The United Nations (UN)
The United Nations (UN) is an international organization that aims at facilitating co-operation in international law, international security, economic development, and social equity." It was founded in 1945 at the signing of the United Nations Charter by 51 countries, replacing the League of Nations founded in 1919.
As of 2006 there exist 192 United Nations member states, including virtually all internationally recognized independent states. From its headquarters in New York City, the UN's member countries and specialized agencies give guidance and decide on substantive and administrative issues in regular meetings held throughout each year. The organization is divided into administrative bodies, including the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Secretariat, and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), as well as counterpart bodies dealing with the governance of all other UN system agencies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The UN's most visible public figure, and the representative head, is the Secretary-General, currently Kofi Annan.
The UN was founded after the end of World War II by the victorious allied powers with the hope that it would act to prevent and intervene in conflicts between nations and make future wars impossible or limited. The organization's structure still reflects in some ways the circumstances of its founding, which has led to calls for reform. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, with veto power, are the five main victors of World War II or their successors: People's Republic of China (which replaced the Republic of China), France, Russia (which replaced the Soviet Union), the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The United Nations was founded as a successor to the League of Nations which was considered by many to have been ineffective in its role as an international governing body; in the sense that it had been unable to prevent World War II. Some argue that the biggest advantage the United Nations has over the League of Nations is the ability to maintain and deploy its member nations' armed forces as peace keepers. Others see such "peace keepers" and "peace keeping" as euphemisms for war and domination of weak and poor countries by the wealthy and powerful nations of the world.
The term "United Nations" (which term appears in stanza 35 of Canto III of Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage) was suggested by Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, to refer to the Allies. Its first formal use was in the January 1, 1942 Declaration by the United Nations, which committed the Allies to the principles of the Atlantic Charter and pledged them not to seek a separate peace with the Axis powers. Thereafter, the Allies used the term "United Nations Fighting Forces" to refer to their alliance.
The idea for the UN was elaborated in declarations signed at the wartime Allied conferences in Moscow, Cairo, and Tehran in 1943. From August to October 1944, representatives of France, the Republic of China, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union met to elaborate the plans at the Dumbarton Oaks Estate in Washington, DC. Those and later talks produced proposals outlining the purposes of the organization, its membership and organs, and arrangements to maintain international peace and security and international economic and social cooperation.
On April 25, 1945, the UN Conference on International Organizations began in San Francisco. In addition to the governments, a number of non-governmental organizations were invited to assist in drafting the charter. The 50 nations represented at the conference signed the Charter of the United Nations two months later on 26 June. Poland had not been represented at the conference, but a place had been reserved for it among the original signatories, and it added its name later. The UN came into existence on October 24, 1945, after the Charter had been ratified by the five permanent members of the Security Council — Republic of China, France, the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and the United States — and by a majority of the other 46 signatories.
Initially, the body was known as the United Nations Organization, or UNO. However, by the 1950s, English speakers were referring to it as the United Nations, or the UN.
As of 2006 there exist 192 United Nations member states, including virtually all internationally recognized independent nations. Among the notable absences are Vatican City (or the Holy See, which has declined membership but is an observer state), Palestine (whose status is still one of a de facto state, and has not yet legally declared statehood, but has a seat as a permanent observer), and Taiwan, which has not been recognized by the UN as itself independent or as the Republic of China (whose status as a member state was transferred to the People's Republic of China in 1971). The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which claims the Western Sahara within the state of Morrocco, receives some UN recognition, but is not a member state, as it is largely unrecognized (except by the African Union). The most recent addition to the UN is Montenegro, admitted on 28 June 2006.
The current United Nations headquarters building was constructed in New York City between 1949 and 1950 beside the East River. This office project land was bought for 8.5 million dollars by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., using his son Nelson as a crucial negotiator with the developer, in December 1946. JDR Jr. then donated the land to the UN, claiming a charitable deduction on his income tax.
It was designed by an international team of architects that included Le Corbusier (Switzerland), Oscar Niemeyer (Brazil), and representatives of numerous other nations. Wallace K. Harrison headed the team. There is disagreement among scholars as to attribution. UN headquarters officially opened on 9 January 1951. While the principal headquarters of the UN are in New York, there are major agencies located in Geneva, The Hague, Vienna, Montreal, Copenhagen, Bonn, and elsewhere. The street address of the UN headquarters is 760 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017, USA. Due to security concerns, all mail sent to that address is sterilized.
