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Social and Humanitarian Assistance


International disaster relief, the special problems of children, refugees, the elderly, youth, the disabled, and families are all subjects for which member states have directed the UN to provide international leadership and expert guidance. The global nature of trade in illicit narcotic drugs and the internationalization of criminal activities were social ills that became so destabilizing at the end of the twentieth century that member states requested their international organization to implement innovative global programs to maintain security and social justice.



The international community is faced with the growing challenge of preventing, mitigating the effects of, and providing humanitarian assistance to affected populations in crises that require rapid and effective response. The 1990s saw a dramatic increase in "complex emergencies" that often involved ethnic and civil strife. In mid-1994 more than 30 million people in 29 countries were in dire need of emergency assistance. Severe drought threatening over 20 million people in sub-Saharan Africa added an additional element of suffering to that already faced by millions in Burundi, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, southern Sudan, and Zaire. A study released at the World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction, convened by the General Assembly in May 1994, showed that the previous three decades had seen a steady and rapid increase in the number of significant natural disastersand in the numbers of people affected. As of the mid-2000s, there was an increasing human vulnerability in crisis situations-both in natural disasters (200 million affected in 2003) and in complex emergencies (45 million in need of life-saving assistance in 2003).

Office of the United Nations Disaster Relief Coordinator (UNDRO)

Beginning in 1965, proposals were put forward in the General Assembly to increase the UN's ability to help people stricken by disasters, but it was the disasters of 1970 that brought international concern for emergency relief to a head. In 1971, the General Assembly established the Office of the United Nations Disaster Relief Coordinator (UNDRO), with headquarters in Geneva.

UNDRO was not designed to assume all the responsibilities of meeting disasters from its own resources. Its principal function was that of catalyst and coordinator of donors of aid and services. Its data bank and independent telecommunications system, supplemented by the worldwide UN system, gave it the capacity to define the specific needs arising from a disaster and to respond rapidly by identifying potential sources of relief. It directed and mobilized aid emanating from the UN system and coordinated aid from other sources.

UNDRO's mandate also included assisting governments in preventing disasters or mitigating their effects by contingency planning, in association with similarly concerned voluntary organizations. It promoted the study, prevention, control, and prediction of natural disasters and gathered and disseminated information relevant to disaster relief.

Between its inception in 1972 and 1987, UNDRO helped coordinate relief and raise money for emergency aid in more than 380 major disasters.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

In December 1991, the General Assembly, by its Resolution 46/182, recognized the need to strengthen coordination for rapid response to humanitarian emergencies. Over the years ad hoc arrangements had sprung up in many of the UN departments and specialized agencies to deal with emergency relief. Sometimes these arrangements were found to be working at cross-purposes or competing for financial support from the same potential donors. The General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to designate an emergency relief coordinator, supported by a secretariat, to ensure that the entire UN system was better prepared for, and more capable of rapid and coherent response to national disasters and other humanitarian emergencies. The resolution also stipulated guiding principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality for the provision of humanitarian assistance. It also stressed respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of states.

In April 1992, the Secretary-General established the Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA), incorporating UNDRO, various UN units that had been dealing with specific emergency programs, and the secretariat for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. The Secretary-General appointed an Emergency Relief Coordinator to head the new department. The DHA had its headquarters in New York and an office in Geneva.

Resolution 46/182 gave the DHA three tools to speed up the response of the international community to emergencies: the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) to formulate and coordinate policy; the Central Emergency Revolving Fund (CERF) as a quick source of emergency funding; and the Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeals Process (CAP), which assesses the needs of a critical situations and prepares a comprehensive interagency response strategy.

With UN reforms in the late 1990s, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was established to manage complex emergencies (through the Consolidated Appeals Process), natural disasters, and other humanitarian crises. OCHA replaced the Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA). The core functions of OCHA are supported by 1,140 staff members in New York, Geneva and in the field. OCHA's 2006 budget was approximately us$ 128.5 million. As the successor organization to DHA, OCHA took over management and coordination of DHA's programs including IASC, CERF, and CAP.

The IASC is chaired by the Emergency Relief Coordinator and is composed of the executive heads of the following UN organizations: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF); the World Food Program (WFP); the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO). Other humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) also take part in the IASC. Representatives of relevant nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are invited to participate.

In addition to coordinating overall policy on humanitarian assistance, the IASC addresses issues such as: access to victims, security of personnel and relief supplies, ensuring humanitarian imperatives in conflict situations, examining special needs arising from application of UN sanctions, demobilization of combatants, de-mining, resource mobilization, assistance to internally displaced persons, field coordination of international humanitarian responses, and ensuring transition from relief to development.

The Central Emergency Revolving Fund (CERF) of us$ 50 million was created under the terms of Resolution 46/182 as a cashflow mechanism for use by operational organizations, especially during the critical initial stages of emergencies. The CERF is financed by voluntary contributions and managed by the Department of Humanitarian Affairs. Agencies draw on the CERF and repay the advances they receive as donors respond to their own fundraising efforts. On 15 December 2005, the General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/60/1241, upgrading the former Central Emergency Revolving Fund to the Central Emergency Response Fund. This Fund will ensure a more predictable and timely response to humanitarian crises. The revamped Fund aims to achieve an overall target of $500 million and will add to the current $50 million revolving facility, a grant facility of $450 million.

The Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP), coordinated and monitored by OCHA, is an interagency exercise by which UN system organizations and other humanitarian organizations assess the full range of requirements for responding to emergencies. The CAP helps the international community to identify the most critical needs of affected people and to determine the most appropriate ways to provide assistance. This process enables donors and agencies to concentrate their efforts where they are needed most and eliminates wasteful competition among agencies for donor funds. From 1995 through 2002, appeals were launched for countries including Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Colombia, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Ecuador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Georgia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Lebanon, Liberia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, and Yugoslavia. Appeals are often made by region as wellincluding for the Caucasus, Great Lakes Region of Africa, and Southeastern Europe (including the Kosovo province of Yugoslavia). On average, some 20 appeals are launched annually to meet the requirements of nearly 40 million people. For 2006, 18 programs required a total of $4.7 billion to ensure that 31 million people in 26 countries got the best available protection and assistance, on time. The year 2005 was marked by devastating disasters-the Indian Ocean tsunami in the final days of 2004 and the South Asia earthquake of October 2005, on top of a disastrous hurricane season-which stretched all humanitarian agencies to their maximum capacity. Funding, led by private donations for the tsunami, reached unprecedented worldwide totals-but because the majority of funds were earmarked for the tsunami, most agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) still lacked sufficient funding to assist millions of people struck by other crises.

OCHA's work takes place where the fields of international security, political affairs, and humanitarian concerns converge. An important responsibility entrusted to OCHA involves humanitarian diplomacy in efforts to prevent emergencies and in negotiation with parties to conflicts aimed at ensuring access to those in need. OCHA's staff is involved in policy planning and early warning functions, emergency operational support and relief coordination, and disaster mitigation. The OCHA maintains close contact with the UN Departments of Political Affairs and Peacekeeping Operations in order to coordinate the security, political, and humanitarian aspects of complex emergencies.

New Initiatives

To help manage its efforts, OCHA set up Relief Web, available at The Internet site provides up-to-date information on complex emergencies and natural disasters collected from over 170 sources. Users from over 150 countries access an average of 200,000 documents each month. In addition, OCHA runs the Humanitarian Early Warning System (HEWS), which identifies crises with humanitarian implications. Through analysis of field-based information and the evaluation of trends, HEWS informs decision-makers at headquarters about the likelihood and extent of crises. An extensive database of information for more than 100 countries supports this activity. The Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), at Nairobi, was set up in 1995 to analyze and synthesize data on developments in Africa's Great Lakes region. It issues daily reports and thematic studies for over 2,000 primary subscribers in more than 50 countries. IRIN at Abidjan was set up in 1997 and began providing similar reports covering West Africa. IRIN coverage was expected to be expanded in the late 1990s to cover southern Africa, Central Asia and the Caucasus region, as well as the Balkans.

OCHA also facilitates the work of the Geographic Information Support Team (GIST), which is an inter-agency initiative that promotes the use of geographic data standards and geographic information systems in support of humanitarian relief operations. GIST members are technical experts and information specialists from the UN and donor agencies involved in disaster management and/or humanitarian assistance. Another arm of OCHA is the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), a global network of more than 80 countries and disaster response organizations. INSARAG deals with urban search and rescue (USAR) related issues. INSARAG aims at establishing standards for international USAR teams and methodology for international coordination in earthquake response. Members of INSARAG are both earthquake-prone and responding countries and organizations. INSARAG was established in 1991, following initiatives of international search and rescue teams that responded to the 1988 Armenia earthquake. The Field Coordination Support Section (FCSS) in the Emergency Services Branch (ESB) of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva functions as INSARAG Secretariat.

International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction

Between 1960 and 1990 deaths from natural disasters rose by a factor of 10, with 90% of casualties occurring in developing countries ill prepared to respond to natural disasters. Although the World Meteorological Organization has shown that each dollar spent on disaster preparedness is equivalent to 100 dollars spent after a disaster, no mechanisms existed to transfer the huge body of knowledge on disaster preparedness and prevention from the industrialized countries to developing countries. For example, an earthquake of 6.6 magnitude on the Richter scale in California in January 1994 caused fewer than 100 deaths. An earthquake of 6.4 magnitude in India's Maharashtra State in September 1993 caused 10,000 deaths. Most of the deaths in the Indian tragedy were caused by the collapse of homes while people slept. By contrast, California has long been a proving ground for earthquake-resistant architectural innovations.

In 1989, the General Assembly declared the 1990s the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction to reduce loss of life and property damage resulting from natural disasters. It established a high-level council of 10 internationally renowned personalities, a scientific and technical committee of 24 scientists from around the world, and approximately 120 national committees to promote the decade and the formulation of disaster preparedness programs. 13 October was declared "International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction," and observed by public gatherings and publicity to raise awareness of the need to implement disaster preparedness.

In May 1994, the World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction was convened in Yokohama, Japan. Representatives from 147 countries and 37 nongovernmental organizations and observers from UN specialized agencies participated in the conference, which both reviewed implementation of the General Assembly's recommendations during the first half of the decade and adopted the "Guidelines for Natural Disaster Prevention, Preparedness and Mitigation," also called the "Yokohama Strategy." It noted that the first half of the decade had seen some improvement in the field of disaster response, but that the goals for disaster prevention and preparedness had not received wide publicity.

The conference document stated that, while natural phenomena that cause disasters are outside human control, vulnerability of populations was a result of human activity (or nonactivity). In its "Strategy for the Year 2000 and Beyond," the conference called for a global culture of prevention and a policy of self-reliance in each vulnerable country and community. Other elements of the strategy included education and training in disaster prevention, strengthening research and development for disaster reduction and mitigation, and improving awareness in vulnerable communities through more active use of media. Finally the conference called on all countries to express the political commitment to reduce their vulnerability by means of legislation and policy decisions at the highest levels to mobilize domestic resources, develop risk assessment programs, and emergency plans and to design projects for subregional, regional, and international cooperation. It also recommended an improvement in communications capabilities on natural disasters among countries for preparedness and early warning systems.

Through its resolution A/RES/58/214, the General Assembly convened a second World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR) held in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan, from 18-22 January 2005, to coincide with the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaiji earthquake that occurred on 17 January 1995, killing more than 6,400 people and injuring more than 40,000. The WCDR was to take stock of progress in disaster risk reduction accomplished since the Yokohama Conference of 1994 and to make plans for the next ten years. The WCDR aimed to increase the international profile of disaster risk reduction, promote its integration into development planning and practice, and strengthen local and national capacities to address the causes of disasters that hamper development in many countries. Discussions at the WCDR resulted in two negotiated documents: a program outcome document entitled "Building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters: Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015," and the Hyogo Declaration. Delegates also took note of the "Review of the 1994 Yokohama Strategy for a Safer World and its Plan of Action" and adopted a "Common statement on the Special Session on the Indian Ocean Disaster: Risk Reduction for a Safer Future."

Man-made Humanitarian Disasters

Perhaps the thorniest problem for OCHA (then the DHA) was the increase in and complexity of humanitarian disasters caused by internal civil strife in places like Angola, the former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda. In the largest exodus ever known, 2 million people in Rwanda abandoned their homes in one week during the resumption of a civil war and the organized slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians in that country in the summer of 1994. The exodus overwhelmed the capacity of international aid organizations to deal with the crisis, and thousands of people died of cholera, dysentery, and other diseases in makeshift camps hurriedly set up along Rwanda's border with other countries. In August 1994, the UN agencies appealed to member states for us$470 million to respond to the disaster. The initial response to the appeal yielded us$137 million. In his report to the 49th General Assembly on "Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Humanitarian Assistance" (A/49/177), the Secretary-General stated:

Complex emergencies are presenting serious new challenges to humanitarian organizations and others involved in providing relief assistance. Disregard for fundamental humanitarian principles, serious violations of humanitarian law and threats to the safety and protection of relief personnel have underscored the need for enhancing awareness of all involved in complex emergenciesincluding the Security Councilof humanitarian concerns and objectives and for appropriate measures to protect humanitarian mandates in conflict situations. While the new generation of multifaceted United Nations operations require close interaction between the political, military and humanitarian dimensions, it is important, at the same time, to ensure that the humanitarian component can preserve its unique identity by maintaining neutrality and impartiality. (emphasis added).

In this connection, the IASC established a set of guidelines for humanitarian missions in conflict situations:

  • The need for humanitarian relief assistance to be undertaken in accordance with the principles of impartiality, neutrality, and humanity;
  • Reaffirmation of free, safe, and unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance and the role of humanitarian diplomacy in that regard;
  • The need for greater collaboration with nongovernmental organizations engaged in humanitarian relief;
  • The need to ensure security and protection of all relief personnel;
  • The need to apprise the Security Council fully on relevant humanitarian issues that should be appropriately reflected in its decisions on complex emergencies;
  • The importance of shielding humanitarian assistance against the effects of sanctions, particularly in relation to vulnerable groups.

United Nations Drylands Development Center

Another UN undertaking in disaster relief developed in response to the desiccation of the Sudano-Sahelian zone of West Africa. Many years of drought in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal had, by 1973, resulted in a crisis and the threat of mass starvation in the region. In May, the Secretary-General, acting under resolutions of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, designated FAO as the "focal point" of an emergency operation of the UN system to provide and transport rations, seeds for sowing, animal feed, and vaccines to victims in the six countries. The following month, the UN Sahelian Office (UNSO) was created to promote medium- and long-term recovery in cooperation with the Permanent Interstate Committee on Drought Control in the Sahel, known by its French acronym CILSS and composed of nine affected statesBurkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal.

In 1977, UNSO's mandate was expanded to assist the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in implementing the Plan of Action to Combat Desertification in the Sudano-Sahelian Region. From 1995 to 2002, UNSO managed us $18 million to support 29 countries in Africa, 22 in Asia and 19 in Latin America and the Caribbean to develop national action plans to combat desertification and drought. UNSO mobilized general and earmarked contributions to promote sustainable management of the natural resources in arid and semi-arid lands. It helped governments plan and coordinate natural resource management and implement field projects on soil and water conservation and integrated land management. The UNSO was later renamed the UN Drylands Development Center.


The UN International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) was established by the General Assembly on 11 December 1946 to provide emergency relief assistance in the form of food, medicine, and clothing to the children of postwar Europe and China. In December 1950, the General Assembly extended the life of the fund for three years, changing its mandate to emphasize health and nutrition programs of long-range benefit to children of developing countries. In October 1953, the General Assembly decided that UNICEF should continue its work as a permanent arm of the UN system, and charged the organization to emphasize programs giving long-term benefit to children everywhere, particularly those in developing countries who are in the greatest need. The organization's name was changed to the UN Children's Fund, but the acronym "UNICEF" was retained. The UNICEF Executive Board reaffirmed its mandate in January 1996, when it adopted a statement on the mission of UNICEF saying that UNICEF "is guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and strives to establish children's rights as enduring ethical principles and international standards of behavior towards children."

In 1959 the General Assembly unanimously adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, affirming the right of children to special protection and opportunities and facilities for healthy, normal development.

