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United Nations

United Nations, New York, NY 10017


United Nations Office at Geneva: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

United Nations Office at Vienna: Vienna International Centre, P.O. Box 500, A–1400, Vienna, Austria

Washington, DC: United Nations Information Centre, Suite 500, 1775 K Street NW., Washington, DC 20006

202-331-9191 | Email:

Deputy Secretary-GeneralAmina J. Mohammed
Director-General, United Nations Office at GenevaTatiana Valovaya

Director-General, United Nations Office at ViennaGhada Fathi Waly

Director-General, United Nations Office at NairobiZainab Hawa Bangura
Officer in Charge, Washington DC Information CentreStefania Piffanelli

The United Nations supports tolerance and peaceful coexistence among the nations; seeks to maintain peace and security among them; opposes the use of armed force, except in the common interest; and promotes the economic and social advancement of all peoples.


The United Nations is an international organization that was set up in accordance with a charter that was drafted by governments that were represented at the Conference on International Organization meeting in San Francisco. The Charter was signed on June 26, 1945, and came into force on October 24, 1945, when the required number of ratifications and accessions had been made by the signatories. Amendments increasing membership of the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council came into effect on August 31, 1965.

The United Nations now consists of 193 member states, of which 51 are founding members.

A chart of the United Nations System's principal organs is available in Portable Document Format (PDF) for downloading and online viewing.

The purposes of the United Nations set out in the Charter are to maintain international peace and security; to develop friendly relations among nations; to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character and in promoting respect for human rights; and to be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.


The principal organs of the United Nations are the Economic and Social Council, General Assembly, International Court of Justice, Secretariat, Security Council, and Trusteeship Council.

Economic and Social Council

This organ is responsible, under the authority of the General Assembly, for the economic and social programs of the United Nations. Its functions include making or initiating studies, reports, and recommendations on international economic, social, cultural, educational, health, and related matters; promoting respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all; calling international conferences and preparing draft conventions for submission to the General Assembly on matters within its competence; negotiating agreements with the specialized agencies and defining their relationship with the United Nations; coordinating the activities of the specialized agencies; and consulting with nongovernmental organizations concerned with matters within its competence. The Council consists of 54 members of the United Nations elected by the General Assembly for 3-year terms; 18 are elected each year.

The Council usually holds two regular sessions a year. It has also held a number of special sessions.

General Assembly

All states that are members of the United Nations are members of the General Assembly. Its functions are to consider and discuss any matter within the scope of the Charter of the United Nations and to make recommendations to the members of the United Nations and other organs. It approves the budget of the organization, the expenses of which are borne by the members as apportioned by the General Assembly.

The General Assembly may call the attention of the Security Council to situations likely to endanger international peace and security, may initiate studies, and may receive and consider reports from other organs of the United Nations. Under the "Uniting for Peace" resolution adopted by the General Assembly in November 1950, if the Security Council fails to act on an apparent threat to or breach of the peace or act of aggression because of lack of unanimity of its five permanent members, the Assembly itself may take up the matter within 24 hours—in emergency special session—and recommend collective measures, including, in case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression, use of armed force when necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.

The General Assembly normally meets in regular annual session from September through December. It also has met in special sessions and emergency special sessions.

International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It has its seat at The Hague, the Netherlands. All members of the United Nations are ipso facto parties to the Statute of the Court. Nonmembers of the United Nations may become parties to the Statute of the Court on conditions prescribed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council.

The jurisdiction of the Court comprises all cases that the parties refer to it and all matters specially provided for in the Charter of the United Nations or in treaties and conventions in force.

The Court consists of 15 judges known as members of the Court. They are elected for 9-year terms by the General Assembly and the Security Council, voting independently, and may be reelected.


The Secretariat consists of a Secretary-General and "such staff as the Organization may require." The Secretary-General, who is appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council, is the chief administrative officer of the United Nations. He acts in that capacity for the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, and the Trusteeship Council. Under the Charter, the Secretary-General "may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter that in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security."

Security Council

The Security Council consists of 15 members, of which 5—the People's Republic of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America—are permanent members. The 10 nonpermanent members are elected for 2-year terms by the General Assembly. The primary responsibility of the Security Council is to act on behalf of the members of the United Nations in maintenance of international peace and security. Measures that may be employed by the Security Council are outlined in the Charter.

The Security Council, together with the General Assembly, also elects the judges of the International Court of Justice and makes a recommendation to the General Assembly on the appointment of the Secretary-General of the organization.

The Security Council first met in London on January 17, 1946, and is so organized as to be able to function continuously.

Trusteeship Council

The Trusteeship Council was initially established to consist of any member states that administered trust territories, permanent members of the Security Council that did not administer trust territories, and enough other nonadministering countries elected by the General Assembly for 3-year terms to ensure that membership would be equally divided between administering and nonadministering members. Under authority of the General Assembly, the Council considered reports from members administering trust territories, examined petitions from trust territory inhabitants, and provided for periodic inspection visits to trust territories.

With the independence of Palau, the last remaining United Nations trust territory, the Trusteeship Council formally suspended operations after nearly half a century. The Council will henceforth meet only on an extraordinary basis, as the need may arise.

Sources of Information

A–Z Index

An alphabetical index is available on the United Nations' website to help visitors search for specific topics or browse content that aligns with their interests.

Career Opportunities

United Nations staff members coordinate relief in humanitarian crises, disarm child soldiers, monitor elections, provide administrative and logistical support for carrying out complex mandates, and carry out a host of other functions around the world.

Children in Detention

Many children are held in inhuman conditions and in adult facilities—in violation of their human rights—where they are at high risk of violence, rape, and sexual assault, including acts of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recently released the "Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty" (OCT 2019).

Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published "Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis," which is the contribution of Working Group I to the sixth assessment report. Working Group I members have compiled the most up-to-date physical assessment of the climate system and climate change. They brought together the latest advances in climate science and combined multiple lines of evidence from paleoclimate, observations, process understanding, and global and regional climate simulations. In the summary for policymakers, the report states: "Observed increases in well-mixed greenhouse gas concentrations since around 1750 are unequivocally caused by human activities. . . . concentrations have continued to increase in the atmosphere, reaching annual averages of 410 ppm for carbon dioxide, 1866 ppb for methane, and 332 ppb for nitrous oxide in 2019."

The IPCC has released a video synopsis of its "Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis." In the video (1:10), Professor Panmao Zhai of the China Meteorological Administration and cochair of the IPCC's Working Group I for the sixth assessment report cycle summarized the report's climate-change message: Human activity and behavior are the main causes of changes that are intensifying, rapid, and widespread.

In southern Madagascar, an ongoing drought that started in 2019 has eliminated nearly all sources of food. The drought has brought severe hunger, and climate change is causing the drought. The World Food Programme of the United Nations has sounded the alarm to raise awareness and stimulate action to provide relief from the catastrophe.

On November 13, 2021, Secretary-General António Guterres released a statement on the conclusion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26. He wrote: "Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe. It is time to go into emergency mode."

Cooler Cities

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is a global authority for setting the environmental agenda. It promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. "Beating the Heat: A Sustainable Cooling Handbook for Cities" is a guide that offers planners an encyclopedia of proven options to help cool cities. To develop the handbook, UNEP collaborated with the Clean Cooling Collaborative, Cool Coalition, Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, Rocky Mountain Institute, and Mission Innovation.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID–19)

The United Nations maintains "COVID–19 Response" web pages where it posts informational resources and its most recent updates on the pandemic.

The Department of Global Communications has posted the photo essay "We're All in This Together" as part of the United Nations' "COVID–19 Response" section on its website.


Launched in 1993 and updated in 2016, the Official Document System (ODS) is an online database of United Nations documents that has full-text, born-digital documents published from 1993 onward. The ODS also includes scanned documents that were published between 1946 and 1993. Documents are available in the official languages of the United Nations. Some documents are also available in German.

Empowering the Next Generation

In the face of crises whose effects are global in scale and scope, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs identifies an important source of hope: the next generation because it is different.

Essential UN Information

"The Essential UN" web page brings together in one place the most important information on United Nations activities, funding, priorities, and programs.

Food Loss and Waste

The Food and Agriculture Organization maintains the "Food Loss and Waste Database," which is the largest online collection of data on food loss, food waste, and the causes that are reported for the loss and waste. The data and information come from openly accessible reports and studies that measure food loss and waste across food products, stages of the value chain, and geographical areas. The database may be used by anyone who seeks information on food loss and waste and who has Internet access.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Dag Hammarskjöld Library staff members post answers to FAQs.

Global Issues

The "Global Issues" web page offers convenient access to a trove of information on aging, atomic energy, children, climate change, decolonization, democracy, food, population, refugees, water, women, and more.


More than 75 years after its creation, the United Nations continues to support international peace and security efforts, give humanitarian assistance to those in need, protect human rights, and uphold international law. "The History of the United Nations" web page tells the story of those efforts.

Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a short history of this document are posted on the United Nation's website.

International Maritime Organization (IMO)

The IMO is a specialized United Nations agency whose responsibilities include shipping safety and security and preventing ships from polluting the atmosphere and marine environment. The work of the IMO supports the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. The "Affiliated Bodies and Programmes" web page has a collection of links that provide convenient access to the websites of IMO affiliates and IMO programs.


The Dag Hammarskjöld Library is accessible online.

Mine Awareness

The United Nations Mine Action Service observes International Mine Awareness Day each year on April 4th. To hear the United Nation's global advocate's 2019 message, watch the 3-minute video.


The News Centre provides breaking news coverage of developments around the United Nations system, offering quick access to news-related products and resources.

Non-English Readers

The United Nations provides versions of its website in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish. Language options are available on the site's welcome page.

Official Languages

The United Nations has designated six languages as official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. The work of the United Nations includes communicating issues of global importance clearly and concisely. Accuracy in interpretation and translation makes the difference between communication that is clear and concise and communication that distorts and rambles.

Plastic Pollution

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released its "Assessment of Agricultural Plastics and Their Sustainability—A Call For Action" (2021). In the assessment's foreword, the organization's Deputy Director Maria Helena Semedo wrote: "Soils are one of the main receptors of agricultural plastics and are known to contain larger quantities of microplastics than oceans. . . . This report serves as a loud call to coordinated and decisive action to facilitate good management practices and curb the disastrous use of plastics across the agricultural sectors."


Books, reports, and data are available from the online bookshop.

Social Media

Official United Nations social media include Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, and other accounts.

Sustainable Development

The United Nations promotes 17 sustainable development goals to end poverty, to ensure prosperity for all people, and to protect Earth's biosphere, as part of a development agenda.

System Organizations Directory

The Charter of the United Nations established the organizations that constitute the United Nations system. The directory presents these organizations in categories with links to their web pages.

Web TV / Video

The United Nation's Web TV Channel is accessible around the clock. Its programming includes selected live broadcasts of United Nations meetings and events and prerecorded video features and documentaries on various global issues.


The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is a global authority for setting the environmental agenda. It promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. "Spreading Like Wildfire—The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires" is a report to which over 50 experts from government agencies, international organizations, and research institutions, contributed worldwide. Their conclusions indicate that humans face an extreme situation that must be addressed synchronically, at the local and on a global level, with an immediate and robust response, and in ways that support ecosystems and synergize with their natural processes.