The UN buildings are not considered separate political jurisdictions, but do have certain aspects of sovereignty. For example, under agreements with their host countries the United Nations Postal Administration is allowed to issue postage stamps for local mailing. Since 1951 the New York office, since 1969 the Geneva office, and since 1979 the Vienna office, have had their own issues. UN organizations also use their own telecommunications ITU prefix, 4U, and unofficially the New York, Geneva, and Vienna sites are considered separate entities for amateur radio purposes.
As the UN main building is aging, the UN is in the process of building a temporary headquarters designed by Fumihiko Maki on First Avenue between 41st and 42nd Streets for use while the current building is being expanded.
The United Nations Office at Geneva is the United Nations European headquarters. Prior to 1949, the United Nations was based in San Francisco.
The UN is financed in two ways: assessed and voluntary contributions from member states. The regular two-year budgets of the UN and its specialized agencies are funded by assessments. The General Assembly approves the regular budget and determines the assessment for each member. This is broadly based on the relative capacity of each country to pay, as measured by national income statistics, along with other factors.
The Assembly has established the principle that the UN should not be overly dependent on any one member to finance its operations. Thus, there is a 'ceiling' rate, setting the maximum amount any member is assessed for the regular budget. In December 2000, the Assembly revised the scale of assessments to reflect current global circumstances. As part of that revision, the regular budget ceiling was reduced from 25% to 22%. The U.S. is the only member that meets that ceiling, but it is in arrears with hundreds of millions of dollars (see United States and the United Nations). Under the scale of assessments adopted in 2000, other major contributors to the regular UN budget for 2001 are Japan (19.63%), Germany (9.82%), France (6.50%), the UK (5.57%), Italy (5.09%), Canada (2.57%), Spain (2.53%), and Brazil (2.39%).
Special UN programmes not included in the regular budget (such as UNICEF and UNDP) are financed by voluntary contributions from member governments. Some of this is in the form of agricultural commodities donated for afflicted populations, but the majority is financial contributions.
Aims and activities
International conferences. The countries of the UN and its specialized agencies — the "stakeholders" of the system — give guidance and decide on substantive and administrative issues in regular meetings held throughout each year. Governing bodies made up of member states include not only the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council, and the Security Council, but also counterpart bodies dealing with the governance of all other UN system agencies. For example, the World Health Assembly and the Executive Board oversee the work of WHO.
When an issue is considered particularly important, the General Assembly may convene an international conference to focus global attention and build a consensus for consolidated action. Recent examples include:
The UN Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992, led to the creation of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development to advance the conclusions reached in Agenda 21, the final text of agreements negotiated by governments at UNCED;
The International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo, Egypt, in September 1994, approved a programme of action to address the critical challenges and interrelationships between population and sustainable development over the next 20 years;
The Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China, in September 1995, sought to accelerate implementation of the historic agreements reached at the Third World Conference on Women;
The Second UN Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), convened in June 1996 in Istanbul, Turkey, considered the challenges of human settlement development and management in the 21st century.
International years and related. The UN declares and coordinates "International Year of the..." in order to focus world attention on important issues. Using the symbolism of the UN, a specially designed logo for the year, and the infrastructure of the UN system to coordinate events worldwide, the various years have become catalysts to advancing key issues on a global scale.
Arms control and disarmament
The 1945 UN Charter envisaged a system of regulation that would ensure "the least diversion for armaments of the world's human and economic resources". The advent of nuclear weapons came only weeks after the signing of the Charter and provided immediate impetus to concepts of arms limitation and disarmament. In fact, the first resolution of the first meeting of the General Assembly (24 January 1946) was entitled "The Establishment of a Commission to Deal with the Problems Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy" and called upon the commission to make specific proposals for "the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction".
The UN has established several forums to address multilateral disarmament issues. The principal ones are the First Committee of the General Assembly and the UN Disarmament Commission. Items on the agenda include consideration of the possible merits of a nuclear test ban, outer-space arms control, efforts to ban chemical weapons, nuclear and conventional disarmament, nuclear-weapon-free zones, reduction of military budgets, and measures to strengthen international security.
