United Nations and its Organs

United Nations and its Organs written by Samyukta P. Menon student of National University of Advanced Legal Studies

World War II was one of the biggest wars of history. As the death rate was huge, it is considered to be the bloodiest conflict. Due to this bloodshed and ensuing economic depression and poverty the world did not want a repetition of the same. Many organizations were established for this purpose, of which the most important one is the United Nations.


Before the formation of the United Nations(UN), there existed an international diplomatic group named ‘League of Nations.’ It was developed after World War 1 to solve disputes between countries and attain international peace and security.
It was originated through the Fourteen Points of Speech of Woodrow Wilson. This speech outlined his ideas for attaining peace after WWI. In December 1918, Wilson left for Paris to transform the 14 Points ideas into what became the Treaty of Versailles. After a few months, he came back to the US to establish the League of Nations. According to Wilson, this organization would resolve the conflicts before they exploded into bloodshed. After the Paris Peace Conference, on January 10, 1920, the League of Nations was established.
As years passed, the League of Nations, became weak and was not able to fulfill the hopes of its founders. However, its creation was an event of decisive importance in the history of international relations. It was finally disbanded on April 19, 1946, when the United Nations rose into power and became strong enough to replace the League of Nations.


The UN charter consisting of 111 Articles, was signed in San Francisco on June 26, 1945. 51 countries signed it at the end of the United Nations Conference on International Organization. It finally became an international organization on October 24, 1945, after World War II. Hence, this day came to be known as UN Day.
UN is considered to be the heart and soul of international organizations. Headquartered in New York, the main aim of this foundation is to maintain peace and security, developing friendly relations among other nations, and help nations work together to improve the poor people’s lives. It endeavors to end hunger, disease, and illiteracy. Due to its unique intentional character, and the powers vested in its founding Charter, the organization can take action on a wide range of issues. Currently, there are 193 Member States in the UN, the latest being South Sudan. This organization provides a forum for these member states to express their views.
Each member State is added to the UN by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. The Secretary-General monitors the activities of the UN. He is considered to be the leader as he is the symbol of the organization’s ideals and a spokesperson for the interest of the people. The ninth and current Secretary-General is Mr. Antonio Guterres. Secretary-General is the ‘chief administrative officer’ according to the UN Charter. The official languages mentioned in the Charter are English, French, Russian, and Spanish.


There are mainly six principal organs established by the Charter of the United Nations, which helps in solving disputes and act on matters concerning humanity. The organs are the General Assembly, Security Council, Trusteeship Council, the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice (commonly known as ICJ), and the Secretariat.

General Assembly

The General Assembly is the chief authoritative organ and the only universally representative body of the UN. It is considered to be the deliberative and policy-making organ of the UN. All UN Member States are represented in the General Assembly and each one has one vote. Being in the topmost position in the chain of organs, the policies and resolutions made by the General Assembly carry heavy moral weight and create a positive influence in the world.
The assembly holds a general debate in the organization’s New York headquarters from September to December. Along with that, a president is elected each year to preside over these meetings as a neutral party representing the UN. Special sessions are also held to discuss relevant issues at the request of the Security Council or the majority of the UN Members.
The General Assembly addresses matters ranging from war and terrorism to disease and poverty. Matters coming under the UN Charter are also being discussed. Decisions on international peace and security, UN Budget, and admitting new members are decided by a two-thirds majority. Recommendations are made on subjects pertaining to international peace and security, which include disarmament, human rights, and international law. The judges to the International Court of Justice are being elected by the General Assembly along with the Security Council. There are about six committees working under the Assembly, to carry out their functions. The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security)- This is the only main Committee which deals with disarmament, global challenges, and threats to peace that affect the international community. It seeks solutions to various problems and challenges in the international security regime.
The Second Committee (Economic and Financial)- This committee’s main focus is on economic growth and development. Eradication of poverty, globalization, food security and nutrition, agricultural development, and operational activities for development are being looked into as these issues affect the economy. The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural)- This committee primarily focuses on matters relating to social, humanitarian affairs, and human rights issues that affect people all over the world. The questions relating to the advancement of women, protection of children and indigenous people, treatment of refugees, and elimination of racial discrimination are also discussed.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization)- This committee looks into a broad range of issues like the effects of atomic radiation, questions relating to human rights and peacekeeping, decolonization, public information, outer space, and refugee matters. This committee prepares draft resolutions for General Assembly. The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary)- This committee deals with budgetary matters. The meeting of this committee is mainly held during the general debate session of the General Assembly (September to December). Due to their heavy workload, they often meet during a resumed session in March. Sometimes a second resumed session might take place in May to deal with administrative and budgetary aspects of UN Peacekeeping. The Sixth Committee (Legal)- This is the last committee and is considered to be the primary forum for asking legal questions in the General Assembly.

