Introduction to the United Nations

Photo by Cecile Meijer rscj

The United Nations (UN) was created in 1945 as an international organization whose members are countries, states. Today, the UN has 193 Member States – the latest country to become a UN Member State was the Republic of South Sudan in July 2011.
The Charter of the United Nations is the UN’s founding document and guides the work of the organization. Article 1 of the Charter identifies the purposes of the organization, which include:

  • to keep peace in the world
  • to develop friendly relations among countries
  • to work together for development by addressing issues of poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy
  • to promote respect for human rights
  • to be a center for helping countries to achieve these goals

The three thematic pillars of the UN – peace and security, development, and human rights – do not stand in isolation but are very much intertwined. Former Secretary General Kofi Annan described their interrelationship in the following words:

... we will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights. Unless all these causes are advanced, none will succeed.

Report of the Secretary-General Kofi Annan,
In larger freedom, 2005, paragraph 17     

In order to achieve these goals, the UN Charter created six main organs that do the actual work:

In the coming months, the NGO Office will write brief introductions to begin to explain some of these organs – what it is, what it does, how it functions, etc. These articles are meant as a starting point in getting to know the workings of the United Nations.

In the meantime, the UN website, in six languages, is worth exploring. For an explanation of the UN in more accessible language for students, please see the CyberSchoolBus.

Cecile Meijer
NGO Office
October 2011