United Nations

The United Nations: Quest for Global Peace and Cooperation

Founded in 1945 post-World War II, the United Nations (UN) emerged as a vital international organization. The term “United Nations” was coined in 1942 by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Second World War. The name was officially adopted when representatives from 26 nations pledged their commitment to continue the fight against the Axis Powers on January 1, 1942.

The UN’s creation involved a series of conferences, including the Moscow Conference (Oct-Nov 1943), Tehran Conference (Nov-Dec 1943), Dumbarton Oaks Conference (Sep-Oct 1944), and the final San Francisco Conference (25 April – 26 June 1945). The UN Charter was signed in San Francisco on June 26, 1945, and came into existence on October 24, 1945, with the participation of 50 countries. Poland was the last country to sign the charter.

The organization’s roots trace back to the League of Nations, established after World War I through the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. However, the League of Nations failed to prevent the outbreak of World War II, leading to its dissolution. The UN aimed to prevent a recurrence of such global conflicts.

The UN’s mission encompasses promoting international peace and security, fostering friendly relations among nations, upholding international law, promoting social progress, improving living standards, and protecting human rights. Headquartered in New York, USA, the UN has six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish, and Russian.

As of now, the UN has 193 member countries, with the current Secretary-General being António Guterres. South Sudan was the last country to Join it (2011). The UN Charter, consisting of a preamble and 111 articles grouped into 19 chapters, outlines the rules for membership and the decision-making process within the General Assembly.

Article 1 of UN Charter states to ‘maintain international peace and security’. Whereas, to respect human rights, the most important principles underlying the functions of the UNO are listed in Article 2 of the Charter. Article states the policy of non-intervention in domestic affairs. Further collective security of the Charter of UN covers under Article 5 to 10.

Observer Status and Recent Developments:

The UN General Assembly has granted observer status to certain entities, non-member states, and international organizations, enabling them to participate in its work. The status of Permanent Observer, initiated in 1946, grants certain states free access to most meetings and relevant documentation.

Notably, the Holy See and Palestine hold permanent non-member observer status in the General Assembly as of 2019. In recent developments, the General Assembly, in December 2021, extended Observer Status to the International Solar Alliance (ISA).

The ISA, a collaborative effort by India and France, originated during the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2015. With the Framework Agreement amended in 2020, all UN member states are eligible to join the ISA.

Currently, 101 countries are signatories to the ISA Framework Agreement, with 80 having submitted the necessary instruments of ratification to become full members. The alliance’s primary objective is to promote the efficient consumption of solar energy, reducing dependence on fossil fuels for sustainable global energy growth and development.

Structure of the UN System:

The United Nations (UN) system is intricately organized, consisting of three primary components. Firstly, the main organs established by the UN Charter form the core framework. Secondly, specialized agencies, as articulated in Article 57 of the Charter, play a crucial role in addressing specific global issues. Lastly, funds and programs, established by the General Assembly under the authority derived from Article 22 of the Charter, provide financial support for various initiatives.

The six principal organs of the UN are the 

  • General Assembly, 
  • Security Council, Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), 
  • Trusteeship Council, 
  • International Court of Justice
  • UN Secretariat

This collective structure, often referred to as the ‘UN family,’ extends beyond these organs to encompass numerous programs, funds, and specialized agencies. Each entity within the UN system operates with autonomy, possessing its own leadership and budgetary structures.

While programs and funds rely on voluntary contributions for financing, specialized agencies receive both voluntary and assessed contributions. Notable organizations within the UN system include the World Bank Group, World Health Organization (WHO), World Food Programme, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Additionally, non-governmental organizations can attain consultative status to actively participate in the work of entities like ECOSOC.

Organs Of United Nations

United Nations General Assembly (UNGA):

The UN General Assembly (UNGA) stands as the primary deliberative organ within the UN, where all member states, irrespective of size or power, hold equal voting rights. Governed by Chapter IV of the UN Charter (Article 9-22), the UNGA shoulders significant responsibilities, including the approval of the UN budget, election of non-permanent Security Council members, and appointment of the Secretary-General. Additionally, the UNGA collaborates with the Security Council in electing judges to the International Court of Justice.