Following a global study of the needs of children in 1961, UNICEF increased the scope and flexibility of its approach to children to include projects that promote the role of children as an invaluable "human resource" in national development, thus making it possible to provide aid for education.

UNICEF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965. In November 1989, the General Assembly voted to transform the rights and obligations under the 1959 Declaration into the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the most comprehensive treaty ever to address the individual rights of children and set universally accepted standards for their children. The convention entered into force as international law in September 1990. In 2002, UNICEF reported that the convention had been ratified by every country in the world except two (the United States and Somalia), and "therefore uniquely places children center-stage in the quest for the universal application of human rights." As of May 2006, the United States and Somalia were still the only two countries in the world that had not ratified the CRC.

As the only United Nations agency devoted exclusively to the needs of children, UNICEF promoted the full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by 1995. UNICEF also participated in the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in June 1993, speaking out forcefully on behalf of children and against violation of their rights.

UNICEF also participated in the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, in September 1994; the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, Denmark, in March 1995; the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in September 1995; the Habitat II World Assembly of Cities and Local Authorities in Istanbul, Turkey, in June 1996; and the World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Stockholm, Sweden, in August 1996, strongly promoting measures for child survival, protection, and development. UNICEF was one of the host organizations and core participants of Beijing+5, the first follow-up meeting to the watershed Fourth World Conference on Women (1995). Convened in June 2000 in New York City, Beijing+5 (also called Women 2000) was set up to review progress and establish action plans for the next five years. More than 150 countries and thousands of non-governmental organizations participated in programs at UN headquarters. UNICEF focused on four key themes at the event: gender equality starts early; women's rights and girls' rights are independent (laws and structures that protect women also need to be made to protect girls); children's rights cannot be achieved without girls' rights; and community partnerships are needed to end violence and prevent HIV/AIDS. In support of women's issues, UNICEF funded a news web site,, to publicize areas of concern and advance public understanding of the issues.

Purposes and Scope of Work

Combining humanitarian and development objectives, UNICEF's primary goal is to help children of the poorest and least developed countries. It helps them directly, by supporting government programs to improve child health, nutrition, education, and social services, and indirectly, by serving as child advocate, appealing to governments and to the consciences of individuals worldwide to find and commit the resources required to protect and prepare children adequately.

UNICEF's mandate from the General Assembly's 1946 resolution for "strengthening the permanent child health and welfare programs of the countries receiving assistance" has been developed and continuously adapted to current conditions. It places strong emphasis on community participation in the development and operation of services for children and has increasingly focused on community-based action. As a funding agencyas distinct from a specialized agencyUNICEF is able to work with various ministries and nongovernmental organizations, maintaining an intersectoral approach to community action in meeting the needs of children.

In 1976, UNICEF adopted an approach to the provision of basic health and welfare services, the key element of which was community participation. This new approach resulted from experiences in economically and politically diverse developing countries showing that services are likely to be not only cheaper but also more effective when community members are involved, because they mobilize hitherto unused abilities within the community and the services can be run at recurrent costs that the country and community can afford. Integration of women into the establishment of community-based services is especially important, since their participation can have a significant impact on the quality of life for their children.

UNICEF gives priority to the establishment of long-term programs and places special emphasis on the use of national expertise wherever feasible.

UNICEF cooperates with developing countries in several ways: it assists in the planning and extension of services benefiting children and in the exchange of experience between countries; it provides funds to strengthen the training and orientation of national personnel, complementing, wherever possible, the work of specialized agencies; and it delivers technical supplies, equipment, and other aid for extending services.

In September 1990, the Convention on the Rights of the Child entered into force, less than one year after its adoption by the General Assembly. That month, UNICEF organized the World Summit for Children, attended by representatives from more than 159 countries, including 71 heads of state or government. It produced a Declaration and a Plan of Action, which recognized the rights of the young to "first call" on nations' resources and set goals for the year 2000, including:

  • A reduction of the 1990 infant and under-five child mortality rates by one third or to 50 to 70 per 1,000 live births respectively, whichever is lower;
  • A reduction by half of the 1990 maternal mortality rate;
  • A reduction by half of the 1990 rate for severe malnutrition among children under the age of five;
  • Universal access to safe drinking water and to sanitary means of excreta disposal, and
  • Universal access to basic education and completion of primary education by at least 80% of school-age children.

In September 1996, the Secretary-General of the UN reported to the General Assembly that significant progress was made toward the World Summit goals in some 90 countries in the previous 6 years. Over 150 countries had drawn up National Programs of Action (NPAs) to implement the goals.

Recognizing that survival and development of children is intricately linked to the status of women in developing countries, the Executive Board, at its annual meeting in May 1994, requested the executive director to give high priority to UNICEF efforts to develop gender-sensitive indicators in each sectoral area of development and to set gender-specific goals in national programs of action. UNICEF supports gender equality, organized participation of women at all levels, and capacity-building and mobilization of youth for a more gender-equitable society.

At the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in September 1995, UNICEF advocated more attention and resources to girls' education and the linkage between goals for girls and women. It drew attention to the complementary objectives of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

As a result of the Beijing conference, UNICEF identified the following areas of concern or emphasis: women and poverty; education and training of women; women's health, including safe motherhood and reproductive health (including HIV/AIDS); violence against women, including family violence and harmful traditional practices (such as female genital mutilation), sexual abuse, and exploitation and trafficking in women and girls; women and armed conflict; women in power and decision-making; institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women; human rights of women; women and the media; and women and the environment.

In May 2002, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children was held, the first global gathering of world leaders and children's advocates since the 1990 World Summit. UNICEF was instrumental in furthering children's participation in the event, and throughout the year hosted or supported regional consultations and other events related to the special session. In April 2001, UNICEF had launched the "Say Yes for Children" pledge campaign for voluntary contributions. By May 2002, when the organizers presented their achievements to the special session, nearly 100 million people in 194 countries had joined the grass-roots campaign. Education was a top priority of the campaign.


UNICEF is an integral part of the UN, with semiautonomous status. The Executive Board, which is the governing body of UNICEF, meets once a year to establish policy, review programs, and approve expenditures. It also holds regular sessions between the annual formal meetings. The Executive Board has 36 members, elected for a three-year term with the following regional allocation of seats: eight African states, seven Asian states, four Central and Eastern European states, five Latin American and Caribbean states, and 12 Western European and other states (including Japan). The board year runs from 1 January to 31 December. In 2006, the board members included: from Africa-Algeria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Djibouti, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal; from Asia-Bangladesh, China, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Lebanon, Myanmar, Pakistan, Republic of Korea; from Central and Eastern Europe-Belarus, Russian Federation, Serbia and Montenegro, Ukraine; from Latin America and the Caribbean-Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala; and from Western Europe and other states-Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, United States.

The executive director of UNICEF is appointed by the UN Secretary-General in consultation with the Executive Board. The administration of UNICEF and the appointment and direction of staff are the responsibility of the executive director, under policy directives laid down by the Executive Board, and under a broad authority delegated to the executive director by the Secretary-General. The executive director as of 2006 was Ann M. Veneman of the United States.

UNICEF has a network of country and regional offices serving 155 countries and territories. UNICEF maintains headquarters offices in New York, Geneva, Brussels, Tokyo, Florence (site of the Innocenti Research Centre, available at, Copenhagen, and Huningue (France). Eight regional offices serve Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe (including Commonwealth of Independent States and Baltic States), East Asia and the Pacific, Eastern and Southern Africa, Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and West and Central Africa.

In 2006, UNICEF employed a total staff of approximately 10,000 people, 85% of which were in the field.

In 1985, only 27% of international professional posts were filled by women. By 1996, that figure had been raised to 40%. In 2000, UNICEF reported that it endorsed its own policy of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls by mobilizing and organizing women for participation in its programs. The organization paid particular attention to ensuring that women, both in its offices and in the field, were in decision-making roles that would help guide UNICEF's work.

UNICEF is supported by 37 National Committees, mostly in the industrialized countries, whose more than 100,000 volunteer members raise money through various activities, including the sale of greeting cards. The committees also undertake advocacy, education for development, and information activities. About 30% of the organization's budget is contributed through the National Committees.

In 2006 the National Committees maintained offices in Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and United States.

Cooperation with Other Agencies

UNICEF collaborates closely with the specialized agencies, including the International Labour Organization (ILO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and World Health Organization (WHO), as well as with the units of the UN Secretariat concerned with services benefiting children. It also works with the funding agencies and programs of the UN systemsuch as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Food Programme (WFP), the World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)to exchange information, discuss policies of cooperation affecting the situation of children, and explore potential program collaboration.

Close working relations are maintained with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in emergency relief and aid to refugees, respectively. UNICEF also works with regional development banks and the regional economic and social commissions and with bilateral aid agencies.

Of particular importance is UNICEF's cooperation and collaboration in programs with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), both national and international. The NGO Committee on UNICEF comprises over 100 international professional and voluntary groups involved with children and either directly or indirectly, through concern with aspects of social development. A roster of international and national correspondent organizations is continuing to grow, particularly from developing countries. Some 400 organizations participate in activities and share information through UNICEF/NGO liaison offices in New York and Geneva. Many of these organizations have become important supporters of UNICEF by providing a channel for advocacy on behalf of children and by participating in fund-raising and in UNICEF programs.


UNICEF's work is accomplished with voluntary contributions from both governments and nongovernmental sources. Total contributions for 2004 amounted to us$1,978 million. Contributions from governments and intergovernmental organizations accounted for 68% of this income; 29% was from nongovernmental and private sources; and 3% was derived from a variety of other sources. The United States remained the largest donor to UNICEF, providing a total of us$263 million. The United Kingdom was the second largest government donor in total funds, with $188 million, followed by Japan at $156 million and Norway at $135 million. The Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Australia, and Italy were the next largest donors of total funds. Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands were the top contributors in total funds per capita. (For a list of the top 20 donor nations and their contributions to regular resources, see the following table.) Additionally, the United Nations Foundation, Inc., established in 1997 by American businessman Ted Turner with a us$1 billion grant, approved more than us$18 million in funds for UNICEF in 1998. In 2001, UNICEF was the recipient of more than $60 million from

United States $262,782
United Kingdom 187,957
Japan 155,605
Norway 135,130
Netherlands 113,405
Sweden 111,597
Canada 86,705
Denmark 38,147
Australia 32,199
Italy 29,407
Finland 22,002
France 16,618
Switzerland 16,563
Ireland 14,158
Belgium 13,868
Germany 8,695
New Zealand 5,910
Spain 5,816
Luxembourg 3,258
Republic of Korea 3,100

the sale of a collection of modern art at the bequest of Mme. René Gaffé, the collection's owner.


UNICEF's total expenditure in 2004 amounted to us$1,606 million, of which $1,508 went directly to programs and $92 million was spent on administration and other charges. Expenditure by program sector was as follows: early childhood development (34%); immunization plus (22%); girls' education (21%); child protection (10%); HIV/AIDS (9%); and other (4%).


Through its extensive field network in developing countries UNICEF undertakes, in coordination with governments, local communities, and other partners, programs in health, nutrition, education, water and sanitation, the environment, women in development, and other activities that improve the well-being of children. Emphasis is placed on community-based programs in which people participate actively and are trained in such skills as health care, midwifery, and teaching.

UNICEF facilitates the exchange of programming experience among developing countries, and encourages governments to undertake a regular review of the situation of their children and to incorporate a national policy for children in their comprehensive development plans. It also places emphasis on national capacity building and the use of national expertise wherever possible.

UNICEF provides assistance on the basis of mutually agreed priorities for children in collaboration with the governments concerned. Priority is given to the world's most vulnerablealmost all its resources are therefore invested in the poorest developing countries, with the greatest share going to children under five years old. As of 2004, UNICEF maintained programs in 157 countries.



In cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF supports the expanded Program on Immunization that each year prevents an estimated 2.5 million child deaths from six diseasesdiphtheria, measles, poliomyelitis, tetanus, tuberculosis, and whooping cough. However, in 2001 more than 30 million children remain unprotected against common vaccine-preventable diseases. In October 1991, UNICEF and the WHO announced that their goal of protecting 80% of the world's children before their first birthday had been achieved (compared to less than 5% in 1975, when the program was launched). UNICEF and WHO made an effort to raise immunization coverage for the six diseases to this level in all countries, eliminate neonatal tetanus, poliomyelitis and substantially reduce measles deaths and cases by the end of 1995. As a result, a large majority of countries have reached the immunization coverage goal of 80% for all antigens except tetanus toxoid; polio has been eradicated in many countries; major progress has been made towards elimination of neonatal tetanus; and measles mortality and morbidity have been reduced in some regions. UNICEF procures 40% of the world's doses of vaccines for children and is the main supplier to developing countries. The global procurement of 2.8 billion doses of vaccines amounted to $374 million in 2004. Also in 2004, UNICEF procured 2.1 billion doses of polio vaccine, valued at $203 million, due to the fact that in 2003 and 2004, wild poliovirus spread rapidly from Nigeria across West and Central Africa and into Sudan, paralyzing children in 12 previously polio-free countries.

Oral rehydration therapy

UNICEF works closely with WHO to control diarrheal dehydration, which is the single largest cause of death among children under five years of age in the developing world. UNICEF-assisted programs for the control of diarrheal diseases promote the manufacture and distribution of prepackaged saltsoral rehydration salt (ORS)or homemade solutions. The use of oral rehydration therapy (ORT) has significantly increased from 17% in 1985 to 85% at present, and is believed to prevent more than 1.5 million deaths each year.

Acute respiratory infections (ARI)

ARI, in particular pneumonia, are the single biggest cause of child mortality in the world and account for over 2 million deaths among children under five years of age in developing countries. UNICEF has adopted a comprehensive approach to control ARI, including helping countries to develop national plans and infrastructures; decentralizing activities to substantial level; training health workers; supporting access to essential drugs and appropriate technological devices; and helping with monitoring and communication.

Safe motherhood

In the 1990s it was estimated that more than a half million women die every year from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. In cooperation with WHO, UNICEF worked to reduce maternal mortality by 50% by the year 2000, to improve prenatal care, and to ensure safe delivery for all pregnant women and access by all couples to family planning services. It also focuses on information, education, and communication on birth-spacing, responsible parenthood, and discouraging early marriage and early pregnancy.


By December 2002, 3.2 million children (800,000 in new infections in 2002) had been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the vast majority of whom lived in sub-Saharan Africa. A report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) indicated that the majority of the 5 million newly infected adults in 2002 were under 25 years old, nearly half of them women. It was estimated that in 2002, 42 million people were HIV-infected worldwide. There were 3.1 million AIDS deaths in 2002, of which 610,000 were children. By the end of 2005, there were approximately 15 million children who had been orphaned by HIV and AIDS.

UNICEF works closely with governments and supports prevention programs such as youth health and development promotion; school-based interventions; sexual and reproductive health promotion; family and community care; and mass communication and mobilization. It also helps AIDS-infected families and AIDS orphans. UNICEF supported HIV/AIDS prevention for adolescents in 71 countries in 2001. That year, more than 720,000 children contracted HIV from their mothers. UNICEF thus supports "prevention of mother-to-child transmission" (PMTCT) of HIV/AIDS in 47 countries. UNICEF contributed research and logistical support to the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS held in June 2001. In 2004, UNICEF procured $18.4 million of antiretroviral medicine, and supplied HIV and AIDS-related test kits and diagnostic equipment worth $2.9 million.

UNICEF participates in UNAIDS, cosponsored by the UN Development Fund (UNDF), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO), World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Bank.


In 1996, 174 million children were malnourished as a result of frequent bouts of diarrhea and other illnesses, bottle-feeding of infants and poor weaning practices, low birth-weight, infrequent feeding and micronutrient deficiencies. On average, over 50% of young child deaths in developing countries are associated with malnutrition. In 2000, UNICEF's statistics showed that 30% of the world's children were moderately to severely underweight and 11% were wasting. UNICEF fights malnutrition by empowering communities; protecting and promoting breastfeeding and appropriate child feeding practices; controlling the three main forms of micronutrient deficienciesiron, iodine, and vitamin A; improving nutrition information system; and helping countries to reach consensus as to the causes of malnutrition. It aims to achieve universal salt iodization to prevent iodine deficiency disorders, and to eliminate vitamin A deficiency.

