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Oppenheim's International Law: United Nations by Higgins, Rosalyn; Webb, Philippa; Akande, Dapo; Sivakumaran, Sandesh; Sloan, James

Part 3 The United Nations: What it Does, 17 Improving Social Conditions

Dame Rosalyn Higgins DBE, QC, Philippa Webb, Dapo Akande, Sandesh Sivakumaran, James Sloan

From: Oppenheim's International Law: United Nations

Rosalyn Higgins, Philippa Webb, Dapo Akande, Sandesh Sivakumaran, James Sloan

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved.date: 14 July 2020

Sustainable development

(p. 623) 17  Improving Social Conditions

  1. 1.  Introduction 17.01

  2. 2.  Social issues in the work of the principal organs of the UN 17.13

  3. 3.  UN Departments, Programmes, and Offices involved in social issues 17.37

  4. 4.  Institutional coordination of UN social action 17.56

DuBois, ‘New Directions in the Social Development Programme of the United Nations’ (1966) 9(3) International Social Work 21; Fomerand and Dijkzeul, ‘Coordinating Economic and Social Affairs’ in The Oxford Handbook on the United Nations (eds Daws and Wiess, 2008); Jolly, ‘Human Development’ in The Oxford Handbook on the United Nations (eds Daws and Wiess, 2008); Kotschnig, ‘The United Nations as an Instrument of Economic and Social Development’ (1968) 22(1) International Organization 16; Luck, ‘Principal Organs’ in, The Oxford Handbook on the United Nations (eds Daws and Weiss, 2008); Malinowski, ‘Centralization and Decentralization in the United Nations Economic and Social Activities’ (1962) 16(3) International Organization 521; McLaren, ‘The UN System and its Quixotic Quest for Coordination’ (1980) 34(1) International Organization 139; Nicol and Renninger, ‘The Restructuring of the United Nations Economic and Social System: Background and Analysis’ (1982) 4(1) Third World Quarterly 74; Rosenthal, ‘Economic and Social Council’ in The Oxford Handbook on the United Nations (eds Daws and Wiess, 2008); Stoll, ‘Article 55’ in The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary (3rd edn, Simma et al (eds), 2012), 1541.

1.  Introduction

17.01  The concern of the UN with improving social conditions is expressed in the various parts of the Charter, including in the Preamble, which stresses that the peoples of the United Nations are ‘determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom’.1 The centrality of social issues in the mission of the UN is reflected in Article 1 of the Charter, which lists as one of the Purposes of the UN ‘achiev[ing] international cooperation in solving international problems of [a] … (p. 624) social … character’.2 Chapter IX of the Charter deals with ‘International Economic and Social Co-operation’, and within that Chapter, Article 55 provides that the UN shall ‘promote: (a) higher standards of living, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress and development; [and] (b) solutions of international social, health and related problems’. These goals are not set out as isolated aims, but their achievement is stated to be ‘[w]ith a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations’.3 Thus, improving social conditions is seen not only as a goal in its own right, but also as related to the aim of achieving international peace.

1.1  Types of activities for the purpose of improving social conditions

17.02  In furtherance of the mandate to ‘promote’ the improvement of social conditions, the UN has undertaken a number of important activities. First, the UN has engaged in institutional development in this area, creating institutions and bodies that are intended to pursue this goal. Second, the UN has engaged in normative development, meaning that it has sought to build consensus for the creation/recognition of a set of norms, standards, and rules that are to be followed in this area, as well as seeking to promote and develop these norms over time. Third, the UN has engaged in operational activities intended to achieve practical outcomes that will improve social conditions around the world.4

17.03  Social concerns are included in the mandate of several of the principal organs of the UN, and as a result of these constitutional provisions, and the actual activities of the UN in this area, the task of improving social conditions has come to occupy a central place in the UN’s normative and institutional framework.5 In particular, the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) are given explicit competences in the social field, including in areas such as education and health.6 In addition, social issues have been a constant subject in the work of the UN Secretary-General,7 as exemplified by the five-year action agenda adopted in 2012, which focuses, inter alia, on sustainable development, security, women, and youth.8 Even the UN Security Council has addressed a series of social concerns, to the extent that they could be linked to its primary responsibility for international peace and security.9 (p. 625) These concerns have included poverty, sustainable development, transitional justice, youth, and gender equality.10

