About the UN

The Structure of the United Nations

193 States belong to the United Nations – almost all the States in the world. In the United Nations, Member States are represented by their respective governments. The principal organs of the United Nations, according to the United Nations Charter, are

  • General Assembly
  • Security Council
  • Secretariat with the Secretary-General
  • Economic and Social Council
  • International Court of Justice
  • Trusteeship Council.

The General Assembly (GA) is the organ of the United Nations with all-encompassing responsibility. In the GA, all 193 Member States have the same rights (“one country, one vote”). As the sole plenary organ, the General Assembly assumes a special political position that makes it pivotal for all United Nations activities.

The GA’s six main committees are:

  • The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security Committee) deals with disarmament and related security questions
  • The Second Committee (Economic and Financial Committee) is concerned with development and economic questions
  • The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee) deals mainly with human rights issues
  • The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization Committee) addresses a variety of political subjects not covered by other committees, as well as remaining cases of decolonization
  • The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary Committee) is in charge of the United Nations’ budget
  • The Sixth Committee (Legal Committee) deals with matters of international law.

Among the six principal organs of the United Nations, the responsibility for maintaining world peace and international security lies with theSecurity Council, composed of five permanent and ten non-permanent members. It is the only organ that can adopt resolutions which are binding for the Member States.

The Secretariat, headed by the Secretary-General, coordinates the work of the United Nations in its different fields of activity. Ban Ki-moon, former Foreign and Trade Minister of the Republic of Korea, has been the Secretary-General of the United Nations since January 1, 2007.

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is the central coordinating organ of the United Nations in the areas of development, economic and humanitarian affairs. It also plays a coordinating role vis-à-vis the United Nations funds and programs, such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) or the United Nations’ Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), based in The Hague, is the United Nations’ principal organ for the settlement of disputes among states. The ICJ can deliver non-binding advisory opinions on request of other United Nations organs. It can also issue advisory opinions which have consultative character. The Court is composed of 15 independent judges, chosen by the General Assembly and the Security Council for nine-year terms.

The Trusteeship Council was originally given the task to oversee the management of the international trusteeship system of subordinate colonial regions and to support them on their way towards independence. With the conclusion of the last trusteeship agreement for the Pacific island nation of Palau in 1994, the work of the Trusteeship Council de facto ended.

In addition to the principal organs, there are a multitude of subsidiary organs, special organizations, specialized agencies, funds and other intergovernmental institutions that, for the most part, were established after the founding of the United Nations in 1945.