United Nations: It’s various Organs and associated Issues

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Context: The United Nations has been an important organ since its creation. However, there is debate over the relevance of the UN and associated organizations amid the changing scenarios of the 21st century. In this article, we'll read all about the UN and its various organizations and associated issues and challenges.

Relevance: GS II- Important International Institutions, agencies and fora – their Structure, Mandate.

  • UNO- An international organisation founded in 1945, currently made up of 193 member states.
  • The main organs of the UN are
    1. General Assembly
    2. Security Council
    3. Economic and Social Council
    4. Trusteeship Council
    5. International Court of Justice
    6. UN Secretariat
General Assembly
  • Main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the UN
  • All 193 member states represented in GA, making it the only UN body with universal representation
  • Decisions on important questions, such as those on peace and security, admission of new members and budgetary matters, require a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly
  • Decisions on other questions are by a simple majority. The General Assembly, each year, elects a GA President to serve a one-year term of office.
Security Council
  • The Security Council has primary responsibility, under the UN Charter, for the maintenance of international peace and security
  • It has 15 Members (5 permanent and 10 non-permanent). Each Member has one vote. Under the Charter, all Member States are obligated to comply with Council decisions
  • The Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of the settlement
  • In some cases, the Security Council can resort to imposing sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security
  • The Security Council has a Presidency, which rotates, and changes, every month India in 55-nation Asia-Pacific Group at the UNSC has unanimously endorsed India’s membership for the nonpermanent seat at UNSC for 2021-22 and later 184 members of the UNGA voted for India.

Why Permanent Seat Claim

  • India seems to have depended on the argument that it is entitled to a seat at the UNSC because of multiple factors such as population, growing economic stature and growing global responsibilities like peacekeeping.
Economic and Social Council
  • It is the principal body for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and recommendations on economic, social and environmental issues, as well as the implementation of internationally agreed development goals
  • It serves as the central mechanism for activities of the UN system and its specialized agencies in the economic, social and environmental fields, supervising subsidiary and expert bodies
  • It has 54 members, elected by the General Assembly for overlapping three-year terms. It is the United Nations’ central platform for reflection, debate, and innovative thinking on sustainable development

Recent Developments

  • India along with 12 other members was elected to the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC), a subsidiary body of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
  • India voted in favour of Israel in ECOSOC to deny the Palestinian non-governmental organisation ‘Shahed’ the observer status, after Israel said the organisation did not disclose its ties with Hamas.
Trusteeship Council
  • The Trusteeship Council was established in 1945 by the UN Charter, to provide international supervision for 11 Trust Territories that had been placed under the administration of seven Member States, and ensure that adequate steps were taken to prepare the Territories for self-government and independence
  • By 1994, all Trust Territories had attained self-government or independence. The Trusteeship Council suspended operation on 1 November 1994
  • By a resolution adopted on 25 May 1994, the Council amended its rules of procedure to drop the obligation to meet annually and agreed to meet as occasion required — by its decision or the decision of its President, or at the request of a majority of its members or the General Assembly or the Security Council.
International Court of Justice, Hague (Netherlands)
  • It is the principal judicial organ of the United Nation
  • It is the only one of the six principal organs of the United Nations not located in New York (United States of America)
  • The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies. 
  • The International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared by a majority verdict that Pakistan has violated the Vienna Convention and urged Islamabad to review and reconsider the judgment in the case of former Indian Navy official Kulbhushan Jadhav. 
  • The Secretariat comprises the SecretaryGeneral and tens of thousands of international UN staff members who carry out the day-to-day work of the UN as mandated by the General Assembly and the Organization's other principal organs.
  • The Secretary-General is the chief administrative officer of the Organization, appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council for a five-year, renewable term. UN staff members are recruited internationally and locally, and work in duty stations and on peacekeeping missions all around the world.

Gandhi Solar Park

  • Inaugurated the park at the UN headquarters in New York. The 50 kilowatt Gandhi Solar Park is the first of its kind symbolic Indian effort at the UN, which brings to focus India’s attempt to walk the talk on climate change and climate action.
  • The world leaders also launched UN postage stamp on Mahatma Gandhi, commemorating his 150th birth anniversary.

The UN system, also known unofficially as the 'UN family', is made up of the UN itself and many programmes, funds, and specialized agencies, all with their own leadership and budget.

The programmes and funds are financed through voluntary rather than assessed contributions. The Specialized Agencies are independent international organizations funded by both voluntary and assessed contributions

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 

New York, USA

It is the UN's global development network.

Established in 1965 by the General Assembly.


  • Works to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities through the sustainable development of nations, in more than 170 countries and territories.