UNICEF participated in the International Conference on Nutrition held in Rome in December 1992 and contributed to the formulation of the World Declaration on Nutrition and the Plan of Action for Nutrition adopted by the conference. The declaration identified children under five years of age as the group most affected by malnutrition.


In coordination with WHO, UNICEF launched in June 1991, a "baby-friendly hospital initiative" to promote breastfeeding. The initiative aims at empowering women to breastfeed by ending the distribution of free and low-cost supplies of infant formula in hospitals and maternity facilities. As of 1996, 8,120 hospitals and maternity facilities had become "baby-friendly" by implementing the "Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding" recommended by UNICEF and WHO. Baby-friendly hospitals encourage mothers to initiate breastfeeding immediately after birth and to continue exclusive breastfeeding, and they do not accept free and low-cost formula from companies.

Water supply and sanitation

Polluted water is estimated to affect the health of more than 1.2 billion people, and to contribute to the death of an average 15 million children every year. In 1994, WHO estimated the number of people without access to clean drinking water at 1.3 billion. By 2000, nearly 1.2 billion people lacked access to clean water, while 2.4 billion lacked access to adequate sanitation services. Two of every five Africans lack access to an improved water supply. Throughout Africa, rural water services lag far behind urban services. At the beginning of 2000, two-fifths of the world's population (2.4 billion people) lacked access to improved sanitation facilities. The majority of those people lived in Asia and Africa, where fewer than half of all Asians have access to improved sanitation.

To meet the goals of universal access to safe drinking water and to sanitary means of excreta disposal, and elimination of guinea worm disease by the end of the decade, UNICEF allocates a large portion of its income to this sector (for the amount see section on expenditure). In addition to provision of effective low-cost water supply and sanitary services, UNICEF promotes hygiene education and environmental protection. UNICEF is working to eliminate the water-borne guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis).

Basic education

In its 1999 Annual Report, UNICEF stated that nearly a billion people would enter the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names and that two-thirds of them were women. The total included more than 130 million school-age children, 73 million of them girls, who were growing up in the developing world without access to basic education. UNICEF works to improve access to primary education and to reduce drop-out rates. It gives priority to the education of girls, with the aim of reducing gender disparities. At the Habitat II in Istanbul, Turkey in June 1996, UNICEF advocated for the inclusion of children's concerns in the Global Action Plan adopted by the assembly.

At the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, UNICEF made a successful effort to include girls' education in the Platform for Action adopted by the conference. Also at the conference, UNICEF promised to more than double its resources to basic education during the 1990s, with special attention to girls' education. The organization reported on its progress at the Beijing+5 conference, in New York in June 2000. In 2002, UNICEF was helping 74 countries break down barriers that exclude girls from education. In 2001, 21 countries reported improvements in school enrollment and retention for girls.

UNICEF supports the UN Millennium Development Goals for education: by 2015, all girls and boys were to be able to complete a quality primary and secondary education; by 2005, girls and boys were to be equally represented in the classroom.

Urban basic services

Almost half of the developing world's urban dwellers are children whose vulnerability has increased with the rapid growth of towns and cities amid economic and environmental crisis and recurring conflict. UNICEF revised its policy in 1993 by focusing on poverty reduction, primary environmental care, rehabilitation, and preventive approaches for urban children in especially difficult circumstances. It also provides advocacy and technical support and emphasizes the need for concerted effort at all levelsnational, subnational, and community.

Children in especially difficult circumstances

Around the world, millions of children are at special risk because of acute poverty, wars, natural calamities, disabilities, and other circumstances. Children in such situations often become separated from their relatives, left without the protection and security families provide and vulnerable to terrible forms of exploitation and abuse.

Over 250 million children in the world work, many of them are at risk from hazardous exploitative labor, in factories, in domestic services, on the streets, or in degrading conditions of sexual exploitation. An estimated one million children are believed to work as prostitutes. UNICEF supports special projects for children affected in these ways, by helping provide education, reuniting families, and counseling to help heal trauma. It vigorously advocates against the exploitation of children by working with governments international organizations, and non-governmental organizations to protect child rights as set forth in the Convention on the Rights of the child. At the World Conference against Commercial Exploitation of Children that convened in Stockholm in August 1996, UNICEF strongly called for the immediate end to commercial exploitation of children everywhere in the world.

Emergency relief and rehabilitation

Although most UNICEF activities focus on the "silent" emergencies that claim 12 million children's lives every year, natural disasters and armed conflicts constitute the main "loud" emergencies that challenge the organization's resources. In any emergency situation, UNICEF works closely with other UN agencies and many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Removal of Land Mines

The scale of the land mine problem almost defies imagination. Due to the persistence of armed conflicts throughout the world, it is estimated that there are more than 110 million land mines in 68 countries around the world, or one mine for every 20 children in the world today. An estimated 25,000 people are killed or maimed every year by land mines90% of these victims are civilians and 5,0006,000 are children. The countries most devastated by land-mines are Afghanistan, Angola and Cambodia. Afghanistan has an estimated 1015 million mines in place. In Africa, countries with high numbers of lands mines are Mozambique and Somalia, but land mines are also destroying the lives of children in Asia, Central America, the Middle East, and Central and Eastern Europe. The UN has established a voluntary trust fund through which countries can share the burden of mine clearance. As of 2006, UNICEF was undertaking mine action in 30 mine-affected countries worldwide, coordinating a variety of programs focused on mine risk education, advocacy, and survivor assistance.

UNICEF strongly advocates for a total ban of the production, marketing, and use of land mines and supports land mine awareness programs. In November 1995, UNICEF executive board director Carol Bellamy announced UNICEF's commitment to not deal with companies manufacturing or selling land mines.

Debt swaps

Since 1989, UNICEF has assisted in the conversion of foreign debt in developing countries to funds that supplement UNICEF's ongoing contributions to child survival and development in basic education, primary health care, and water and sanitation. The essential feature of the program is that the government concerned agrees to spend local currency on programs for children rather than using its scarce foreign exchange to service the debt.

Major UNICEF Publications

The State of the World's Children (annual). The Progress of Nations (annual, first appeared 1993). Ranks the nations of the world according to their achievements for children in health, nutrition, and education, as well as progress in the field of family planning and in women's development. UNICEF Annual Report.


The UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was established on 9 November 1943, to bring material aid to war-stricken areas of the world. Through its services, some 6 million displaced persons were repatriated. The constitution of a successor agency, broader in scope, the International Refugee Organization (IRO), was approved by the General Assembly on 15 December 1946. In addition to the relief and repatriation assistance provided by UNRRA, the IRO was charged with the protection of refugees and displaced persons and with resettlement responsibilities. The IRO Preparatory Commission became operative on 30 June 1947; by 31 December 1951, when IRO's operational activities ceased, more than 1 million persons had been resettled.

As part of a series of initiatives designed to address refugee problems following the dissolution of the IRO, the General Assembly, in December 1949, agreed on the necessity of setting up a body primarily responsible for the international protection of refugees and the search for durable solutions to their plight. As a consequence, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established as of 1 January 1951 for a limited period of three years. It was soon evident, however, that international assistance was needed, and as new situations that created refugees have continued to arise, UNHCR's mandate has been renewed by the General Assembly for successive periods of five years.

UNHCR was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954 and again in 1981.


The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is elected by the General Assembly on the nomination of the Secretary-General and follows policy directives given by the General Assembly. The Executive Committee of UNHCR meets annually to review activities in the fields of protection and material assistance, approve assistance projects to be included in the next year's annual program, and provide overall guidance. The high commissioner reports to the committee on the implementation of special tasks that he or she may have been called upon to carry outoften at the request of the Secretary-Generaland on the administration of special trust funds. In July 1994, ECOSOC recommended that the General Assembly increase the membership of the Executive Committee to 50 states. In 2006, the Executive Committee had been extended to 66 member countries.

UNHCR headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. As of May 2006, the organization had offices in 116 countries and a worldwide staff of 6,540 of whom about 85% were at work in the field.

By the end of 2004, 19.2 million people fell under the concern of the UNHCR. They included 9.2 million refugees, 676,000 asylum seekers, and 7.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), returned IDPs, stateless persons, and others of concern.


The financial arrangements made at the creation of UNHCR reflected the fundamental difference between it and the IRO. The IRO's budget was separate from that of the UN, while a very limited amount of the basic administrative costs of UNHCR is covered by the regular UN budget, since UNHCR is an integral part of the Secretariat, rather than a specialized agency. Its substantive activities in the field of protection and material assistance, however, depend entirely on voluntary contributions.

At the outset, UNHCR was not allowed to appeal to governments for funds without the express authorization of the General Assembly. The first funds of any magnitude put at the high commissioner's disposal came from the Ford Foundation in 1952 in the form of a grant of us$ 2.9 million (later increased to us$ 3.1 million) for a pilot program of projects intended to promote the local settlement of some 100,000 refugees in Europe through such measures as low-rent housing, small loans, vocational training, and rehabilitation of the handicapped. Subsequently, in 1954, the General Assembly authorized the high commissioner to appeal to governments for a four-year us$ 16 million program oriented toward permanent solutions and modeled on the Ford experimental undertaking. The target was eventually reached through us$ 14.5 million in contributions by governments and over us$ 2 million by private organizations.

Clearing refugee camps in Europe was the main objective of UNHCR at this time, and the funds needed to finish this task were raised to a large extent through World Refugee Year (1959/60), a campaign that extended to 100 countries and areas. In 1957, UNHCR's capacity to react effectively to unexpected situations was enhanced when the General Assembly authorized the high commissioner to establish an emergency fund not to exceed us$ 500,000. This innovation grew out of the experience of 1956, when some 200,000 refugees from Hungary crossed into Austria and Yugoslavia within a matter of weeks, prompting the high commissioner to appeal for funds for the emergency. By 1993, the emergency fund's ceiling was raised to us$ 25 million, with up to us$ 8 million available for a single emergency in a given year.

With the exception of a very limited subsidy from the United Nations regular budget (which is used exclusively for administrative costs), UNHCR's assistance programs are funded by voluntary contributions from governments, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, and individuals. These so-called "voluntary funds" finance all UNHCR assistance programs worldwide. UNHCR's annual voluntary funds expenditure rose rapidly during the last decades of the 1900s, surpassing an annual budget of more than us$ 1 billion for a fifth consecutive year in 1998. The 1999 budget also surpassed the billion-dollar mark; the us$ 1.17 billion budget was revised to cover the Kosovo emergency. In 2004, the budget was approximately $928.9 million.

The High Commissioner's Responsibilities

The high commissioner's primary responsibility is international protection. In addition, he or she promotes durable solutions to the problems of refugees through voluntary repatriation, local integration, or resettlement in another country. Whatever the field of activity, he or she and his or her staff are always guided by humanitarian and strictly nonpolitical considerations. UNHCR's ability to adhere to this policy over the years since its inception in 1951 has led the General Assembly to extend the scope of its material assistance activities, in many cases to persons who do not necessarily meet the definition of refugees contained in the high commissioner's statute. This definition describes refugees as persons who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, are outside their country of nationality and are unable or unwilling, because of such fear, to avail themselves of the protection of that country. In recent years, UNHCR has increasingly been called on to help not only refugees but also persons uprooted by man-made disasters and displaced either outside or within their country of origin. However, UNHCR's competence does not extend to refugees already receiving help from another UN organization, notably the Arab refugees from Palestine who are cared for by UNRWA (see separate section).

From its outset, UNHCR's work was intended to be undertaken jointly with other members of the international community. UNHCR draws on the expertise of other United Nations organizations in matters such as food production (FAO), health measures (WHO), education (UNESCO), child welfare (UNICEF), and vocational training (ILO). It also cooperates closely with the World Food Programme in providing basic food supplies to refugees, and with the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in implementing projects that aim to promote self-reliance. Over the decades, the most sustained and devoted service to the cause of refugees has been provided by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Over 200 NGOs cooperate in UNHCR's relief and legal assistance programs. In 1993, the Nansen Medal, awarded for outstanding service to the cause of refugees, recognized the valuable collaboration of one such NGO, Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders).

Since refugees no longer enjoy the protection of the countries they have fled, they must rely on the international community to provide it. The main vehicle for international protection is the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, which lays down minimum standards for the treatment of refugees by countries that have acceded to it. By 1 July 2004, 145 states were party to either the convention or its protocol.

One of the most important provisions of the 1951 convention is that refugees must not be sent back to a country where they may face persecution on grounds of race, political opinion, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group (the principle of non-refoulement ). The convention also defines the rights of refugees in the country of asylum with respect to such matters as the right to work, education, access to courts, and social security. Moreover, it provides for the issuance of travel documents by the country of residence to compensate for the fact that refugees are not in a position to use their national passports.

By its statute and under the 1951 convention, UNHCR is given specific responsibility for supervising the application of the provisions of the convention. It is also available to supply technical advice to governments on appropriate legal and administrative measures to give effect to the stipulations of the convention.

Another important legal instrument concerning refugees is the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, adopted by the Organization of African Unity in 1969. This convention, which came into force on 20 June 1974, emphasizes that the granting of asylum is a peaceful and humanitarian act that should not be regarded as unfriendly by any member state. A similar provision can be found in the Declaration on Territorial Asylum adopted by the General Assembly in December 1967 (see the section on Other Declarations in the chapter on Human Rights).

Asylum is the key aspect of the protection work of the high commissioner's office. A conference of plenipotentiaries convened by the General Assembly in 1977 "to consider and adopt a convention on territorial asylum" failed to achieve its objectives, and the absence of such a convention remains a gap in the legal basis for the protection of asylum-seekers.

In 1975, UNHCR undertook new duties in the field of protection on a provisional basis, following the entry into force on 13 December of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Under the terms of the convention, stateless persons may apply to national authorities to have nationality accorded to themselves or to their children or may ask UNHCR's assistance in presenting a claim.

Material Assistance Activities

UNHCR's material assistance activities include emergency relief, assistance in voluntary repatriation or local integration, and resettlement through migration to other countries, as well as social services.


UNHCR's involvement in Africa dates from 1957, when thousands of people fled from the fighting in Algeria to Morocco and Tunisia. Working in conjunction with the League of Red Cross Societies, UNHCR provided both immediate and long-term assistance and helped to organize the repatriation of some 200,000 refugees in 1962, after the cessation of hostilities.

By 1967 there were an estimated 750,000 refugees in Africa, many of them victims of the struggles for independence in Guinea-Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique. In 197475, UNHCR assisted in repatriating many of these refugees to their newly independent countries. A large-scale repatriation and rehabilitation program involving some 200,000 refugees and displaced persons in Zimbabwe was coordinated by UNHCR in 1980, and a major repatriation to Chad was completed in 1982.

By the early 1990s, Africa harbored over 6 million refugees, or around one-third of the global refugee population. During the previous decade, refugee situations persisted or erupted in the Horn of Africa, West Africa, and southern Africa. In some cases, such as for Mozambican refugees in Malawi and in the Horn, these situations were exacerbated by drought.

A number of refugees were able to return home, notably Namibians, Ethiopians, and Ugandans in the Sudan, and Somalis in Ethiopia. The repatriation of some 1.7 million Mozambicans got under way in mid-1993. In the Horn, a cross-border approach was put into action aimed at creating conditions conducive to the voluntary repatriation of refugees and safe return of internally displaced persons. This approach has been characterized by the use of "quick impact projects" (QIPs). QIPs entail the execution of small-scale projects, such as the repair and reconstruction of essential facilities; the provision of livestock, seed, and processing machinery; and the establishment of small-scale businesses. The projects are designed to bridge the gap between relief and development by helping returnees and their communities regain self-sufficiency. In certain areas such as North-West Somalia and Mozambique, however, repatriation has been bedeviled by the presence of landmines in the areas of return.

In 1993, violent upheavals in the central African state of Burundi drove some 580,000 persons to seek refuge in neighboring countries. The following year, bloodshed engulfed neighboring Rwanda, creating, by May 1994, over 800,000 refugees. UNHCR launched emergency assistance programs to cope with refugees from both situations.

In 2003, fighting erupted in Sudan's western region of Darfur. Hundreds of thousands of people were uprooted by the conflict. By late 2004, some 200,000 Sudanese had fled across the border to neighboring Chad and an estimated 1.6 million were displaced within Darfur, where militias reportedly killed, raped and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

UNHCR estimated the cost of the annual program budget for Africa in 2006 at us$ 449.4 million.

