What is the United Nations?
The UN family of organizations consists of:
The UN, its programmes and funds, and the specialized agencies compose the UN system. As a family or organizations, the UN performs a vast range of duties that affect the lives of all of us in myriad ways. These range from the decision of the Security Council to dispatch a peacekeeping operation in response to a dispute, to setting standards for air safety and communications compatibility; from rushing emergency supplies to victims of natural disaster, to coordinating the response to the AIDS pandemic; from helping countries to carry out free and fair elections, to securing low-interest loans to develop the infrastructure of poorer countries. Ultimately, its work is about making a healthier, more stable world with enhanced opportunities and justice for all of us.
Why do we need a United Nations ?
It is often said that if we did not have the United Nations, it would have to be invented.
No organization in the world is better suited to pursue these goals, because no other possesses the UN's universality and legitimacy.
Is the United Nations a World Government ?
The UN is not, and was never intended to be, a world government. As an organization of sovereign and independent States, it does only what Member States have agreed it can do: it is their instrument.
Who works at the United Nations and what do they do there?
Economists, translators, statisticians, secretaries, TV producers, computer experts, physicians, carpenters - these are just a few of the wide variety of people with many skills and backgrounds who work as UN staff members.
The UN Secretariat employs some 8,700 staff members under the regular budget, and some 5,740 under specially funded programmes or projects: coming from 160 countries, they administer the UN's policies and programmes, in New York and at duty stations around the world. The UN system as a whole - the UN, the related programmes and the specialized agencies including the World Bank and the IMF - employs some 64,700 people worldwide.
What does the United Nations do to promote development?
One of the misconceptions about the UN is that it is mainly involved in peacekeeping. In reality, less than 30 per cent of UN activity concerns peacekeeping: most of its work is devoted to development and humanitarian assistance. The only global institution for furthering development, the UN system has bettered the lives of countless people in the poorest parts of the world through practical programmes for development.
In promoting development, the UN's track record is second to none. Through programmes in some 135 countries, the UN system provides over $25 billion in assistance each year, with nearly $5 billion in grants and over $20 billion in loans. It is engaged in activities supporting refugees, the poor and the hungry, and in promoting child survival, environmental protection, crime and drug control, human rights, women's equality and democracy.
UN resources are aimed at the countries and the people most in need. The UN is often the principal, if not the sole, source of technical and financial assistance to many nations. For millions in poor countries, these programmes of assistance are the UN. The blue flag is respected because it is the symbol of people helping other people to build a just and sustainable world.
What can the United Nations do that others cannot?
A number of unique features make the UN especially effective in promoting development:
What does the United Nations do for human rights?
One of the great achievements of the United Nations is the creation of a comprehensive body of human rights law one to which all nations can subscribe. The UN has also developed effective mechanisms to protect human rights, benefitting people all over the world. The ongoing reform of the UN has enhanced the role of human rights promotion, which has become one of the core areas of UN activity and the common thread running through all UN work from peacekeeping to development to humanitarian assistance.
The UN advances human rights in many ways:
How has the United Nations advanced human rights?
The UN has helped to make human rights a matter of concern to people everywhere one which Governments find increasingly difficult to ignore. Examples of the UN's groundbreaking work:
How does the United Nations defend vulnerable groups in society?
The UN is an advocate for the most vulnerable groups minorities, migrant workers, indigenous people, children in especially difficult circumstances and works to better their plight. One of the main UN human rights bodies is the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, which meets annually to enhance the rights of minorities all over the world. International treaties, such as the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1990 Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families have been negotiated through the UN to protect vulnerable groups. UN bodies monitor compliance with conventions protecting the rights of vulnerable groups (children, women, racial minorities), and hold countries accountable for violations.
The UN also orchestrates international campaigns to raise global awareness of the problems affecting vulnerable groups. On behalf of the world's 300 million indigenous people, the UN launched the International Year of the World's Indigenous People (1993) and the ongoing International Decade of the World's Indigenous People (1995-2004), and is negotiating a declaration on their rights. The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict is the main advocate for the estimated 300,000 child soldiers. The International Labour Organization has launched a global programme to eliminate child labour, while the UN Children's Fund carries out projects to improve the life of street children, working children and children in conflict situations.
What does the United Nations do to promote the equal rights of women?
The UN has been instrumental in improving the status of women by spearheading change and raising awareness of their rights throughout the world.
How does the United Nations work for peace?
The UN promotes peace through the entire range of its activities.
As a centre for diplomacy and debate, it provides an alternative to war, a framework for the peaceful settlement of disputes. In times of international crisis, the UN works to ease tensions and facilitate negotiations. It is a rallying point for those who try to prevent or stop armed conflict.
The UN promotes peace through its efforts to protect human rights, through its peacekeeping operations and through work in developing a growing body of international law. It undertakes preventive diplomacy to stop conflicts before they get started. It provides electoral assistance and support for democratization. In promoting economic and social development, the UN helps sustain peace by working to eliminate deep-seated causes of war. Alongside the rest of the UN family of organizations, the UN provides humanitarian assistance, repatriates refugees, helps repair national infrastructure and promotes reconstruction.