  • Promotes technical and investment cooperation among nations and advocates for change and
  • connects countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life for themselves.
  • Provides expert advice, training and grants support to developing countries, with an increasing emphasis on assistance to the least developed countries.
  • Works with nations on their own solutions to global and national development challenges. 
  • UNDP is central to the United Nations Sustainable Development Group.
  • Works internationally to help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The three major areas of focus for UNDP India’s country programme for 2018-2022 are:

  • Inclusive Growth
  • Environment & Energy
  • Strengthening Systems & Institutions


  • Human Development Report which includes the Human Development Index and  Gender Inequality Index. 


  • India ranks 129 out of 189 countries on the 2019 Human Development Index (HDI)- up to one slot from the 130th position last year

Multidimensional Poverty Index 2019

  • India lifted 271 million people out of poverty between 2006 and 2016, recording the fastest reductions in the multidimensional poverty index values during the period with strong improvements in areas such as assets, cooking fuel, sanitation and nutrition


United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 

Nairobi, Kenya

  • United Nations Environment Programme, established in 1972, is the voice for the environment within the United Nations system. UNEP acts as a catalyst, advocate, educator and facilitator to promote the wise use and sustainable development of the global environment.
  • As a member of the United Nations Sustainable

Development Group:

  • UNEP helps create or implement environmental treaties and institutions, such as the UNFCCC, CITES.
  • In 1988, it joined the WMO to establish the IPCC.
  • It is also one of several “Implementing Agencies” for the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, and the International Cyanide Management Code.


  • Global Environment Outlook
  • Actions on Air Quality


  • Earth Hour, Clean up the World, Billion Tree Campaign etc.


United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 

New York, USA

  • United Nations Population Fund — UNFPA 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 State of World Population 2019 report.


  • India’s population grew at an average annual rate of 1.2 per cent between 2010 and 2019 to 1.36 billion, more than double the annual growth rate of China.
  • India recorded an improvement in life expectancy at birth 27 % of the country’s population was in the age bracket of 0-14 years and 10-24 years each, while 67 % of the country’s population was in the 15-64 age bracket. 


Nairobi, Kenya

  • United Nations Human Settlements Programme is to promote socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development and the achievement of adequate shelter for all.


  • India was unanimously elected its President in 2017
  • Since the UN-Habitat came into being in 1978, it is the third time that India has been elected to lead this organisation after 2007 and 1988


New York, USA

  • It works in 190 countries and territories to save children’s lives, to defend their rights, and to help them fulfil their potential, from early childhood through adolescence.
  • A third of the world's nearly 700 million children under five years old are undernourished or overweight and face lifelong health problems as a consequence
  • Half of the youngsters across the globe under five are not getting essential vitamins and minerals — Hidden Hunger
  • Triple Burden — undernutrition, a lack of crucial micronutrients, obesity.

State of the World’s Children 2019

  • Malnutrition caused 69% of deaths of children below the age of five in India It said that every second child in that age group is affected by some form of malnutrition.
  • This includes stunting (35%), wasting (17%) and overweight (%). Only 42% of children (in the age group of 6 to 23 months) are fed at an adequate frequency and 21% get adequately diverse diet
  • Indian children are being diagnosed with adult diseases such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease and pre-diabetes.

World Food Programme (WFP) 

Rome, Italy

  • 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

Food And Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 

Rome, Italy

  • Food and Agriculture Organisation leads international efforts to fight hunger. It is both a forum for negotiating agreements between developing and developed countries and a source of technical knowledge and information to aid the development
  • It supports the government’s efforts to synergise biodiversity conservation, agricultural production and local development for healthy diets and a healthy planet.

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

Montreal, Canada

  • International Civil Aviation Organisation develops standards for global air transport and assists its 192 Member States in sharing the world’s skies to their socio-economic benefit.
  • It has created a special language which the pilots must speak, whatever their nationality. It was to help ensure that pilots and air controllers don’t misunderstand each other and avoid potentially fatal accidents from taking place.
  • The report prepared by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) shows that the only countries that rank below India are Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu and Samoa.


International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

Rome, Italy

  • International Fund for Agricultural Development since it was created in 1977, has focused 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.
  • The ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme seeks to identify if countries have consistently implemented a safety-oversight system. India is one of the 15 countries that are below the minimum target rates.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) 

Washington, DC, USA

  • 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. The IMF currently has $28 billion in outstanding loans to 74 nations


  1. World Economic Outlook
  2. 2. Global Financial Stability Report

International Maritime Organization IMO

 London, UK

  • International Maritime Organisation has created a comprehensive shipping regulatory framework, addressing safety and environmental concerns, legal matters, technical cooperation, security, and efficiency
  • IMO currently has 174 member states and three associate members; there are also scores of non-governmental and inter-governmental organisations
  • Shipping, which accounts for over 90% by volume and about 80% by value of global trade, is a highly regulated industry with a range of legislation promulgated by the IMO
  • IMO has announced an ambitious project to decarbonise shipping in order to reduce carbon emissions
  • It had mandated that merchant ships should not burn fuel with a sulphur content greater than 0.5% beginning January 1, 2020
  • The IMO currently lists India as among the 10 states with the largest interest in international seaborne trade