Central and Southwest Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East

In August 1974, following events in Cyprus, the high commissioner was designated to coordinate humanitarian relief for 241,300 people who had been uprooted and displaced. In the absence of a political settlement, aid is still being channeled to the island.

Events in Afghanistan in the late 1970s and the 1980s provoked a tremendous exodus from the country. Despite the unprecedented repatriation of 1.5 million Afghans in 1992, at the beginning of 1995 over 2.7 million Afghans remained in exile (1.6 million in Iran and 1.5 million in Pakistan). Hopes for their continued repatriation were stymied by a resurgence of fighting in Afghanistan in April 1992. In that year, Afghanistan itself became a country of asylum when some 60,000 Tajiks escaping from their country's civil war found sanctuary in northern Afghanistan. By 1995, there were still some 18,800 Tajik refugees in Afghanistan.

Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, the US-led campaign (Operation Enduring Freedom) against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization in Afghanistan began on 7 October 2001. At the beginning of 2002, nearly 200,000 Afghans joined 3.5 million countrymen already living abroad as refugees, and an additional 511,000 civilians became 'internally displaced persons' (IDPs) within Afghanistan. During the first quarter of 2002, however, the number of Afghan asylum-seekers dropped by 33% across Europe, due most likely to the changes in Afghanistan following 11 September. During the previous decade, the average monthly applications of Afghan asylum-seekers submitted in Europe increased five-fold.

In 1991, the Gulf War led to a situation of mass displacement, creating, by May 1991, some 1.4 million refugees in Iran and 400,000 on the border with Turkey. UNHCR mounted a massive emergency assistance program for these groups, as well as for internally displaced Kurds in northern Iraq. By the end of 1991, most of the Iraqis in Iran and on the Turkish border had returned home. However, due to a decade of repression under Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, 530,100 Iraqis were refugees in Iran as of 2001. As of 2002, Iraqi asylum-seekers replaced Afghans as the top nationality seeking asylum in Europe. Following the US-led attack on Iraq and the fall of the Hussein government in March 2003, UNHCR returned to Iraq to assist the estimated 500,000 refugees and 800,000 internally displaced persons. UNHCR established support for organized voluntary repatriation, since the majority of Iraqi refugees desired to return to their homes.

On 8 October 2005, a massive Himalayan earthquake struck Pakistan. The damage was huge with thousands killed, many more injured, and several million homeless. The estimated death toll from the earthquakewhich measured around 7.6 on the Richter scaleclimbed from 10-15,000 during the first day, to more than 50,000 after the first two weeks. Although India was also badly affected, the vast majority of casualties occurred in Pakistan-administered Kashmir-where the epicenter was located-and parts of neighboring North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

UNHCR estimated the cost of the annual program budget for Central and South West Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East in 2006 at us$ 137.1 million.

Asia and the Pacific

In May 1971, the high commissioner was appointed "focal point" for UN assistance to millions of Bengali refugees from East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) in India. More than us$180 million in cash, goods, or services was channeled through this focal point, mainly for emergency relief in India but also for the repatriation operation that began early in 1972, following the creation of Bangladesh. The operation involved the transfer of non-Bengalis from Bangladesh to Pakistan and of Bengalis from Pakistan to Bangladesh. By the time it was concluded in July 1974, 241,300 people had been moved, nearly all by air, across the subcontinent in either direction.

Another major crisis erupted in mid-1978, when nearly 200,000 refugees from the Arakan state of Burma flooded into Bangladesh. UNHCR was again designated as coordinator of UN assistance. Following an agreement concluded with the Burmese government in July 1978, repatriation began in November of that year. The UNHCR program included assistance to the returnees once they were back in their country of origin.

Early in 1975, the conflict that for almost three decades had involved Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos came to an end with changes of regime in the three countries of Indochina. Since that time, over 2.8 million Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Lao have left their homes and sought asylum in neighboring countries. These mass movements reached their peak in 1979, when some 393,560 people arrived by boat or overland in various asylum countries throughout the region, and in early 1980, when additional large numbers of Kampucheans moved into the border area with Thailand to escape hostilities in their own country.

UNHCR has undertaken to provide temporary assistance for Indochinese in various countries of Southeast Asia, to ask governments to extend permanent resettlement opportunities, and to facilitate voluntary repatriation where feasible. In addition, large numbers of displaced persons in the Thai-Kampuchean border area have been assisted by other UN agencies and the ICRC. By the beginning of 1994, some 2.7 million Indo-Chinese Refugees and displaced persons had been resettled, repatriated, or integrated locally, while around 88,000 remained in camps throughout the region.

Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding concluded with the Vietnamese government in May 1979, UNHCR has been coordinating a program of orderly departure from Vietnam. A further coordinating role has been played by UNHCR in the funding of a major program to combat piracy against refugee boats and other vessels in the South China Sea. In 1995, there were an estimated 341,600 Vietnamese refugees, mostly seeking asylum in China or Hong Kong.

The Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indo-Chinese Refugees (CPA) was adopted in June 1989 with the objective of discouraging clandestine departures; assuring access to status determination procedures for all asylum-seekers; providing resettlement opportunities for bona fide refugees; and ensuring a safe and dignified repatriation for those not determined to be refugees. The CPA had the effect of dramatically reducing the numbers of Lao and Vietnamese asylum-seekers; the number of Vietnamese asylum-seekers, for example, dropped from 71,364 in 1989 to a mere 55 in 1992.

The repatriation of Cambodians from Thailand, which began in March 1992, resulted in the return home of some 387,000 refugees, or nearly the whole caseload in Thailand. Returnees and the communities receiving them were assisted, in some cases, by means of QIPs (see the section on Africa, above), to consolidate their reintegration.

In 199192, around 250,000 mainly Muslim refugees fled Myanmar to Bangladesh. At the request of the government of Bangladesh, UNHCR began assisting this group in February 1992. At the beginning of 1995, there were some 203,900 refugees from Myanmar seeking asylum, mostly in Thailand and Bangladesh.

Some 140,000 Sri Lankan Tamils sought safety from their country's communal violence in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu. In Sri Lanka, UNHCR assists both the returnees and internally displaced persons. In 2002, UNHCR was assisting 66,000 refugees in the government-run refugee camps in south India for repatriation. Over 70,000 internally displaced people had also returned to their homes in the northeast of Sri Lanka since the beginning of 2002, and the trend had increased after a ceasefire accord was signed early that year.

On 26 December 2004, an undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean set off a series of tsunamis that affected Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Somalia, and other countries. As of May 2006, casualties included approximately 187,000 dead and 43,000 missing, for a total of 230,000 affected. Although UNHCR is not normally involved in natural disasters, the sheer magnitude of the destruction, the fact that UNHCR had on-the-ground presence and emergency capacities to respond quickly, and the fact that many of the affected populations were of concern to the Office, prompted the organization to take action. In January 2005, a flash appeal went out for an initial $977 million to aid 5 million affected people in a six-month period. UNHCR's requirements were $75.8 million for its activities in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Somalia.

UNHCR estimated the cost of the annual program budget for Asia and the Pacific for 2006 at us$ 53.8 million.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Originally, Latin America was a primary resettlement area for European refugees. However, the events in Chile in September 1973 involved UNHCR in major assistance measures for Latin American refugees. UNHCR had to contend first with the problem of several thousand refugees of various nationalities in Chile, providing relief, care, and maintenance and helping establish "safe havens" where they could live until their resettlement could be arranged.

In addition to ongoing assistance to Chilean refugees, UNHCR was called on to assist an increasing number of Nicaraguans in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Panama in late 1978. By 1979, the number of Nicaraguan refugees receiving such assistance had risen to 100,000. However, following the change of government in Nicaragua in July 1979, voluntary repatriation began, and UNHCR launched a special program to facilitate both the return itself and the rehabilitation of returnees through assistance in areas such as agriculture, health, and housing.

In the early 1980s, Central America became an area of increasingly grave concern to UNHCR. By the end of 1980, 80,000 refugees from El Salvador had sought refuge in neighboring countries. The International Conference on Central American Refugees (CIREFCA), which was convened in May 1989, proved to be of considerable help in facilitating a convergence towards durable solutions for uprooted populations. The move towards democratization in the region, the success of regional peace initiatives, and the CIREFCA process resulted in a reduction in refugee numbers as a result of attainment of durable solutions. In Haiti, however, the overthrow of the country's democratically elected president in September 1991 led to an exodus of Haitians seeking asylum in the region. Despite UNHCR's plea to governments in the region to uphold the principle of non-refoulement, Haitian asylum-seekers continued to be interdicted on the high seas. Beginning in 1992, political violence prompted many Guatemalans to go into exile. At the start of 1995, UNHCR was assisting over 42,000 Guatemalan refugees who had gone to neighboring Mexico. About 10,000 Guatemalans per year have returned as the situation became conducive to repatriation. Due to civil war in Colombia during the late 1990s and into the new millennium, UNHCR was working to address the worsening humanitarian situation of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Colombia. Thousands of Colombians, the majority of whom are women and children, have been displaced in a country where the total number of displaced people since 1995 has been estimated at over two million

UNHCR estimated the cost of the annual program budget for the Americas and the Caribbean for 2006 at us$ 33.3 million.


When UNHCR came into existence in 1951, it inherited responsibility for some 120,000 persons still living in refugee and displaced persons' camps, mainly in the Federal Republic of Germany, Austria, Italy, and Greece. The great majority of these persons had been uprooted during World War II, primarily through the Nazi policies of removing people from occupied territories for forced labor and forcibly shifting populations for racial reasons. Particularly deplorable was the situation of the children born in the camps. Clearance of those camps was long delayed, mainly for lack of funds. Eventually, some 100,000 people, refugees since World War II, were settled as a result of UNHCR's programs.

New movements of refugees have, however, continued to occur. One of the largest of these was the result of the Hungarian crisis in 1956. The high commissioner was called on, in October 1956, to coordinate the activities of governments and voluntary organizations on behalf of the 200,000 Hungarians who sought refuge in Austria and Yugoslavia. From October 1956 until the end of 1959, about 180,000 Hungarian refugees arrived in Austria, and 19,000 in Yugoslavia. The total movement involved 203,100 persons. Of these, 18,000 eventually chose to return to Hungary, 9,600 elected to remain in Austria, 65,400 went to other European countries, and 107,400 emigrated overseas; the whereabouts of 2,700 are unknown.

In November 1991, UNHCR received a mandate from the United Nations Secretary-General to act as the lead United Nations agency to provide protection and assistance to those affected by conflict in the former Yugoslavia, then estimated at half a million people. By the beginning of 1995, there were 843,000 refugees from the former Yugoslavia seeking asylum, mostly in Croatia, Serbia, and Germany. There also were 1,282,000 internally displaced persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina and 307,000 in Croatia.

The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s created some 663,100 displaced Azeris and some 299,000 refugees from Azerbaijan seeking asylum in Armenia at that time, and 201,500 refugees from Armenia seeking asylum in Azerbaijan. The military conflict in Georgia created around 280,000 refugees and displaced persons. UNHCR, in coordination with the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs and other UN agencies, operated emergency response programs in all three countries. In May 1996, UNHCR convened a regional conference to address the problems of refugees, displaced persons, and returnees in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). UNHCR estimated at that time there were 2.4 million refugees and internally displaced persons in the CIS countries.

As of May 2002, around 900,000 refugees had returned to Kosovo since June 1999, when UN peacekeeping troops entered the province. But the vast majority of these were from the Kosovo Albanian majority in the province. Around 231,000 people from Kosovo, mostly Serbs, were in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and there were around 22,000 people from minorities still displaced inside Kosovo itself.

Fighting in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) took place in early 2001, when an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group emerged in Macedonia and began clashing with government security forces. By June 2001, some 48,000 people had fled Macedonia for Kosovo. By mid-2002, more than 150,000 of the 170,000 persons displaced during the spring and summer of 2001 had returned home.

UNHCR estimated the cost of the annual program budget for Europe in 2006 at us$ 110.2 million.


The plight of Palestine refugees has been a serious concern of the UN ever since the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. When a cease-fire came into effect early in 1949, hundreds of thousands of Arabs who lived in the territory that is now Israel were stranded on the other side of the armistice line from their homes. The Arab states claim that the refugees were driven out by the Israelis or fled in fear of reprisals. Israel, on the other hand, asserts that the Arab states told the Arab population to evacuate the area temporarily so that their armies could more easily drive the Israelis into the sea. (For the political background, see the section on the Middle East in the chapter on International Peace and Security.)

The refugees were given emergency relief at first by the ICRC, the League of Red Cross Societies, and the American Friends Service Committee, using money and supplies provided by the temporary UN Relief for Palestine Refugees, established in December 1948. In December 1949, the General Assembly created a special agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), to provide relief and works projects in collaboration with the local governments. In the following year, the General Assembly extended UNRWA's mandate to June 1952 and instructed it to carry out development projects that would enable the refugees to be absorbed into the economy of the region. As originally conceived, UNRWA was a large-scale but definitely temporary operation, to be terminated by the end of 1952. The General Assembly accordingly asked Israel and its neighbors to secure "the permanent reestablishment of the refugees and their removal from relief." In carrying out programs of resettlement, however, all parties concerned, including UNRWA, were to act without prejudice to the rights of those refugees who "wished to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbors." These were to "be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date"; those who chose not to do so were to be compensated for their losses.

These goals were not achieved by 1952 and have not been met since then. Large-scale development projects to induce the refugees to leave the camps and enable them to become self-supporting in their host countries were approved by the General Assembly but never realized. Since 1952, UNRWA's mandate has been repeatedly extended.

For more information on UNRWA, see the chapter on International Peace and Security.


Concern for youth has been expressed within the UN system ever since its inception and particularly since the adoption by the General Assembly in 1965 of the Declaration on the Promotion Among Youth of the Ideals of Peace, Mutual Respect and Understanding Between Peoples. In that declaration, the General Assembly stressed the importance of the role of youth in today's world, especially its potential contribution to development, and proposed that governments give youth an opportunity to take part in preparing and carrying out national development plans and international cooperation programs.

Other recommendations made to member states by the General Assembly relate to the preparation of youth, through education, for full participation in all aspects of life and development; health policies and programs to ensure that young people are able to take advantage of opportunities open to them; the adoption of all possible means to increase employment for youth; the opening up of channels of communication between the UN and youth organizations; and measures aimed at promoting human rights and their enjoyment by youth.

The World Youth Assembly, held at UN headquarters in July 1970, was the first international youth convocation organized by the UN. It brought together some 650 young people to express their views on issues relating to world peace, development, education, and the environment and to discuss ways in which they could support the UN.

In 1979, the General Assembly decided to designate 1985the twentieth anniversary of the 1965 Declarationas International Youth Year, with the three themes of participation, development, and peace. The objectives of the year were to bring about widespread awareness of the situation of young people and of their problems and aspirations, and to engage them in the development process. International Youth Year resulted in the endorsement by the General Assembly of guidelines for strategies and activities in favor of youth at the national, regional, and international levels in coming years.

In observance of the tenth anniversary of International Youth Year, in 1995, the General Assembly devoted a plenary meeting to the subject of youth to set forth goals for a world youth program of actions towards the year 2000 and beyond. Its principal objective was to provide a global framework for national and regional action. The plan of action was draft ed by the UN secretariat following the submission of proposals by member states, organizations of the UN system, and nongovernmental organizations.

A trust fund established for International Youth Year and renamed the UN Youth Fund is used to support projects involving young people in the development of their countries.


In the 75 years between 1950 and the year 2025, the world elderly population is projected to increase from 8% to 14% of the total global population, or 1.2 billion persons. While the total world population will have grown by a factor of a little more than three, the elderly will have grown by a factor of six and the very old by a factor of 10. The developing countries are projected to age more quickly in the coming decades, and are concerned by two factors: a weak institutional infrastructure for accommodating the elderly, and the uncertainty that families will be able to continue providing traditional care for the elderly.

