 130 countries have voluntarily provided up to 1 million soldiers, police officers and civilians. They have served, along with thousands of civilians, in some 60 peacekeeping operations. In 2009, 120 countries were contributing some 90,200 uniformed personnel — a record number.
> United Nations (UN). What the UN does for Justice, Human Rights and International Law
Justice, Human Rights and International Law
Through UN efforts, governments have concluded many multilateral agreements that make the world a safer, healthier place with greater opportunity and justice for all of us. This comprehensive body of international law, including human rights law, is one of the UN’s great achievements.
>> Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the General Assembly in 1948, sets out basic rights and freedoms to which all women and men are entitled — among them the right to life, liberty and nationality; to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; the right to work and to be educated; the right to food and housing; and the right to take part in government.
These rights are legally binding by virtue of two International Covenants, to which most States are parties. One Covenant deals with economic, social and cultural rightsand the other with civil and political rights . Together with the Declaration, they constitute the International Bill of Human Rights.
The Declaration laid the groundwork for some 80 conventions and declarations on human rights, including the two International Covenants; conventions to eliminate racial discrimination and discrimination against women ; conventions on the rights of the child , against torture , the status of refugees and the prevention and punishment of genocide ; and declarations on the rights of minorities, the right to development the rights of human rights defenders and the rights of indigenous peoples .
With its standards-setting work nearly complete, the UN is shifting the emphasis of its human rights efforts to the implementation of human rights laws. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, who coordinates UN human rights activities, works with governments to improve their observance of human rights, seeks to prevent violations, and works closely with the UN human rights mechanisms. The Human Rights Council , an intergovernmental body, works to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. The Council works closely with independent experts — “special rapporteurs” — who report on specific human rights abuses or examine the human rights situation in specific countries.
UN human rights bodies contribute to early warning and conflict prevention, as well as in efforts to address the root causes of conflict. A number of UN peacekeeping operations have a human rights component. In all, UN human rights field activities are currently being carried out in 30 countries or territories. They help strengthen national capacities in human rights legislation, administration and education; investigate reported violations; and assist governments in taking corrective measures when needed.
Promoting respect for human rights is increasingly central to UN development assistance. In particular, the right to development is seen as part of a dynamic process which integrates civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, and by which the well-being of all individuals in a society is improved. Key to the enjoyment of the right to development is the eradication of poverty , a major UN goal.
>> International Law
The UN Charter specifically calls on the United Nations to undertake the progressive codification and development of international law. The over 510 conventions, treaties and standards resulting from this work have provided a framework for promoting international peace and security and economic and social development. States that ratify these conventions are legally bound by them.
The International Law Commission prepares drafts on topics of international law which can then be incorporated into conventions and opened for ratification by States. Some of these conventions form the basis for law governing relations among States, such as the convention on diplomatic relations or the convention regulating the use of international watercourses.
The UN Commission on International Trade Law develops rules and guidelines designed to harmonize and facilitate laws regulating international trade. The UN has also pioneered the development of international environmental law. Agreements such as the convention to combat desertification, the convention on the ozone layer, and the convention on the transborder movement of hazardous wastes are administered by the UN Environment Programme.
The Kyoto Protocol to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which addresses the problem of global warming, went into effect on 16 February 2005. It requires industrialized countries to reduce their combined emissions of six major greenhouse gases during the five-year period from 2008 to 2012 to below 1990 levels. More than 180 countries have ratified the accord.
The Convention on the Law of the Sea seeks to ensure equitable access by all countries to the riches of the oceans, protect them from pollution and facilitate freedom of navigation and research. The Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs is the key international treaty against drug trafficking.
The United Nations remains at the centre of international efforts to create a legal framework against terrorism. More than a dozen global conventions on the issue have been negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations, including the 1979 Convention against the Taking of Hostages, the 1997 Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing, and the 1999 Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, and work is in progress on a comprehensive anti-terrorism treaty.
In 2001, following the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States, the Security Council adopted a wide-ranging anti-terrorist resolution, under the enforcement provisions of the UN Charter. It included provisions to prevent the financing of terrorism, criminalize the collection of funds for such purposes, and to immediately freeze terrorist financial assets. The Council has called on States to accelerate the exchange of information regarding terrorist movements and decided that States should afford one another the greatest measure of assistance for criminal investigations or proceedings relating to terrorist acts.
