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CNN Student News One-Sheet: The United Nations

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(CNN Student News) -- Use this explainer to help your students learn about the history and composition of the United Nations.

The United Nations was formed on October 24, 1945, when the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, China and France and a majority of other member countries ratified the U.N. Charter. The name "United Nations" was actually coined by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1942 "Declaration of United Nations," when 26 nations pledged to fight the Axis Powers in World War II.


The Charter of the United Nations is the document that guides the organization. It describes the organization's purposes, principles, membership and composition.

According to Article I of the Charter, the purposes of the United Nations are:

* "to maintain international peace and security...";

* "to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace";

* "to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all...";

* "to be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends."


The U.N. is made up of several units, or bodies. The main bodies of the U.N. are: The General Assembly, the Security Council, the Secretariat, the International Court of Justice, the Economic and Social Council, and the Trusteeship Council.

The body with which most people are familiar is the General Assembly. This is the picture you often see of the United Nations, a large body of delegates, similar to a congress or parliament, voting on a resolution. There are currently 192 member nations in the U.N., and each has one vote in the Assembly. Some important questions that come before the General Assembly, like possible actions to maintain peace or admission of new members, require a two-thirds vote for passage. Less important issues require a simple majority. The General Assembly elects a president for each session. Mr. Jan Eliasson of Sweden is the current president of the General Assembly. He was elected on June 13, 2005.

The Security Council consists of 15 members. Five of these are permanent: The United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China and France. The remaining members are elected for two-year terms. This body of the U.N. has the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. It can authorize U.N. forces for peacekeeping, impose economic embargoes and other similar sanctions. Decisions on important matters such as these require "nine votes, including the concurrent votes of all five permanent members." In other words, if one of the five permanent members votes "no," the action cannot be taken.

The Secretariat is comprised of the Secretary General and his or her staff. The Secretary General is appointed by the General Assembly with the Security Council's approval, and is the chief administrative officer of the U.N. The current Secretary General is Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea. He is also the "public face" of the United Nations, the person you often see in the news who announces actions the U.N. will take on behalf of peacekeeping, humanitarian efforts and other actions.

The International Court of Justice is located at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). The court's role is to settle international disputes and give advisory opinions on questions from countries and organizations. There are 15 judges on the court, each elected to a nine-year term by the U.N. General Assembly.

The Economic and Social Council is a 54-member body. Each represented country is elected to the council for a three-year term. Seats on this council are allocated based on geography, with the greatest number of seats (14) currently allotted to African nations, but all regions are represented. The U.N. Charter states that the Economic and Social Council "may make or initiate studies and reports with respect to international economic, social, cultural, educational, health, and related matters."

When the United Nations charter was ratified, the Trusteeship Council was set up to oversee certain territories under U.N. charge. With the independence of Palau in 1994, the last remaining U.N. trust territory, the Trusteeship Council had met its obligations, and will now meet only as needed. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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