In 1948, Argentina first presented a draft declaration on old age rights to the General Assembly, which referred it to ECOSOC. ECOSOC requested the Secretary-General to draft a report on the matter, and in 1950 he submitted a report entitled "Welfare of the Aged: Old Age Rights." However, the rapid change in the world's population structure was not evident in 1950, and an interval of 20 years elapsed before Malta tabled another initiative on the agenda of the General Assembly in 1969. This initiative was followed throughout the 1970s and led to the convening of the World Assembly on Aging in 1982.

In 1973, the General Assembly considered a comprehensive report that noted the demographic increase in the absolute and relative size of the older populations of the world (a trend that was expected to continue because of medical advances and decreases in birth and death rates) and estimated that the number of persons 60 years of age or over throughout the world would double between 1970 and the year 2000. The General Assembly recommended guidelines to governments in formulating policies for the elderly, including development of programs for the welfare, health, and protection of older people and for their retraining in accordance with their needs, in order to maximize their economic independence and their social integration with other segments of the population.

In 1978, the General Assembly decided to convene a world assembly for the purpose of launching "an international action program aimed at guaranteeing economic and social security to older persons," as well as opportunities for them to contribute to national development. The General Assembly later decided that the conference should also consider the interrelated issue of the aging of whole populations.

The World Assembly on Aging, held in Vienna in JulyAugust 1982, was attended by representatives of more than 120 countries. It adopted an international plan of action, both to help the aging as individuals and to deal with the long-term social and economic effects of aging populations. Recommendations contained in the plan of action covered (1) the need to help the elderly lead independent lives in their own family and community for as long as possible, instead of being excluded and cut off from all activities of society; (2) the importance of giving the elderly a choice in regard to the kind of health care they receive and the importance of preventive care, including nutrition and exercise;(3) the need to provide support services to assist families, particularly low-income families, to continue to care for elderly relatives; and (4) the need to provide social-security schemes, to assist the elderly in finding (or returning to) employment, and to provide appropriate housing. The plan of action also included recommendations for meeting the needs of particularly vulnerable persons, such as elderly refugees and migrant workers.

The Commission for Social Development, which is entrusted with reviewing implementation of the plan of action every four years, noted in 1985 that by the year 2025, more than 70% of persons over 60 years of age would live in developing countries. In 2025, experts estimate that the elderly population of the world will number 1.2 billion, six times more than the 200 million elderly worldwide in 1950. The commission listed priorities for action, including the creation of national committees on aging, coordinated planning, strengthening of information exchange, training, research, and education programs.

In 1988, the UN established the International Institute on Aging in Valetta, Malta, to conduct training, research, collection and publication of data, and technical cooperation in the field of aging. In 1990, the General Assembly designated 1 October as the International Day for the Elderly. In 1991, the General Assembly adopted a set of 18 United Nations "Principles for Older Persons" clustered under five themes: independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment, and dignity. The principles mandate that older persons should have the opportunity to work and to determine when to leave the work force; remain integrated in society and participate actively in the formation of policies that affect them; have access to health care to help them maintain the optimum level of physical, mental, and emotional well-being; be able to pursue opportunities for their full development; and be able to live in dignity and security.

In 1992, the General Assembly gave its patronage to the privately-created Banyan Fund Association's World Fund for Aging, in Torcy, France, which assists developing countries, at their request, in activities aimed at formulating and implementing policies and programs on aging. Also in 1992, the General Assembly devoted four special plenary meetings in October to a conference on aging. It issued a Proclamation on Aging (resolution A/47/5), which reaffirmed its previous resolutions and established the year 1999 as the International Year of the Elderly "in recognition of humanity's demographic coming of age and the promise it holds for maturing attitudes and capabilities in social, economic, cultural and spiritual undertakings, not least for global peace and development in the next century." In its Resolution 47/86, the General Assembly adopted a set of global targets on aging for the year 2001 as a practical strategy for countries to provide for the needs of the elderly.

On 5 October 2000, the UN held a 10th Annual Celebration of the International Day of Older Persons, sponsored by the UN/NGO Committee on Aging in collaboration with the UN Department of Public Information and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The conference raised the issue of interdependence between generations.


Under the charter principles of the dignity and worth of the human being and the promotion of social justice, the General Assembly has acted to protect the rights of disabled persons. In 1971, it adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons, and in 1975, the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons (see the section on Other Declarations in the chapter on Human Rights). In 1976, the General Assembly decided to proclaim 1981 as International Year of Disabled Persons, and it called for a plan of action for the year at the national, regional, and international levels.

The year's purpose, and its theme, was the promotion of "full participation and equality," defined as the right of disabled persons to take part fully in the life and development of their societies, to enjoy living conditions equal to those of other citizens, and to have an equal share in improved conditions resulting from socioeconomic development. Other objectives of the year included increasing public understanding of disability and encouraging disabled persons to organize themselves to express their views effectively.

During the year, national committees were set up in more than 140 countries to map out plans of action to implement the objectives of the year. Regional seminarsfor Asia and the Pacific, Africa, Latin America, Western Asia, and Europeheld during the year discussed regional cooperation on behalf of disabled persons. At the international level, organizations of the UN system and other intergovernmental organizations, as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), discussed ways in which the world community could aid the disabled through technical cooperation and other means.

The year's activities were followed by the General Assembly's adoption, in 1982, of a World Program of Action Concerning Disabled Persons, aimed at continuing long-term programs at the national, regional, and international levels. To provide the necessary time frame for implementation of the program, the General Assembly proclaimed the period 198392 as the UN Decade of Disabled Persons.

The World Program of Action has proved to be a valuable guide for improving the social, economic, and physical conditions of disabled persons by defining disability issues in the context of human rights and recommending measures aimed at equalizing opportunities for the full participation of disabled persons in society. The program has offered a new approach on disability, representing a step forward in social thinking on such aspects as prevention of disabilities, rehabilitation, equalization of opportunities, and participation of disabled persons in all aspects of life.

During the first five years of the Decade of Disabled Persons, 198387, there was a significant growth in the number of organizations of disabled persons throughout the world, which were able to articulate and identify their needs. Governments, NGOs, and regional bodies reported an increased awareness by disabled persons of their rights. There was also an increase in research and exchange of information on the prevention of disabilities and the rehabilitation of the disabled, on the mobility of the disabled, and on their participation in leisure and sports activities.

At the same time, obstacles impeding the implementation of the World Program of Action were identified, including the demographic increase in the number of disabled persons worldwide because of poverty, malnutrition, wars, civil unrest, and deteriorating social and economic conditions in many countries. Because of these obstacles, the General Assembly drew up a set of priority activities to ensure the effective implementation of the program of action during the remaining half of the decade.

Although several specialized agencies in the UN system had prepared guidelines and manuals on key disability issues, those guidelines were not incorporated into national programs in the majority of countries. In order to make the World Program of Action more operational, the General Assembly called for a long-term strategy setting out standard rules on the equalization of opportunities for disabled persons. In 1990 ECOSOC passed Resolution 1990/26 authorizing the Commission for Social Development to establish a working group to create a set of standard rules for submission to the General Assembly in 1993. This new instrument offered governments clear policy options on how to implement measures for full equalization of opportunities for disabled persons.

In 1992, the last year of the designated decade, Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali reported that the 1981 Year for Disabled Persons was so successful in getting the issue of disability and the concerns of disabled people on national agendas that it had come to be regarded as a milestone in the long struggle of disabled people for equal rights. Four plenary sessions of the General Assembly in October 1992 were devoted to a celebration and evaluation of the progress made during the decade. Prior to then, an International Conference of Ministers Responsible for Disability met in Montreal to seek consensus on a framework for action to continue the momentum generated by the decade.

It was clear that the major achievement of the decade was increased public awareness of disability issues among policy-makers, planners, politicians, service providers, parents, and disabled persons themselves. For example, information on disability issues is now included in censuses and some 55 countries now maintain statistical information on disability. In 1960, such information was available in only 15 countries. Several European countries set up computerized information networks to share disability-related information. It was also observed that nongovernmental organizations dedicated to the welfare of disabled people were able to increase their influence and gain the respect of their communities. The Voluntary Fund for the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons had supported 161 projects by the end of 1991, for a total of approximately us$ 2.9 million. By its resolution 47/88, the General Assembly decided that the fund would continue in the period beyond the Decade as the United Nations Voluntary Fund on Disability, and that its terms of reference would include support for action to achieve the target of a "society for all" by the year 2010. During the 20-month period of 1 January 1998 to 31 August 1999, the fund provided nearly us$ 1 million in grants to 35 disability-related projects.

However, despite its relative success, by the end of the decade, it was estimated that 300 million people with disabilities lived in developing countries and that only 1% of these had access to basic health, education, and adequate sanitation services.


Although many of the UN's resolutions and instruments deal tangentially with the needs of families, the General Assembly's first formal recognition of the family unit's special status as the basic building block of civilized society came in 1989 when it passed resolution A/44/82 (1989) proclaiming 1994 as the first International Year of the Family. The theme of the year was "Family: resources and responsibilities in a changing world," and its motto was "Building the smallest democracy at the heart of society." In 1993, the General Assembly declared 15 May 1994 the first International Day of Families, to be celebrated annually thereafter.

The General Assembly sought to raise the awareness of governments at the national, local, and regional levels about the threat posed to families and the possible consequences to society of the fragmentation and disintegration of the family unit. The erosion of social safety nets around the world had placed tremendous burdens on families. Abject poverty, which affected 20% of the world population, contributed to the destruction of families, for example, when members left the family unit to search for employment. Studies showed that within the space of a few decades the traditional extended family had shrunk to the nuclear family and finally to the single-parent family. In the United Kingdom alone, half of all births in 1990 were to single women. UN agencies called for recognition of the family's contribution towards achieving human development, alleviating poverty, and providing health care, nutrition, education, shelter, and employment for family members. The UN called for governments to formulate "family-sensitive" national policies and to assess how decisions would affect families.

Rather than try to narrowly define the family, the General Assembly took the broadest possible approach, encouraging celebration of the vast diversity observed in families throughout the world. A study showed that average family size varied from 2.2 members in Sweden to 7.1 members in Iraq. In all industrial countries except the former Soviet Union, the average household size shrank between 1970 and 1990. In the United States the average household shrank from 3.1 persons in 1970 to 2.6 persons in 1990. On the other hand, households grew in size in Africa, south Asia, and the Middle East. In Algeria, for example, average household size grew from 5.9 persons in 1966 to 7 persons in 1987. Despite the many cultural and economic differences in families around the world, according to the Secretary-General, some elements of an international consensus regarding families emerged:

  • The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state;
  • Various concepts of the family exist in different social, cultural, and political systems, but it is recognized that families are basic to the social structure and development of all societies. It is also recognized that families around the world exhibit many common problems.
  • Gender equality, women's equal participation in employment, and shared parental responsibilities are essential elements of modern family policy;
  • Families are the fullest reflection, at the grass-roots level, of the strengths and weaknesses of the social and developmental environment; and
  • Families, as basic units of social life, are major agents of sustainable development at all levels of society, and their contribution is crucial for its success.

Besides four regional preparatory meetings and two nongovernmental events held in 1993 to prepare for the International Year of the Family, the General Assembly held an International Conference on Families in October 1994. The secretariat for the International Year, based in Vienna, coordinated technical cooperation projects in Africa and the countries of the former Soviet Union. A world forum of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) held in Malta in late 1993 called for the UN and its member nations to enter into an ongoing process of building a family-friendly society. It also called for the elaboration of a declaration on the rights and responsibilities of families in the follow-up to the International Year of the Family.

Some of the most important existing international instruments that refer to the family are:

  • the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
  • the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  • the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women;
  • the 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief; and
  • the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.


The work of the UN in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice has two main purposes: to lessen the human and material costs of crime and its impact on socioeconomic development and to formulate international standards and norms in crime prevention and criminal justice and promote their observance.

By 1990, United Nations statistics showed that worldwide incidence of assaults had risen from around 150 per 100,000 population in 1970 to nearly 400 per 100,000 population in 1990. The incidence of theft s had more than tripled in the same period. In addition, the number of adults held in legal detention worldwide increased from around 1 million in 1975 to 1,100,000 in 1980, a 10% jump. Another UN study showed that developed countries were spending an average of 2 to 3% of their budgets on crime control, while developing countries were devoting an average of 9 to 14% of their precious national resources to crime control. Traffic in illicit drugs was estimated to total us$ 500 billion a year. The intertwined expansion of transnational organized crime and the traffic in illicit drugs, and their link to international terrorism, provided the most powerful arguments for international cooperation.

Historical Background

Evidence of systems of criminal justice date back to the dawn of human civilization. Clay tablets from 2400 BC listing a code of conduct have been unearthed in Syria. The ancient civilization of Sumeria left an elaborate set of laws dating back to the twenty-first century BC. Standards for imposing penalties on criminals were handled more informally, rarely being codified into law before the advent of the modern era. The earliest form of international cooperation between sovereign nations may have been efforts to control piracy on the high seas. However, it was the nineteenth century that saw the development of widespread concern about the growth of urban crime, and the proliferation of reformatories and penal institutions.

The First International Congress on the Prevention and Repression of Crime was held in London in 1872 to consider the proper administration of prisons, possible alternatives to imprisonment, modes of rehabilitating criminals, treatment of juvenile offenders, extradition treaties, and the "means of repressing criminal capitalists." These subjects continue to challenge the international community at the end of the twentieth century. The London congress established the International Prison Commission with a mandate to collect penitentiary statistics, encourage penal reform, and convene international conferences every five years. The IPC established an affiliation with the League of Nations and, in 1935, was renamed the International Penal and Penitentiary Commission (IPPC). For 75 years, the IPPC did invaluable work in the collection of research materials; however, at the 1935 congress, it became dominated by adherents of the Nazi government in power in Germany. During the war years a substantial part of its funding came from the Axis powers, and it became a publicist for Fascist theories on the biological roots of crime and draconian measures for its control. When the United Nations was established at the close of World War II, it declined to accept affiliation with the IPPC. The UN did, however, decide that the control and prevention of crime would be one of its areas of concern.

United Nations Activities

On 1 December 1950, by its resolution 415(V), the United Nations dissolved the IPPC and officially assumed its functions. These functions include the convening of international congresses every five years, the formulation of policies, and the development of international programs of action. To discharge these responsibilities, the General Assembly, in 1950, authorized the UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders to be convened every five years.

In its resolution 415(V), the General Assembly also created an Ad Hoc Advisory Committee composed of seven experts to formulate programs for study and action in the field of crime prevention and treatment of offenders. This ad hoc committee eventually became the Committee on Crime Prevention and Control (CCPC), established in 1971 in response to the 1970 crime congress (held in Kyoto, Japan), which broadened considerably the scope of issues relating to criminal justice policy. The CCPC had 27 members who were nominated by their governments and elected by ECOSOC. It was charged with coordinating the efforts of UN bodies and prepared for the international crime congresses. It frequently draft ed proposed texts for international standards and guidelines concerning criminal justice policy.

In November 1991, a Ministerial Summit, attended by 114 state ministers, was held in Versailles, France, and called for creation of a new UN crime prevention and criminal justice program. The General Assembly responded by transforming the CCPC into a functional commission of ECOSOC: the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. The commission held its first session in April 1992 at Vienna. It is charged with developing, monitoring, and reviewing the UN's program on crime prevention and mobilizing support from member states. It coordinates the activities of the UN's regional and interregional institutes on crime prevention and criminal justice. It also is responsible for preparing for UN crime congresses.

The Office on Drugs and Crime (ODC)

This branch of the UN Secretariat, headquartered in Vienna, is the UN's central repository of technical expertise in matters of crime prevention, criminal justice, criminal law reform, and major criminological concern. It prepares studies and reports for the quinquennial congresses and for the Center for International Crime Prevention. The branch collects and analyzes statistics and provides technical assistance to member states and regional institutes. It prepares periodic country-by-country surveys of crime trends and criminal justice policies. The branch issues two regular publications: The International Review of Criminal Policy, a journal of applied criminology published annually since 1952, and the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Newsletter, which disseminates information on United Nations activities in the field.

The Office on Drugs and Crime also works closely with various regional centers, a research institute and an international computer information network. The international standards proposed by the UN are meant as springboards to for appropriate national action. Differences in history, culture, economic structures, and governmental institutions dictate against a wholesale adoption of UN guidelines and standards. Regional centers can take into account the differing cultures and traditions of geographically linked countries and can better guide and harmonize national policies.

