The UN Bodies
The United Nation is a big organization, with 193 member states, nearly 70 years of work, six formal languages and all of the world’s problems on its agenda, it’s hard to keep track of all the different organs the UN has. The UN is complex on propose, since it is built in such a way so that no one country or person will have complete power over the others. However, there is a method to the madness, and once you understand the hierarchy within the UN, you should have no problem following the different UN bodies, and what they’re meant to do.
We start at the top: the UN has six Principle Organs: the General Assembly; Secretariat; International Court of Justice; Security Council; Economic and Social Council; and the Trusteeship Council. Between them, these organs oversee everything the UN does or has a responsibility for. The General Assembly and the various councils usually have several sub-committees and organizations working under them to help them deal with specific issues, such as human rights, world hunger, over-population, disarmament, nuclear proliferation, education, or any other worldly concern that needs to be specifically taken care of. These are usually referred to as the Specialized Agencies.
The Secretary General and the Secretariat:
Like we said before, no one person has ultimate power over the United Nation, but it’s common to refer to the Secretary General as the leader and the voice of the UN. The Secretary General is the head of the Secretariat – the organ in charge of administration, research and maintaining communication between the various UN bodies. The Secretary General is in charge of the 44,000 workers of the Secretariat, and in addition is the chair of the Chief Executives' Board for Coordination which coordinates the work of UN organization and other international organizations working closely with the UN. The Secretary General is elected for a five-year term, and although there is no limit on the number of terms one can serve, to this day not Secretary General served more than two terms. The current Secretary General is Ban Ki-moon from South Korea.
The Secretary General on the UN website
The Secretary General on Wikipedia
The Secretariat on the UN website
The Secretariat on Wikipedia
The General Assembly:
Like the Secretary General, the General Assembly is often considered to represent the UN itself. In truth, the General Assembly could be considered as the senate of the United Nations, where every Member country has a voice. Currently, it consists of the delegates of 193 member countries, plus two observer states, each having the right to speak in front of the assembly, and suggest motions (but observer states can’t vote on resolutions). The General Assembly oversees the UN budget, votes on the position of a Secretary General and decides which states will take part in the various councils and sub-committees. In addition, the General Assembly can make recommendations for other countries to follow in the form of resolutions. Countries which choose not to follow these recommendations may be sanctioned by the Security Council.
The General Assembly has six permanent subcommittees, usually referred to by their abbreviation or their number:
First Committee – Disarmament and International Security (DISEC)
Second Committee – Economic and Financial (ECOFIN)
Third Committee – Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural (SOCHUM)
Forth Committee – Special Political and Decolonization Committee (SPECPOL)
Fifth Committee – Administrative and Budgetary
Sixth Committee (Legal)
There are some other committees, mostly dealing with administration issues of the UN. In addition, the General Assembly also selects the members of the Human Rights Committee (HRC), and receives resolutions from it.
The General Assembly on the UN Website
The General Assembly on Wikipedia
The Security Council:
If the General Assembly could be considered the UN’s senate, the Security Council is often thought of as the executive branch of the UN. It is up to the Security Council to decide on the deployment of peacekeeping forces, deciding on sanctions for countries that step over line and accepting new states as members to the UN. Since the Security Council is the only UN organ capable of authorizing the use of military action, veto rights were given to the five permanent members of the Security Council – The United States, The Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, the United Kingdom, and France. Any decision made by the Security Council must have the agreement of all five permanent members, making it difficult to use military action indiscriminately.
The main objective of the Security Council is keeping the world peace, and so the permanent seats, along with the veto rights that come with them, were given to the victors of World War II, with the logic being that they would have the most to lose if the world would once again spiral into war. Over the years, as other countries rose to power, there has been a demand to change the makeup of the Security Council, and give the veto rights on a regional basis, but such change was never implemented.
Aside from the five permanent members, the Security Council has 10 other members, each serving a two years term. The countries are chosen on a regional basis, so that every world region as at least one state represented at each time (the UN regional groups are Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Western Europe and Others).
The Security Council on the UN website
The Security Council on Wikipedia
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
Although it doesn't have the authority to use military force, ECOSOC could be considered to have a greater impact on the world than any other UN body. ECOSOC was created to assist with the notion that the causes of World War II weren't just political, but mostly economic, and so it sets out to maintain the world economy and prevent countries in crisis from spiraling into war and chaos.
ECOSOC scope goes beyond that of any other UN organ. It oversees the work of 14 specialized agencies, dealing with health, education, monetary systems, labor, equality, environment, sustainability, transportation, communication, development – pretty much anything that is not security-related falls under the responsibility of ECOSOC or one of its specialized agency. Through the specialized agencies, ECOSOC has a presence in every country in the world.
ECOSOC works on a grand scale, often taking on projects impacting a multitude of countries, and with goals of global magnitude. The prime example to one such project is the Millennium Development Goals – a list of 8 macro-goals, which among others, aim to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achive global primary education, promote gender equality and dramatically reduce the cases of AIDES/HIV, malaria and other diseases. The goals were decided upon in 1998, and are set to be fulfilled by 2025, with a halfway point in 2015, which should give you a good idea of the scale of UN programmes.
ECOSOC on the UN website
ECOSOC on Wikipedia
Millennium Development Goals on the UN Website
Millennium Development Goals on Wikipedia
The International Court of Justice (ICJ)
The ICJ serves as the primary judiciary branch of the UN. It functions as a forum for settling legal disputes between the various states, and also provides legal advice when asked to by the other organs. The ICJ is composed of fifteen judges, each serving a nine year term.