17.04  A number of Departments of the Secretariat, as well as other UN bodies and Programmes, that are subsidiary organs of the principal organs, have been created to carry out work in the area of social affairs. Furthermore, the UN specialized agencies have considerable responsibility in this area, and the relationship agreements between those agencies and the UN set out a framework within which they will cooperate with the UN on these issues.11

17.05  Over the years, the UN has engaged in standard-setting and norm development, with the aim of achieving cooperation and encouraging state action with respect to the improvement of social conditions. These standards, goals, and norms have largely been embodied in a series of resolutions of the General Assembly dealing with particular topics, or have been contained in the declarations, agendas, or outcome documents adopted at important conferences and summits dedicated to social issues.12

1.2  The ‘social’ issues addressed by the UN

17.06  It would be difficult to provide a definition of the terms ‘social progress’ and ‘social problems’, as used in Article 55(a) and (b) of the UN Charter. Likewise, no exhaustive list can be prepared of the social matters that fall within the mandate of the UN as a result of those provisions. Clearly, there is significant overlap between the work of the UN with regard to improving social conditions and the work regarding improving economic conditions.13 Indeed, Article 55 of the Charter deals with both of these issues together, and no precise dividing line can be drawn between the two areas. For example, efforts towards the eradication of poverty could be regarded as work relating to improving economic wellbeing, but is also work concerned with improving social conditions. In broad terms, the work regarding the improvement of economic conditions can be regarded as all the work that addresses macroeconomic measures that may be taken for this purpose. On the other hand, work relating to social (p. 626) development tends to be work that has the purpose of addressing the specific situation of particular categories of individuals or groups within society.14 It has been suggested that social issues are those matters concerned with the ‘material and spiritual needs of individuals, their families and the communities in which they live’.15

17.07  There is also a close relationship between the work of the UN with regard to improving social conditions and the promotion and protection of human rights, another matter provided for in Article 55,16 since in large measure increased respect for human rights is part of the solution for social problems and should result in social progress.

17.08  The social issues that have been taken up by the UN have been rather varied. An examination of the work of the Assembly and ECOSOC suggests that, over time, the key social issues or themes considered within the UN have included: the eradication of poverty; housing and human settlement; social integration; the ageing population; crime prevention; disability; health, including drug control; families; indigenous peoples; gender equality; and the position of the youth.

17.09  The work of the UN with regard to the social conditions has been treated, for the most part, as coming within the overarching goal of promoting development.17 While much of the focus of UN initiatives in the social sphere has mainly been to improve the various social problems faced by developing countries, development has also been used in the broader sense of general economic, social, or societal progress.18 The issues of economic and social development have also come to be linked, conceptually and in the work of the UN, with issues relating to the protection of the environment, under the umbrella of the concept of ‘sustainable development’.19

(p. 627) 17.10  The objectives of the UN with regard to the promotion of development were translated into a set of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed in 2000.20 Although many of the goals set by the MDGs were indeed met within the agreed time frame, with the MDG process being credited with providing a catalytic effect and accountability, the MDGs were not without their critics.21 In 2015, when the time period for the achievement of the MDGs was complete, the UN launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be achieved over a 15-year period.22

(p. 628) 1.3  Major summits and conferences

17.11  Over the years the UN has convened several major conferences and summits relevant to the issue of social development.23 These meetings have mainly been for the purpose of setting the global agenda, for particular periods of time, with regard to particular issues. The aim has been to use these major meetings as vehicles for providing a catalyst to international and national action. These meetings have also engaged in the development of norms through the adoption of significant outcome documents, declarations, or resolutions.24

17.12  Of particular relevance are the 1995,25 2000,26 and 2005 World Summits, as well as the Millennium Summit, the 2010 Summit on the Millennium Development Goals, and the 2013 Special Event towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.27 The SDGs were the outcome of the 2015 Sustainable Development Summit.28