The UNGA’s mandate covers a broad spectrum, from discussing international peace and security issues to making recommendations on human rights, international law, and cooperation in various fields. Its sessions, including regular, special, and emergency sessions, are crucial forums for global discourse. The UNGA convenes annually from September to December, with each session focusing on a thematic theme. The 78th Session (2023) centers on he theme of the General Debate, “”Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all.” 

With 193 Member States, each possessing one vote, the UNGA takes decisions on issues of peace and security, Security Council and Economic and Social Council membership, and budgetary matters through either a two-thirds majority or a simple majority. Resolutions are adopted through consensus or voting, depending on the nature of the issue at hand.

The UNGA’s leadership changes annually, with Presidents elected by the body itself. 1st women president of UNGA was and Indian – Vijayalakshmi Pandit (1953).

Currently, Dennis Francis is serving as president of the 78th Session of the General Assembly.

Over the years, the UNGA has been a driving force in the establishment of global standards. In 1948, it promulgated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a seminal document outlining fundamental human rights. Additionally, in 2000, the UNGA adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), succeeded by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2016. The SDGs, a set of 17 goals to be achieved by 2030, encompass diverse areas, including poverty eradication, education, gender equality, and climate action. The UNGA’s commitment to these goals reflects its role as a crucial forum for shaping a sustainable and equitable future for the global community.

United Nations Security Council (UNSC):

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), established by Chapter V of the UN Charter (Article 23-32), holds the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. Comprising 15 members, it includes five permanent members (P5): the United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia, and France, along with ten non-permanent members elected by the UNGA for a two-year term.

Non-permanent members are elected annually by a two-thirds majority, with five elected each year. Eligibility for membership is determined based on a country’s contribution to international peace and security, often measured by financial or troop contributions to UN peacekeeping missions or leadership in regional cooperation.

The UNSC’s functions and powers, outlined in the UN Charter, encompass a range of responsibilities. These include investigating disputes, recommending settlement methods, formulating plans for armament regulation, determining threats to peace, recommending actions, imposing economic sanctions, taking military action, admitting new members, exercising trusteeship functions in “strategic areas,” and participating in the appointment of the Secretary-General and the election of International Court of Justice Judges.

Equitable geographical distribution is a key consideration in UNSC membership, with seats allocated to regional groups. Procedurally, while other UN organs possess recommendatory powers, the UNSC has binding powers. Each member, including the P5, has one vote, but the P5 hold veto powers, a distinctive feature that makes their agreement essential for certain decisions.

The voting procedure, as laid down in Article 27 of the UN Charter, requires a minimum of nine votes for procedural matters and substantive matters, with no negative vote from any permanent member. The presidency of the UNSC rotates monthly, following an alphabetical order.

Current non-permanent members include Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates (as of 2023-2024).

In a significant development, India served as a non-permanent member and President of the UNSC in August 2021. Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level open debate on enhancing maritime security, emphasizing the need for international cooperation in this domain. The debate resulted in the adoption of a Presidential Statement on Maritime Security, outlining a comprehensive framework proposed by Prime Minister Modi.

The Uniting for Consensus movement, or the Coffee Club, opposes the expansion of permanent seats in the UNSC. Led by Italy, this movement seeks consensus before deciding on the form and size of the Security Council. Members include Italy, Spain, Malta, Pakistan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, Turkey, Argentina, and others.

United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC):

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), delineated under Chapter X (Article 61-72) of the UN Charter, is a pivotal organ responsible for coordinating, policy formulation, and recommending actions on economic, social, and environmental issues. Comprising 54 Members elected by the General Assembly for overlapping three-year terms, ECOSOC serves as the central mechanism for UN system activities, overseeing subsidiary and expert bodies. It stands as a crucial platform for global reflection, debate, and innovative thinking on sustainable development.

In June 2021, India’s election to the UN Economic and Social Council for the term 2022-24 in the Asia-Pacific States category reflects the nation’s commitment to engaging in global efforts towards sustainable development.