The Conference on Disarmament is a forum established by the international community for the negotiation of multilateral arms control and disarmament agreements. It has 66 members representing all areas of the world, including the five major nuclear-weapon states (the People's Republic of China, France, Russia, UK and USA). While the conference is not formally a UN organization, it is linked to the UN through a personal representative of the Secretary-General; this representative serves as the secretary general of the conference. Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly often request the conference to consider specific disarmament matters. In turn, the conference annually reports its activities to the Assembly.
UN peacekeepers are sent to various regions where armed conflict has recently ceased, in order to enforce the terms of peace agreements and to discourage the combatants from resuming hostilities, for example in East Timor until its independence in 2001. These forces are provided by member states of the UN; the UN does not maintain any independent military. All UN peacekeeping operations must be approved by the Security Council.
The founders of the UN had high hopes that it would act to prevent conflicts between nations and make future wars impossible. Those hopes have not been fully realized. During the Cold War (from about 1945 until 1991), the division of the world into hostile camps made peacekeeping agreement extremely difficult. Following the end of the Cold War, there were renewed calls for the UN to become the agency for achieving world peace, as several dozen military conflicts continue to rage around the globe. But the breakup of the Soviet Union also left the U.S. in a unique position of global dominance, creating a variety of new challenges for the UN.
UN peace operations are funded by assessments, using a formula derived from the regular scale, but including a surcharge for the five permanent Security Council members, who must approve all peacekeeping operations. This surcharge serves to offset discounted peacekeeping assessment rates for less developed countries. In December 2000, the UN revised the assessment rate scale for the regular budget and for peacekeeping. The peacekeeping scale is designed to be revised every six months and was projected to be near 27% in 2003. The US intends to pay peacekeeping assessments at these lower rates and has sought legislation from the U.S. Congress to allow payment at these rates and to make payments towards arrears. The UN Peace-Keeping Forces received the 1988 Nobel Prize for Peace. In 2001, the UN and Secretary General Kofi Annan won the Nobel Peace Prize "for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world." The UN maintains a series of United Nations Medals awarded to military service members who enforce UN accords. The first such decoration issued was the United Nations Service Medal, awarded to UN forces who participated in the Korean War. The NATO Medal is designed on a similar concept and both are considered international decorations instead of military decorations.
The pursuit of human rights was a central reason for creating the UN. World War II atrocities and genocide led to a ready consensus that the new organization must work to prevent any similar tragedies in the future. An early objective was creating a legal framework for considering and acting on complaints about human rights violations.
The UN Charter obliges all member nations to promote "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights" and to take "joint and separate action" to that end. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though not legally binding, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948 as a common standard of achievement for all. The Assembly regularly takes up human rights issues.
On 15 March 2006 the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to replace the United Nations Commission on Human Rights with the UN Human Rights Council. Its purpose is to address human rights violations. The UNCHR had repeatedly been criticized for the composition of its membership. In particular, several of its member countries themselves had dubious human rights records, including states whose representatives had been elected to chair the commission.
There are now seven UN-linked Human rights treaty bodies, including the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Secretariat services are provided regarding six of those (excluding the latter) by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The United Nations and its various agencies are central in upholding and implementing the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A case in point is support by the UN for countries in transition to democracy. Technical assistance in providing free and fair elections, improving judicial structures, drafting constitutions, training human rights officials, and transforming armed movements into political parties have contributed significantly to democratization worldwide. The UN has helped run elections in countries with little democratic history, including recently in Afghanistan and East Timor.
The UN is also a forum to support the right of women to participate fully in the political, economic, and social life of their countries. The UN contributes to raising consciousness of the concept of human rights through its covenants and its attention to specific abuses through its General Assembly or Security Council resolutions or ICJ rulings.
Humanitarian assistance and international development
In conjunction with other organizations, such as the Red Cross, the UN provides food, drinking water, shelter and other humanitarian services to populaces suffering from famine, displaced by war, or afflicted by other disaster. Major humanitarian arms of the UN are the World Food Programme (which helps feed more than 100 million people a year in 80 countries), the High Commissioner for Refugees with projects in over 116 countries, as well as peacekeeping projects in over 24 countries. At times, UN relief workers have been subject to attacks (see Attacks on humanitarian workers).
