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United Nations Research Guide

This guide will suggest background resources and tips on navigating United Nations documents.

Basic Components of the United Nations

There are many committees within the United Nations, but for our purposes, we will focus on the six primary parts of the United Nations, giving some additional detail to what each one does:

  • General Assembly - This is the main policymaking section of the UN, where representatives of the 193 member countries gather for deliberations and to make decisions on important questions regarding peace and security, admission of new members, and budgetary matters, among others. Some decisions require a two-thirds majority while others are decided by a simple majority.
  • Security Council - This body is primarily responsible for maintaining international peace and security. It is comprised of 15 members, five of whom are permanent (China, Russian Federation, France, U.K., U.S.) and ten elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. Each member state has one vote and all member states are obliged under the Charter to comply with Council decisions. The Security Council investigates disputes and recommends actions to be taken against aggressors if need be. Decisions require nine votes including the votes of all five permanent members.
  • Economic and Social Council - Established in 1946, this council is concerned with the world's economic, social, and environmental challenges. It coordinates about 70% of the human and financial resources of the entire UN system, including 14 specialized agencies, 9 "functional" commissions, and 5 regional commissions.
  • Trusteeship Council - The Trusteeship Council suspended operations in 1994 when its last remaining trust territory gained independence. It can resume at the request of the majority of its members or the General Assembly or Security Council, should the occasion arise.
  • International Court of Justice - Serving as the principal judicial body for the UN, the ICJ was formed in 1945 and began work in 1946. It is located at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands), which makes it the only one of the six principal UN organs not located in New York. The Court's role is to settle legal disputes brought before it by States in accordance with international law and to issue advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized UN organs and specialized agencies. Fifteen judges make up the Court and are elected for 9-year terms by the General Assembly and the Security Council. No two judges are to be from the same jurisdiction and the primary legal systems of the world are represented on the Court.
  • Secretariat - With the Secretary General at its head, this body carries out the diverse day-to-day work of the Organization by providing studies, information, and facilities needed by the other organs of the UN. The Secretary General is appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council for a 5-year, renewable term. Among the duties carried out by the Secretary General are included administering peacekeeping operations and mediating international disputes as well as surveying economic and social trends and preparing studies on human rights and sustainable development. The Secretariat staff also interprets speeches and translates documents into the UN's official languages.