>> Ending Impunity
Massive violations of humanitarian law during the fighting in the former Yugoslavia led the Security Council in 1993 to establish an international tribunal to try persons accused of war crimes in that conflict. In 1994, the Council set up a second tribunal to hear cases involving accusations of genocide in Rwanda. The tribunals have found several defendants guilty and sentenced them to prison. The Rwanda Tribunal in 1998 handed down the first-ever verdict by an international court on the crime of genocide, as well as the first-ever sentence for that crime.
A key United Nations goal — an international mechanism to impose accountability in the face of mass violations of human rights — was realized in 1998 when governments agreed to establish an International Criminal Court. The Court provides a means for punishing perpetrators of genocide and other crimes against humanity. In voting to set up the Court, the international community made it clear that impunity — the assumption that crimes will go unpunished — is no longer possible for those who commit atrocities. The Statute of the Court entered into force on 1 July 2002. In March 2005, acting on findings of widespread human rights violations, the Security Council referred the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan to the Prosecutor of the Court.
The UN has also contributed to the elaboration of conventions relating to international humanitarian law, such as the 1948 Convention on Genocide and the 1980 Inhumane Weapons Convention (concerning weapons which are excessively injurious or have indiscriminate effects).
>> Other action for justice and equal rights
In 1945, 750 million people lived in Non-Self-Governing Territories. Today, that number has been reduced to just over 1 million, in large measure due to the crucial role played by the UN in encouraging the aspirations of dependent peoples and helping speed their independence. Since 1960, when the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, some 60 former colonial Territories have attained independence and joined the UN as sovereign Members.
A UN-led campaign lasting more than 30 years helped end the system of racial segregation in South Africa known as apartheid. In 1994, a UN mission observed that country’s first all-race elections.
The UN has also contributed to the elaboration of conventions relating to international humanitarian law, such as the 1948 Convention on Genocide and the 1980 Inhumane Weapons Convention (concerning weapons which are excessively injurious or have indiscriminate effects).
> United Nations (UN). What the UN does for Humanitarian Assistance
>> Emergency assistance
To pay for this assistance and deliver it to those in need, the UN has raised billions of dollars from international donors. On average, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs launches some 15 humanitarian appeals annually to meet the requirements of some 40 million people around the globe. The Office is headed by the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, who also serves as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.
Providing humanitarian assistance requires that the United Nations overcome major logistical and securityconstraints in the field. Humanitarian workers have been denied accessto people in need, and warring parties have deliberately targeted civilians and aid workers. Every year, more than 20 UN civilian staff members are killed while serving in humanitarian operations. In the year ending 30 June 2008, there were 490 attacks on UN personnel, 546 cases of harassment and intimidation and 263 physical assaults. In the effort to prevent human rights violations in the midst of crisis, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has played an increasingly active role in the UN response to emergencies.
The UN coordinates its response to humanitarian crises through a committee of all the key humanitarian bodies, chaired by the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. Members include the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Other UN agencies are also represented, as are major non-governmental and intergovernmental humanitarian organizations, including the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
>> Humanitarian Response
The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator is responsible for coordinating humanitarian responses  and for promoting humanitarian issues — helping raise awareness, for example, of the consequences of the proliferation of small arms or the humanitarian effects of sanctions.
People who have fled war, persecution or human rights abuse — refugees and displaced persons — are assisted by UNHCR. In 2009, UNHCR was helping nearly 32 million people in more than 110 countries, including 14 million internally displaced.
An estimated 300,000 children have been recruited as soldiers in more than 30 conflicts worldwide. More than 2 million children have died as a result of armed conflict over the last decade, and at least 6 million have been permanently disabled or seriously injured. More than 1 million have been orphaned or separated from their families. UNICEF seeks to meet their needs by supplying food, safe water, medicine and shelter. UNICEF has also pioneered the concept of “children as zones of peace” and created “days of tranquillity” and “corridors of peace” to help protect children in war and provide them with essential services.
