UN Organisations

The special organs of the United Nations have come into being through the UN General Assembly Resolutions and they report either directly (or via the Economic and Social Council) to the General Assembly. Some of these special organs had been created by and were inherited from the League of Nations, though restructured when integrated into the United Nations. They do not have budget independence.For example, OHCHR receives one third of its budget from the UN and the rest is paid for by member-states contributions. However, as all have come into being at different times of the United Nations evolution, their internal structures are different.

The organisations that report directly to the General Assembly are:

UNRWA (1949) – United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, UNRWA was established by United Nations General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees. The Agency began operations on 1 May 1950.

In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate, most recently extending it until 30 June 2014.

UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) provides assistance, protection and advocacy for some 5 million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, pending a solution to their plight.

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN member states.

UNRWA provides assistance, protection and advocacy for some 5 million registered Palestine refugees in the Middle East.

The Agency’s services encompass education, health care, relief, camp infrastructure and improvement, community support, microfinance and emergency response, including in times of armed conflict.

UNITAR (1963) – United Nations Institute for Training and Research

The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) is a training arm of the United Nations System, serving some 27,000 beneficiaries annually by conducting more than 400 capacity development and research activities around the world.  The Mission of UNITAR is to deliver innovative training and conduct research on knowledge systems to develop capacities of beneficiaries in the fields of Environment; Peace, Security and Diplomacy; and Governance.

As an autonomous body within the United Nations system, UNITAR is governed by a Board of Trustees and is headed by an Executive Director. The Institute is supported by voluntary contributions from governments, intergovernmental organizations, foundations, and other non-governmental sources. In 1993, UNITAR’s headquarters were transferred to Geneva.

Those reporting via ECOSOC are:

UNICEF – United Nations Children´s Fund

Created in 1946, UNICEF becomes a permanent part of the UN in 1953. UNICEF is the driving force that helps build a world where the rights of every child are realized. They have the global authority to influence decision-makers, and the variety of partners at grassroots level to turn the most innovative ideas into reality.  That makes UNICEF unique among world organizations, and unique among those working with the young.

UNICEF believes that nurturing and caring for children are the cornerstones of human progress.  UNICEF was created with this purpose in mind – to work with others to overcome the obstacles that poverty, violence, disease and discrimination place in a child’s path.  UNICEF believes that they can, together, advance the cause of humanity.

UNICEF advocates for measures to give children the best start in life, because proper care at the youngest age forms the strongest foundation for a person’s future.

They promote girls’ education – ensuring that they complete primary education as a minimum – because it benefits all children, both girls and boys. Girls who are educated grow up to become better thinkers, better citizens, and better parents to their own children.

UNHRC  (1950) – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. It also has a mandate to help stateless people.

In more than six decades, the agency has helped tens of millions of people restart their lives. Today, a staff of some 7,685 people in more than 125 countries continues to help some 33.9 million persons.

Who UNHCR helps: Asylum-Seekers, Children, Women, Men, Internally Displaced Persons, Older People, People with disabilities, Refugees, Returnees and Stateless People.


UNCTAD (1964) – United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

In the early 1960s, growing concerns about the place of developing countries in international trade led many of these countries to call for the convening of a full-fledged conference specifically devoted to tackling these problems and identifying appropriate international actions.UNCTAD promotes the development-friendly integration of developing countries into the world economy. UNCTAD has progressively evolved into an authoritative knowledge-based institution whose work aims to help shape current policy debates and thinking on development, with a particular focus on ensuring that domestic policies and international action are mutually supportive in bringing about sustainable development.

The first United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was held in Geneva in 1964. Given the magnitude of the problems at stake and the need to address them, the conference was institutionalized to meet every four years, with intergovernmental bodies meeting between sessions and a permanent secretariat providing the necessary substantive and logistical support.

Simultaneously, the developing countries established the Group of 77 to voice their concerns. (Today, the G77 has 131 members.)

