United Nations system

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The United Nations system consists of the United Nations and related organizations.

Related concepts

The term agencies, funds and programmes is often used as a shorthand for the operational agencies within the system other than the Secretariat. In addition to the funds and programmes and the specialized agencies, the colloquial use of this term also covers other entities such as UNHCR and related organizations such as IOM.

The common system is often used as a shorthand for the organizations within the United Nations system that adhere to the common system of salaries, benefits and allowances.


United Nations

Article 7
There are established as principal organs of the United Nations: a General Assembly, a Security Council, an Economic and Social Council, a Trusteeship Council, an International Court of Justice and a Secretariat. Such subsidiary organs as may be found necessary may be established in accordance with the present Charter.

The United Nations consists of the six Main Organs defined in the Charter of the United Nations and their subsidiary organs, which can include committees, operational agencies or organs with characteristics of both[1]. For the purposes of this article, only the operational agencies are listed.

Main bodies

  • The General Assembly
  • The Security Council
  • The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
  • The Trusteeship Council
  • The International Court of Justice (ICJ)
  • The Secretariat
    The Secretary-General is the chief administrative officer of the Organization, as per Article 97 of the Charter, and is appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. The terms of appointment of the Secretary-General are outlined in General Assembly 11 (I), and additional considerations are contained in the annexes to resolution 51/241 and 60/286.

Funds and programmes

The funds and programmes are subsidiary organs of the United Nations, under Article 7.2 of the Charter, and do not have separate juridical personality from the United Nations even if they are separately administered.

  • United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
    UNDP was established with the adoption of General Assembly resolution 2029 (XX) through the merger of the United Nations Special Fund[2] and the Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance. UNDP is led by an Administrator (formerly the Managing Director of the Special Fund), appointed by the Secretary-General and subject to confirmation by the General Assembly.
    UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS are overseen by a joint Executive Board, which replaced the earlier UNDP Governing Council with the adoption of General Assembly resolution 48/162.
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
    UNEP was established by the General Assembly in its resolution 2997 (XXVII). As per this resolution, the Secretariat of UNEP is headed by an Executive Director elected by the General Assembly on the nomination of the Secretary-General.
    See also ST/SGB/2006/13 Organization of the secretariat of the United Nations Environment Programme
  • United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat)
  • United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
    UNICEF was established by the General Assembly in its resolution 57 (I). As per this resolution, UNICEF is administered by an Executive Director under policies established by the UNICEF Executive Board. The Executive Director is appointed by the Secretary-General in consultation with the Executive Board.
  • World Food Programme (WFP)
    WFP is a joint programme of the United Nations and FAO and is subject to the FAO regulations and rules.

Other entities

A number of other entities are also considered subsidiary organs under Article 7.2 of the Charter.

  • International Trade Centre (ITC)
    The ITC is a joint subsidiary organ of the United Nations, via UNCTAD, and the World Trade Organization.
  • Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)
    UNAIDS is a joint programme established by ECOSOC in its resolution 1994/24. UNAIDS uses WHO regulations and rules.
  • United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
  • Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)[3]
  • United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)
    UNOPS became a separate entity from UNDP under General Assembly decision 48/501. See also UNDP Executive Board decision 94/12
  • United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) [4]
  • United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women)

Specialized agencies

Article 57
1. The various specialized agencies, established by intergovernmental agreement and having wide international responsibilities, as defined in their basic instruments, in economic, social, cultural, educational, health, and related fields, shall be brought into relationship with the United Nations in accordance with the provisions of Article 63.
2. Such agencies thus brought into relationship with the United Nations are hereinafter referred to as specialized agencies.

Article 63
The Economic and Social Council may enter into agreements with any of the agencies referred to in Article 57, defining the terms on which the agency concerned shall be brought into relationship with the United Nations. Such agreements shall be subject to approval by the General Assembly.
It may co-ordinate the activities of the specialized agencies through consultation with and recommendations to such agencies and through recommendations to the General Assembly and to the Members of the United Nations.

Specialized agencies are autonomous organizations whose work is coordinated through ECOSOC at the intergovernmental level and the Chief Executives Board (CEB) at the inter-secretariat level, in line with articles 57 and 63 of the Charter. They are therefore not legally part of the United Nations, but are part of the broader United Nations system.

  • Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
  • International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
  • International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
  • International Labour Organization (ILO)
  • International Monetary Fund (IMF)[5]
  • International Maritime Organization (IMO)
  • International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
  • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
  • World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
  • World Intellectual Property Organization (UNIDO)
  • World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
  • World Bank Group[6]
    • International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD)
    • International Development Association (IDA)
    • International Finance Corporation (IFC)

Related organizations

Related organizations are autonomous organizations with cooperation agreements with the United Nations. Although many are similar to the specialized agencies and some coordinate their work through the CEB, their cooperation agreements make no specific reference to articles 57 and 63 of the Charter.

  • Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO Preparatory Commission)
  • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
    IAEA reports to the Security Council.
  • International Criminal Court (ICC)
  • International Organization for Migration (IOM)[7]
  • International Seabed Authority (ISA)
  • International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)
  • Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)
    OPCW reports to the Security Council.
  • World Trade Organization (WTO)

See also


  1. See Repertory of Practice of United Nations Organs (1945–1954), volume 1: Article 7, paragraph 16
  2. General Assembly resolution 1240 (XIII)
  3. UNHCR was previously considered an organizational unit of the Secretariat and not a subsidiary organ. See ST/SGB/1997/5 Organization of the Secretariat.
  4. See Repertory of Practice of United Nations Organs (1945–1954), volume 1: Article 7, paragraph 16
  5. The IMF is not a member of the common system
  6. The World Bank Group is not a member of the common system
  7. General Assembly resolution 70/296 Agreement concerning the Relationship between the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration(25 July 2016)