(p. 629) 2.  Social issues in the work of the principal organs of the UN

2.1  The General Assembly and social issues

17.13  As already indicated, one of the explicit responsibilities of the UN General Assembly is to initiate studies and make recommendations for the purpose of promoting international cooperation in the social, educational, and health fields.29 Apart from adopting the outcome documents of important conferences on social and related issues, the Assembly has been actively engaged in the development of norms and standards with regard to a wide range of social challenges. For this purpose, it has adopted a significant number of resolutions,30 in which the Assembly does some or all of the following: recalls or highlights important social goals or concerns; recommends a certain course of action for member states and even non-state actors with respect to the achievement of these goals or the resolution of these concerns; requests specific tasks from other UN bodies, such as the making of reports, or the provision of financial or technical aid; and/or approves reports submitted by other UN bodies, such as the ECOSOC, functional commissions, or expert bodies.

17.14  Although social issues have been the subject of Assembly resolutions from its very first session in 1946, the specific themes with which the Assembly has dealt have varied over the years. The first Assembly resolutions dedicated to social issues were much more concerned with the realization of social surveys and institutional issues, such as the coordination between other UN bodies and their respective activities.31 As early as 1949, substantive social themes started to appear in Assembly resolutions, although not much space was dedicated to them in comparison to questions of peace and security and institutional matters. Gradually, social concerns became a much more frequent theme.32 In particular, resolutions have included the problems of slavery;33 indigenous peoples;34 social welfare;35 children36 and youth;37 land reform;38 housing;39 women;40 food and famine;41 employment;42 and education.43 From (p. 630) 1961, when the Assembly proclaimed the Decade of Development,44 development has come to be seen as the lens through which social issues are to be considered.45 More recent social concerns have included issues relating to gender;46 crime prevention;47 health;48 disabilities;49 and the social consequences of environmental problems.50

2.1.1  The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural) of the General Assembly

17.15  Within the General Assembly, it is the Third Committee that addresses the social issues already discussed.51 About a dozen agenda items are assigned to the Committee each year,52 and each year the Committee adopts about 60 resolutions and decisions on various social issues.53

17.16  Over the years a significant part of the Third Committee’s work has been directed at the promotion and protection of human rights, with about half of the resolutions (p. 631) adopted by that Committee addressing human rights.54 The Third Committee receives the reports of the Human Rights Council (HRC),55 the human rights treaty bodies, and those of the human rights special procedures established by the Council or the Assembly. During its annual sessions, the Third Committee usually sets aside a significant amount of time to hear from and to interact with the special rapporteurs, independent experts, and chairs of Working Groups established by the HRC.56

2.2  The United Nations Economic and Social Council

17.17  ECOSOC is one of the six principal organs of the UN established by the UN Charter. It is the leading body in the UN system for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue, and recommendations on economic, social, and environmental issues.57 ECOSOC, together with a number of its functional and regional commissions, engages in work directed towards the improvement of social conditions.58 The following functional commissions, which are composed of members of ECOSOC, are of most relevance in this regard:

  • •  Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice;

  • •  Commission on Narcotic Drugs;

  • •  Commission for Social Development;

  • •  Commission on the Status of Women; and

  • •  Commission on Population and Development.

2.2.1  ECOSOC functional commissions

17.18  The Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) was established as one of ECOSOC’s functional commissions in 1992 at the request of the General Assembly.59 In terms of the CCPCJ’s contribution to the improvement of social conditions, the ECOSOC Resolution establishing the CCPCJ ‘emphasise[d] the direct relevance of crime prevention and criminal justice to sustained development, stability, security, democratic change and improved quality of life’.60

(p. 632) 17.19  The Commission on Narcotic Drugs was established in 1946,61 and has both an operational role and a role in norm development.62 The Commission strives to take a ‘people-centred approach to addressing the drug problem’, and

stresse[s] the need to ensure non-discriminatory access to health, care and social services in prevention, primary care and treatment programmes; the need to provide specialized programmes tailored to vulnerable members of society with specific needs as well as the importance of addressing social exclusion as a possible enabler for the illicit use of drugs, poor health, poverty and inequality.63