Disaster prevention and preparedness are also part of UN humanitarian action. When disasters occur, UNDP coordinates relief work at the local level, while promoting recovery and long-term development. And in countries undergoing extended emergencies or recovering from conflict, humanitarian assistance is increasingly seen as part of an overall peace-building effort, along with developmental, political and financial assistance.
Perhaps the most dramatic natural disaster in recent years was the Indian Ocean earthquake-tsunami. In the early hours of Sunday, 26 December 2004, a massive earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale struck the west coast of northern Sumatra, triggering powerful tsunamis reaching 10 metres (33 feet) in height which moved through the Indian Ocean at over 500 kilometres (310 miles) an hour. The tsunamis wrecked coastal areas in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Maldives, Myanmar, Seychelles and Somalia. More than 280,000 were killed and more than half a million became homeless.
The UN system immediately sprang into action, addressing a wide range of humanitarian needs, including agriculture, coordination and support services, economic recovery and infrastructure, education, family shelter and non-food items, food, health, mine action, protection of human rights and the rule of law, security, and water and sanitation. To that end, a “flash appeal” for $977 million was issued on 5 January 2005 to fund the critical relief work of some 40 UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). And on 1 February, the Secretary-General appointed former United States President William Jefferson Clinton as his Special Envoy for the tsunami-affected countries.
>> Palestine Refugees
Relief work for Palestine refugees has been carried out since 1949 by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Today, the Agency provides essential health, education, relief and social services and implements income-generation programmes for more than 4.6 million Palestine refugees in the region. A UN Coordinator oversees all development assistance provided by the UN system to the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank
UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) provides assistance, protection and advocacy for some 5 million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, pending a solution to their plight.
UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN member states.
- The UN formulated the historic Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), as well as some 80 conventions and treaties that help protect and promote specific human rights.
- UN peacekeeping is a vital instrument for peace. Currently, some 90,200 uniformed personnel, provided by 120 countries, are engaged in 16 operations around the world.
- UN environmental conventionshave helped reduce acid rain in Europe and North America, cut marine pollution worldwide, and phase out production of gases destroying the Earth’s ozone layer.
- The UN and its agencies, including the World Bank and the UN Development Programme, are the premier vehicle for furthering development in poorer countries, providing assistance worth $30 billion a year.
- More international lawhas been developed through the UN in the past six decades than in all previous history.
- With support from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization – a joint effort of UNICEF, WHO, the World Bank Group, private foundations, the pharmaceutical industry and governments – over 3.4 million deaths have been averted since 2000.
- In 2007, the WFPprovided 3.3 million tons of food for 86.1 million people in 80 countries.
- Air traffic the world over is safer, thanks to rules and regulations agreed on trough the International Civil Aviation Organization.
- UN appeals raised some $5 billion during 2008 alone for emergency assistance to victims of war and natural disaster.
- Smallpox was eradicated from the world through a global campaign coordinated by WHO.
- Five million people who would have been paralyzed are walking today because of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, launched in 1988 by WHO, UNICEF, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Rotary International – reducing the incidence of polioworldwide by more than 99 per cent.
- Expenditures of the UN System for economic and social programmes to help the world’s poorest countries – through UNICEF, WFP, UNDP and others – amounted to some $16.4 billion in 2006. That was less than 1.4 per cent of the world military expenditures, estimated at $1,204 billion.
>> Setting the Agenda
The UN has played a crucial role in building international consensus on action for development. Beginning in 1960, the General Assembly has helped set priorities and goals through a series of 10-year International Development Strategies. While focusing on issues of particular concern, the Decades have consistently stressed the need for progress on all aspects of social and economic development. The UN continues formulating new development objectives in such key areas as sustainable development, the advancement of women, human rights, environmental protection and good governance – along with programmes to make them a reality.
At the Millennium Summit in September 2000, world leaders adopted a set of Millennium Development Goals aimed at eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; and ensuring environmental sustainability — through a set of measurable targets to be achieved by the year 2015. Among these are: halving the proportion of those who earn less than a dollar a day; achieving universal primary education; eliminating gender disparity at all levels of education; and dramatically reducing child mortality while increasing maternal health.
