After the devastation caused by the First World War, the League of Nations was born under the Treaty of Versailles “to promote international cooperation and to achieve peace and security.” However, the newly formed alliance could not prevent the Second World War from happening which led to its disbanding and formation of a new global alliance – the United Nations.
United Nations (UN) was established under the UN charter which was signed by the representatives of 50 countries including India on October 24, 1945. The day is celebrated annually as UN Day.
What is United Nations?
The United Nations (UN) is an international organization currently made up of 193 Member States. Its mission and work guided by the purposes and principles contained in its founding Charter and implemented by its various organs and specialised agencies. Its activities include maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development and upholding international law.
Main Organs of the United Nations
The main organs of the UN include:
1. General Assembly
The General Assembly is the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the UN. All 193 Member States of the UN are represented in the General Assembly, making it the only UN body with universal representation. Each year, in September, the full UN membership meets in the General Assembly Hall in New York for the annual General Assembly session, and general debate, which many heads of state attend and address.
2. Security Council
The Security Council has a primary responsibility, under the UN Charter, for the maintenance of international peace and security. The UNSC is made up of fifteen member states, consisting of five permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and ten non-permanent members elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly on a regional basis.
3. Economic and Social Council
Economic and Social Council also known as ECOSOC is the principal body for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and recommendations on economic, social and environmental issues, as well as the implementation of internationally agreed development goals. It has 54 Members, elected by the General Assembly for overlapping three-year terms. It is the United Nations’ central platform for reflection, debate, and innovative thinking on sustainable development.
Each year, ECOSOC structures its work around an annual theme of global importance to sustainable development. This ensures focused attention, among ECOSOC’s array of partners, and throughout the UN development system. It coordinates the work of the 14 UN specialized agencies, ten functional commissions and five regional commissions, receives reports from nine UN funds and programmes and issues policy recommendations to the UN system and to the Member States.
4. Trusteeship Council
The Trusteeship Council, one of the main organs of the UN, was established to supervise the administration of trust territories as they transitioned from colonies to sovereign nations. The council has been inactive since 1994, after Palau, the last of the original 11 trust territories, gained its independence.
5. International Court of Justice
The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. The seat of the Court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). 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.
6. UN Secretariat
The Secretariat comprises the Secretary-General and tens of thousands of international UN staff members who carry out the day-to-day work of the UN as mandated by the General Assembly and the Organization’s other principal organs. The Secretary-General is chief administrative officer of the Organization, appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council for a five-year, renewable term.
All six of the above organs were established in 1945 when the UN was founded.
The UN Family
The UN system, also known unofficially as the “UN family”, is made up of the UN itself (6 main organs) and many affiliated programmes, funds, and specialized agencies, all with their own membership, leadership, and budget. This includes bodies such as UNFPA, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP, UNEP, UN-Habitat, WFP, FAO, ILO, ICAO, IFAD, IMF, World Bank, WHO, among others.
UN’s Contribution to the World
Peace and Security
The United Nations has been successful in the restoration of calm and peace, allowing many countries to recover from the devastation caused by the World Wars, by sending peacekeeping and observer missions to the world’s trouble spots over the past six decades.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the UN family has played a major role in preventing nuclear proliferation for over five decades. IAEA experts work to verify that safeguarded nuclear material is used only for peaceful purposes. To date, the Agency has safeguards agreements with more than 180 States.
UN has also played a role in promoting peace through various treaties which are the legal backbone of disarmament efforts. Some of these treaties include:
– the Chemical Weapons Convention-1997 ratified by 190 States,
– the Mine-Ban Convention-1997 by 162,
– the Arms Trade Treaty-2014 by 69.
At the local level, UN peacekeepers often work to implement disarmament agreements between warring parties.
The United Nations brought about the first-ever treaty to combat genocide. The 1948 Genocide Convention has been ratified by 146 States, which commits to preventing and punishing actions of genocide in war and in peacetime. The UN tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as well as UN-supported courts in Cambodia, have put would-be genocide perpetrators on notice that such crimes would no longer be tolerated.
Since 2000, the UN is taking an active interest in economic development of countries by promoting living standards and human skills and potential throughout the world have been guided by the Millennium Development Goals.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) supports more than 4,800 projects to reduce poverty, promote good governance, address crises and preserve the environment. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 150 countries, primarily on child protection, immunization, girls’ education and emergency aid. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) helps developing countries make the most of their trade opportunities. The World Bank provides developing countries with loans and grants, and has supported more than 12,000 projects in more than 170 countries since 1947. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) provides low-interest loans and grants to very poor rural people.