The UN is also involved in supporting development, e.g. by the formulation of the Millennium Development Goals. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the largest multilateral source of grant technical assistance in the world. Organizations - like the WHO, UNAIDS, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria - are leading institutions in the battle against diseases around the world, especially in poor countries. The UN Population Fund is a major provider of reproductive services. It has helped reduce infant and maternal mortality in 100 countries.
The UN annually publishes the Human Development Index (HDI), a comparative measure ranking countries by poverty, literacy, education, life expectancy, and other factors.
The UN promotes human development through various agencies and departments:
- World Health Organization (WHO) eliminated smallpox in 1977 and is close to eliminating polio.
- World Bank / International Monetary Fund (IMF) Note: The World Bank and IMF were formed as separate entities from the UN through the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1944. Subsequently, in 1947, an agreement was signed that established the post-Bretton Woods organizations as independent, specialized agencies and observers within the UN framework. Here is the World Bank page clarifying the relationship between the two organizations.
- United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
- United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
- United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
On 9 March 2006, Secretary-General Kofi Annan launched the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for those in the Horn of Africa threatened with starvation.
UN also had an agency called the World Food Council with the goal of coordinating national ministries of agriculture to help alleviate malnutrition and hunger. It was suspended in 1993.
Treaties and international law
The UN negotiates treaties such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to avoid potential international disputes. Disputes over use of the oceans may be adjudicated by a special court.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the main court of the UN. Its purpose is to adjudicate disputes among states. The ICJ began in 1946 and continues to hear cases. Important cases include:
Congo v. France, where the Democratic Republic of Congo accused France of illegally detaining former heads of state accused of war crimes; and Nicaragua vs. United States, where Nicaragua accused the United States of illegally arming the Contras (this case led to the Iran-Contra affair).
In 1993, in response to "ethnic cleansing" in the former Yugoslavia, the UN Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. In 1994, in response to the Rwandan genocide, the council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The jurisprudence of these two courts established the current understanding of rape committed in furtherance of an armed conflict as a war crime.
In 1998 the General Assembly called a conference in Rome for the establishment of an International Criminal Court (ICC), at which the "Rome Statute" was adopted. The International Criminal Court became operational in 2002 and began its first case in 2006. It is the first permanent international court charged with trying those who commit the most serious crimes under international law including war crimes and genocide. However, the ICC is functionally independent of the UN both in terms of personnel and financing, although some meetings of the ICC governing body, the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, are held at the UN. There is a "relationship agreement" between the ICC and the UN that governs how the two institutions regard each other legally.
The UN, in 2002, established the Special Court for Sierra Leone in response to the atrocities committed during that country's civil war.
There is also a SCIU (Serious Crimes Investigation Unit) for East Timor.
Reform of the United Nations
In recent years there have been many calls for reform of the United Nations. But there is little clarity, let alone consensus, about how to reform it. Some want the UN to play a greater or more effective role in world affairs, others want its role reduced to humanitarian work. There have also been numerous calls for the UN's Security Council's membership to be increased to be able to reflect the current geo-political state (i.e increasing members from Africa, South America and Asia) In 2004 and 2005, allegations of mismanagement and corruption regarding the Oil-for-Food Programme for Iraq under Saddam Hussein led to renewed calls for reform.
An official reform programme was initiated by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan shortly after starting his first term on 1 January 1997. Reforms mentioned include changing the permanent membership of the Security Council (which currently reflects the power relations of 1945); making the bureaucracy more transparent, accountable and efficient; making the UN more democratic; and imposing an international tariff on arms manufacturers worldwide.
In September 2005, the UN convened a World Summit that brought together the heads of most member states, in a plenary session of the General Assembly's 60th session. The UN called the summit "a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take bold decisions in the areas of development, security, human rights and reform of the United Nations". Secretary General Kofi Annan had proposed that the summit agree upon a global "grand bargain" to reform the UN, revamping international systems for peace and security, human rights and development, to make them capable of addressing the extraordinary challenges facing the UN in the 21st century. World leaders agreed upon a compromise text with such notable items as:
- the creation of a Peacebuilding Commission to provide a central mechanism to help countries emerging from conflict;
- the agreement that the international community has the right to step in when national governments fail to fulfil their responsibility to protect their own citizens from atrocity crimes;
- a Human Rights Council (created May 9th and becoming operational June 19th);
- an agreement to devote more resources to UN's internal oversight agency; several agreements to spend billions more on achieving Millennium Development Goals;
- a clear and unambiguous condemnation of terrorism "in all its forms and manifestations";
- a democracy fund; an agreement to wind up the Trusteeship Council due to the completion of its mission.