United Nations Secretariat:

The Secretariat, governed by Chapter XV (Article 91-101) of the UN Charter, assumes a central role in the UN’s day-to-day operations. Led by the Secretary-General and assisted by international civil servants worldwide, the Secretariat administers UN programs and policies. Article 99 of the UN Charter authorizes the Secretary-General to bring situations disrupting international peace and security to the attention of the Security Council. The Secretary-General, appointed by the General Assembly on the Security Council’s recommendation for a renewable five-year term, oversees a diverse team working globally.

International Court of Justice (ICJ):

As the principal judicial organ under Chapter XIV (Article 92-96) of the UN Charter, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is seated at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. Unlike other principal organs, the ICJ is the only one not located in New York, USA. The Court, consisting of 15 judges elected for nine-year terms by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, settles legal disputes between states and offers advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by UN organs and specialized agencies. The President, Vice-President, and Judges are elected every three years, ensuring continuity. The ICJ’s role is pivotal in upholding international law and resolving disputes through a legal framework.

United Nations Trusteeship Council:

Established in 1945 under Chapter XIII of the UN Charter, the Trusteeship Council had the mandate to provide international supervision for 11 Trust Territories, facilitating their preparation for self-government and independence. By 1994, all Trust Territories had attained self-government or independence, leading to the suspension of the Trusteeship Council’s operations on November 1, 1994. Through a resolution in May 1994, the Council adapted its rules of procedure to meet as occasion required, eliminating the annual obligation. The last Trust Territory, Palau, became a UN member state in December 1994, marking the completion of the Trusteeship Council’s mission.

Important Articles of UN Charter

Article 1 (2) – To develop ‘friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of people.

Article 2 (7) – UN cannot intervene in the domestic affairs.

Chapter VI – Deals with the ‘Pacific Settlement of Disputes’.

Article 33 – Parties to any dispute first seek a solution.

Chapter VII – Action with respect to threats to peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression.

Article 42 – Security Council ‘make take such action by air, sea or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security’.

Article 99 – Security General to bring the situation to the notice of security council that might disrupt international Peace and security.

India’s Dynamic Relationship with the UN:

India, a founding member of the UN, has actively contributed to the organization’s objectives across various dimensions. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the one to give speech in the United Nations. Even the first woman president of the UNGA was an Indian – Vijayalakshmi Pandit (1953). Its representation on the UN Security Council for eight terms, most recently in the 2021–22 term, exemplifies its consistent engagement in international affairs. India aligns itself with the G4 nations, advocating for permanent seats in the UN Security Council and promoting the reform of the UNSC.

India’s commitment extends to significant contributions in UN peacekeeping missions. Over the years, India has deployed troops in diverse conflict zones, including Korea, Egypt, Congo, Somalia, Angola, Haiti, Liberia, Lebanon, Rwanda, and more recently in the South Sudan conflict. India’s involvement is marked by a notable milestone when Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit became the first woman President of the UN General Assembly in 1953.

In the legal realm, Indian representation remains strong. Justice Dalveer Bhandhari’s re-election to the International Court of Justice in 2017 for the 2018-2027 term underscores India’s influence in global jurisprudence.

India’s commitment to cultural diplomacy is evident in the adoption of International Yoga Day, designated on June 21, 2014, by the UN General Assembly. Ruchira Kamboj currently serves as the Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations in New York City, contributing to India’s diplomatic presence.

In the realm of global health, Saumya Swaminathan, Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), assumed the role of Chief Scientist at WHO, reflecting India’s leadership in the international health arena.

Furthermore, Neeru Chadha’s role as a member of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) underscores India’s contribution to the development and interpretation of international law.

India’s multifaceted engagement with the UN highlights its proactive role in shaping global governance, promoting peace, and contributing to international development and cooperation.

United Nations Specialized Agencies:

UN’s Specialized Agencies are distinct, legally independent organizations with their own regulations, memberships, organs, and financial resources. While not all were originally created by the UN, these agencies become integral to the UN System through negotiated agreements, a process overseen by the United Nations Economic and Social Council under Articles 57 and 63 of the UN Charter. These articles mandate the incorporation of agencies dealing with “economic, social, cultural, educational, health, and related fields” into the UN System.