Established in 1964, UNCTAD promotes the development-friendly integration of developing countries into the world economy. UNCTAD has progressively evolved into an authoritative knowledge-based institution whose work aims to help shape current policy debates and thinking on development, with a particular focus on ensuring that domestic policies and international action are mutually supportive in bringing about sustainable development.

The organization works to fulfill this mandate by carrying out three key functions:

  • It functions as a forum for intergovernmental deliberations, supported by discussions with experts and exchanges of experience, aimed at consensus building.
  • It undertakes research, policy analysis and data collection for the debates of government representatives and experts.
  • It provides technical assistance tailored to the specific requirements of developing countries, with special attention to the needs of the least developed countries and of economies in transition. When appropriate, UNCTAD cooperates with other organizations and donor countries in the delivery of technical assistance.

Main Goals

  • To work as a laboratory of ideas and to provide on-the-ground assistance to help developing countries raise living standards through trade, investment, finance and technology.
  • To help developing countries benefit from the globalized economy.
  • To contribute to international debate on emerging issues related to developing countries and the world economy – such as the current global financial crisis – through major reports, policy briefs, and contributions to international conferences.

Civil Society: UNCTAD believes that enhanced cooperation between the private and the public sector is essential to the effective integration of developing countries into the global economy and seeks ways to involve civil society organizations, academia, trade unions, parliamentarians and business associations in its work. More >>

UNDP (1966) – United Nations Development Programme

UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in 177 countries and territories, we offer global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations.

World leaders have pledged to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, including the overarching goal of cutting poverty in half by 2015. UNDP’s network links and coordinates global and national efforts to reach these Goals. Our focus is helping countries build and share solutions to the challenges of:

UNDP helps developing countries attract and use aid effectively. In all our activities, we encourage the protection of human rights, capacity development and the empowerment of women.

UNDP and Civil Society:  For UNDP, civil society constitutes the full range of formal and informal organizations that are outside the state and market. This includes social movements, volunteer organizations, indigenous peoples’ organizations, mass-based membership organizations, non-governmental organizations, and community-based organizations, as well as communities and citizens acting individually and collectively.  UNDP partners with civil society organizations in programme implementation and policy advocacy. At the country level, this often means working with them to provide basic services in the areas of health, education, water delivery, agricultural extension and micro-credit provision.

UNDP at a Glance (brochure) van be found here>>

UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, delivers a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

The goals of UNFPA – achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health (including family planning), promoting reproductive rights, reducing maternal mortality and accelerating progress on the ICPD agenda and MDG 5 – are inextricably linked. UNFPA also focuses on improving the lives of youths and women by advocating for human rights and gender equality and by promoting the understanding of population dynamics. Population dynamics, including growth rates, age structure, fertility and mortality and migration have an effect on every aspect of human, social and economic progress. And sexual and reproductive health and women’s empowerment all powerfully affect and are influenced by population trends.

Strategic Plan: 2011-2013

In September 2011, following an extensive review of UNFPA’s recent work, as well as the changing context within which it operates, a new, more focused Strategic Plan was adopted by the Executive Board. It will guide the Fund’s work through 2013.

“Through the new plan we seek to sharpen the focus of our work during the next two years from 2012 through 2013—based on evidence and lessons learned,” UNFPA Executive Director told the Executive Board. “These efforts will create a more dynamic, effective and accountable UNFPA.”

At the centre of the new plan is advancing the right to sexual and reproductive health by accelerating progress towards MDG5: to improve maternal health. Priority will be given to advancing two key MDG targets: to reduce maternal deaths and to achieve universal access to reproductive health, including family planning.

Through this sharpened focus, the Fund aims to improve the lives of underserved populations, especially women, youth and adolescents. These efforts will be guided by our expertise in population dynamics, human rights and gender equality, driven by country needs and tailored to the specific country context.

This intensified focus on the field is supported by the Fund’s recent reorganization, which included the establishment of five regional offices, supported by six subregional office. The aim was to locate more resources closer to the people we serve.

