United Nations System

The United Nations System consists of the United Nations' six principal organs (the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Trusteeship Council, International Court of Justice (ICJ), and the UN Secretariat),[1] the Specialized Agencies and related organizations.[2] The UN System includes subsidiary bodies such as the separately administered funds and programmes, research and training institutes, and other subsidiary entities.[3][4] Some of these organizations predate the founding of the United Nations in 1945 and were inherited after the dissolution of the League of Nations.

The United Nations Office at Geneva (Switzerland) is the second biggest UN centre, after the United Nations Headquarters (New York City).

The executive heads of some of the United Nations System organizations and the World Trade Organization, which is not formally part of the United Nations System,[5][6][7] have seats on the United Nations System Chief Executives' Board for Coordination (CEB).[8] This body, chaired by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, meets twice a year to co-ordinate the work of the organizations of the United Nations System.

Six principal organsEdit

The United Nations itself has six principal organs established by the Charter of the United Nations:

UN General Assembly
— Deliberative assembly of all UN member states —
UN Secretariat
— Administrative organ of the UN —
International Court of Justice
— Universal court for international law —
  • May resolve non-compulsory recommendations to states or suggestions to the Security Council (UNSC);
  • Decides on the admission of new members, following proposal by the UNSC;
  • Adopts the budget;
  • Elects the non-permanent members of the UNSC; all members of ECOSOC; the UN Secretary-General (following their proposal by the UNSC); and the fifteen judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Each country has one vote.
  • Supports the other UN bodies administratively (for example, in the organization of conferences, the writing of reports and studies and the preparation of the budget);
  • Its chairperson—the UN Secretary-General—is elected by the General Assembly for a five-year mandate and is the UN's foremost representative.
  • Decides disputes between states that recognize its jurisdiction;
  • Issues legal opinions;
  • Renders judgment by relative majority. Its fifteen judges are elected by the UN General Assembly for nine-year terms.
UN Security Council
— For international security issues —
UN Economic and Social Council
— For global economic and social affairs —
UN Trusteeship Council
— For administering trust territories (currently inactive) —
  • Responsible for co-operation between states as regards economic and social matters;
  • Co-ordinates co-operation between the UN's numerous specialized agencies;
  • Has 54 members, elected by the General Assembly to serve staggered three-year mandates.
  • Was originally designed to manage colonial possessions that were former League of Nations mandates;
  • Has been inactive since 1994, when Palau, the last trust territory, attained independence.

General AssemblyEdit

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA/GA) consists of all United Nations Member States and meets in regular session once a year under a president elected from among the representatives. Its powers are to oversee the budget of the United Nations, appoint the non-permanent members to the Security Council, receive reports from other parts of the United Nations and make recommendations in the form of General Assembly Resolutions.[10] It has also established a wide number of subsidiary organs.[11]

Security CouncilEdit

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security. Its powers, outlined in the United Nations Charter, include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action. Its powers are exercised through United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The Security Council held its first ever session on 17 January 1946 at Church House, Westminster, London. Since its first meeting, the council, which exists in continuous session, has travelled widely, holding meetings in many cities, such as Paris and Addis Ababa, as well as at its current permanent home at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

There are 15 members of the Security Council, consisting of five veto-wielding permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and 10 elected non-permanent members with two-year terms. This basic structure is set out in Chapter V of the UN Charter. Security Council members must always be present at UN headquarters in New York so that the Security Council can meet at any time.

Economic and Social CouncilEdit

The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is responsible for co-ordinating the economic, social, and related work of 15 UN specialized agencies, their functional commissions and five regional commissions. ECOSOC has 54 members; it holds a four-week session each year in July. Since 1998, it has also held a meeting each April with finance ministers heading key committees of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The ECOSOC serves as the central forum for discussing international economic and social issues, and for formulating policy recommendations addressed to member states and the United Nations System.[12]


The United Nations Secretariat is headed by the United Nations 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 U.N. bodies. The United Nations Charter provides that the staff is to 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.

International Court of JusticeEdit

The International Court of Justice is the primary judicial organ of the United Nations. It is based in the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. Its main functions are to settle legal disputes submitted to it by states and to provide advisory opinions on legal questions submitted to it by duly authorized international organs, agencies, and the UN General Assembly.

