Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the principal organs of the United Nations?
In accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, the principal organs are the General Assembly (Charter, chapter IV, articles 9-22), the Security Council (chapter V, articles 23-32), the Economic and Social Council (chapter X, articles 61-72), the Trusteeship Council (chapter XIII, articles 86-91), the International Court of Justice (chapter XIV, articles 92-96), and the Secretariat (chapter XV, articles 97-101).
I’ve heard of the Millennium Development Goals. What are they?
Following the Millennium Summit in 2000, where the United Nations Millennium Declaration was adopted, the following eight goals were set out: (1) eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, (2) achievement of universal primary education, (3) promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women, (4) reduction of the child mortality rate, (5) improvement in maternal health, (6) combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, (7) ensuring environmental sustainability, and (8) developing a global partnership for development. The Member States of the United Nations and a number of international organizations have agreed to work towards their achievement by the year 2015. For more information, visit the Millennium Development Goals website at http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals.
What are the official languages of the United Nations?
The six official languages of the United Nations are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. They are the mother tongue or second language of 2.8 billion people, nearly half the world population, and are official languages in more than half the States in the world.
Statements made in an official language at a formal meeting are interpreted simultaneously into the other official languages of the body concerned by United Nations interpreters. If a delegation wishes to speak in a language that is not an official language, it must supply an interpreter to interpret the statement, or it can have the statement translated it into one of the official languages. It is then rendered into the other languages by a relay system.
Documents are produced in the six official languages and are issued simultaneously in all official languages.
How were the official languages chosen?
Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish have been official languages since the founding of the United Nations in 1945 (General Assembly Resolution 2 (1) of 1 February 1946, Annex, paragraph 1). English and French have been the United Nations’ working languages since the same time. Arabic was added as an official language by a decision of the General Assembly in its resolution 3190 (XXVIII) of 18 December 1973.
Are there any proposals to add another official language?
No, at present there are no such proposals before the General Assembly.
Where is the best place to find general information on the United Nations?
The best place to start is the United Nations website at http://www.un.org. You can navigate from there. All website texts are available in the six official languages.
Where can I find more information on departments of the United Nations Secretariat?
Go to the website http://www.un.org/depts for detailed information on the Departments of the Secretariat, including the Dag Hammarskjöld Library. That site also provides details on their work programmes. The site of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management is http://www.un.org/depts/DGACM/.
Where can I find other websites on United Nations bodies and activities?
At the end of each issue of the Journal of the United Nations, you will find an extensive list of available websites, including those of the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council. They can be accessed by hyperlink.
How does one apply for a language post within the Department?
Language staff in the United Nations are recruited through competitive examinations. For the posts of translator and interpreter, for example, candidates need to show perfect knowledge of one of the official languages, usually but not always their mother tongue, and an excellent knowledge of at least two others. For more details, see the website http://careers.un.org.
Does the Secretariat have an internship programme?
Yes, internships are available in many departments of the Secretariat, including in DGACM. Again, check out the website mentioned above.
Where is the best place to find current United Nations documents?
The first step is to check the website at http://undocs.org. There you will find a list of the latest documents, a means of searching for documents on the Official Document System (ODS), the Journal of the United Nations, and other information.
How Are United Nations documents available to people outside the Organization? How do you access them?
Check on the website mentioned above for all information, in particular on the e-Subscription programme. Further, the Journal is available on Twitter (http://twitter.com/Journal_UN_ONU) and on Facebook on the page “Journal of the United Nations”. The daily Journal also has a complete list of official documents issued that day with hyperlinks for accessing them.
How many officers does the General Assembly have?
Each session of the General Assembly (which runs from September to September) has one President and 21 Vice-Presidents, who constitute the Bureau of the Assembly. The General Committee of the Assembly includes those officers and the Chairs of the six Main Committees:
Disarmament and International Security Committee (First Committee)
Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee)
Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee)
Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee (Third Committee)
Administrative and Budgetary Committee (Fifth Committee)
Legal Committee (Sixth Committee)
List of past Presidents elected in equitable geographical rotation, as per paragraph 4 of the General Assembly Resolution 33/138 of 19 December 1978.
Who is allowed to attend meetings at United Nations Headquarters?
The meetings of intergovernmental bodies are open to representatives of the following: (a) Permanent Missions of Member States, (b) international organizations that have been granted observer status and (c) non-governmental organizations that have been granted consultative status for certain bodies, in particular the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary bodies. Representatives of civil society, who are often called “stakeholders”, may be invited by the body concerned to take part in round-tables, panel discussions, or other events that take place parallel to the body’s formal meetings.
Representatives of non-governmental organizations and of civil society do not have a role in either the deliberative or the legislative process of an intergovernmental body. As a general rule, members of the public are not allowed to attend formal meetings of intergovernmental bodies.
Who is allowed to vote in meetings of United Nations bodies?
Only those States that are members of the intergovernmental body are allowed to vote. Observers and representatives of other constituencies do not have the right to vote. Their role is generally seen as consultative.
Are meetings and conferences at United Nations Headquarters accessible to persons with hearing and visual disabilities?
The Inter-Departmental Task Force on Accessibility is charged with the development of accessibility policies, standards and guidelines related to the provision of interpretation and documentation services at the Secretariat. Strategies being developed include the conversion of spoken words into written text via closed-captioning and the use of voice recognition software for the hearing impaired and, to facilitate the participation of the visually impaired, the use of push technologies and various portable hand-held devices and tablets.
What is the difference between a meeting and a session?
A meeting is just that – a single meeting, which usually takes place between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. or between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. A session is a continuous series or group of individual meetings of a deliberative body. The length of the session of such a body (one week, two weeks, etc.) is spelled out in its originating mandate. The intergovernmental bodies of the United Nations usually meet in annual or biennial session. Both the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council meet in annual session. The Security Council is considered to be in continuous session.
What is meant by “plenary”?
That term designates a meeting that all members and observers (States and others) may attend. One speaks, for example, of the plenary of the General Assembly.
I have heard the phrase “regional groups” mentioned in connection with the United Nations. What does that mean?
The regional groups are groups of representatives of Member and observer States by geographic region that meet for the purposes of discussion, usually in connection with specific questions being addressed within the intergovernmental bodies. Among the major regional groups are the Group of African States, the Group of Asian States, the Group of Eastern European States, the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, and the Group of Western European and Other States.
Does the United Nations have offices in other places besides New York?
Yes, indeed. The most important among them are the United Nations Offices at Geneva (Switzerland), at Vienna (Austria) and at Nairobi (Kenya), where DGACM is located, in addition to New York Headquarters. There are also the United Nations regional commissions, which are located in Santiago (Chile), for Latin America and the Caribbean, in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), for Africa, in Beirut (Lebanon), for Western Asia, in Bangkok (Thailand), for Asia and the Pacific, and in Geneva (Switzerland), for Europe. Other bodies of the United Nations system such as Funds and Programmes and the specialized agencies have offices in many parts of the world.
Last Update: 23 May 2011 / Henry BREED