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Government Documents - United Nations Collection: UN Principal Organs

UN Principal Organs

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 as of 2011.  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