Though the ICJ is authorized to rule on a wide range of issues, there have been relatively few cases handled by it over the years. The main reason for this is political – most countries would rather solve their issues outside of court than risk having the court ruling against them. In some cases, petitioning the ICJ could be considered as undiplomatic, and pressure from other countries might bring the plaintiff state to withdraw its case.
After a ruling has been given, it is up to the Security Council to uphold and enforce. However, there is no obligation to do so, and often one of the permanent members of the SC would use its veto power to prevent action from taking place. This means that more often than not, ICJ rulings have an impact on the academic sphere of international law, rather than bring about any change in a geopolitical situation.
The ICJ on the UN website
The ICJ on Wikipedia
The Trusteeship council was established with the purpose of maintaining the UN-mandate governments in trust territories – mostly countries and territories which had no other governing power after World War II.
In 1994, the last of the trust territories, Palau, has attained its independence, and the Trusteeship Council suspended its operations. While it is no longer active, it is still listed as a primary organ of the UN, and so it’s important to learn about it in order to gain a better understanding of the UN’s workings over the decade, and also in case you ever want to try working for the UN, and find yourself tested on your knowledge of the UN.
The Trusteeship Council on the UN website
The Trusteeship Council on Wikipedia
The Specialized Agencies
While the principle organs oversee the entire work of the UN on some degree or another, a lot of the decisions are being made in the specialized agencies, and they can be a hotbed for world-changing debates. Because of that, most Model UNs will include at least a few of these agencies, and so it pays to know about them.
Human Rights Council
The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) is meant to help maintain human rights worldwide, and track human rights violations. The HRC has 47 delegates from various countries by a regional key. It is a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, to which it submit its resolutions at the end of each session. Its resolutions are often only declarative in nature, as only the Security Council can authorize sanctions.
The HRC is considered to be one of the most controversial branches of the UN, because several of its member states are known for having severe human rights issues within their borders, and also because it has been known to give out discriminating resolutions, focusing on only one side in a conflict. The last one in particular has caused several NGOs to formally denounce the HRC on some occasions during the year.
Perhaps the most valuable outcome of the HRC’s work is its yearly reports on the status of human rights worldwide. The reports, known as the Universal Periodic Review, are presented twice a year, and contain elaborate details of human rights violations in all 193 member states.
The Human Rights Council official website
The Human Rights Council on Wikipedia
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
When the Millennium Development Goals were decided upon, it was obvious that such a massive undertaking would require its own specialized agency if it’s to have a chance of succeeding. The United Nation Development Programme is that agency. The UNDP is specializing in field work in developing countries across the globe, and is usually the first to respond and assist with dire development issues.
The UNDP reports to both the General Assembly and ECOSOC, and as has a scope nearly as vast as these two organs: it assists with health issues, poverty, hunger, governance, equality issues and more. Its purpose is to build infrastructure in developing countries that will allow them to close the gap between themselves and the developing world.
The UNDP official website
The UNDP on Wikipedia
World Health Organization (WHO)
Like its name would suggest, The WHO is the UN body in charge of global public health, monitoring and responding to health issues worldwide. It is the work of the WHO to note when epidemics happen, and give countries guidelines and tools to deal with them. The WHO also funds research into vaccinations, pollution, hygiene, nutrition and other health related issues.
WHO official website
WHO on Wikipedia
International Labour Organization (ILO)
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the United Nations agency that deals with various labour issues. It attempts to create international labour standards that ensure fair and decent work for all. The ILO fights discrimination by class, helps secure justice for workers and provide technical assistance to improve conditions for workers in developing countries, and registers complaints against entities that violate international labour laws.
ILO official website
ILO on Wikipedia
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
UNESCO’s purpose is to maintain peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture. The notions is that cooperation in these fields can further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.
UNESCO takes on many different types of projects: In education, it creates teacher training programs and works to improve literacy; it promote international science efforts; it work to foster free media; it declares and preserve historical sites and creates international cooperation to guarantee the safety of historical and natural sites for the use of next generations – to name a few.
UNESCO official website
UNESCO on Wikipedia
These organizations are technically not part of the UN system, but work closely with it. They can influence UN decisions, and be influenced by the UN in return. Since they play a major rule in global politics, some Model UNs have been known to include them in their simulations, and so we thought it would be important to least a couple of them:
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an international organization that works to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and to prevent the use or selling of nuclear weapons. It’s was establishe separately from the UN, but reports to the General Assembly and the Security Council. Most famously, IAEA officers are sent to monitor the development of nuclear facilities, and flag countries which are misusing nuclear technology.
The IAEA scope is not just preventing the use and creation of nuclear weapons, but also to come up with secure and peaceful solutions for nuclear energy. It serves as a forum for governments to cooperate in creating new scientific and technical advancement in nuclear energy.
IAEA official website
IAEA on Wikipedia
World Trade Organization (WTO)
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an organization which supervises international trade, an work to make it fairer and more streamlined. Joining the WTO means signing in to a trade agreement with all other members, promising to maintain several boundaries on trade and to avoid economic activities that can hurt international trade.
The orginizations works within a framework of trade treaties going back to the end of World War II. It regulates trade and provides a framework for negotiating and formalizing trade agreements. It also serves as a body for dispute resolution, mediating between trade partners in cases where one country fails to follow WTO guidelines. While the WTO itself cannot order sanctions for countries stepping that ignore its regulations, other countries will use WTO ruling as justification to limit trade with the offending country.
WTO official website
WTO on Wikipedia