Trusteeship CouncilEdit

The United Nations Trusteeship Council, one of the principal organs of the United Nations, was established to ensure that trust territories were administered in the best interests of their inhabitants and of international peace and security. The trust territories—most of them are former mandates of the League of Nations or territories taken from nations defeated at the end of World War II—have all now attained self-government or independence, either as separate nations or by joining neighbouring independent countries. The last was Palau, formerly part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, which became a member state of the United Nations in December 1994.

Funds and programmes, research and training institutes, and other bodiesEdit

The separately administered funds and programmes, research and training institutes, and other subsidiary bodies are autonomous subsidiary organs of the United Nations.[4]

Funds and programmesEdit

Throughout its history the United Nations General Assembly has established a number of programmes and funds to address particular humanitarian and development concerns. These are financed through voluntary rather than assessed contributions. These bodies usually report to the General Assembly through an executive board. Only one UN programme has ever closed in the history of the organization, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), which ceased to exist in 1959 and was subsequently replaced by the UNHCR.

Each of the funds and programmes is headed by an executive director at the under-secretary-general level and is governed by an executive board. One former fund, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), was merged with other elements of the United Nations System into a new organization, UN Women, in January 2011.

Programmes and funds of the United Nations
Acronyms Agency Headquarters Head Established Comment
UNDP United Nations Development Programme   New York City, United States     Achim Steiner 1965
UNICEF United Nations Children's Fund   New York City, United States   Catherine M. Russell 1946
UNCDF United Nations Capital Development Fund   New York City, United States   Marc Bichler 1966 Affiliated with the UNDP
WFP World Food Programme   Rome, Italy   David Beasley 1963
UNEP United Nations Environment Programme   Nairobi, Kenya   Inger Andersen 1972
UNFPA United Nations Population Fund   New York City, United States   Natalia Kanem 1969
UN-HABITAT United Nations Human Settlements Programme   Nairobi, Kenya   Maimunah Mohd Sharif 1978
UNV United Nations Volunteers   Bonn, Germany   Richard Dictus 1978 Administered by UNDP

Research and training institutesEdit

Various institutes were established by the General Assembly to perform independent research and training. One former institute, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), was merged with other elements of the United Nations System into a new organization, UN Women, in January 2011.

Secretariats of ConventionsEdit

Other Entities and BodiesEdit

Other Entities and Bodies
Acronyms Agency Headquarters Head Established Comment
UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees   Geneva, Switzerland   Filippo Grandi 1951
UNIFEM United Nations Development Fund for Women   New York City, United States   Inés Alberdi 1976 Merged with UN Women in 2011
UN WOMEN United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women   New York City, United States   Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka 2010 Created by the merger of the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)
UNRWA United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East   Gaza, Palestine and   Amman, Jordan   Pierre Krähenbühl 1949

Specialized agenciesEdit

The specialized agencies are autonomous organizations working with the United Nations and each other through the co-ordinating machinery of the Economic and Social Council and the Chief Executives Board for Coordination. Each was integrated into the UN System by way of an agreement with the UN under UN Charter article 57 (except ICSID and MIGA, both part of the World Bank Group).[8][13]

Related organizationsEdit

Some organizations have a relationship with the UN defined by an arrangement different from the agreements between the specialized agencies and the UN, which are established under Articles 57 and 63 of the United Nations Charter.[14][15][16]

International Organization for Migration (IOM)Edit

The IOM, established in 1951, is the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration and works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners. IOM works to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people. In September 2016, IOM joined the United Nations System as a related organization during the United Nations General Assembly high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants.[17]

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization Preparatory Commission (CTBTO PrepCom)Edit

The CTBTO PrepCom reports to the UN General Assembly.[16]

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)Edit

The relationship between the IAEA and the UN was established by a resolution of the UN General Assembly. Unlike the specialized agencies which report to ECOSOC, the IAEA reports to the General Assembly as well as the Security Council.[8] Like the other specialized agency's heads, their executives are part of the United Nations System Chief Executives' Board for Coordination (CEB).[8]

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)Edit

The OPCW is not an agency of the United Nations, but cooperates both on policy and practical issues. On 7 September 2000 the OPCW and the UN signed a co-operation agreement outlining how they were to co-ordinate their activities.[18] Under this agreement, the OPCW reports to the UN General Assembly.[16]

