Six Parts of the UN

By Leland Goodrich
  • Grades: 6–8, 9–12

Six Parts of the UN

The organization operates through its six major organs. They are the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat. Each is represented by a delegation of not more than five representatives.

The General Assembly

The General Assembly is composed of all the member nations. Its members meet annually at UN headquarters in New York City. Because the General Assembly can discuss and make recommendations on any matter within the scope of the charter, it has been called the "town meeting of the world." Its specific duties include the election of the members of the Economic and Social Council, the board of the UN Industrial Development Organization, and some members of the Trusteeship Council. With the Security Council, it elects the judges of the International Court of Justice. The General Assembly appoints the UN Secretary-General on recommendation of the Security Council. It adopts rules governing the administration of the Secretariat, approves the United Nations budget, and decides how much money each member nation should pay to run the organization. Decisions in the General Assembly may be made by a simple majority vote or, on important questions, by a two-thirds vote. Smaller nations have a great deal of influence in the General Assembly because each country casts one vote.

The Security Council

The UN Charter established a Security Council made up of the five nations that in 1945 were considered the most powerful in the world. The council's primary function was to maintain international peace and security. The five permanent member nations are the United States, the Russian Federation (in place of the former Soviet Union), the United Kingdom, France, and China. The UN Charter requires that the permanent members agree on all decisions made by the council (except for questions of procedure). Therefore, if even one permanent member vetoes (rejects) a council decision, that decision is defeated.

In addition to its five permanent members, the Security Council has 10 nonpermanent members that serve two-year terms. (Each year the General Assembly elects five new nations.) These 10 member nations are chosen from all over the world in order to ensure fair representation of all regions. The Security Council is considered always in session. This means that each council nation must have a permanent representative at headquarters in New York, so the council can meet on short notice.

The Economic and Social Council

The Economic and Social Council works under the general guidance and control of the General Assembly. It is composed of 54 member nations that serve three-year terms (18 members are elected per year). There are no permanent members of this council. But it has been customary for the nations of major economic importance, such as the United States and the Russian Federation, to be re-elected. The council deals with major economic and social concerns, such as economic development, land reform, and control of narcotics. The council also coordinates the policies and activities of the United Nations as well as the various specialized agencies.

The Trusteeship Council

The Trusteeship Council was established to help the General Assembly supervise the administration of territories placed under trusteeship. These territories were primarily former colonies of European nations. All the territories originally placed under United Nations trusteeship are now independent. The council, composed of the five permanent members of the Security Council, meets as circumstances demand.

The International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It is composed of 15 judges elected to nine-year terms by the General Assembly and the Security Council. The judges are elected based on their qualifications rather than their nationalities. However, no nation may have more than one judge on the court at any given time. The International Court meets at The Hague in the Netherlands.

The court has two major jobs. It settles disputes submitted by nations for final decision, and it gives advice to other UN organs and agencies. Its advisory opinions do not have to be accepted, although they carry great weight. Its judgments, however, are supposed to be followed by all the parties to disputes submitted to the court.

The Secretariat

The Secretary-General heads up the Secretariat, the administrative organ of the UN The Secretary-General may bring any matter to the Security Council that seems likely to endanger international peace. The General Assembly and the Security Council, as well as the other two councils, may give the Secretary-General special duties to perform.

The staff of the Secretariat is appointed by the Secretary-General under rules approved by the General Assembly. The staff must be international—that is, each one of the many member nations must be represented. However, member governments are not allowed to influence the staff. In general the UN Charter emphasizes that the Secretariat of the United Nations should be an international civil service, serving the interests of the organization and only those interests.

Leland Goodrich
Author, The United Nations

Copyright © 2002 Grolier Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.


  • Subjects:
    United Nations
  • Skills:
    Social Studies