Africa continues to be a high priority for the United Nations. The continent receives 36 per cent of UN system expenditures for development, the largest share among the world’s regions. All UN agencies have special programmes to benefit Africa.
The United Nations is also at the forefront of research that seeks solutions to global problems. The UN Population Division is a leading source of information and research on global population trends, producing up-to-date demographic estimates and projections. The UN Statistics Division is the hub of the global statistical system, compiling and disseminating global economic, demographic, social, gender, environment and energy statistics. The United Nations World Economic and Social Survey, the World Bank’s World Development Report, the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook and other studies help policymakers to make informed decisions.
The UNESCO has helped 137 countries to protect ancient monuments and historic, cultural and natural sites. It has negotiated international conventions to preserve cultural property, cultural diversity and outstanding cultural and natural sites. More than 1,000 such sites have been designated as having exceptional universal value – as World Heritage Sites.
The first United Nations conference on the environment (Stockholm, 1972) helped to alert world public opinion on the dangers faced by our planet, triggering action by governments. The first world conference on women (Mexico City, 1985) put women’s right, equality and progress on the global agenda. Other landmark events include the first international conference on human rights (Teheran, 1968), the first world population conference (Bucharest, 1974) and the first world climate conference (Geneva, 1979). Those events brought together experts and policymakers, as well as activists, from around the world, prompting sustained global action. Regular follow-up conferences have helped to sustain the momentum.
UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. It has helped to enact dozens of legally binding agreements on political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. UN human rights bodies have focused world attention on cases of torture, disappearance, arbitrary detention and other violations.
The UN promotes and strengthens democratic institutions and practices around the world, including by helping people in many countries to participate in free and fair elections. In the 1990s, the UN organized or observed landmark elections in Cambodia, El Salvador, South Africa, Mozambique and Timor-Leste. More recently, the UN has provided crucial assistance in elections in Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Sudan.
By imposing measures ranging from an arms embargo to a convention against segregated sporting events, the United Nations was a major factor in bringing about the downfall of the apartheid system. In 1994, elections in which all South Africans were allowed to participate on an equal basis led to the establishment of a multiracial Government.
The 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, ratified by 189 countries, has helped to promote the rights of women worldwide.
Climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which brings together 2,000 leading climate change scientists, issues comprehensive scientific assessments every five or six years. IPCC was established in 1988 under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization for the purpose of assessing “the scientific, technical and socioeconomic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change.
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) provides foundation for UN members to negotiate agreements to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change and help countries adapt to its effects. Global Environment Facility, which brings together 10 UN agencies, funds projects in developing countries.
The UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) have been instrumental in highlighting the damage caused to Earth’s ozone layer.
By prosecuting and convicting war criminals, the UN tribunals established for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda have helped to expand international humanitarian and international criminal law dealing with genocide and other violations of international law.
The International Criminal Court is an independent permanent court that investigates and prosecutes persons accused of the most serious international crimes—genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes—if national authorities are unwilling or unable to do so. By delivering judgments and advisory opinions, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has helped to settle international disputes involving territorial questions, maritime boundaries, diplomatic relations, State responsibility, the treatment of aliens and the use of force, among others.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) works with countries and organizations to counter transnational organized crime by providing legal and technical assistance to fight corruption, money-laundering, drug trafficking and smuggling of migrants, as well as by strengthening criminal justice systems. It has played a key role in brokering and implementing relevant international Treaties, such as the UN Convention against Corruption-2005 and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime-2003.
Refugees fleeing persecution, violence and war have received aid from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR seeks long-term or “durable” solutions by helping refugees repatriate to their homelands, if conditions warrant, or by helping them to integrate in their countries of asylum or to resettle in third countries. Refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons, mostly women and children, are receiving food, shelter, medical aid, education, and repatriation assistance from the UN.
UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), a relief and human development agency, has assisted four generations of Palestinian refugees with education, health care, social services, microfinance and emergency aid.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has helped to spare millions of people from the calamitous effects of natural and man-made disasters. Its early warning system, which includes thousands of surface monitors, as well as satellites, has made it possible to predict with greater accuracy weather-related disasters, has provided information on the dispersal of oil spills and chemical and nuclear leaks and has predicted long-term droughts.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience.
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is promoting the right of individuals to make their own decisions on the number and spacing of their children through voluntary family planning programmes. United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) coordinates global action against an epidemic that affects some 35 million people. Poliomyelitis has been eliminated from all but three countries—Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan—as a result of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. A 13-year effort by the World Health Organization (WHO) resulted in smallpox being declared officially eradicated from the planet in 1980.
Some of the more prominent diseases for which WHO is leading the global response for some of the more prominent diseases including Ebola, meningitis, yellow fever, cholera and influenza, including avian influenza.