Security Council

The Security Council comprises of 15 members, each of whom has one vote. Unlike the General Assembly, the meetings are held only when world peace is threatened. Whenever there is a threat, the Council asks the concerned parties to reach an agreement by peaceful negotiations. But if it leads to a misunderstanding between the parties, then the Council imposes sanctions or tries to secure a ceasefire through negotiation. Various operations to promote lasting peace are taken up by the Council.
China, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, and France are the 5 permanent states that form part of the 15 member states. 9 out of 15 members must agree to the resolution which needs to be passed. However, if any of the 5 permanent members disagree, the resolution will not be passed. This is known as a veto. The Security Council makes the recommendations relating to the appointment of a new Secretary-General to the Assembly.

Trusteeship Council

The main role of this Council is to supervise the administration of the 11 trust territories which came under the International Trusteeship System. The UN Charter recognized this as one of the main organs of the United Nations. This was created after World War II, to work for attaining independence for the trust territories. This Council consisted of five permanent members.
The Trusteeship Council elects a President and a Vice-President from among the members. They both hold their office until a successor is elected. The maximum duration of their tenure is five years. Since the creation of this Council, all the 11 trust territories have attained independence. In the year 1994, the last trust territory Palau attained independence, which led to the suspension of the Council’s operation.
Economic and Social Council
The economic and social work of the UN is taken care of by this Council. It is considered to be the heart of the United Nations system. Established in the year 1945, its main responsibility is to promote higher standards of living, economic and social progress, providing full employment opportunities, and encouraging and protecting human rights and fundamental freedom.
The General Assembly elects 54 member Governments to be part of this Council for a term of three years. They are chosen for geographical representation, and each member has one vote. There happens to be a four-week session each July, either in New York or Geneva. The important thing to be noted here is that this Council coordinates the work of a few specialized UN agencies for meeting their specific needs. The UN bodies which come under this domain are International Labour Organisation (ILO), World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), and so on.

International Court of Justice (ICJ)

This is one of the most important organs of the UN. It is found at the Peace Palace in the Hague, Netherlands. This is the differentiating feature of ICJ, as the other five organs are located in New York. Also known by the name “World Court”, this was established in the year 1945, started to function in 1946.
Being the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, its primary function is to settle legal disputes between nations, in accordance with international law. It also advises on legal questions referred to it by other United Nations organs and specialized agencies. This court passes judgments which will be final. There lies no appeal for their judgment.
This court is presided over by 15 judges, each from a different nation. They serve for 9 years. General Assembly and Security Council together elect these judges. However, no two judges can be from the same country. The members of the Court do not represent their governments. There is an administrative organ that assists this court which is the Registry. The official languages of this Court are English and French.

The Secretariat

The sixth and the last main organ of the UN is the Secretariat. It comprises the head, which is the Secretary-General along with thousands of international UN staff members. Along with the headquarters in New York, the Secretariat has its various offices in Geneva, Vienna Nairobi, and other locations. This organ helps other UN organs in their work in policymaking and other various programs.
The main function of this organ is to carry out the administrative work of the UN. The members carry out the day to day work of the UN as directed by the General Assembly and other principal organs. These works include administrating peace-keeping operations, surveying social and economic trends, and organizing various international conferences for discussing various issues. Each department or office of this Secretariat carries a distinct area of action and responsibility. The Secretary-General is the chief administrative officer of the UN Secretariat, and he is appointed by the General Assembly for a 5-year term with the recommendation of the Security Council. He directs the work of staff known as “international civil servants”. These people work for all 193 member states and take orders from Secretary-General. There have been 8 Secretary Generals so far, the present and ninth being Antonio Guterres.


The UN works on a variety of issues ranging from sustainable development, disaster relief, counter-terrorism, gender equality, expanding food production, economic and social development, and many more. The existence of the United Nations and its organs makes the world a better place to live in for present and future generations.
COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives in many ways. People are forced to stay in their homes. There are people who are not able to earn and meet their daily needs. World Health Organisation (WHO) working under the UN, is working hard to curtail the spread by suggesting various measures, making and providing vaccines, and so on. This pandemic did not stop the various UN organs from doing their work The meetings of the UN organs are being held through a virtual platform. The General Assembly’s Fifth Committee was able to make important budget decisions virtually. To conclude, here is a quote by the former Secretary-General stating the importance of the United Nations

” More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that my friends, is why we have the United Nations.”

-Kofi Annan
(Former UN Secretary-General)

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