Millennium Development Goals
The Millennium Development Goals are eight goals that all 191 United Nations member states have agreed to try to achieve by the year 2015.
The United Nations Millennium Declaration, signed in September 2000, commits the states to:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
- Achieve universal primary education;
- Promote gender equality and empower women;
- Reduce child mortality;
- Improve maternal health;
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases;
- Ensure environmental sustainability;
- Develop a global partnership for development.
Successes and failures in security issues
A large share of UN expenditures address the core UN mission of peace and security. The peacekeeping budget for the 2005-2006 fiscal year is approximately $5 billion (compared to approximately $1.5 billion for the UN core budget over the same period), with some 70,000 troops deployed in 17 missions around the world. The Human Security Report 2005, produced by the Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia with support from several governments and foundations, documented a dramatic, but largely unknown, decline in the number of wars, genocides and human rights abuses over the past decade. The Report, published by Oxford University Press, argued that the single most compelling explanation for these changes is found in the unprecedented upsurge of international activism, spearheaded by the UN, which took place in the wake of the Cold War.
The Report singles out several specific investments that have paid off:
- A six-fold increase in the number of UN missions mounted to prevent wars, from 1990 to 2002
- A four-fold increase in efforts to stop existing conflicts, from 1990 to 2002
- A seven-fold increase in the number of ‘Friends of the Secretary-General’, ‘Contact Groups’ and other government-initiated mechanisms to support peacemaking and peacebuilding missions, from 1990 to 2003
- An eleven-fold increase in the number of economic sanctions against regimes around the world, from 1989 to 2001
- A four-fold increase in the number of UN peacekeeping operations, from 1987, to 1999
These efforts were both more numerous and, on average, substantially larger and more complex than those of the Cold War era.
However, in many cases UN members have shown reluctance to achieve or enforce Security Council resolutions. Iraq is said to have broken 17 Security Council resolutions dating back to June 28, 1991 as well as trying to bypass the UN economic sanctions. For nearly a decade, Israel defied resolutions calling for the dismantling of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Such failures stem from UN's intergovernmental nature — in many respects it is an association of 192 member states who must reach consensus, not an independent organization. Even when actions are mandated by the 15-member Security Council, the Secretariat is rarely given the full resources needed to carry out the mandates.
Other serious security failures include:
- Failure to prevent the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which resulted in the killings of nearly a million people, due to the refusal of the security council members to approve any necessary military action.
- Failure by MONUC (UNSC Resolution 1291) to effectively intervene during the Second Congo War, which claimed nearly five million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 1998-2002 (with fighting reportedly continuing), and in carrying out and distributing humanitarian aid.
- Failure to intervene in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, despite the fact that the UN designated Srebrenica a "safe haven" for refugees and assigned 600 Dutch peacekeepers to protect it.
- Failure to successfully deliver food to starving people in Somalia; the food was instead usually seized by local warlords. A U.S./UN attempt to apprehend the warlords seizing these shipments resulted in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu.
- Sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers. Numerous peacekeepers from several nations have been repatriated from UN peacekeeping operations for sexually abusing and exploiting girls as young as 8 in a number of different peacekeeping missions. This abuse has become widespread and ongoing despite many revelations and probes by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services. A 2005 internal UN investigation found that sexual exploitation and abuse has been reported in at least five countries where UN peacekeepers have been deployed, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire, and Liberia; in particular, "Liberian girls as young as 8 are being sexually exploited by United Nations peacekeepers, aid workers and teachers in return for food, small favours and even rides in trucks, according to a report from Save the Children UK" The BBC carried a similar report, and also cited a member of the World Food Programme as an offender.
Criticism and controversies
Human Rights oversight. Inclusion on the old United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) of nations, such as Sudan and Libya, whose leaderships have demonstrably abysmal records on human rights, and also Libya's chairmanship of this Commission, has been in the past an issue. These countries, however, argued that Western countries, accusing them of colonialist aggression and brutality, had no right to argue about membership of the Commission.