International Telecommunication Union

Geneva, Switzerland

  • The ITU has 193 member states that elect representatives to the council
  • International Telecommunication Union is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies. It is committed to connecting all the world's people – wherever they live and whatever their means, protecting and supporting everyone's fundamental right to communicate
  • India has been elected as a member of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for another 4 years till 2022

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Paris, France

  • United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation focuses on everything from teacher training to helping improve education worldwide to protecting important historical and cultural sites around the world.
  • UNESCO Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE) calls for increased investments in ALE from governments, employers and individuals to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to access and benefit from adult learning opportunities. It reminds member countries that investments in ALE have social, civic and economic benefits.
  • The architectural heritage of Orchha town in Madhya Pradesh which depicts the peculiar style of the Bundela dynasty has been included in UNESCO’s tentative list of world heritage sites following a proposal sent by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to the U.N. body

World Health Organisation (WHO) 

Geneva, Switzerland

  • World Health Organisation is the directing and coordinating authority on international health within the United Nations system.
  • The objective of WHO is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.
  • Health, as defined in the WHO Constitution, is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.


World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) 

Geneva, Switzerland

  • World Intellectual Property Organisation, established in 1967, protects intellectual property throughout the world through 23 international treaties.
  • It releases World Intellectual Property Report
  • Patent registration from India was very low compared with that in the U.S. and China.
  • More than half a lakh patents were registered in a year in the U.S. and China. But it was only around 2,000 in India.

World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) 

Geneva, Switzerland

  • World Meteorological Organisation facilitates the free international exchange of meteorological data and information and the furtherance of its use in aviation, shipping, security, and agriculture, among other things.

World Bank 

Washington, DC, USA

  • The World Bank 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. The World Bank works in over 100 countries.

World Bank Group

  • International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD)
  • International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)*
  • International Development Association (IDA)
  • International Finance Corporation (IFC)
  • Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA)
  • International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) are not specialized agencies in accordance with Articles 57 and 63 of the Charter but are part of the World Bank Group.

World Bank’s Doing Business 2020

  • It showed that India improved 14 places from 77 to 63 out of 190 countries in the Ease of Doing Business (EODB) rankings
  • It said India has halved its poverty rate since the 1990s
  • India’s rapidly growing economy needs investment in infrastructure, an estimated 8.8 percent of GDP or $343 billion a year until 2030
  • A particular challenge lies in India’s declining female labour force participation, which at 27% is among the lowest in the world despite overcoming gender gaps in education

International Labour Organization (ILO)

Geneva, Switzerland

  • International Labour Organisation promotes international labour rights by formulating international standards on the freedom to associate, collective bargaining, the abolition of forced labour, and equality of opportunity and treatment.
  • More than half of India’s business houses are finding it harder to recruit people with the skills they need according to a survey by the International Labour Organisation.
  • A large proportion of businesses in the United States of America (61 per cent), Brazil (70 per cent), India (66 per cent) and Germany (65 per cent) agreed that businesses are looking for quite different skills in new recruits than three years ago

Future of Work Report

  • It asked the world leaders to commit to a universal labour guarantee, universal social protection from birth to old age, an international governance system for the gig economy, and a human-in command approach to artificial intelligence
  • ILO warned that without decisive action we will be sleepwalking into a world that widens inequality, increases uncertainty and reinforces exclusion, with destructive political, social and economic repercussions.

Criticism of the UN in the wake of Pandemic

  • The UN has been unable to respond effectively to the once-in-a-century global crisis triggered by the coronavirus.
  • At the UN Security Council, China blocked a serious discussion on the origin and sources of the crisis.
  • The role of WHO has come under severe criticism in the handling of the Pandemic.
Issues and Challenges in various UN Bodies
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for reform in UNOs “outdated structures”, pointing out that in the absence of comprehensive changes, the world body today faces a “crisis of confidence”.

United Nations General Assembly

  • Prominent Stage, Limited Powers.
  • Every year, the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) becomes the stage where presidents and prime ministers give speeches.
  • UNGA has no control over veto power exercised by UNSC and it cannot take any decisive action against permanent members of UNSC.

United Nations Security Council

  • The 15-member Security Council is by far the most powerful arm of the United Nations. It can impose sanctions, as it did against Iran over its nuclear program, and authorize military intervention, as it did against Libya in 2011.
  • However, the veto power is used by permanent five countries to serve the strategic interest of themselves and their allies.
  • The current composition of UNSC does not represent contemporary realities, as permanent members of UNSC, as it has not been reformed since its inception.
  • There has been criticism that the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), who are all nuclear powers, have created an exclusive nuclear club whose powers are unchecked.
  • Unlike the General Assembly, the United Nations Security Council does not have true international representation.
  • This has led to accusations that the UNSC only addresses the strategic interests and political motives of the permanent members, especially in humanitarian interventions: for example, protecting the oil-rich Kuwaitis in 1991 but poorly protecting resource-poor Rwandans in 1997.

World Health Organisation 

  • The WHO has been dependant on donor funds – mainly from rich countries and foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – rather than through secured funding from countries.
  • As a result, currently, 80% of WHO’s funding is tied to programs that donors choose. Work programs that are vital to WHO’s mandate remain underfunded as they clash with the interests of big donors, especially of rich and developed countries.
  • Consequently, WHO’s role as a leader in global health has been supplanted by other intergovernmental bodies such as the World Bank, and increasingly by big foundations.
  • The organisation’s efficacy has come under question, especially after its inadequate performance in containing West Africa’s Ebola epidemic of 2014 and the current Covid Pandemic.
  • Most of the humanitarian assistance, developmental work, and budgets of the specialised agencies are based on voluntary contributions. There are calls for increasing public-private partnerships. This is not a satisfactory arrangement.

Vaccine Nationalism

  • Even though vaccine nationalism runs against global public health principles, there are no provisions in international laws that prevent pre-purchase agreements.
  • The major drawback of vaccine nationalism is that it puts countries with fewer resources and bargaining power at a disadvantage.
  • World Health Organization (WHO) warned nations that hoard possible Covid-19 vaccines while excluding others would deepen the pandemic but the call has fallen on deaf ears.

World Trade Organisation

  • Stalled Negotiations.
  • The World Trade Organization is mandated to expand the free trade agenda and a standard-bearer for open and efficient global markets.

North-South divisions

  • WTO talks are mainly seen as a showdown between the North and the South. This is particularly so with the growth in strength of the developing countries and their regional and continental groupings.
  • Because of this, no agreement is happening over the issue of agriculture subsidies despite several rounds of talks

Plurilateralism Vs Multilateralism

  • Plurilateralism represents a reaction to the failure of multilateralism when some countries not willing to move forward with the liberalisation process. A plurilateral agreement implies that WTO member countries would be given the choice to agree to new rules on a voluntary basis.

Protectionism Vs Free Trade

  • The trade war between US and China despite both being a member of WTO. This negates the core non-discriminatory principle of WTO
  • US and China have imposed counter-productive duties, accusing each other of harming their domestic interests.
  • WTO has not been able to prevent the trade wars despite best efforts and has been labelled as a talk shop.
  • The organisation has often been sidelined in regards to major trade agreements, like the EU ignoring WTO ruling on stopping illegal subsidies for Airbus. Countries are now getting into bilateral or regional trade deals as opposed to global agreements. The concern of the only global international organisation, which was formed to ensure that global trade flows smoothly and freely, is evident.
  • The uncertainty created by a proliferation of trade-restrictive actions could place economic recovery in jeopardy especially in a post-pandemic world.

Agreement on Agriculture

  • It was negotiated during the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and entered into force with the establishment of the WTO on January 1, 1995.
  • The agreement focuses on the elimination of the so-called ‘trade-distorting’ agricultural subsidies.
  • The agreement has garnered fixed commitments from all WTO nations on three aspects of agro supply chain namely – Improving market access (by removing trade barriers), capping subsidies (given for enhancing domestic production) & providing export doles. 
  • The most controversial of all these is the domestic subsidies for production enhancement, as it is the one that most directly affects the livelihoods of a large chunk of the population in the developing world.

Dispute settlement mechanism

  • While WTO’s dispute settling mechanism allows aggrieved parties to file cases against member-states. But some of the cases and issues have remained unresolved for a long time
  • Recent WTO report shows that there is a rapid increase in dispute between the member nations. It is being alleged that developed countries deliberately weaken the dispute resolution mechanism within WTO

The strong influence of Corporate

  • The WTO essentially protects multinational corporations based in the North and acts as a tool of rich and powerful countries – notably the US, the EU, Japan and Canada.
  • The advanced countries are determined to promote the kind of corporate-friendly rules that align with their own economic interests and are indifferent to the Doha Development Agenda.



As the world’s only truly global organization, the United Nations has become the foremost forum to address issues that transcend national boundaries and cannot be resolved by any one country acting alone. However, the challenges of 21st century are way different and complex than what it was during the establishment of the organisation in 1945. Geopolitics and climate today is different. For the UN to stay relevant, there is dire need for reforms in the organization as a whole. There is also a need for proper representation of developing countries including those in Asia, Africa and South America. 

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