As of now, the UN boasts 15 specialized agencies, each undertaking specific functions on behalf of the UN. The list includes:

  1. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 1945.
  2. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), 1944.
  3. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), 1977.
  4. International Labour Organization (ILO), 1946.
  5. International Maritime Organization (IMO), 1948.
  6. International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1945.
  7. International Telecommunications Union (ITU), 1865.
  8. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 1945.
  9. United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
  10. Universal Postal Union (UPU)
  11. World Bank Group:
    • IBRD: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development
    • IDA: International Development Association
    • IFC: International Finance Corporation
  1. World Health Organization (WHO)
  2. World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
  3. World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
  4. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)

It’s noteworthy that the International Refugee Organization, a former specialized agency existing from 1946 to 1952, went out of existence. In 1952, it was succeeded by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, operating as a subsidiary organ of the United Nations General Assembly.

Funds and Programmes:

The United Nations General Assembly, over its history, has instituted various programmes and funds to address specific humanitarian and development challenges. Typically, these entities report to the General Assembly through an executive board, with coordination facilitated through ECOSOC and the Chief Executives Board (CEB). In the UN’s history, only one programme, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), ceased to exist in 1959, replaced by the UNHCR.

Each fund and programme, led by an Executive Director at the Under-Secretary-General level, is governed by an Executive Board. The financing of these bodies relies on voluntary contributions rather than assessed ones, differentiating them from Specialized Agencies funded by both voluntary and assessed contributions. Though subordinate to the UN, these entities operate more independently, resembling specialized agencies.

Moreover, as operational activities are conducted at the field level, their requirements differ significantly from headquarters-centric administrations.

1. UN Women:

  • Established in 2010 to enhance the coordination of gender equality efforts and promote effective gender mainstreaming.
  • Headquarters: New York, USA.
  • A member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, contributing to improved development activities at the country level.

2. UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development):

  • Formed in 1964 as a permanent intergovernmental body.
  • Aims to maximize trade, investment, and development opportunities for developing countries, ensuring equitable integration into the world economy.
  • Reports to the UN General Assembly and United Nations Economic and Social Council.
  • Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland; part of UN Secretariat.
  • Central to the United Nations Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG).
  • Notable achievements include conceptualizing and implementing the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a preferential tariff system based on various factors.

3. UN-Habitat:

  • The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) was established in 1978, headquartered at the United Nations Office in Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Mission: To promote socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development and achieve adequate shelter for all.
  • Governance Structure: Comprises the UN-Habitat Assembly, Executive Board, and Committee of Permanent Representatives.
  • The dissolved Governing Council was replaced by the UN-Habitat Assembly, which convenes every four years, most recently in 2019.
  • The Executive Board, consisting of 36 member states, meets three times a year to enhance oversight of UN-Habitat operations.
  • Committee of Permanent Representatives meets twice every four years in an open-ended manner.
  • UN-Habitat is a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG).
  • India led the General Council meeting for two years (2017-2019) and held the presidency of UN-Habitat in 2017, represented by Venkaiah Naidu.
  • India’s leadership was the third time since UN-Habitat’s establishment in 1978.

4. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP):

  • Formed in 1965 to help countries eliminate poverty and achieve sustainable human development.
  • Status: An executive board within the UN General Assembly.
  • UNDP Executive Board consists of representatives from 36 countries serving on a rotating basis.
  • Funding: Entirely reliant on voluntary contributions from member nations.
  • Central to the United Nations Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG), working globally across almost 170 countries.
  • Focus areas include strengthening development frameworks, disaster risk reduction, climate change, human rights protection, and women’s empowerment.
  • Publishes annual Human Development Report since 1990, including regional, national, and local Human Development Reports.
  • Introduces the Human Development Index (HDI) measuring long-term progress in three dimensions: health, education, and standard of living.
  • Proposed a Planetary Pressures-adjusted Human Development Index (PHDI) in the 2020 Human Development Report, considering carbon emissions and material footprint.
  • UNDP collaborates with the Government of India on the India 2030 National Development Mission and SDGs.
  • The nodal agency in India for UNDP is the Department of Economic Affairs, Finance Ministry.
  • Operates offices in six locations in India.
  • Introduced the Accelerator Lab in India to address pollution and sustainable water management, part of a global network of labs addressing global challenges.
  • India ranked 132nd in the Human Development Report 2021-22, with Switzerland leading the Human Development Index.

5. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP):

  • UNEP, established on June 5, 1972, is the leading global environmental authority based in Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Thematic Areas: Works on seven broad areas including climate change, disasters and conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance, chemicals and waste, resource efficiency, and environment under review.
  • Funding: Depends on voluntary contributions for 95% of its income; a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG).
  • Collaborated with the World Meteorological Organization in 1988 to establish the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
  • Honored PM Narendra Modi with the “Champions of the Earth” award in 2018 for his contributions to the International Solar Alliance and commitment to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022.
  • Reports: Publishes various reports including Global Environment Outlook, Emission Gap Report, Food Waste Index Report, and more.
  • Recent Developments:
    1. In November 2021, UNEP and India signed a Host Country Agreement, providing UNEP India equal legal stature to work more closely with the Indian government on environmental issues.
    2. In March 2022, UNEP marked its 50-year anniversary, with participants pledging to support a green and inclusive future.

6. United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC):

  • UNHRC, established in 2006, is an inter-governmental body headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, responsible for promoting and protecting human rights globally.
  • Comprises 47 seats with three-year terms, distributed among regional groups; no member may occupy a seat for more than two consecutive terms.
  • Holds regular sessions in March, June, and September; resolutions are not legally binding but carry moral authority.
  • General Assembly, with a two-thirds majority, can suspend the rights of any Council member persistently committing gross human rights violations.
  • Recent Development:
  1. In April 2022, Russia was suspended from UNHRC over allegations of killing civilians in Ukraine, becoming the second country after Libya in 2011 to have its membership rights stripped.
  2. India was re-elected to UNHRC for the 2022-24 term, receiving 184 votes out of 193 in October 2021.
  • Works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), ensuring coordination and support for the Human Rights Council.

7. World Food Programme (WFP):

  • WFP, founded in 1961, is the leading humanitarian organization providing food assistance globally. It operates in emergencies, works on nutrition improvement, and builds resilience in communities.
  • Headquartered in Rome, with offices in 80 countries, it assisted 97 million people in 88 countries in 2019.
  • Focus areas include emergency assistance, relief and rehabilitation, development aid, and special operations.
  • Beyond emergency food relief, WFP offers technical assistance, development aid, and direct cash assistance. It also provides passenger services for humanitarian workers.
  • An executive member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG), emphasizing the “zero hunger” goal by 2030.
  • Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020 for combating hunger, contributing to peace in conflict areas, and preventing hunger as a weapon of war.

8. UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund):

  • Established in 1946, UNICEF provides relief to children and mothers affected by World War II. Its mandate expanded in 1950 to address the long-term needs of children and women in developing countries.
  • Present in 192 countries and territories, UNICEF focuses on immunizations, disease prevention, HIV treatment, childhood and maternal nutrition, sanitation, education, and emergency relief.
  • Relies on voluntary contributions; governed by a 36-member executive board elected by the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

9. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR):

  • Created in 1950, UNHCR safeguards the rights of refugees, displaced communities, and stateless people, assisting in their repatriation, local integration, or resettlement.
  • Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, with over 17,300 staff in 135 countries.
  • Initially focused on European refugees after World War II, expanded globally from the late 1950s.
  • The majority of UNHCR’s budget comes from voluntary contributions, with two Nobel Peace Prizes awarded in 1954 and 1981.
  • Published the “2022 annual Global Trends Report,” revealing 100 million people globally forced to flee their homes in 2021 due to various reasons, including violence, human rights abuses, and the climate crisis.

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