The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) is based in Rome. It was founded in 1968, in response to concerns voiced by the 1965 Stockholm crime conference, under the name United Nations Social Defence Research Institute. UNICRI is housed in the heart of the old section of Rome, in an edifice built at the order of Pope Innocent X as a model prison for the replacement of dungeons used in the Middle Ages. The Italian government modernized the building's interior and made it available to UNICRI.

UNICRI carries out field research in conjunction with local institutions and experts. The institute is often charged with specific research projects in preparation for international crime congresses. It also holds international seminars and workshops. Its experts execute technical cooperation missions to assist member countries in implementing specific projects. It has a small but highly specialized library on criminology, penology, and related fields of law, sociology, and psychology. It also maintains a collection of United Nations and Council of Europe documents concerning criminal justice affairs. It publishes major research papers and an annual catalog of relevant research from around the world. UNICRI has computerized its World Directory of Criminological Resources, and it has created the soft ware and user manual for a computerized international expert roster. It has taken the lead in developing a UN global information network (see UNCJIN, below).

The African Regional Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFRI) was established in January 1987, in temporary quarters at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is now based in Kampala, Uganda. It organizes training courses and research and brings together criminal justice officials and development planners from all over Africa. It has conducted a feasibility study on the establishment of a regional, computerized information network to link up with the United Nations Criminal Justice Information Network (UNCJIN) (see below). UNAFRI operates under the auspices of the Economic Commission for Africa with financial assistance from the United Nations Development Program.

The Asian and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI) was established in 1961 and is based in Tokyo, Japan. It provides facilities for training courses and sends its staff to countries within the region to conduct classes in cooperation with host governments. UNAFEI publishes a regular newsletter and studies such as Forms and Dimensions of Criminality in Asian Countries, Alternatives to Imprisonment in Asia, and Criminal Justice in Asiathe Quest for an Integrated Approach. Although UNAFEI was initially a joint venture between the United Nations and the government of Japan, financial assistance from the UN was discontinued in 1970. The director of UNAFEI is assigned by the government of Japan in consultation with the UN.

The European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control (HEUNI) was established in 1981 in an agreement between the United Nations and the government of Finland. It is based in Helsinki. Its funds are provided by the government of Finland with assistance from other governments. HEUNI conducts training seminars and holds expert meetings to study regional issues in depth. Its expert meetings are often convened in order to offer a European perspective on draft documents of UN criminal justice policy. HEUNI has been actively involved with plans for a global UN information system on crime and criminal justice. Its publications include: Criminal Justice Systems in Europe, The Role of the Victim of Crime in European Criminal Justice Systems, and Non-Custodial Alternatives in Europe.

The Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Delinquency (ILANUD) was established in 1975 and is based in San José, Costa Rica. ILANUD devises practical strategies taking into account UN recommendations in criminal justice. It organizes regular training courses, workshops, seminars, and conferences for personnel in the criminal justice systems of Latin American governments. In 1987 it established an Agrarian Justice Program that aimed at improving procedures governing agricultural production. ILANUD also implemented a computerized data base in its documentation center. ILANUD was established with financial assistance from the United Nations, but now is supported mainly by the government of Costa Rica.

In 1989, the United Nations Crime and Justice Information Network (UNCJIN) began operating under the auspices of the Criminal Justice Branch. UNCJIN is a computer network accessible by modem and gopher technology on the Internet. The UNCJIN gopher was resident on the computer system of the State University of New York at Albany. UNCJIN is funded in part by the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, the State University of New York at Albany, and the Research Foundation of the State University of New York. UNCJIN's goal is to establish a worldwide network to disseminate and exchange information concerning criminal justice and crime prevention issues. Information available through the UNCJIN is constantly evolving and expanding. UNCJIN data and documents (many in PDF, portable document format) are available on their web site at In 2000 it included: criminal justice profiles of more than 120 countries; basic constitutional documents of countries; summaries of the latest United States Supreme Court decisions; international criminal justice statistics from the UN World Crime Surveys; United States Bureau of Justice Statistics reports; the entire CIA Factbook; and an annotated list of publication outlets in criminal justice and criminology. One can also search the on-line library catalogs of major criminal justice and law libraries around the world, examine all the major United Nations rules and guidelines on criminal justice, and access to other UN online resources.

UN Congresses on Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders

Participants in UN crime congresses include criminologists, penologists, and senior police officers as well as experts in criminal law, human rights, and rehabilitation. Representatives of UN member states and of intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations also attend. Eight crime congresses were held between 1955 and 1990. The tenth congress was held in Vienna, Austria, in April 2000.

The first congress, held in Geneva in 1955, was attended by delegates from 51 governments and representatives from the ILO, UNESCO, WHO, the Council of Europe, and the League of Arab States. The topics of the first congress reflected the pressing concerns of Europeans recovering from the turmoil of World War II. Many delegates had experienced brutality and deprivation while incarcerated in their own countries by the occupying Fascist powers. It adopted 95 standard minimum rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which set out what is accepted to be good general principle and practice in the treatment of prisoners and are also intended to guard against mistreatment. An additional rule, adopted in 1977, provides that persons arrested or imprisoned without charge are to be accorded the same protection as persons under arrest or awaiting trial and prisoners under sentence. The success of the Standard Minimum Rules paved the way for many other international models, standards, norms, and guidelines touching on every aspect of criminal justice. The prevention of juvenile delinquency was also considered at the congress, since so many children were growing up abandoned or orphaned.

The second congress, held in London in 1960, was attended by representatives of 70 governments and delegates from 60 nongovernmental organizations. In all, there were 1,131 participants. The second congress dealt with a wider range of issues than the first congress. It considered the growing problem of juvenile delinquency, as well as questions of prison labor, parole, and after-care. The addition of new member states to the United Nations required the expansion of the largely European perspective that dominated the first congress. The congress analyzed crime and criminal justice in relation to overall national development. Experts warned that economic improvement alone was not a one-way street leading away from crime. Tumultuous economic growth could lead to a greater prevalence of crime.

The third congress, held in Stockholm in 1965, addressed the ambitious theme of "Prevention of Criminality." Topics on the agenda included a continuation of the discussion on social change and criminality; social forces and the prevention of crime; community-based preventive action; measures to curtail recidivism; probation policies; and special preventive and treatment programs for young adults. A total of 1,083 participants, representatives of 74 governments and 39 nongovernmental organizations, attended the third congress. The influence of the increasing numbers of developing member nations made itself felt in 1965. The congress asserted that developing nations should not restrict themselves to mechanically copying criminal justice institutions developed in Western countries.

The fourth congress, held in Tokyo in 1970, was the first to take place outside of Europe. Although the number of participants declined slightly, to 1,014, the number of governments represented rose to 85. The fourth congress was convened under the slogan "Crime and Development," reflecting the dramatic increase in the number of developing countries who had become members of the UN during the 1960s. It stressed the need for crime control and prevention measures (referred to as "social defense policies") to be built into development planning. The third congress expanded the theme of community-based prevention, noting the successful utilization of civic involvement in the host nation, Japan. The congress also investigated the nation-by-nation implementation of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, relying on results of a questionnaire submitted to member states before the opening of the congress.

The fifth congress, held in Geneva in 1975, the number of nations represented increased to 101 and the participation of the specialized agencies was augmented by the presence of Interpol and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The congress's theme was "Crime Prevention and Control: the Challenge of the Last Quarter of the Century." Among the many topics considered were:

  • changes in the form and dimension of criminality at national and transnational levels;
  • crime as a business and organized crime;
  • the role of criminal legislation, judicial procedures, and other forms of social control in the prevention of crime;
  • the addition of crime-prevention activities to the traditional law enforcement roles of police;
  • the implementation of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Offenders;
  • the economic and social consequences of crime;
  • alcohol and drug abuse;
  • victim compensation as a substitute for retributive criminal justice.

The fifth congress was responsible for two documents that rank in importance with the standard minimum rules: the "Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment," which was adopted by the General Assembly by its Resolution 3452 (XXX); and the "Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials," which has been called a Hippocratic oath for police professionals. The code was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979. The declaration on torture was given binding legal form in 1984, when the General Assembly adopted a convention on the same subject (see the section on Other International Human Rights Conventions in the chapter on Human Rights).

The sixth congress, held in Caracas in 1980, was the first UN crime congress to be hosted by a developing nation and the first held in the western hemisphere. Delegations from 102 nations, the ILO, WHO, the Council of Europe, Interpol, the League of Arab States, the Organization for African Unity, and the Pan-Arab Organization for Social Defence attended. The congress's theme was "Crime Prevention and the Quality of Life." It considered the following matters:

  • new trends in crime and appropriate prevention strategies;
  • the application of juvenile justice measures;
  • offenses by the powerful, who quite often stand beyond the effective reach of the law;
  • deinstitutionalization of correction measures;
  • the role of UN guidelines and standards in criminal justice;
  • capital punishment;
  • the importance of international cooperation.

A working group of experts from Latin America and the Caribbean contributed an innovative approach on the classification of crimes. It suggested that the scope of criminal law statutes should be broadened to include willful actions harmful to the national wealth and well-beingdestruction of the ecology, or participation in drug trafficking, or trafficking in persons. By way of corollary, the working group recommended a decrease in the number of statutes covering petty crimes or crimes that had little socially destructive effect.

The seventh congress, held in Milan in 1985, adopted the Milan Plan of Action as a means of strengthening international cooperation in crime prevention and criminal justice. The plan was approved later the same year by the General Assembly, which also approved international instruments and principles adopted by the Milan Congress. These were the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the Beijing Rules), the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, and a Model Agreement on the Transfer of Foreign Prisoners.

The Beijing Rules aim at promoting juvenile welfare to the greatest possible extent, thereby minimizing the necessity of intervention by the juvenile justice system. The rules set minimum standards for the handling of juvenile offenders, enumerate the rights of juveniles, and include principles for adjudication and disposition of juvenile offenses and for institutional and noninstitutional treatment of juvenile offenders.

The Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power defines "victims" as persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss, or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws or constitute violations of internationally recognized norms relating to human rights. It sets forth the rights of such victims and their families to restitution, compensation, and social assistance.

The Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary stipulate that the judiciary shall have jurisdiction over all issues of a judicial nature and that judges shall decide matters before them impartially, without any restrictions, improper influences, or interference. The right of everyone to be tried by ordinary courts or tribunals is reaffirmed.

The Model Agreement on the Transfer of Foreign Prisoners is aimed at promoting the social resettlement of offenders by facilitating the return of persons convicted of crimes abroad to their country of nationality or residence to serve their sentence at the earliest possible stage.

The Milan Congress also considered questions relating to human rights in the administration of justice and to the prevention of juvenile delinquency and domestic violence.

The eighth congress was held in Havana, Cuba, from 27 August to 7 September 1990. The congress was attended by 1,400 participants from 127 countries, five intergovernmental organizations, and 40 nongovernmental organizations. Its overall theme was "International cooperation in crime prevention and criminal justice for the twenty-first century." The congress considered five topics: (1) crime prevention and criminal justice in the context of development; (2) criminal justice policies in relation to problems of imprisonment, other penal sanctions, and alternative measures; (3) effective national and international action against organized crime, terrorist criminal activities; (4) prevention of juvenile delinquency and protection of the young; and (5) United Nations norms and guidelines in crime prevention and criminal justice.

The eighth congress adopted a number of new instruments and resolutions that the General Assembly promptly approved. These included model treaties on extradition, mutual assistance in criminal matters, the transfer of proceedings in criminal matters, and the supervision of offenders conditionally sentenced or conditionally released. Other instruments passed were:

  • A model treaty for the prevention of crimes against a peoples' cultural heritage;
  • Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials;
  • Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers;
  • Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors;
  • United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (the Tokyo Rules);
  • Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners;
  • Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (the Riyadh Guidelines); and
  • Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of Their Liberty.

The conference also adopted resolutions on computerization, prevention of urban crime, protection of the environment, corruption in government, racketeering and illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, computer-related crimes, measures against drug addiction, organized crime and terrorism, domestic violence, and the instrumental use of children in criminal activities. The congress also requested that guidelines be prepared on the management of prisoners infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and those with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

The eighth congress called for the elaboration of an effective international crime and justice program to assist countries in combating problems of national and transnational crime. An important outcome was the creation of the Commission on Crime Prevention as a functional commission of ECOSOC.

Substantive topics at the ninth congress (in 1995) included the fight against transnational organized crime; the elimination of violence against women; improvements in the administration of justice and the rule of law; migration and crime; technical cooperation and coordination of activities.

The tenth congress (2000) took as its title "Crime and justice, meeting the challenges of the 21st century." The congress discussed the following topics: (1) how to promote the rule of law and to strengthen the criminal justice system; (2) international cooperation in combating transnational organized crime; (3) effective crime preventionkeeping pace with the new developments; and (4) offenders and victimsaccountability and fairness in the justice process. In addition, four workshops were held on combating corruption, crimes related to the computer network, community involvement in crime prevention, and women in the criminal justice system. At the tenth congress, a "Vienna Declaration on Crime and Justice" was adopted, in which delegates pledged to take measures to combat terrorism, trafficking in human beings, illicit trade in firearms, smuggling of migrants and the estimated $600 billion money laundering business. Considerable attention was paid to the need to address the rising tide of computer-related crime and crime resulting from xenophobia and ethnic hatred.

The eleventh congress (2005) took as its theme "Synergies and responses: strategic alliances in crime prevention and criminal justice." Major issues discussed included: effective measures to combat transnational organized crime; international cooperation against terrorism and links between terrorism and other criminal activities in the context of the work of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime; corruption-threats and trends in the twenty-first century; economic and financial crimes-challenges to sustainable development; and making standards work-fifty years of standard-setting in crime prevention and criminal justice. The following workshops were held: Workshop 1: Enhancing international law enforcement cooperation, including extradition measures; Workshop 2: Enhancing criminal justice reform, including restorative justice; Workshop 3: Strategies and best practices for crime prevention, in particular in relation to urban crime and youth at risk; Workshop 4: Measures to combat terrorism, with reference to the relevant international conventions and protocols; Workshop 5: Measures to combat economic crime, including money-laundering; and Workshop 6: Measures to combat computer-related crime.


"Let us resolve that at this special session of the General Assembly, words lead to action and that this action leads to success. Drug abuse is a time bomb ticking away in the heart of our civilization. We must now find measures to deal with it before it explodes and destroys us."
Secretary-General Javier Pérez De Cuéllar (From remarks to the 17th Special Session of the General Assembly, 20 February 1990)

Until the end of the 19th century, trade in narcotics was considered a legitimate business. Misuse of addiction-producing substancesopium, coca leaf, and Indian hempwas thought to be the result of ingrained habits in particular areas of the world. The problem was considered a domestic one. However, modern technology and the expansion of transport and world trade introduced a new dimension. An increasing number of alkaloids and derivatives were being produced from opium and coca leaves and easily distributed. In addition, a large number of psychotropic substances (depressors of the central nervous system such as barbiturates, stimulants of the central nervous system such as amphetamines, and hallucinogens such as lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD) were developed and their consumption increased enormously; hence, problems once considered local became global.

The UN exercises functions and powers relating to the worldwide control of narcotic drugs in accordance with a number of international treaties concluded since 1912, when the first International Opium Convention was signed at The Hague. By 1994, the majority of countries were parties to one or more of the treaties. The international control system is based on the cooperation of the states that are bound by these treaties in controlling the manufacture and sale of drugs within their jurisdiction. The treaties stipulate that these states are bound to adopt appropriate legislation, introduce necessary administrative and enforcement measures, and cooperate with international control organs as well as with each other.

Narcotics Control Under the League of Nations

The League of Nations Covenant provided that League members should "entrust the League with the general supervision over agreements with regard to the traffic in opium and other dangerous drugs." The first League Assembly created an Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs to assist and advise the League's Council in its supervisory tasks in the field. The League established a Permanent Central Board, later renamed the Permanent Central Narcotics Board, to supervise the control system introduced by the second International Opium Convention, which came into force in 1928. The board was composed of independent experts, to whom League members were required to submit annual statistics on the production of opium and coca leaves and on the manufacture, consumption, and stocks of narcotic drugs and quarterly reports on the import and export of narcotic drugs. Specific governmental authorizations were required for every import and export of narcotic drugs.