World Trade Organization (WTO)Edit

The WTO does not have a formal agreement with the UN. Instead, their relationship is governed by exchanges of letters. Unlike the specialized agencies and the IAEA, the WTO has no reporting obligations towards any of the principal organs of the UN, but provides ad hoc contribution to the work of the General Assembly and ECOSOC.[16] The WTO has a seat on the CEB.[8]

Chief Executives Board and Senior Management GroupEdit

The United Nations Chief Executives' Board for Coordination (CEB) brings together on a regular basis the executive heads of the organizations of the United Nations System, under the chairmanship of the secretary-general of the UN. The CEB aims to further co-ordination and co-operation on a whole range of substantive and management issues facing UN System organizations. In addition to its regular reviews of contemporary political issues and major concerns facing the UN System, the CEB approves policy statements on behalf of the UN System as a whole. Three committees report to the CEB, namely the High-level Committee on Programme (HCLP), the High-level Committee on Management (HCLM) and the United Nations Development Group (UNDG). Each of those bodies has, in turn, developed a subsidiary machinery of regular and ad hoc bodies on the substantive and managerial aspects of inter-agency co-ordination. The committee structure is supported by a CEB secretariat located in New York and Geneva.[19]

There is also a Senior Management Group, composed of some of the senior officials in the secretariat and the funds and programmes at the Under-Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General rank, which serves as the cabinet of the Secretary-General.[20]

United Nations common systemEdit

The United Nations, its subsidiary bodies, thirteen of the specialized agencies (ILO, FAO, UNESCO, WHO, ICAO, UPU, ITU, WMO, IMO, WIPO, IFAD, UNIDO, and UNWTO), and one related body (IAEA) are part of the United Nations common system of salaries, allowances, and benefits administered by the International Civil Service Commission. Most, but not all, of the members of the United Nations System are part of the common system; the Bretton Woods institutions (i.e. the World Bank Group and the IMF) are notable exceptions. The WTO utilizes the OECD common system. The UN common system was established to prevent competition amongst organizations of the United Nations System for staff and to facilitate co-operation and exchange between organizations.[21]

Some international organizations that are not part of the United Nations System (and therefore not members of the common system) but who voluntarily follow the policies of the common system in whole or in part include:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination". UN System. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  2. ^ "United Nations System". DIRECTORY OF UNITED NATIONS SYSTEM ORGANIZATIONS. United Nations. Retrieved 27 January 2018.
  3. ^ "United Nations System". UNESCO. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Structure and Organization". Un.org. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
  5. ^ "NGLS Handbook". United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service. Retrieved 28 January 2013. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is not officially a part of the UN system ...
  6. ^ "UN System of Organizations". United Nations Global Marketplace. Archived from the original on 12 March 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2013. ... the World Trade Organization, which is not part of the UN system.
  7. ^ "How to do business with the United Nations" (PDF). Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 28 January 2013. ... the World Trade Organization, which is not part of the UN system.
  8. ^ a b c d e "The UN System, Chief Executives Board for Coordination". Unsceb.org. Retrieved 22 January 2013.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ "UN Charter: Chapter III". United Nations. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  11. ^ "UN General Assembly". www.un.org.
  12. ^ "Background Information". UN Economic and Social Council.
  13. ^ United Nations, Secretary-General, Report of the Secretary-General on the Work of the Organization: 2020 (A/75/1, 75th session) (New York: 2020‑07‑27), eISBN 978‑92‑1005329‑7, p. 148.
  14. ^ United Nations System of Organizations: "Entries listed in bold are members of the United Nations System's Chief Executives Board".
  15. ^ "Specialized Agency Agreements | United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination". www.unsystem.org. Retrieved 23 September 2020.
  16. ^ a b c d "The United Nations System" (PDF). The United Nations.
  17. ^ "UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants 2016". Refugees and Migrants. 12 December 2014.
  18. ^ United Nations General Assembly Session 55 Resolution A/RES/55/283
  19. ^ "Chief Executives Board". Unsceb.org. 31 December 2007. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
  20. ^ [1] Archived 15 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "Welcome to the International Civil Service Commission". Icsc.un.org. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
  22. ^ OSCE General conditions of employment http://www.osce.org/employment/18 Archived 26 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Article 40 of the General Standards to govern the operations of the General Secretariat

External linksEdit