Headquartered in New York City, the United Nations (UN) is the largest and most well-known international organization in the world. Formed in the aftermath of the Second World War and the successor of the now defunct League of Nations, it has the stated goals of facilitating global peace, international security, economic development, social progress and the promotion and protection of human rights. It was established in 1945 by the United Nations Charter and currently has 193 Member States.
In recent years, the UN has undergone a strange and, to some extent, worrisome transformation. While the Charter clearly sets it up as a membership-driven organization, the UN bureaucracy increasingly acts as if it were a super-government to which all governments are accountable. This bureaucracy has over the year developed into a huge galaxy of secretariats, councils, committees, special organizations, treaty monitoring bodies, and other institutions, each of which pretends to express some kind of world-wide authority over the domain of its activity. These bodies produce an enormous output of documents, of which it is claimed that they represent a world-wide “consensus”, or even “soft law”. In this way, the UN bureaucracy, even though it consists of unelected public servants with no accountability to the public who have no authority to make laws, has usurped the role of a powerful world-wide agenda-setter.
This became particularly clear in the context of a series of great international UN High-Level Conferences that were held in the 1990s, culminated in the “Millennium Summit” 2000, and have continued being followed-up by further conferences in a five-year rhythm. This cycle of conferences represents an attempt to impose outcomes that are prepared behind closed doors by the UN bureaucracy and a small quantity of handpicked and “like-minded” non-governmental organisations, asserting a “consensus” that is often filled with new (and at times very surprising) meaning some years after it has been formed. The best known example for this strategy is the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD – Cairo 1994), which introduced a new terminology relating to “sexual and reproductive health”, of which the UN bureaucracy and certain NGOs have ever since claimed that it provided the basis for an internationally recognized “right to abortion”, whereas opponents point out that the ICPD Programme of Action actually excludes such a right.
Indeed, when it became clear that all efforts to explicitly enshrine a “right to abortion” in international law, the UN and some NGOs convened a secret meeting in 1996 at Glen Cove in which the UN treaty monitoring bodies were instructed to “discover” such a right in the penumbral fringes of those treaties. This is why certain UN Committees and treaty monitoring bodies have begun to creatively re-interpret the international agreements for which they are responsible, seeking to impose on sovereign governments new commitments to which these governments have in fact never agreed. Again this is done in co-operation with a closed shop of like-minded NGOs, most of them inspired by neo-Marxist ideologies and funded by the US and EU governments and a small number of wealthy private donors. This co-operation with “civil society” creates a false appearance of political pluralism and democracy, but in fact it is the opposite: a small, unelected and unaccountable elite is trying to force its ideology on governments that have responsibility for real countries with real populations.
The new global governance that the UN bureaucracy seeks to impose in this way on nations and their governments reaches out to all fields of policy-making – but nowhere is it felt as strongly as with regard to the right to life, marriage and the family. The UN institutions indeed have become one of the strongest supporters of the post-1968 Cultural Revolution, and “sexual rights” (i.e., the legalization of abortion, artificial contraception, and homosexuality) and the destruction of the traditional concept of “family” are among their primary policy objectives. These objectives are promoted under various pretexts, such as “public health” (and in particular “the fight against AIDS”, “the fight against maternal mortality”, and the protection of “sexual and reproductive health”), and are inspired by Marxist, feminist, and Malthusian ideologies.
For citizens and civil society organizations that do not adhere to those new values it has become increasingly clear that they are systematically shut out from the making of “consensus” at the UN. Their organizations obtain no accreditation, and their opinions are not listened to. But by shutting out all opposition and affirming fake “consensuses”, the UN system is undermining its own credibility: the world will understand that the “consensus” isn’t really one, and that the organisations affirming it have neither the moral nor the legal authority to make such affirmations.
Nevertheless, the UN bureaucracy’s activities should not simply be ignored. Not opposing them, or not seeking to influence them (e.g. through drafting suggestions, shadow reporting, or –where that is possible – lobbying efforts to secure the nomination of better qualified persons as members of the various UN bodies) could provide them with an undeserved appearance of legitimacy. The Cultural Revolution at the UN was successful as long as it was able to march forward inconspicuously and silently, because the wider public was not aware of it. It will come to a standstill as soon as the world-wide public becomes aware of it.
With these pages, therefore, we try to give to our readers a brief overview over the UN and its institutions.
Key UN institutions:
A full and complete overview of the UN and its structure can be found on this diagram, which is taken from the UN official website. It shows on the left the six principal organs of the organization, and shows how all other institutions depend from these six principal organs.
However, as our brief overview must focus on what is relevant in the specific context of the matters dealt with on this website, it leaves aside many UN institutions and policies that play no role in this context.
We therefore propose this simplified diagram, which draws a distinction between the “Charter-based” System, i.e. the bodies and procedures that have their basis in the UN Charter, and the “Treaty-based” System, i.e. bodies and procedures that have their basis in specific (human rights) treaties.
The following links lead to information on the Charter-based UN bodies:
UN Ways to Engage: Checklist
- Become accredited with ECOSOC to gain access to many aspects of the UN system
- Consider accreditation with other UN agencies such as UNESCO
- Attend sessions of the:
- Attend global conferences on relevant issues when they are convened
- Provide written and oral statements and organize parallel or side events at the different sessions
- Engage with the projects of the Special Rapporteurs and working groups through the UNHRC Special Procedures mechanism
- Engage with the projects of the autonomous agencies and funds, such as WHO, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNFPA, UNPD, UN-Women and UN-Aids
- Respond to the Universal Periodic Review
- Respond to the treaty-monitoring bodies’ country reviews
- Respond to OHCHR’s Civil Society Unit Consultations
Complaints/ Communications/ Litigation
- File complaints through the Human Rights Council Complaints Procedure
- File complaints through the treaty monitoring bodies’ complaints procedure
- File complaints through the Special Procedures communications mechanism