In September 2008, Governments, foundations, businesses and civil society groups announced new commitments to meet the Millennium Development Goals at a high-level event at UN Headquarters
Fighting AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
[Source: Report on the global AIDS epidemic 2008, August 2008]A Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, called for by the Secretary-General in 2001, is a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector and affected communities. By 2009, it had committed some $15 billion in 140 countries to support aggressive interventions against these three diseases, which kill over 6 million people every year. Joint initiatives to expand immunization and develop new vaccines have enlisted the support of business leaders, philanthropic foundations, non-governmental organizations and governments, as well as UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank.
> United Nations (UN). The Specialized Agencies.
Autonomous organizations linked to the UN through special agreements:
- FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN)
Works to improve agricultural productivity and food security, and to better the living standards of rural populations.
- IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)
An autonomous intergovernmental organization under the aegis of the UN, it works for the safe and peaceful uses of atomic energy.
- ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization)
Sets international standards for the safety, security and efficiency of air transport, and serves as the coordinator for international cooperation in all areas of civil aviation.
- IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development)
Mobilizes financial resources to raise food production and nutrition levels among the poor in developing countries.
- ILO (International Labour Organization)
Formulates policies and programmes to improve working conditions and employment opportunities, and sets labour standards used by countries around the world.
- IMF (International Monetary Fund)
Facilitates international monetary cooperation and financial stability and provides a permanent forum for consultation, advice and assistance on financial issues.
- IMO (International Maritime Organization)
Works to improve international shipping procedures, raise standards in marine safety and reduce marine pollution by ships.
- ITU (International Telecommunication Union)
Fosters international cooperation to improve telecommunications of all kinds, coordinates usage of radio and TV frequencies, promotes safety measures and conducts research.
- UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)
Promotes education for all, cultural development, protection of the world’s natural and cultural heritage, international cooperation in science, press freedom and communication.
- UNIDO (UN Industrial Development Organization)
Promotes the industrial advancement of developing countries through technical assistance, advisory services and training.
- UPU (Universal Postal Union)
Establishes international regulations for postal services, provides technical assistance and promotes cooperation in postal matters.
- WHO (World Health Organization)
Coordinates programmes aimed at solving health problems and the attainment by all people of the highest possible level of health. It works in such areas as immunization, health education and the provision of essential drugs.
- WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization)
Promotes international protection of intellectual property and fosters cooperation on copyrights, trademarks, industrial designs and patents.
- World Bank Group
Provides loans and technical assistance to developing countries to reduce poverty and advance sustainable economic growth.
- WMO (World Meteorological Organization)
Promotes scientific research on the Earth’s atmosphere and on climate change, and facilitates the global exchange of meteorological data.
- WTO (World Tourism Organization)
Serves as a global forum for tourism policy issues and a practical source of tourism know-how.
UN Flag and Emblem
The current United Nations emblem was approved on 7 December 1946. The design is “a map of the world representing an azimuthal equidistant projection centred on the North Pole, inscribed in a wreath consisting of crossed conventionalized branches of the olive tree, in gold on a field of smoke-blue with all water areas in white. The projection of the map extends to 60 degrees south latitude, and includes five concentric circles”.
Olive branches symbolize peace. The world map depicts the area of concern to the United Nations in achieving its main purpose, peace and security.
The use of the emblem is restricted, based on General Assembly resolution 92(I),1946, Regulations for the control and limitation of documents, and Use of the United Nations emblem on documents and publications.
Date: 20 October 1947
The official emblem of the United Nations in white, centered on a light blue ground.(PMS 279)
Hoist (width) : Fly (length) 2:3 or 3:5 or the same proportions as the national flag of any country in which the UN flag is flown; the emblem is one half of the hoist and is entirely centered.
The use of the flag is regulated by the United Nations flag code and regulations.
For more information about the United Nations, contact the UN Information Centre or UN Association in your country or the UN Public Inquiries Unit (Room GA-53, United Nations, New York, NY 10017, USA; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
More detailed information on the UN can be obtained from other UN publications such as Basic Facts about the United Nations and Building Sustainable Peace, available from UN Publications in New York (fax: 212-963-3489; e-mail: email@example.com) and Geneva (41-22-917-2614; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).