The United Nations Charter came into force on Oct. 24, 1945, after ratification by the 51 founding member countries.
*PURPOSE: To maintain international peace through collective security.
*HEADQUARTERS: New York.
*SECRETARY GENERAL: Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru.
*ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT: The idea of creating a new intergovernmental organization to replace the League of Nations was born early in World War II. In meetings at Dumbarton Oaks here in 1944, representatives of China, the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States agreed on preliminary proposals and at a final forum, in San Francisco, the United Nations Charter was formally signed on June 26, 1945, by representatives of 50 states. Poland was not represented at the San Francisco conference but later signed the Charter.
The 51 founding members consisted of essentially two groups: a majority bloc of western-oriented states and a communist minority bloc. Starting in 1955, the membership began to grow rapidly as former colonies, overwhelmingly nonwhite and nonwestern, became independent.
General Assembly: composed of all the member nations, although South Africa has been excluded from participation since 1974. It was conceived as a kind of open forum to call world attention to international problems and recommend solutions. Every nation has equal voice and vote in the General Assembly.
Security Council: made up of the five permanent members -- the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, France and China -- any one of which may veto council decisions, and 10 nonpermanent members, nominated by informal regional caucuses and elected for two-year terms.
The council has the responsibility for keeping the peace. The Security Council can recommend measures, such as that members interrupt diplomatic relations with disputing parties. It can also use force to keep the peace, under the principle of collective security.
International Court of Justice: known as the World Court. It is composed of 15 judges of different nations who are elected to nine-year terms by the General Assembly and the Security Council. It hears cases brought before it by member nations and may present opinions to the assembly and council. Its headquarters is in The Hague, Netherlands.
Economic and Social Council: composed of 54 members who are periodically elected by the General Assembly. It coordinates all the economic and social activities of the United Nations and its specialized agencies.
These include the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), regional economic commissions and specialized agencies, related by special agreements but run as autonomous intergovernmental organizations, such as the U. N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Trusteeship Council: made up of the five permanent members of the Security Council. It was set up to administer the 11 trust territories in existence at the founding. Only one trust territory remains, in the Pacific.
Secretariat: composed of the secretary general and 26,500 staff members worldwide. Washington Post Foreign Service