Agencies of the United Nations System

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The following organizations are often called part of the United Nations "family." The previous chapters have been concerned with the organs, programs, or funds of the United Nations that are directly governed by the General Assembly and/or the Security Council, and which have the Secretary General as their executive head. The following organizations all have their own separate member states, governing bodies, executive heads, and secretariats. While these organizations are bound to the UN by legal agreements, they are not governed directly by UN organs.

Most organizations in the system are related to the United Nations through legal agreements executed pursuant to Articles 57 and 63 of the Charter. A key purpose of these special agreements, as stated in Article 58, was coordination of activities in the pursuit of economic, social, and cultural objectives. However, some provisions have never been fully implemented.

The Specialized Agencies

The ILO, FAO, UNESCO and WHO all had predecessor organizations in the League of Nations but were re-established as part of the UN system between 19461994. UNIDO became a full specialized agency in 1985. Voting in the main governing bodies of these agencies is on the same one-nation-one-vote principle as in the United Nations.

Technical Agencies

Among this group are the very first truly international organizations, such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the Universal Postal Union (UPU), which were both established over a century ago. This group of agencies has a very specific focus, and countries are often represented by the head of the national ministry in charge of the relevant area, such as weather, telecommunications, postal service, intellectual property.

However, the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) was established in 1956 by the United Nations General Assembly, and is legally bound directly to the General Assembly. The other specialized and technical agencies report to the United Nations through the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).


The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and serves as the legal and institutional foundation of the multilateral trading system. The WTO helps to legally determine how governments frame and carry out domestic trade legislation and regulations. The WTO also serves as a forum on which international trade relations can develop through collective debate, negotiation, and adjudication.

The Bretton Woods Institutions

The IMF and the World Bank Group are structured very differently from the specialized agencies. These agencies were established under the charter of the United Nations at a special conference held at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in 1944. The World Bank Group comprises five separate organizations: the IBRD, the IDA, the IFC, MIGA, and the ICSD. Members of the IBRD can choose which of the four remaining organizations they wish to join.

One of the most fundamental differences between the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions is that voting in these organizations is governed according to the number of shares held by each member state. Therefore, the wealthier countries have more voting power.

IFAD, while not a Bretton Woods institution, is a more recent addition to the specialized agency family that deals with capital funding operations. It raises money through replenishments. Its governing council is made up of three groups of countriesindustrialized, oil-producing, and other developing countries. Each group has equal voting rights.


Universal Postal Union 1 July 1875

International Labor Organization 11 April 1919

International Telecommunication Union 1 January 1934

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 16 October 1945

World Bank (originally International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) 27 December 1945

International Monetary Fund 27 December 1945

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 4 November 1946

International Civil Aviation Organization 4 April 1947

World Health Organization 7 April 1948

World Meteorological Organization 23 March 1950

International Atomic Energy Agency 29 July 1957

International Maritime Organization 17 March 1958

World Intellectual Property Organization 26 April 1970

International Fund for Agricultural Development 30 November 1977

United Nations Industrial Development Organization 1 January 1986

World Trade Organization (formerly General Agreement on Tar iffs and Trade) 1 January 1995

The arrangement of articles on the United Nations related agencies follows the order of the chart on the Structure of the United Nations System shown in the first chapter. Each article is structured in the following sections: Background, Creation, Purposes, Membership, Structure, Budget, Activities, Bibliography.