The Convention for Limiting the Manufacture and Regulating the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs, signed at Geneva in 1931, created a new technical organ, also composed of independent experts, the Drug Supervisory Body. The aim of the 1931 convention was to limit world manufacture of drugs to the amount actually needed for medical and scientific purposes.

The Convention for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs, signed at Geneva in 1936, called for severe punishment of illicit traffickers in narcotics and extradition for drug offenses.

A protocol signed on 11 December 1946 (and which entered into force on 10 October 1947) transferred to the United Nations the functions previously exercised by the League of Nations under the pre-World War II narcotics treaties.

The United Nations and International Drug Control

Historical Background

The functions of the League's Advisory Committee were transferred to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), established in 1946 as a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council. Over the years a number of bodies were created to carry out the work of the United Nations in the field of narcotics control, including the International Narcotics Board (INCB), the Division of Narcotic Drugs (part of the United Nations Secretariat), and the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control (UNFDAC). In addition, several specialized agencies, notably the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), also were called on to contribute to the war on illegal drugs.

By the mid-1980s the General Assembly recognized that, while several important treaties had been elaborated (see under The Treaty System below), the system had not produced the desired result. Illicit traffic in drugs had achieved crisis proportions all over the world, threatening the stability of governments and regional peace and security in Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In 1984, the General Assembly requested the CND to elaborate a new treaty to explicitly treat the problem of illegal drug trafficking. In 1985 the General Assembly decided to convene an International conference on Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Vienna in June 1987. That Conference adopted a Declaration and a Comprehensive Multidisciplinary Outline of Future Activities in Drug Abuse Control.

However, the 1987 annual report of INCB revealed that drug-trafficking syndicates now held enough financial power to challenge the elected authorities of some South American countries. In addition, the spread of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and the HIV virus had assumed pandemic proportions, due in large part to the sharing of infected needles by drug abusers. The INCB noted that international drug traffic was financed and organized by criminal organizations with international links and with accomplices in financial circles who helped "launder" money obtained through the drug trade. Member states proclaimed 26 June 1988 as the first International Day Against Drug Abuse, to begin to focus public attention on the worldwide scope of the problem.

In February 1988, a plenipotentiary conference of the United Nations member states was convened in Vienna. It adopted the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (see under The Treaty System below), which was immediately ratified by 43 nations. However, for lack of sufficient ratifications and accessions, the convention did not come into effect until December 1990.

The Global Programme of Action Against Drug Abuse

In November 1989, the General Assembly expressed its alarm at the slow pace of accessions holding up the entry into force of the 1988 convention. To consolidate international efforts, the General Assembly held a four-day special session (its seventeenth special session) in February 1990 to adopt a Political Declaration (A/RES/S-17/2) affirming the determination of the international community to band together to fight drug trafficking. In its declaration the General Assembly recognized the links between drug trafficking and the economic and social conditions of the countries producing drugs. It also voiced its concern about the link between drug trafficking and international terrorism, and the threat posed by transnational crime organizations that corrupted elected governments. The member states resolved to "protect mankind from the scourge of drug abuse and illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances." They reaffirmed their commitment to support the international effort to eradicate drug trafficking both financially and by bringing national laws into line with the various United Nations treaties on narcotics control. The document also noted that international cooperation in restraining drug trafficking should be conducted in accordance with the principles of national sovereignty embodied in the United Nations charter. The General Assembly concluded the document by adopting a Global Programme of Action and declaring the period 19912000 the United Nations Decade Against Drug Abuse.

The 100-paragraph Global Programme of Action contained proposals for worldwide cooperation to stem the rising tide of drug abuse. Some of its provisions were based on the Multidisciplinary Outline mentioned above, and included:

  • Raising national priorities for drug abuse prevention and reduction programs;
  • Commissioning an analysis of the social causes generating drug demand;
  • Providing UN financial support to prevent drug abuse by children, and the use of children in the drug trade in developing countries;
  • Having the UN act as a global information clearinghouse on treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts;
  • Using high resolution satellite imagery and aerial photography (with the agreement of producing countries) to identify illegal narcotic cultivation;
  • Convening an international conference to elaborate ways to prevent the diversion of the chemicals and substances used to process the raw materials of illicit drugs;
  • Developing international mechanisms should be developed to prevent drug money laundering and to confiscate funds and property acquired with drug money;
  • Promoting through the UN the exchange of information among states on the flows of drug money; coordinating antidrug operation training.

On 15 February 1990, just before the General Assembly's special session, the United States, Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru met in Cartagena, Colombia, and signed the Cartagena Declaration, agreeing to cooperate to stem the flow of drugs to the United States. The four countries, representing the world's largest consumer (the United States) and the largest suppliers of illicit cocaine, agreed to wage a war on drugs on three fronts: demand reduction, consumption reduction, and supply reduction. The United States agreed to financially support alternative development to replace the coca-growing economy in Peru and Bolivia and to fund emergency social programs. The multilateral cooperation begun at the Cartagena summit was extended in 1992 at a summit held in San Antonio, Texas, to include Mexico in the international struggle against drug trafficking organizations.

1990 World Ministerial Summit

The government of the United Kingdom, in association with the United Nations, organized a three-day World Ministerial Summit to Reduce the Demand for Drugs and to Combat the Cocaine Threat. The summit was held in London from 911 April 1990, and was attended by 650 delegates, most at the ministerial level, from 124 countries. The summit adopted the London Declaration committing the nations to giving higher priority to prevention and reduction of illicit drug demand at national and international levels. The London summit produced a consensus that, whereas producing countries had previously felt that drug abuse did not threaten their own populations, developing countries now realized that drug abuse had become a worldwide phenomenon cutting across national boundaries, class, race and income levels.

Some of the London Declaration's provisions include:

  • Drug abuse prevention and treatment should be part of national health, social, education, legal and criminal justice strategies;
  • Drug education should be developed at all school stages;
  • Prevention programs in the workplace should be developed and implemented;
  • Mass media campaigns against drugs should be used;
  • The United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control (later the United Nations International Drug Control Program, see below) should be provided the funds to devise a strategy for the Andean sub-region, where most of the world's coca is grown and illicitly processed into cocaine.
  • Nations that had not yet done so should ratify or accede to the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, and, in the meanwhile, they should try to apply its terms provisionally.

In October 1993, China, Laos, and Myanmar (referred to as the "Golden Triangle") signed a Memorandum of Understanding, expanding existing cooperation on drug control, in cooperation with the UNDCP. The countries aimed to eliminate opium poppy cultivation through economic and social development programs; curb traffic in narcotic drugs and essential chemicals used in manufacturing drugs; and implement programs to reduce the demand for illicit drugs.

Despite the growing alarm of nations, the phenomenon of illicit drug trafficking and drug abuse continued to rise. The 1994 report of the INCB stated that the worldwide drug menace had broken past geographic limits and outgrown its traditional classification as a criminal or social issue and penetrated the spheres of international politics and world economics. Drug organizations had become illegal transnational corporations. In 1994 the CND concluded that UNDCP should, once again, review existing international drug control instruments and activities in order to identify ways to strengthen the system and make appropriate changes. In June 1994, the International Conference on Preventing and Controlling Money Laundering and the Use of the Proceeds of Crime was held in Italy (see Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, above).

UN Bodies Concerned With Narcotics Control

The United Nations International Drug Control Programme

In December 1990, the General Assembly requested that the Secretary-General merge the various units of the organization that were concerned with drug control into a single, integrated program. In 1991, the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) integrated the functions of the Division of Narcotic Drugs, UNFDAC, and the secretariat for the INCB. Headquartered in Vienna, UNDCP is charged with the responsibility of coordinating and leading United Nations drug control activities. UNDCP is headed by an executive director. The program publishes a quarterly Bulletin on Narcotics as well as information letters, scientific notes, and publications on drug abuse control activities. UNDCP's budget comes from both the UN regular budget and from the voluntary Fund of UNDCP.

UNDCP's Global Programme Against Money Laundering assists governments to confront criminals who launder dirty drug money through the international financial system. The program provides training in financial investigation to business, law enforcement and judicial professionals.

UNDCP's Global Assessment Programme (GAP) supplies current statistics on illicit drug consumption worldwide. And UNDCP's Legal Assistance Programme works with states to implement drug control treaties by helping to draft legislation and train judicial officials. More than 1,400 key personnel have received legal training and over 130 countries worldwide have received legal assistance.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND)

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs is the main policy-making body within the United Nations system for all issues pertaining to international drug abuse control. It analyzes the world drug abuse situation and develops proposals to strengthen international efforts. It is one of the functional commissions of the Economic and Social Council. In addition, it prepares such draft international conventions as may be necessary; assists the council in exercising such powers of supervision over the application of international conventions and agreements dealing with narcotic drugs as may be assumed by or conferred on the council; and considers what changes may be required in the existing machinery for the international control of narcotic drugs and submits proposals thereon to the council. In addition, the commission has special functions under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (see under The Treaty System, below), such as placing drugs under international control and making recommendations for the implementation of the aims and provisions of the convention, including programs of scientific research and the exchange of scientific or technical information. The commission also reviews implementation of the Global Programme of Action, provides policy guidance to UNDCP, and monitors its activities. The commission meets annually in regular or in special sessions.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB)

The International Narcotics Control Board is responsible for promoting compliance with the provisions of drug control treaties. It was created by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as a successor to the Permanent Central Board and the Drug Supervisory Body. The members of the board are not government representatives but experts acting in their private, individual capacities. The board has important functions to perform under the treaties. It watches over statistics of drug production, manufacture, trade, and consumption and also over the estimates needed for the coming year that states are required to furnish to it; if a state does not send estimates, the board makes them itself. The board may request any state to explain a condition that in its view indicates an improper accumulation of narcotic drugs. It may even recommend, in case of difficulties created by a country for the international control, that other states stop the shipment of drugs to that country. A most effective means of ensuring compliance is publicity: the reports of the board (and of other international bodies) ensure that the public is made aware of any situation that may contribute to the spread of drug abuse.

Other United Nations Bodies Cooperating with UNDCP

The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) was formerly known as the United Nations Social Defence Research Institute. UNICRI carried out a four-year research study funded by UNDCP on the interaction between criminal behavior and drug abuse and on control measures adopted in individual countries. It conducts research, surveys, and workshops on the criminal aspects of drug abuse for UNDCP. UNICRI is more fully described above, under the Office on Drugs and Crime.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) carries out activities on drug-related problems in the workplace and on the vocational rehabilitation of recovering drug addicts. WHO and UNDCP prepared a multi-media resource kit to assist enterprises in developing solutions to those problems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) carries out activities related to drug dependence and other drug control activities assigned to it by international drug control treaties. WHO plays an integral role in determining which substances should be placed under international control, in accordance with the provisions of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. WHO's Global Programme on Drug Dependence cooperates with member states in the prevention, treatment, and management of drug addiction. WHO also develops guidelines and manuals for teachers and health professionals.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) focuses on the prevention of drug abuse through public education and awareness. UNESCO works with media organizations in producing radio and television programs. With the support of UNDCP, UNESCO is carrying out research projects on drug use and prevention in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is concerned with the transportation of illicit drugs by ships. IMO has compiled guidelines on the prevention of drug smuggling on ships engaged in international traffic. The guidelines set out security precautions, methods of concealments, actions to be taken when drugs are discovered, identification of addicts, and cooperation with customs.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) seeks to counteract the shipment of illicit drugs by air. It develops technical specifications and guidance material for civil flights, and suggests measures to ensure that commercial carriers are not used to transport illicit drugs.

The Universal Postal Union (UPU) has carried out studies to establish international measures covering the shipment of illicit drugs through the mails.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) manages several multidisciplinary programs financed by UNDCP. FAO covers the agricultural aspects of the drug crisis. Its programs are aimed at raising the income level of farmers, and thereby reducing the incentive to cultivate narcotic crops. It has participated in UNDCP-financed projects in Bolivia, Myanmar, and Pakistan. FAO and UNDCP are studying the potential of remote sensing techniques and satellite imagery (already in use by FAO to predict droughts and other international crop statistics) in the detection of illicit crops.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) incorporates drug abuse control programs into its development projects in Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean. UNDP's resident coordinators and resident representatives work closely with the UNDCP in countries where serious drug problems exist.

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) focuses on the world's 100 million street children, who are often drug abusers and/or drug sellers. UNICEF has programs in Latin America and the Caribbean to strengthen families and provide services to children in need. UNAIDS works with countries to help prevent the spread of HIV and help those already afflicted with the virus. The virus can infect drug abusers who share syringe needles.

The Treaty System

One of the tasks of the UN in drug control is to adapt international treaty machinery to changing conditions. Six agreements have been drawn up under United Nations auspices.

The Paris Protocol of 1948.

The prewar international conventions on narcotics applied to all addictive products of three plantsthe opium poppy, the coca bush, and the cannabis plantand to products belonging to certain chemical groups known to have addictive properties. By the end of World War II, however, a number of synthetic narcotics not belonging to the defined chemical groups had been developed. A protocol signed in Paris on 19 November 1948 authorized WHO to place under international control any new drug not covered by the previous conventions that was or could be addictive. The Paris protocol came into force on 1 December 1949.

The Opium Protocol of 1953.

Despite earlier international treaties on opium, its production continued and found its way into illicit channels. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs first proposed an international opium monopoly, with production quotas and a system of international inspection. It was impossible, however, to obtain agreement on such important questions as the price of opium and inspection rights.

A compromise was worked out by the United Nations Opium Conference, held in New York in MayJune 1953, and was embodied in a Protocol for Limiting and Regulating the Cultivation of the Poppy Plant, the Production of, International Trade in, and Use of Opium. Under this protocol, only seven statesBulgaria, Greece, India, Iran, Turkey, the USSR, and Yugoslaviawere authorized to produce opium for export. Producing states were required to set up a government agency to license opium poppy cultivators and designate the areas to be cultivated. Cultivators were to deliver all opium immediately after harvesting to this agency, the only body with the legal right to trade in opium. The Permanent Central Narcotics Board, under the protocol, was empowered to employ certain supervisory and enforcement measures and, with the consent of the government concerned, to carry out local inquiries. The protocol came into force in December 1964.

The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961.

On 30 March 1961, a conference at United Nations headquarters adopted and opened for signature the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961. This convention, which came into force on 13 December 1964, was a milestone in international narcotics control.

The first objective of the conventioncodification of existing multilateral treaty law in this fieldwas almost achieved. The second goalsimplification of the international control machinerywas achieved: the Permanent Central Board and the Drug Supervisory Body were combined as the International Narcotics Control Board, as described earlier. The third goal was extension of control to cover cultivation of plants grown for narcotics. The treaty continued controls on opium, including national opium monopolies and the obligation of governments to limit production to medical and scientific purposes. Provisions dealing with medical treatment and rehabilitation of addicts were quite new as treaty obligations. Opium smoking, opium eating, coca-leaf chewing, hashish (cannabis) smoking, and the use of cannabis for nonmedical purposes were prohibited. The convention required states that are parties to it to take special control measures for particularly dangerous drugs, such as heroin and ketobemidone. Earlier treaty provisions, requiring (1) that exports and imports of narcotic drugs be made only on government authorization from both sides, (2) that governments report on the working of the treaty, and (3) that they exchange, through the Secretary-General, laws and regulations passed to implement the treaty, were retained. Provisions for controlling the manufacture of narcotic drugs and the trade and distribution of narcotic substances also were continued, together with measures for controlling new synthetic drugs.

The Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971.

During the 1960s there was increasing concern over the harmful effects of such drugs as barbiturates, amphetamines, LSD, and tranquilizers. WHO and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs recommended that governments take legislative and administrative control measures.

On the basis of a draft drawn up by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, in close collaboration with WHO, a plenipotentiary conference for the adoption of a protocol on psychotropic substances met in Vienna in 1971, with 71 states represented. On 21 February 1971, it adopted and opened for signature the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971. The convention has been in force since 1976.