What is the UN doing to stop the spread of arms?
Disarmament occupies a central place in UN efforts to advance peace and development in a safer world. Through its own bodies dealing with disarmament issues, and by supporting international negotiating bodies, the UN works to set norms and strengthen multilateral principles for disarmament. Through the UN, countries have the means to build confidence and trust in each other and to verify that agreements are being adhered to.
With UN support, multilateral negotiations, such as those in the Conference on Disarmament, have resulted in a wide range of agreements, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the
Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty and treaties to establish nuclear-free zones. In addition, a number of bodies have been established to help control weapons of mass destruction. The International Atomic Energy Agency, for example, has set up a system of nuclear safeguards and verification, and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons helps ensure compliance with the Convention on Chemical Weapons.
Other confidence-building measures include the UN Register of Conventional Arms and the system for standardized reporting of military expenditures. These instruments promote greater transparency in military matters.
As part of its efforts to build peace in the aftermath of conflict, the UN has overseen the collection and destruction of hundreds of thousands of weapons and assisted in the reintegration of former combatants into civil society.
What is the United Nations doing to rid the world of landmines ?
For more information check the United Nations Demining Database
What is the United Nations doing to ensure its continuing effectiveness?
In the last few years, the UN has enacted major reforms to enhance its efficiency and effectiveness. These have included appointing an Under-Secretary General for Internal Oversight Services, reducing operating expenses, cutting high-level posts and eliminating some 1,000 positions. The 1998-1999 budget of $2.53 billion reflects a reduction of $76 million, or about 3 per cent, over 1996-1997 the first-ever reduction in absolute terms.
The pace of reforms accelerated dramatically with the appointment of Mr. Kofi Annan as Secretary- General. Mr. Annan has put in motion the most far-reaching set of reforms ever proposed to the General Assembly. Among the measures enacted or under way:
Steps are being taken to simplify procedures, reduce administrative redundancies, modernize Secretariat functions and discontinue activities that have outlived their usefulness.
How much does the United Nations cost ?
In 1999, the regular budget of the UN amounted to some $1.26 billion. The regular budget which does not cover peacekeeping operations pays for UN activities, staff and basic infrastructure. All States that are Members of the UN are obligated by the Charter an international treaty to pay a portion of the budget. Each State's contribution is calculated on the basis of its share of the world economy.
How much does the United Nations system cost?
The UN system spends some $10 billion a year, taking into account the UN, the programmes and funds, and the specialized agencies, but excluding the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). About two thirds of this amount comes from voluntary contributions from the Member States; the rest is received from mandatory assessments on those States.
In 1996, the UN system spent some $4.3 billion on operational activities for development mostly for economic, social and humanitarian programmes to help the world's poorest countries. In addition, the World Bank, the IMF and IFAD provide billions more annually in loans that help to eradicate poverty, foster development and stabilize the world economy.
How can I find out more about the United Nations?
You may wish to contact the UN information centre in your country or region, or the Public Inquiries Unit at UN Headquarters (United Nations, Room GA-58, New York, NY 10017, USA; fax (212) 963 0071; firstname.lastname@example.org).
An essential source are the UN Associations (UNAs), active in many countries, which work to inform the public about the role the UN can and does play in global affairs.
Daily updated information is available on the UN Home Page on the Internet World Wide Web, including basic information on the UN system, the latest UN news, press releases, daily highlights of events, publications and an electronic tour of UN Headquarters. You may also branch off: for instance, information on the UN agencies and programmes is available at UN system, and at the UN Office in Geneva. Students and teachers may browse the UN CyberSchoolBus. Virtually all organizations of the UN system are on the Web.
There are many UN publications available to the general public, which provide news, information and some of the most reliable data on economic and social indices available in the world. UN books and publications can be ordered from:
How can I support the work of the United Nations?
The best way to support the UN actively is through the network of non-governmental organizations affiliated with the UN. Especially relevant are the UNAs that exist in some 80 countries, often with many local chapters. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has national committees in countries around the world, spreading awareness about UNICEF's programmes and raising the funds that help to make them a reality. Some 5,000 UNESCO clubs, centres and associations in more than 120 countries undertake activities in the areas of education, science, culture and communication. Major contact points are the UN information centres and Services all over the world.
If you have a skill in agriculture, medicine, education or engineering, as well as the necessary flexibility and commitment, the UN Volunteers programme may place you for a two-year period with an appropriate UN development project in a developing country (contact point: UN Volunteers, P.O. Box 260111, D-53153 Bonn, Germany).
Those in New York City who would like to assist UN staff coming from abroad can serve as volunteers in the Staff Activities Unit. Students at the university and post-graduate levels can apply for internships with the Organization.
The possibilities are many and varied, but the important thing is to get involved. To succeed, the United Nations depends on the peoples of the world. It needs your support!