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The United Nations System



Follow this link to download the Guide to the United Nations (June 2010) produced by the Directorate for the United Nations, International Organisations, Human Rights and the Francophonie of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.

The UN at a glance Retour à la table des matières

The US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, coined the term “United Nations”.

In 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter. Those delegates deliberated on the basis of proposals worked out by the representatives of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States at Dumbarton Oaks, United States, in August-October 1944. The Charter was signed on 26 June 1945 by the representatives of the 50 countries. Poland, which was not represented at the Conference, signed it later and became one of the original 51 member states.

The United Nations officially came into existence on 24 October 1945, when the Charter had been ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and a majority of other signatories.

The UN currently has 193 Member States, comprising nearly every independent state in the world.


To become a member of the UN, each state has to meet the obligations of the United Nations Charter, an international treaty that sets out the basic principles for relations between states.


The Charter establishes four goals for the UN:

- To maintain international peace and security

- To develop friendly relations among nations

- To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems and in promoting respect for human rights

- To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations


The UN is not a global government and does not draft legislation. It does, however, have the means to help settle international conflicts and develop policies on issues that affect all countries. All Member States – large or small, rich or poor, regardless of their political or social systems – have a say in the issues, as each member is entitled to a vote.


The UN uses six official languages in its intergovernmental meetings and documents: English, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, French and Russian.

Both working languages of the Secretariat are English and French.

The United Nations system: Retour à la table des matières

- six main bodies: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice and the Secretariat. All these institutions are located at the UN Headquarters in New York, except for the Court which is based in The Hague, Netherlands.

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- The United Nations programmes and funds, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which work in the service of development, humanitarian aid and human rights.

- The specialized institutions and other UN agencies, which work in highly diverse sectors ranging from health care and agriculture to international aviation and meteorology. Bound to the UN through special agreements, these specialized institutions coordinate their activities with the UN, while remaining distinct and independent from it.

The United Nations system collectively—i.e. the UN and its specialized programmes and institutions including the World Bank and the IMF—employs some 63,450 persons worldwide.


More about the UN: Retour à la table des matières

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