Four of the five principal organs are located at the main UN Headquarters in New York City. The International Court of Justice is located in The Hague, while other major agencies are based in the UN offices at Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi. Other UN institutions are located throughout the world. The six official languages of the UN, used in intergovernmental meetings and documents, are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. On the basis of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, the UN and its agencies are immune from the laws of the countries where they operate, safeguarding the UN’s impartiality with regard to the host and member countries.
Below the six organs sit, in the words of the author Linda Fasulo, “an amazing collection of entities and organizations, some of which are actually older than the UN itself and operate with almost complete independence from it”. These include specialized agencies, research and training institutions, programs and funds, and other UN entities.
The UN obeys the Noblemaire principle, which is binding on any organization that belongs to the UN system. This principle calls for salaries that will draw and keep citizens of countries where salaries are highest, and also calls for equal pay for work of equal value independent of the employee’s nationality. In practice, the ICSC takes reference to the highest-paying national civil service. Staff salaries are subject to an internal tax that is administered by the UN organizations.
The General Assembly is the main deliberative assembly of the UN. Composed of all UN member states, the assembly meets in regular yearly sessions, but emergency sessions can also be called. The assembly is led by a president, elected from among the member states on a rotating regional basis, and 21 vice-presidents. The first session convened 10 January 1946 in the Methodist Central Hall in London and included representatives of 51 nations.
When the General Assembly decides on important questions such as those on peace and security, admission of new members and budgetary matters, a two-thirds majority of those present and voting is required. All other questions are decided by a majority vote. Each member country has one vote. Apart from approval of budgetary matters, resolutions are not binding on the members. The Assembly may make recommendations on any matters within the scope of the UN, except matters of peace and security that are under consideration by the Security Council.
The Security Council is charged with maintaining peace and security among countries. While other organs of the UN can only make “recommendations” to member states, the Security Council has the power to make binding decisions that member states have agreed to carry out, under the terms of Charter Article 25. The decisions of the Council are known as United Nations Security Council resolutions.
The Security Council is made up of fifteen member states, consisting of five permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and ten non-permanent members elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly. The five permanent members hold veto power over UN resolutions, allowing a permanent member to block adoption of a resolution, though not debate. The ten temporary seats are held for two-year terms, with five member states per year voted in by the General Assembly on a regional basis. The presidency of the Security Council rotates alphabetically each month.
The UN Secretariat is headed by the Secretary-General, assisted by the Deputy Secretary-General and a staff of international civil servants worldwide. It provides studies, information, and facilities needed by UN bodies for their meetings. It also carries out tasks as directed by the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and other UN bodies.