UNV – United Nations Volunteers Programme

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is the UN organization that supports sustainable human development globally through the promotion of volunteerism, including the mobilization of volunteers. It serves the causes of peace and development by enhancing opportunities for participation by all peoples. It is universal, inclusive and embraces volunteer action in all its diversity. It values free will, commitment, engagement and solidarity, which are the foundations of volunteerism.

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is the UN organization that contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide.

Volunteerism is a powerful means of engaging people in tackling development challenges, and it can transform the pace and nature of development. Volunteerism benefits both society at large and the individual volunteer by strengthening trust, solidarity and reciprocity among citizens, and by purposefully creating opportunities for participation.

UNV contributes to peace and development by advocating for recognition of volunteers, working with partners to integrate volunteerism into development programming, and mobilizing an increasing number and diversity of volunteers, including experienced UN Volunteers, throughout the world. UNV embraces volunteerism as universal and inclusive, and recognizes volunteerism in its diversity as well as the values that sustain it: free will, commitment, engagement and solidarity.

Based in Bonn, Germany, UNV is active in around 130 countries every year. UNV, with Field Units in 86 countries, is represented worldwide through the offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and reports to the UNDP Executive Board.


Partners and cooperating agencies
UNV operations by country
Thematic areas
Volunteerism for peace and development
UNV report to the UNDP Executive Board
Annual Report 2009
Leadership profiles
Evaluation Reports

UNU  (1972) – United Nations University

The history of the United Nations University began in 1969, with a proposal by United Nations Secretary-General U Thant for “the establishment of a United Nations university, truly international and devoted to the Charter objectives of peace and progress”. The UN General Assembly, in its annual session that year, authorized an expert study on the feasibility of the proposal and, after considering the question further at its next two annual sessions, approved the establishment of the United Nations University in December 1972. The UN General Assembly formally adopted the Charter of the United Nations University in December 1973 — and 36 years later, in December 2009, amended that Charter to explicitly grant UNU permission to award postgraduate degrees.


The mission of the United Nations University is to contribute, through collaborative research and education, dissemination, and advisory services, to efforts to resolve the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare that are the concern of the United Nations, its Peoples and Member States.

In pursuing this mission, UNU conducts research on problems of relevance to the United Nations and its Member States, offers postgraduate programmes that prepare people for science-based work in the United Nations or Governments of Member States, and functions as a think tank for the United Nations and its Member States. In doing so, UNU pays due attention to the social sciences and the humanities as well as the natural sciences.

UNU also acts as a bridge between the United Nations and the international academic community, and serves as a platform for global and local dialogue and creative new ideas. Through postgraduate teaching and research, UNU contributes to capacity building, particularly in developing countries.


UNU aspires to be a world-class international think tank and research, teaching and capacity development institution that addresses the needs of present and future generations to live a decent life, in peace, in freedom, in safety and in good health.

UNU seeks to provide global leadership on aspects of peace, development and sustainability, including governance, global public policy, gender equality, poverty reduction, global health, climate change, natural resources, energy and new technologies, with a special emphasis on collaboration and dialogue between developed and developing countries as well as between different civilizations. UNU serves the United Nations and its Member States with state-of-the-art research and with accumulated knowledge in these areas. It aims to be a postgraduate institution that attracts top researchers, teachers and students alike.

UNEP (1972) – United Nations Environment Programme

To provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

UNEP’s Areas of concern: Climate Change, Distaters and Conflicts, Ecosystem Management, Environmental Governance, Harmful Substances, Resource Efficiency.

CITES  – Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

CMS – Convention on Migratory Species

Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer

Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and its various Amendments

Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste

Convention on Biological Diversity and the Cartagena Protocol on issues of genetically modified organisms and the Nagoya Protocol

Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent

Malmø Declaration for strengthened international environmental governance

POPS – Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants


WFC – World Food Council

WFP – World Food Programme

UNCHS – United Nations Centre for Human Settlements

INSTRAW – International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women

OHCHR – Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights