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United Nations Research Guide: UN System

Guide to information created by the UN and the UN Family of Organizations. Grateful acknowledgement to Jim Church, University of California Berkeley Libraries, whose work is the basis for this guide.

The United Nations System

The United Nations system of organizations is comprised of main organs, specialized agencies, programmes and funds, research and training institutes, and a variety of affiated and related bodies.  The tabs provide a guide to this structure.  Learn more about UN Documentation.

Principal Organs

General Assembly. Main deliberative organ of the United Nations composed of representatives of all member states, each of which has one vote. The General Assembly has six main committees:

The General Assembly also has various other commissions, committees and subsidiary bodies. Some are treaty based, some established by General Assembly resolutions.

See the General Assembly's page on its subsidiary organs for more information.

Economic and Social Council. Principal United Nations body dealing with economic, social, cultural and health matters. Composed of eight functional commissions (see below) and five Regional Commissions, as well as forums, expert bodies, and standing committees. See in particular the NGO Section.

International Court of Justice. Principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Adjudicates legal disputes submitted to it by States and provides opinions on legal questions referred to it by international agencies.

Secretariat. Agency which carries out the day-to-day work of the organization, servicing other principal organs of the United Nations and administering programmes laid down by them. At its head is the Secretary-General.

Security Council. UN agency with responsibility for maintenance of international peace and security. The Council has 15 members-- five permanent and 10 elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms.

Trusteeship Council. Principal organ of the United Nations assigned to the administration of territories under the UN Trusteeship system. Suspended operation in 1994, with the independence of Palau, the last remaining UN trust territory.

The UN Regional Economic Commissions are responsible for coordinating economic and social activities in their respective regions. They report to the Economic & Social Council but operate with a great deal of autonomy.

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