The Essential UN
Take a moment to learn about the UN

Warsaw, Poland, in ruins after World War II. UN Photo
The idea of the United Nations was born during World War II (1939-1945). The name "United Nations", coined by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was first used in the Declaration by United Nations of 1 January 1942, during the Second World War, when representatives of 26 nations pledged their Governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers. World leaders who had collaborated to end the war felt a strong need for a mechanism that would help bring peace and stop future wars. They realized that this was possible only if all nations worked together through a global organization. The United Nations was to be that Organization.
The UN Charter for sale at the UN bookshop in New York. UN Photo
The founding document of the United Nations, the UN Charter, was signed on 26 June 1945, in San Francisco.
According to its Charter, the UN aims:
  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained,
  • and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.
Eleanor Roosevelt holding a Declaration of Human Rights poster in 1949. UN Photo
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948 as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations, it sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected.

The Declaration has been translated into more than 500 languages.


National flags of member states outside the United Nations Secretariat building. UN Photo
States are admitted to membership in the United Nations by decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. The recognition of a new State or Government is an act that only other States and Governments may grant or withhold. The UN currently has 193 member states. The Members of the United Nations pay for everything that the Organization does, according to a scale of assessments agreed upon by all. This scale is based on a country’s ability to pay, national income and population.
Secretary-General António Guterres (right) and Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed.
Equal parts diplomat and advocate, civil servant and CEO, the Secretary-General is a symbol of United Nations ideals and a spokesman for the interests of the world's peoples, in particular the poor and vulnerable among them. The current Secretary-General, and the ninth occupant of the post, is Mr. António Guterres of Portugal, who took office on 1 January 2017. Since 1997, the Secretary-General has been assisted in managing Secretariat operations by the Deputy Secretary-General, a post currently held by Ms. Amina J. Mohammed of Nigeria.
The Nobel Peace Prize medal. UN Photo
In 70 years, the United Nations, its specialised agencies, related agencies, funds, programmes and staff were awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize eleven times. Two Secretaries-General, Kofi Annan and Dag Hammarskjöld, were also honoured for their work by the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
The flag of the United Nations. UN Photo
The United Nations serves as a global forum where countries can raise and discuss the most difficult issues, including problems of war and peace. In addition to maintaining international peace and security, the United Nations protects human rights, delivers humanitarian aid, promotes sustainable development and upholds international law.
A quick guide on the key components, mission and work of the United Nations - an international organization that helps to build a better world.
A quick guide outlining the core responsibilities of the world’s top diplomat, in the service of our shared humanity.
Learn more about the United Nations General Assembly and what to expect during its 2017 high-level session.
A quick guide on why UN peacekeeping is an investment in global peace, security and prosperity.
Learn how the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will transform the world, and why it is a priority for the United Nations.
An introduction to the concept of human rights, and the United Nations framework to promote and protect human rights.
See how the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) protects human rights and makes a difference around the world.
A hip hop music video that aims to teach young people throughout the world about the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals and how they can help build peace.
A New Approach - How the United Nations is responding to sexual exploitation and abuse.
UN tour guides answer questions about UN action on peace and security.
UN tour guides answer questions about UN humanitarian and development activities.
UN tour guides answer questions about the UN budget.
UN Video
To see a full selection of UN videos go to


The Secretary-General meets South Sudanese refugees at the Imvepi settlement. UN Photo

As the world’s only truly universal 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. Taking a global view reveals some interesting facts.
Did you know:

  • that most of the world’s people live no more than 200 miles from the sea?
  • that decolonization changed the face of the planet, creating more than 80 nations?
  • that women in the labour market still earn on average a quarter less than men globally?
See more facts about global issues ...
In September 2015, countries adopted a set of 17 goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years, including:
Member States pay according to an agreed-upon scale of assessments. This scale is based on a country’s ability to pay, national income and population size. The top contributing countries are the United States, Japan, China and Germany.

The current two-year budget for all regular United Nations activities, staff and basic infrastructure is $5.4 billion. The current budget for one year of UN peacekeeping is $6.8 billion. In comparison, in 2016, the world spent nearly $2 trillion on military expenditures. Peace is far cheaper than war and good value for money.
The United Nations observes designated days, weeks, years, and decades, each with a theme, or topic. By creating special observances, the United Nations promotes international awareness and action on these issues. The majority of observances have been established by resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, although some have been designated by UN specialized agencies. The United Nations also observes anniversaries of key events in its history.

Check out the UN News stream for the latest news, photos, videos, audio, tweets and Secretary-General's statements, updated continuously throughout the day.

This comprehensive handbook explains the structure of the United Nations, how the Organization works, the main issues it addresses and its importance for people everywhere.

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