Way back when we were at school, there used to be a competition on UN Awareness for middle and high school students. I can’t recall much about it, but I do know a few basic things about the UN, which I am sure come from preparing for these tests. If I search hard enough, I may even find a certificate or two in my old papers.
No doubt the UN and the international order are in a shambles. To take just the example of the Corona crisis, the world should have been looking to the UN system and WHO in particular for balanced medical opinions, sage policy guidance, clear action guidelines, and strong leadership for international cooperation. We haven’t seen much of that.
But that is not to say that the UN does not have a major role to play. In fact, in an increasingly complex and interconnected world, it HAS to pull up its socks and take charge. And just to remind ourselves of the UN, its role and functions, here is a quick primer— I might have put together something like this to prepare for my competition tests all those decades ago.
Warning: Beyond the first 500 words, it is probably of interest only to those preparing for such exams!
The United Nations is an international organization founded in 1945, when representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization, to draw up the United Nations Charter. This was signed on 26 June, 1945 by representatives of the 50 countries. Poland which was not present at the Conference, signed it later and became one of the original member states. The UN officially came into existence on 24 October 1945, when the Charter was ratified.
Interestingly, while in principle, only sovereign states can become UN members, four of the original members—India, Belarus, the Philippines and Ukraine– were not independent at the time of their admission. Giriaj Shankar Bajpai, the Indian Agent-General, signed the original Declaration by United Nations in 1942, while Sir A. Ramaswamy Mudaliar, who headed the Indian delegation to the Conference, signed the Charter itself on behalf of India.
So technically, India was a founding member of the UN despite it being a British colony. Along with India, other British colonies Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia were given independent seats in the United Nations General Assembly at that stage itself. The UN is currently made up of 193 Member States.
The basic mandate of the UN is to:
- Maintain International Peace and Security
- Protect Human Rights
- Deliver Humanitarian Aid
- Promote Sustainable Development
- Uphold International Law.
The main organs of the UN are the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the UN Secretariat. All of these were established when the UN was founded. In addition, it has many programmes, funds, and specialized agencies.
Here is a quick look at some UN agencies we often hear about. And some, frankly, that I never knew existed!
Programmes and Funds
UNDP: United Nations Development Programme works to eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities and build resilience so countries can sustain progress. UNDP plays a critical role in helping countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
UNEP: United Nations Environment Programme acts as a catalyst, advocate, educator and facilitator to promote the wise use and sustainable development of the global environment.
UNFPA: United Nations Population Fund is the lead UN agency for delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.
UN-Habitat: United Nations Human Settlements Programme has the mission to promote socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development and the achievement of adequate shelter for all.
UNICEF: Works to save children’s lives, to defend their rights, and to help them fulfil their potential, from early childhood through adolescence.
WFP: World Food Programme aims to eradicate hunger and malnutrition. It is the world’s largest humanitarian agency. Every year, the programme feeds almost 80 million people in around 75 countries.
UN Specialized Agencies
FAO: Food and Agriculture Organization leads international efforts to fight hunger.
ICAO: International Civil Aviation Organization develops standards for global air transport and assists its 192 Member States in sharing the world’s skies to their socio-economic benefit.
IFAD: International Fund for Agricultural Development focusses exclusively on rural poverty reduction, working with poor rural populations in developing countries to eliminate poverty, hunger and malnutrition; raise their productivity and incomes; and improve the quality of their lives.
ILO: International Labor Organization promotes international labor rights by formulating international standards on the freedom to associate, collective bargaining, the abolition of forced labor, and equality of opportunity and treatment.
IMF: International Monetary Fund fosters economic growth and employment by providing temporary financial assistance to countries to help ease balance of payments adjustment and technical assistance.
IMO: International Maritime Organization has created a comprehensive shipping regulatory framework, addressing safety and environmental concerns, legal matters, technical cooperation, security, and efficiency.
ITU: International Telecommunication Union is a specialized agency for information and communication technologies. It is committed to connecting all the world’s people.
UNESCO: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization focuses on helping improve education worldwide to protecting important historical and cultural sites around the world.
UNIDO: United Nations Industrial Development Organization promotes industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalization and environmental sustainability.
UNWTO: World Tourism Organization is responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.
UPU: Universal Postal Union is the primary forum for cooperation between postal sector players.
WHO: World Health Organization is the directing and coordinating authority on international health with the objective of attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.
WIPO: World Intellectual Property Organization protects intellectual property throughout the world.
WMO: World Meteorological Organization facilitates the free international exchange of meteorological data and information and the furtherance of its use in aviation, shipping, security, and agriculture, etc.
World Bank: It focuses on poverty reduction and the improvement of living standards worldwide by providing low-interest loans, interest-free credit, and grants to developing countries for education, health, infrastructure, and communications, among other things. There are several specialized agencies as part of the World Bank Group.
Other Entities and Bodies
UNAIDS: Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) leads and inspires the world to achieve its shared vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.
UNHCR: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees protects refugees worldwide and facilitates their return home or resettlement.
UNIDIR: United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research generates ideas and promotes action on disarmament and security.
UNITAR: United Nations Institute for Training and Research is a training arm of the United Nations System, and has the mandate to enhance the effectiveness of the UN through diplomatic training, and to increase the impact of national actions through public awareness-raising, education and training of public policy officials.
UNOPS: United Nations Office for Project Services helps people build better lives and help countries achieve peace and sustainable development.
UNRWA: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees contributes to the welfare and human development of Palestine refugees.
UNSSC: United Nations System Staff College is the learning organization of the United Nations system. It designs and delivers learning programmes for staff of the UN system and its partners.
UNU: United Nations University has the mandate to conduct “research into the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare.”
UN Women: It merges and builds on the important work of four previously distinct parts of the UN system, which focus exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
CTBTO: Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization promotes the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the build-up of the verification regime so that it is operational when the Treaty enters into force.
IAEA: International Atomic Energy Agency, is the world’s centre for cooperation in the nuclear field. The Agency works with its Member States and multiple partners worldwide to promote the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technologies.
IOM: International Organization for Migration works to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people.
OPCW: Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which entered into force in 1997. OPCW Member States work together to achieve a world free of chemical weapons.
UNFCCC: UNFCCC Secretariat (UN Climate Change) was established in 1992 when countries adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and is tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change.
WTO: World Trade Organization is a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements, and a place where member governments try to sort out the trade problems they face with each other.
ITC: International Trade Centre is the only development agency that is fully dedicated to supporting the internationalization of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Main source: https://www.un.org