The 1971 convention was a major step in the extension of international drug control. It contains a number of prohibitive measures for hallucinogens that present a high risk of abuse and have no therapeutic application. Special provisions regarding substances such as LSD prescribe, among other things, prohibition of their use except for research authorized and supervised by governments.

The requirement of licenses for manufacture, trade, and distribution, the supervision of these activities, and the repression of acts contrary to laws and regulations are applied to all of the drugs enumerated in the 1971 convention. Governments may limit or prohibit the import (and export) of any psychotropic drug. With this regulatory system, governments can protect themselves against unwanted drugs. Psychotropic drugs used in therapy but with great abuse potential, such as sleeping pills, are controlled by requiring medical prescriptions and by supervision of export import activity. International trade in the most dangerous stimulantsthe amphetaminesis subject to a more stringent authorization system. Strict record-keeping of drug movements and statistical reports to the International Narcotics Control Board are also required.

A humane provision in the treaty requires that "all practicable measures for the prevention of abuse, the early identification, treatment, education, after-care, rehabilitation, and social reintegration of persons involved" be taken and that "either as an alternative to conviction or punishment or in addition to conviction or punishment, such abusers shall undergo measures of treatment, education, after-care, rehabilitation, and social reintegration."

The Protocol Amending the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1972.

A plenipotentiary conference adopted, on 25 March 1972, amendments to strengthen the international narcotics control system and to include new concepts and means.

The International Narcotics Control Board was increased from 11 to 13 members, to serve for five years instead of three. Technical measures included in the protocol concern limitation of the production of opium, seizure and destruction of illicitly cultivated opium poppies, and the option of the board to recommend technical or financial assistance to governments. The protocol, like the 1971 Convention, provides for after-care and rehabilitation of drug abusers. Also, drug offenders are made extraditable in any extradition treaty. The protocol came into force on 8 August 1975.

Convention Against Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988.

In recognition of the increasing difficulty faced by law enforcement and other government agencies in coping with the expansion of illicit drug trafficking, the General Assembly, in 1985, requested the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to prepare a new convention covering areas not adequately regulated by existing treaties.

In 1988, the United Nations convened a conference in Vienna that was attended by representatives of 106 nations. The conference adopted the new convention, which was immediately ratified by 43 nations. The convention entered into force on 11 November 1990.

World leaders met in New York 810 June 1998 in a special session of the UN General Assembly to adopt a worldwide plan to substantially reduce drug demand and supply by the year 2008. The session addressed guiding principles on reducing demand for illicit drugs, eradication of illicit crops and alternative development, amphetamine-type stimulants (stated as a priority requiring urgent action), money laundering, controlling precursor chemicals (intermediate substances used to manufacture drugs), and judicial cooperation to promote drug control. By February 2006, 179 states had ratified the 1988 convention.

The 34-article convention addresses the issues of tracing, freezing, and confiscating proceeds and property derived from drug trafficking. Courts may seize bank, financial, or commercial records, without the imposition of bank secrecy laws. The convention also provides for extradition of major drug traffickers, mutual legal assistance between states on drug-related investigations, and transfer of proceedings for criminal prosecution. The convention also commits states to eliminate or reduce illicit demand for narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. One of the most important provisions of the treaty, Article 12, sets forth two tables of substances used to manufacture illicit drugs and agrees to implement controls on the manufacture and shipment of such substances. In essence, Article 12 imposed the same controls on the chemicals used to manufacture illicit drugs as are imposed on the raw materials like opium and cocaine. The substances controlled by the convention included ephedrine, ergometrine, ergotamine, lysergic acide, 1-phenyl-2-proanone, pseudoephedrine, acetic anhydride, acetone, anthranilic acide, ethyl ether, phenylacetic acide, and piperidine.

Narcotic Drugs Under International Control

Opium and Its Derivatives.

Opium, the coagulated juice of the poppy plant Papaver somniferum L., was known to the Sumerians living in lower Mesopotamia in 3000 BC. It was used by the Greeks and Arabs for medicinal purposes and was probably introduced into China by the Arabs in the ninth or tenth century. The opium poppy can be grown in most of the habitable parts of the world and is often cultivated for its beautiful flowers or its seeds, which are a valuable food. As an addictive drug, opium was originally eaten or drunk as an infusion. The practice of smoking opium is only a few hundred years old.

The best-known derivatives of opium are morphine, codeine, and diacetylmorphine, more commonly called heroin. While morphine and codeine have valuable medicinal properties, heroin has no medical uses for which less dangerous analgesics cannot be substituted, and upon the recommendation of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, its manufacture has been banned in most countries. A number of drugs are derived from morphine or are compounded with it, including ethylmorphine and benzylmorphine. Some morphine derivatives, such as apomorphine, are not addictive in themselves.

The most important drugs in national and international illicit traffic are still opium and its derivatives, in particular morphine and heroin. As a result of effective international controls, there has been little diversion of opium or opiates from legitimate channels into the illicit trade. There is, however, illicit production of opium in some countries. From these supplies, clandestine factories manufacture morphine that is converted into heroin. Opium contains as an average 10% of morphine, which is made into diacetylmorphine or heroin in equal weight by relatively simple methods. Clandestine factories have been moving closer to the opium-producing areas. Morphine can be extracted from poppy capsules whether or not the opium has been extracted; at least 30% of licit morphine comes from this process. When Turkey, in 1974, resumed cultivation of the opium poppy, which had been stopped two years earlier, it decided not to produce opium but to use the "poppy-straw method" for extraction of morphine. About 90% of the licit morphine is used to make codeine, whereas 90% of illicit morphine is used to make heroin. An effective way of eradicating heroin is to stop illicit poppy cultivation. This is the intent of the international treaties and also of crop substitution undertaken in several countries with the support of the UNDCP.

Coca Leaf and Cocaine.

Coca leaves grow on an evergreen shrub, Erythroxylon coca, native to the mountainous western region of South America. The leaves are the raw material for the manufacture of cocaine. The leaves themselves have been chewed by some of the Andean peoples for centuries to help combat hunger and overcome the fatigue and exhaustion caused by the high altitude.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs concluded that coca-leaf chewing is a dangerous habit and constitutes a form of addiction. In 1954, the Economic and Social Council recommended that the countries concerned should gradually limit the cultivation and export of coca leaf to medical, scientific, and other legitimate purposes and should progressively abolish the habit of coca-leaf chewing. At the same time, it was recognized that there was little chance of eliminating coca-leaf addiction unless the living conditions of those among whom the habit was widespread could be improved and that the problem must be attacked on this front as well.

Coca leaves are used to make licit cocaine, the production of which has declined to about one ton a year, but they are also used for the illicit market that supplies increasing quantities of this dangerous drug to North America, Western Europe, and other regions.

A new, more addictive, and more deadly form of cocaine called "crack" is an inexpensive, potent form of the base drug in crystalline form. It is usually smoked, giving a quick, intense high, which lasts only a few minutes. "Crack" is harmful to the brain, heart, lungs, and nervous system and produces serious psychological effects.

Cannabis (Marijuana).

The plant Cannabis sativa, or the crude drug derived from it, is known under almost 200 different namesmarijuana, hashish, Indian hemp, charas, ganji, kif, bhang, and maconha, to name a few. Widely used as an intoxicant by millions of people for at least 4,000 years, it can be grown in most parts of the inhabited world. Depending on the soil and cultivation, the plant grows to a height of one to 20 feet. The narcotic resin is found in the flowering tops.

Cannabis is used as a narcotic in many parts of Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. Because the plant grows wild and is easy to cultivate illicitly, traffickers have little difficulty in obtaining cannabis. Statistics on users are not available, but their number must run well in the millions.

Synthetic Narcotic Drugs.

A number of synthetic substitutes, especially for morphine, are widely used. They were placed under control by the 1948 protocol. They may and do give rise to abuse but in a relatively limited way, and there is little, if any, illicit traffic in them. The most widely known are pethidine and methadone.

Psychotropic Substances.

Psychotropic substances placed under international control by the 1971 convention are listed, like narcotic drugs, in treaty schedules that may be modified from time to time by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. They have widely different characteristics, and, according to complex criteria having to do with the dangers they present to the individual and society, they have been placed in four schedules with decreasing severity of control. In Schedule I are found mainly hallucinogens, such as LSD, mescaline, and psilocine. All are made by synthesis, but the last two are also found in plants, the peyotl cactus and the hallucinatory mushroom, respectively. Schedule II contains mainly drugs of the amphetamine type that stimulate the central nervous system. They have limited therapeutic value but are widely abused, especially by young people who inject them intravenously, possibly causing psychoses. In Schedule III are found mainly the most powerful depressants of the central nervous systembarbiturates used as hypnotics (sleeping pills) by a very large number of consumers everywhere. These drugs, if used without therapeutic necessity, produce a form of addiction that can be extremely dangerous. Barbiturates are often used in association with heroin, with alcohol (with an especially dangerous interaction), and even with stimulants. Schedule IV has some barbiturate depressants and a number of tranquilizers. These constitute a very large body of medicaments supposed to eliminate anxiety and nervousness. Large quantities of such drugs as meprobamate and diazepam are consumed without therapeutic need and may alter mood and behavior.

Methamphetamines, amphetamines and other stimulants are covered by the 1971 convention. In November 1996 UNDCP declared that the global rise in the abuse of amphetamine-type stimulants was likely to be a major drug problem in the 21st century. By 2000, the prediction had already been borne out. These stimulants have the potential to pose more health problems to society than heroin or cocaine because they are simple to produce and the necessary precursor materials are readily accessible. Phenyl-2-propanone (P2P) is an immediate precursor that can be easily synthesized into methamphetamine. Amphetamine-type stimulants are usually taken orally or injected. Crystalline d-methamphetamine hydrochloride, commonly referred to as "ice" or "crystal meth," is ingested by smoking.

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Disaster Relief Organizations

Disaster Relief Organizations

Natural disasters, as well as some human-caused disasters, lead to human suffering and create needs that the victims cannot alleviate without assistance. Examples of disasters include hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, drought, blizzards, famine , war, fire, volcanic eruption, a building collapse, or a transportation wreck. When any such disaster strikes, a variety of international organizations offer relief to the affected country. Each organization has different objectives, expertise, and resources to offer, and several hundred may become involved in a single major disaster. International disaster relief on such a large scale must be properly coordinated to avoid further chaos and confusion both during and after the disaster.


In the event of a disaster, the government of the affected country must conduct a needs assessment to determine what emergency supplies and personnel are required. These needs should be communicated to those relief organizations that will potentially provide assistance. The process of requesting and receiving supplies is lengthy and includes many events that could delay the arrival of assistance. Requests for assistance must first be reviewed and approved by relief organizations, and then supplies and personnel must be collected and transported to the disaster site. Effective management of relief assistance depends on anticipating and identifying problems, and on delivering specific supplies and personnel at the times and places they are needed.

Health Risks

Disasters often pose significant health threats. One of the most serious concerns after a disaster, especially a natural disaster, is sanitation. Disruptions in water supplies and sewage systems can pose serious health risks to victims because they decrease the amount and quality of available drinking water and create difficulties in waste disposal. Drinking water can be contaminated by breaks in sewage lines or the presence of animal cadavers in water sources. These factors can facilitate the spread of disease after a disaster. Providing potable drinking water to victims and adopting alternative methods of sanitation must be a priority after a disaster.

Food shortages are often an immediate health consequence of disasters. Existing food stocks may be destroyed or disruptions to distribution systems may prevent the delivery of food. In these situations, food relief programs should include the following elements: (1) assessment of food supplies available after the disaster, (2) determination of the nutritional needs of victims, (3) calculation of daily food needs, and (4) surveillance of victims' nutritional status. Some populations are particularly susceptible to malnutrition , such as children under five years of age and pregnant women. In addition to food, these populations should be given nutritional supplements whenever possible.

After a disaster, victims must be protected from hazardous climatic conditions, such as severe temperatures or precipitation. People should be kept dry, reasonably well clothed, and able to access emergency shelter.

Disasters can also cause disruptions to the health care infrastructure. Hospitals and health centers may suffer structural damage, or health personnel may be among the casualties, limiting the ability to provide health services to disaster victims. Emergency Health Kits that contain essential medical supplies and drugs are often provided to victims as part of the immediate response to disasters. Developed through the collaboration of various relief organizations, these kits are designed to meet the primary health care needs of people without access to medical facilities. Each kit covers the needs of about 10,000 persons for three months, at a cost of about fifty cents per person. The twelve essential drugs in the basic kit include anti-inflammatories, an antacid, a disinfectant, oral dehydration salts, an antimalarial, a basic antibiotic (effective against the most common bacteria ), and an ointment for eye infections. These medicines can treat the most common illnesses of disaster victims, such as anemia , pain, diarrhea, fever, respiratory tract infections, eye and ear infections, measles, and skin conditions. The basic kit also includes simple medical supplies such as cotton, soap, bandages, thermometers, some medical instruments, health cards and record books, and items to help create a clean water supply.

Risk of Disease

Natural disasters do not usually result in infectious disease outbreaks. However, certain circumstances can increase the chance for disease transmission. Immediately after a disaster, most increases in disease incidence are caused

Organization or Agency Name Services
Adventist Development and Relief Agency International (ADRA) Provides immediate disaster relief; supports development programs in community development, construction, and agriculture
Church World Service (CWS) Provides material aid to refugees and disaster victims; supports development programs in agriculture, energy, soil conservation, reforestation, preventive medicine, sanitation, and potable water supply
Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) Provides refugee and disaster relief; supports development programs in reforestation, conservation, and agriculture
Direct Relief International (DRI) Specializes in emergency health care, providing pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and equipment in famine, refugee, and disaster-affected areas
Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response Association (DERA) Assists international communities in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery; serves as a professional association linking disaster relief personnel
Food for the Hungry (FH) Provides food aid and disaster relief supplies; provides technological support to eliminate hunger
League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (LICROSS) Coordinates relief activities for disaster victims; provides assistance to refugees; helps countries increase their capacity to respond to humanitarian needs of victims
Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Provides emergency relief for disaster victims; supports refugee settlement programs and a variety of development assistance activities
OXFAM International (formerly Oxford Committee for Famine Relief) Provides assistance to people affected by emergencies, disease, famine, earthquakes, war, and civil conflict; supports long-term development programs in impoverished nations
Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO) Supports a variety of programs in disaster relief, community development, food production, public health, and social welfare
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Provides disaster and refugee assistance, particularly to children; supports programs in sanitation and water supply; promotes training and education to improve child health care
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Responsible for the coordination of UN assistance in humanitarian crises; provides support for international policy development; advocates humanitarian issues
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Provides humanitarian, economic, and development assistance to the international community; houses the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

by fecal contamination of water and food supplies. This contamination usually results in intestinal disease. Outbreaks of communicable diseases are directly associated with population density and displacement. If disaster victims live in overcrowded conditions or are forced to leave their homes, the risk of a disease outbreak increases. An increased demand on water and food supplies, elevated risk of contamination, and disruption of sanitation services all contribute to the risk of a disease outbreak.

In the longer term after a disaster, the risk for vector-borne diseases increases. Vector-borne diseases are spread to humans by insects and other arthropods, such as ticks or mosquitoes. Vector-borne diseases are of particular concern following heavy rains and floods. Insecticides may be washed away from buildings and the number of mosquito breeding sites may increase. In addition, wild or domestic animals that have been displaced can introduce infection to humans.

International disaster relief organizations play an important role in the response to disasters. They provide valuable supplies and personnel to victims and help to minimize the social, economic, and health consequences of a disaster. Health concerns, such as potential disease outbreak, malnutrition, and poor sanitation, should be addressed immediately after a disaster to avoid serious health consequences. International relief organizations help victims fulfill unmet needs and play a vital role in effective disaster management.

see also Emergency Nutrition Network; Famine.

Karen Bryla


Gorman, R. F. (1994). Historical Dictionary of Refugee and Disaster Relief Organizations. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

Internet Resources

Pan American Health Organization. "Natural Disasters: Protecting the Public's Health." Available from <>

Grantmakers Without Borders. "International Emergency Relief Links." Available from <>

Disaster Center. "Disaster Relief Agencies." Available from <>

Pan American Health Organization. "Disasters and Humanitarian Assistance." Available from <>

UNICEF. "Emergency Health Kits." Available from <>

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