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Organisation of the UN


UN Members are sovereign countries.The United Nations is not a world government, and it does not make laws. It does, however, provide the means to help resolve international conflict and formulate policies on matters affecting all of us. This is achieved with the help of the UN’s seven main organs:

I) General Assembly

II) Security Council

III) Economic and Social Council

IV) Trusteeship Council

V) International Court of Justice

VI) Secretariat along with:

VII)Specialized Agencies

I. General Assembly (GA)

All UN Member States are represented in the GA – a kind of parliament of nations which meets to consider the world’s most pressing problems. Each Member State has one vote. Decisions on “important matters” (ex. international peace and security, admitting new members, the UN budget, and the budget for peacekeeping) 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 holds its annual regular session from September to December. When necessary, it may hold a special or emergency session on subjects of particular concern. The GA discusses and makes recommendations on any subject (except when the Security Council is dealing with that subject). The GA 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. When the GA is not meeting, its work is carried out by its six main committees, other subsidiary bodies, and the UN Secretariat.

II. Security Council (SC)

The UN Charter gives the SC primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. The Council may convene at any time whenever peace is threatened. Under the Charter, all Member States are obligated to carry out the Council’s decisions. The Council can take measures to enforce its decisions. It can impose economic sanctions or order an arms embargo. On rare occasions, the Council has authorized Member States to use “all necessary means,” including collective military action, to see that its decisions are carried out.There are 15 Council members. Five of these – China, France, the Russian Federation, the UK, and the US – are permanent members. The other 10 are elected by the GA for two-year terms. (Member States have discussed making changes in Council membership to reflect today’s political and economic realities.) Decisions of the Council require nine ‘yes’ votes. Except in votes on procedural questions, a decision cannot be taken if there is a ‘no’ vote, or veto, by a permanent member. A State which is a Member of the UN but not of the SC may participate, without a vote, in its discussions when the Council considers that that country’s interests are affected or are a party to the dispute being considered.When the Council considers a threat to international peace, it first explores ways to settle the dispute peacefully. It may suggest principles for a settlement or undertake mediation. In the event of fighting, the Council tries to secure a ceasefire. It may send a peacekeeping mission to help the parties maintain the truce and to keep opposing forces apart.The SC also makes recommendations to the GA on the appointment of a new Secretary-General and on the admission of new Members to the UN.

III. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

Under the authority of the GA, ECOSOC coordinates the economic and social work of the UN and the UN family. 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 GA for three-year terms. It meets throughout the year and holds a major session in July, during which a special meeting of Ministers discusses major economic and social issues. Beginning in 1998, the Council expanded its discussions to include humanitarian themes.The Council’s subsidiary bodies meet regularly and report back to it. Functional commissions advise ECOSOC on specific subjects. For example, the Commission on Human Rights monitors the observance of human rights throughout the world. Other functional commissions focus on issues such as social development, the status of women, crime prevention, narcotic drugs and environmental protection. Five regional commissions promote economic development and strengthened economic relations in their respective regions.ECOSOC does not depend on the functional and regional commissions alone to do its work. It also works with Specialized Agencies and UN Programmes.

IV. Trusteeship Council

The members of the Trusteeship council are also the permanent members of the SC. Each member has one vote and a simple majority makes decisions. However, the Trusteeship Council’s operation was suspended on 1 November 1994 with the independence of Palau, the last remaining UN trust territory.In setting up an International Trusteeship System, the Charter assigned to it the task of supervising the administration of Trust Territories placed under the Trusteeship System. Major goals of the System were to promote the advancement of the inhabitants of Trust Territories and their progressive development towards self-government or independence. The aims of the Trusteeship System have been fulfilled to such an extent that all Trust Territories have attained self-government or independence, either as separate States or by joining neighbouring independent countries.

V. International Court of Justice (ICJ)

The ICJ is the main UN judicial organ. Only countries, not individuals, can bring cases before the Court. Participation by States in a proceeding is voluntary, but if a State agrees to participate, it is obligated to comply with the Court’s decision. The Court also provides advisory opinions to the General Assembly and the SC upon request.The Court sits at the Hague in the Netherlands, and is in permanent session. It has 15 judges who are elected by the GA and the SC. No two judges can come from the same country. Nine judges have to agree before a decision can be made.

VI. The Secretariat

The Secretariat carries out the substantive and administrative work of the UN as directed by the GA, the SC, and other UN organs. Duty stations include UN Headquarters in New York as well as UN offices in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi. It consists of departments and offices with a total staff of about 8,900, drawn from some 160 countries. Each staff member takes an oath not to seek or receive instruction from any outside authority; under the UN charter, each member state undertakes not to seek to influence the Secretariat in the discharge of its duties. In practise, however, this provision has been violated.The head of the Secretariat is the Secretary-General (SG), who provides overall administrative guidance. The SG, currently Ban Ki-moon, is appointed appointed by the GA on the recommendation of the SC for a period of five years.The work of the SG and the staff is varied and includes providing mediation in resolving international disputes, administrating peacekeeping operations, preparing surveys of world economic trends and problems, studying human rights and natural resources, organising international conferences, compiling statistics and interpreting speeches, translating documents, and servicing the communications media of the world with information about the UN.

VII. Specialized Agencies


The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank group and 12 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. These bodies report to the GA or ECOSOC.All these organizations have their own governing bodies, budgets and secretariats. Together with the UN, they are known as the UN family, or the UN system. They provide an increasingly coordinated yet diverse programme of action.

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