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The United Nations (UN)



ENG - The United Nations (UN) is an international organization whose stated aims are to facilitate cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights and achieving world peace. The UN was founded in 1945 after World War II to replace the League of Nations, to stop wars between countries and to provide a platform for dialogue.

There are currently 192 member states, including nearly every recognized independent state in the world. From its headquarters on international territory in New York City, the UN and its specialized agencies decide on substantive and administrative issues in regular meetings held throughout the year.

The organization is divided into administrative bodies, primarily:

  • The General Assembly (the main deliberative assembly);
  • The Security Council (decides certain resolutions for peace and security);
  • The Economic and Social Council (assists in promoting international economic and social
  • ooperation and development);
  • The Secretariat (provides studies, information and facilities needed by the UN);
  • The International Court of Justice (the primary judicial organ).

Additional bodies deal with the governance of all other UN System agencies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The UN's most visible public figure is the Secretary-General, currently Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, who attained the post in 2007. The organization is financed from assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states, and has six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.



The UN was founded as a successor to the League of Nations, which was widely considered to have been ineffective in its role as an international governing body, as it had been unable to prevent World War II. The signing of the UN Charter in San Francisco, 1945The term "United Nations" was first used by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the 1942 Declaration by United Nations, which united the Allied countries of WWII under the Atlantic Charter, and soon became a term widely used to refer to them. Declarations signed at wartime Allied conferences in 1943 espoused the idea of the UN, and in 1944, representatives of the major Allied powers met to elaborate on the plans at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference. Those and later talks outlined the organization's proposed purposes, membership, organs, and ideals in regards to peace, security, and cooperation.

On 25 April 1945, the UN Conference on International Organization began in San Francisco, attended by 50 governments and a number of non-governmental organizations involved in drafting the Charter of the United Nations. The UN officially came into existence on 24 October 1945 upon ratification of the Charter by the five permanent members of the Security Council — France, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States — and by a majority of the other 46 signatories. The first meetings of the General Assembly, with 51 nations represented, and the Security Council, took place in Westminster Central Hall in London in January 1946.



The United Nations system is based on five principal organs (formerly six - the Trusteeship Council suspended operations in 1994); the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Secretariat, and the International Court of Justice.

Four of the five principal organs are located at the main United Nations headquarters located on international territory in New York City. The International Court of Justice is located in The Hague, while other major agencies are based in the UN offices at Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi. Other UN institutions are located throughout the world.

The six official languages of the United Nations, used in intergovernmental meetings and documents, are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish, while the Secretariat uses two working languages, English and French. Five of the official languages were chosen when the UN was founded; Arabic was added later in 1973. The United Nations Editorial Manual states that the standard for English language documents is British usage and Oxford spelling (en-gb-oed), and the Chinese writing standard is Simplified Chinese. This replaced Traditional Chinese in 1971 when the UN representation of China was changed from the Republic of China to People's Republic of China. The Republic of China is now commonly known as "Taiwan".


Security Council


The Security Council is charged with maintaining peace and security among countries. While other organs of the United Nations can only make 'recommendations' to member governments, the Security Council has the power to make binding decisions that member governments have agreed to carry out, under the terms of Charter Article 25. The decisions of the Council are known as United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The Security Council is made up of 15 member states, consisting of 5 permanent members - China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States - and 10 non-permanent members, currently Austria, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Japan, Libya, Mexico, Turkey, Uganda, and Vietnam. The five permanent members hold veto power over substantive but not procedural resolutions allowing a permanent member to block adoption but not to block the debate of a resolution unacceptable to it. The ten temporary seats are held for two-year terms with member states voted in by the General Assembly on a regional basis. The presidency of the Security Council is rotated alphabetically each month, and is held by Libya for the month of March 2009.




The United Nations Secretariat is headed by the Secretary-General, assisted by a staff of international civil servants worldwide. It provides studies, information, and facilities needed by United Nations bodies for their meetings. It also carries out tasks as directed by the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, the UN Economic and Social Council, and other UN bodies. The United Nations Charter provides that the staff be chosen by application of the "highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity," with due regard for the importance of recruiting on a wide geographical basis.

The Charter provides that the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any authority other than the UN. Each UN member country is enjoined to respect the international character of the Secretariat and not seek to influence its staff. The Secretary-General alone is responsible for staff selection.

The Secretary-General's duties include helping resolve international disputes, administering peacekeeping operations, organizing international conferences, gathering information on the implementation of Security Council decisions, and consulting with member governments regarding various initiatives. Key Secretariat offices in this area include the Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter that, in his or her opinion, may threaten international peace and security.




The Secretariat is headed by the Secretary-General, who acts as the de facto spokesman and leader of the UN. The current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon of South KoreaThe current Secretary-General is Ban Ki-moon, who took over from Kofi Annan in 2007 and will be eligible for reappointment when his first term expires in 2011.


The Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly, after being recommended by the Security Council. The selection can be vetoed by any member of the Security Council, and the General Assembly can theoretically override the Security Council's recommendation if a majority vote is not achieved, although this has not happened so far. There are no specific criteria for the post, but over the years it has become accepted that the post shall be held for one or two terms of five years, that the post shall be appointed based on geographical rotation, and that the Secretary-General shall not originate from one of the five permanent Security Council member states.


International Court of Justice


The International Court of Justice (ICJ), located in The Hague, Netherlands, is the primary judicial organ of the United Nations. Peace Palace, seat of the ICJ at The Hague, NetherlandsEstablished in 1945 by the United Nations Charter, the Court began work in 1946 as the successor to the Permanent Court of International Justice. The Statute of the International Court of Justice, similar to that of its predecessor, is the main constitutional document constituting and regulating the Court.

It is based in the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands, sharing the building with the Hague Academy of International Law, a private centre for the study of international law. Several of the Court's current judges are either alumni or former faculty members of the Academy. Its purpose is to adjudicate disputes among states. The court has heard cases related to war crimes, illegal state interference and ethnic cleansing, among others, and continues to hear cases.

A related court, the International Criminal Court (ICC), began operating in 2002 through international discussions initiated by the General Assembly. It is the first permanent international court charged with trying those who commit the most serious crimes under international law, including war crimes and genocide. The ICC is functionally independent of the UN in terms of personnel and financing, but some meetings of the ICC governing body, the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, are held at the UN. There is a "relationship agreement" between the ICC and the UN that governs how the two institutions regard each other legally.




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