However on March 15th the General Assembly passed a resolution creating a new body - a Human Rights Council – to replace the Commission. The body has stricter rules for membership including a universal human rights review and an increase in the number of nations needed to elect a candidate to the body.
May 9th saw the elections of 47 new members to the Council. Numerous governments with poor records were elected, such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Algeria. A few violators that had held seats on the previous Commission, such as Sudan, Libya and Zimbabwe, chose not to run. Some others such as Iran and Venezuela did not receive enough votes to be elected.
Oil-for-Food scandal. The Oil-for-Food Programme was established by the UN in 1996 to allow Iraq to sell oil on the world market in exchange for food, medicine, and other humanitarian needs of ordinary Iraqi citizens who were affected by international economic sanctions, without allowing the Iraqi government to rebuild its military in the wake of the first Gulf War. It was discontinued in late 2003 amidst allegations of widespread abuse and corruption; the former director, Benon Sevan of Cyprus, first was suspended, then resigned from the UN, as an interim progress report of a UN-sponsored investigation led by Paul Volcker concluded that Sevan had accepted bribes from the Iraqi regime, and recommended that his UN immunity be lifted to allow for a criminal investigation.
Under UN auspices, over $65 billion USD worth of Iraqi oil was sold on the world market. Officially, about $46 billion was used for humanitarian needs, and additional revenue paid for Gulf War reparations through a Compensation Fund, UN administrative and operational costs for the Programme (2.2%), and the weapons inspection programme (0.8%).
Also implicated in the scandal is Kofi Annan's son Kojo Annan, alleged to have illegally procured UN Oil-for-Food contracts on behalf of the Swiss company Cotecna. India's foreign minister, Natwar Singh, was removed from office because of his role in the scandal.
The Australian government set up an inquiry known as the Cole Inquiry in November 2005 to investigate whether the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) breached any laws with its contracts with Iraq during the Oil-for-Food Programme. AWB paid Saddam Hussein's regime almost $300 million dollars, through a front company called 'Alia', to secure wheat contracts to Iraq. The Prime Minister (John Howard), Deputy Prime Minister (Mark Vaile), and Foreign Minister of Australia (Alexander Downer) have denied knowing about such bribes as they were called to the inquiry to give an account under oath about what they knew of AWB. However, a recent poll shows that a majority of the Australian public believe that they knew exactly what was taking place.
It has been suggested that, although the Australian Government did not monitor AWB effectively enough to notice and stop the bribes, that the UN should have been more forceful in requesting the Australian Government to start an Investigation earlier. The result of the Cole Inquiry is not yet known.
The UN and its agencies are immune to the laws of the countries where they operate, safeguarding UN's impartiality with regard to the host and member countries. Hiring and firing practices, working hours and environment, holiday time, pension plans, health insurance, life insurance, salaries, expatriation benefits and general conditions of employment are governed by UN rules and regulations. This independence allows agencies to implement human resources policies which are even contrary to the laws of a host- or a member country. For instance, a person who is otherwise eligible for employment in Switzerland may not be employed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) unless he or she is a citizen of an ILO member state.
Smokers. The World Health Organization, an agency of the UN, has banned the recruitment of cigarette smokers as of 1 December 2005, in order to promote the principle of a tobacco-free work environment. There is a smoking ban within the UN headquarters, but some member nations allow smoking in their UN embassies. Moreover, users of illegal drugs are ineligible for employment in the UN.
Same-sex marriages. Despite their independence in matters of personnel policy, UN agencies voluntarily apply the laws of member states regarding same-sex marriages, allowing decisions about the status of employees in a same-sex partnership to be based on nationality. They recognize same-sex marriages only if the employees are citizens of countries that recognize the marriage. Some agencies provide limited benefits to domestic partners of their staff.
The UN in popular culture
An education activity called Model United Nations has grown popular in schools worldwide. Model UN has students simulate (usually) a body in the UN system, like the Economic and Social Council, the Economic and Finance Committee of the General Assembly, or the Executive Committee of UNICEF, to help them develop skills in debate and diplomacy.
The perception of the UN as a large, world-encompassing government organization has prompted many ideas about world government and world democracy. The UN is also often the subject of conspiracy theories.
Source - "Wikipedia"