Principal Organs of the United Nations

By | January 16, 2021
Principal Organs of the United Nations

The Organs of the United Nations comprises six principal organs: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the UN Secretariat. These organs fulfil different functions. Their functions are clearly delineated in the Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the International Court of Justice.

Each of these organs is pivotal to the functioning of the United Nations. They all work with one end goal in mind: ensuring world peace and security.


The United Nations (UN) currently consists of five principal organs that it uses to carry out its various functions. These organs were established by Article 7 of the Charter of the United Nations.

The UN also has a sixth organ called the Trusteeship Council, but its operations were suspended after the independence of Palau, as that was the only remaining U.N. trustee.

Principal Organs of the United Nations

The six principal organs of the United Nations are:

  1. General Assembly

  2. Security Council

  3. Economic and Social Council

  4. Trusteeship Council (operations suspended)

  5. International Court of Justice

  6. Secretariat[1]

1. General Assembly

The General Assembly (or UNGA) is the main deliberative organ of the United Nations. It comprises the representatives of all 193 UN member-states as well as its observer members—albeit with reduced powers.

The UNGA is also the only principal organ of the UN that confers equal representation to all of its member-states.

The UNGA performs a host of functions. It is in charge of budgetary matters, admission of new members, expelling members, electing the non-permanent members of another organ—the Security Council—as well as the members of a third organ—the Economic and Social Council—among several other issues.

The UNGA has a president, and they elect a new president every year. The current president is Volkan Bozkır, a Turkish politician and diplomat.[2]

India’s Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, a noted Indian diplomat and politician and the sister of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, served as the first female president of the UNGA, only a few years after India won independence.[3]

2. Security Council

The UN’s Security Council is the organ of the UN primarily designated with maintaining world peace and security. The UNSC also “takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression.”

The Security Council consists of fifteen members, five permanent and ten non-permanent. The five permanent members of the UNSC (called the P5) are the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China. Each member has one vote.

Notably, the P5 have veto power—i.e., they can veto any resolution brought by a member of the Security Council. This has hampered the functioning of SC and the UN more broadly, as matters sensitive to any of the P5 countries cannot be dealt with effectively.

The Security Council has a president, too, and the presidency rotates on a monthly basis.[4]

As of 2021, India is a member of the Security Council, elected to a two-year term.[5]

3. Economic and Social Council

The third main organ of the UN is the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). ECOSOC is the “principal body for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and recommendations on economic, social and environmental issues, as well as the implementation of internationally agreed development goals.”

ECOSOC is the organ in charge of facilitating coördination between the various “specialized agencies” of the UN, such as the World Bank Group, International Monetary Fund, and the World Health Organisation.

ECOSOC has fifty-three members, elected by the General Assembly for three-year, overlapping terms.[6]

4. Trusteeship Council

The Trusteeship Council was tasked with supervising eleven Trust Territories that were placed under the administration of seven member states. It was established by Chapter XIII of the UN charter.

By 1994, the last of those trust territories—Palau—attained independence, thus rendering the Trusteeship Council’s functions redundant. Therefore, on 1 November 1994, its operations were suspended.

5. International Court of Justice

The fifth main organ of the United Nations is the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ is headquartered in the Peace Palace in The Hague, the Netherlands.

The ICJ is the UN’s judicial organ. It comprises fifteen judges who serve nine-year terms.

The ICJ retained the structure of its League of Nations predecessor—the Permanent Court of International Justice—with the UN charter drawing heavily from the statute that created the ICJ.

The ICJ’s judgements are primary sources of international law, and the Court is the only international court which can adjudicate international disputes.

However, the ICJ can only hear cases with the consent of both the parties involved.[7]

The current composition of the ICJ includes Justice Dalveer Bhandari, who previously served as a judge on India’s supreme court as well as the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court.[8]

6. UN Secretariat

The UN Secretariat is the organ of the United Nations tasked with looking after the day-to-day operations of the U.N.

The Secretariat is a bureaucracy of its own, with numerous subsidiaries.

The Secretariat comprises the secretary-general, regarded as the “symbol of the U.N.,” and tens of thousands of staff members.[9]

The current Secretary-General of the United Nations is the Portuguese diplomat and politician António Guterres, who is the ninth occupant of the post.


[1] About the UN, Main Organs, United Nations. Available here.

[2] United Nations General Assembly, General Assembly President, United Nations. Available here.

[3] Available here.

[4] About the UN, supra note [1].

[5] United Nations Security Council, Current Members, United Nations. Available here.

[6] About the UN, supra note [1].

[7] Id.

[8] Available here.

[9] About the UN, supra note [1].

  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
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