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Government Documents - United Nations Collection: UN Organization

The United Nations System

The United Nations System Organizations cover a wide variety of organizational entities (centres, agencies, organizations, commissions, programmes, etc.) with different institutional and functional structures. The principal organs and subsidiary bodies of the United Nations Secretariat are included under the regular budget of the United Nations, as authorized by the General Assembly. Other agencies of the UN system, however, have their own regular budgets or are financed solely from voluntary contributions. These latter two categories, moreover, possess a certain degree of autonomy.

The organizations within the United Nations system also vary considerably both in size and in activities. Most organizations were established when the United Nations itself came into being, others are considerably older. For example, the International Telecommunication Union, as a direct continuation of the International Telegraph Union, dates back to 1865 and the Universal Postal Union was first established in 1874.

Structure and organization

Organization chart

UN Headquarters

New York (main)
Geneva (UNOG)
Nairobi (UNON)
Vienna (UNOV)

Principal Organs of the United Nations

The United Nations is a global intergovernmental organization established in 1945 following World War II.  A successor to the League of Nations, the UN charter states the following purposes: to maintain international peace and security, to develop friendly relations among nations, to cooperate in solving international economic, social, cultural and humanitarian problems, to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to be the center for harmonizing the actions of nations toward these common goals.

There are 193 member states.  Membership is open to all peace-loving nations who accept the obligations and responsibilities outlined in the UN charter.

There are six principal organs of the United Nations.  Numerous subsidiary bodies support the role of each agency. 

General Assembly

Main deliberative and policymaking body
All member states have one vote each

Security Council

Holds primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security
15 member countries, including five permanent countries: China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States; 10 members elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms

Economic and Social Council  (ECOSOC)

Main forum for discussion of economic and social cooperation
Coordinates the work of its subsidiary bodies, including functional commissions and regional commissions, and UN specialized agencies
Consultative status is also extended to non-government organizations (NGOs)
54 member countries serve three-year terms

Trusteeship Council

Provided international supervision for trust territories under administration of states to prepare for self-government or independence.  When the last territory (Palau) gained independence in 1994, the Council suspended operations until the need arises again.
Membership on the Council are the five permanent members of the Security Council

International Court of Justice

Principal judicial organ of the United Nations; settles legal disputes between states (not individuals and entities or international organizations)
Located at the Hague, The Netherlands
15 judges elected by the General Assembly and the Security Council for nine-year terms


Carries out the day-to-day work of the UN; carries out programs and policies issued by the other principal organs of the UN
Headed by the Secretary-General who is appointed by the General Assembly for five-year terms upon the recommendation of the Security Council

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) - Promotes development-friendly integration of developing countries into world economy and aims to shape current policy debates and thinking on development.  Provides access to their digital library containing UNCTAD publications and online data sources including the statistical database UNCTADstat.

International Trade Centre (ITC) (UNCTAD/WTO) - Works to enable small business export success in developing and transition-economy countries.  Find corporate documents such as Consolidated Programme Documents (CPD), and trade statistics.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) - Focuses on climate change, disasters & conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance and harmful substances.  Access publications including annual reports, newsletters, interactive e-books and UNEP factsheets, and videos.  Other publications may have been acquired through purchase -- see OneSearch.

United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) - Agency for human settlements.  Access their data and statistics and other publications available online.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) - Global humanitarian agency helping refugees displaced by conflicts in their countries.  Refworld contains a vast collection of reports relating to situations in countries of origin, policy documents and positions, and documents relating to international and national legal frameworks.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) - Advocates for protection of children’s rights including topics such as emergencies, special reports, protection, nutrition, education, health, water and sanitation.  Access publications, reports and statistics.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) - Works against illicit drugs and international crime.  Access annual reports and resources including data and analysis, and legal tools.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) - Provides assistance, protection and advocacy for some 5 million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, pending a solution to their plight.  Locate news, resources, and videos.

United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) - Goals for gender equality and the empowerment of women.  Access publications including the most current annual report, Progress of the World’s Women and World Survey on the Role of Women in Development.

World Food Programme (WFP) - Humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide.  Find publications about global issues.

United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) - Assists intergovernmental, governmental and non-governmental organizations in formulating and implementing improved policies in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice. 

United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) - Voluntarily funded autonomous institute working to assist the international community in developing the practical, innovative thinking needed to find solutions to the challenges of today and tomorrow.  Access publications including the Disarmament Forum, a quarterly, bilingual journal focusing on topics related to disarmament and security.

United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) - Works to enhance the effectiveness of the UN through appropriate training and research.  Resources include official documentation such as General Assembly Resolutions.

United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) - Mission to generate knowledge and articulate policy alternatives on contemporary development issues, thereby contributing to the broader goals of the UN system of reducing poverty and inequality, advancing well-being and rights, and creating more democratic and just societies.  Free online access to many publications.  Other publications may have been acquired through purchase -- see UHM Library OneSearch.

United Nations University (UNU) - Academic arm of the United Nations system.  Implements research and educational programmes in the area of sustainable development, with the particular aim of assisting developing countries.  Publications available online include research and policy briefs, working/technical reports and annual reports.  UNU books may have been acquired through purchase -- see UHM Library OneSearch.

United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) - information on income inequality for developed, developing, and transition countries.

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