17.20  Originally established as a sub-Commission of the Commission on Human Rights, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was established as a functional commission of ECOSOC in 1946.64 Its mandate includes the preparation of recommendations and reports to ECOSOC on the promotion of women’s rights and on urgent problems requiring immediate attention in the field of women’s rights.65 The CSW has contributed to the elaboration of important declarations and conventions with regard to the human rights of women.66

17.21  The CSW will often set priority themes for its work in a given period.67 The mandate of the CSW has been expanded on a number of occasions since the establishment (p. 633) of the Commission. That mandate includes68 the monitoring and reviewing and appraisal of progress achieved and problems encountered in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women;69 and supporting mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the activities of the UN. It is also mandated to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs.70

17.22  The Commission for Social Development (CSocD) was established by the ECOSOC in 1946 to ‘advise [it] on social policies of a general character and, in particular, on all matters in the social field not covered by the specialised inter-governmental agencies’.71 In 1961, the ECOSOC ‘consider[ed]’ that the following ought be the focus of the CSocD’s work programme:

  1. (a)  The elimination of hunger and the raising of levels of health and nutrition;

  2. (b)  The improvement of standards of health and the extension of adequate health services to meet the needs of the whole population;

  3. (c)  The eradication of illiteracy, the extension and improvement of general and vocational education at all levels, and the improvement of access to educational and cultural facilities for all sectors of the population;

  4. (d)  The education of youth through the use of mass media and other educational methods in the spirit of peace, in order to combat those influences which lead to undesirable social trends and juvenile delinquency;

  5. (e)  The raising of levels of employment and income in both rural and urban areas, with particular attention, where appropriate, to employment opportunities for young people;

  6. (f)  The improvement of housing conditions and of community services, especially for persons in low-income groups, urban development and planning for future urban growth;

  7. (g)  The provision of social welfare and of comprehensive social security services to maintain and improve the standard of living of families, individuals and special groups, including the disabled, with special attention to working mothers and to the establishment of adequate provision for children, as well as to the strengthening and improvement of the quality of family life;

  8. (h) 

  9. (i)  The allocation of an increasing proportion of the national budgetary provision for social and cultural purposes.72

(p. 634) 17.23  These are issues that are also within the remit of the various entities already discussed (for instance, the CSW, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice). Although the 2030 Agenda leaves the implementation of the SDGs largely to national authorities, the CSocD plays a role in facilitating the process of implementation of these goals.73

17.24  The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was established as a functional commission of the ECOSOC in 1993,74 following a request by the General Assembly.75 Its main goal is to ensure the effective follow-up of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) (also known as the Earth Summit) and the implementation of the latter’s Outcome Document—Agenda 21.76 The principal functions of the CSD are:

  1. 1.  to review progress at the international, regional, and national levels in the implementation of recommendations contained in [Agenda 21];

  2. 2.  to elaborate policy guidance and options for future activities to follow up the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and achieve sustainable development; and

  3. 3.  to promote dialogue and build partnerships for sustainable development with governments, the international community, and the major groups identified in Agenda 21 as key actors outside the central government who have a major role to play in the transition towards sustainable development.77

17.25  Lastly, the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) was established by the ECOSOC in 1946.78 The CPD, ECOSOC, and the General Assembly constitute a three-tiered intergovernmental mechanism that plays the primary role in following up on the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development.79 The General Assembly has mandated the CPD, as a functional commission assisting ECOSOC, with monitoring, reviewing, and assessing the implementation of the Programme of Action at the national, (p. 635) regional, and international levels, and advising ECOSOC thereon. In particular, the CPD is responsible for arranging studies and advising the ECOSOC on:

  • •  Population issues and trends;

  • •  Integrating population and development strategies;

  • •  Population and related development policies and programmes;

  • •  Provision of population assistance, upon request, to developing countries and, on a temporary basis, to countries with economies in transition; and

  • •  Any other population and development questions on which either the principal or the subsidiary organs of the UN or the specialized agencies may seek advice.80

17.26  The CPD and its Secretariat, the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, have contributed to the UN’s general goal of improving of social conditions by producing a series of reports, expert papers, and demographic surveys on key social issues such as: mortality; youth; family, including marriage and union; ageing; HIV; and the various MDGs.81 These documents are often the basis of decisions by the ECOSOC and other UN bodies on the measures that should be taken to improve social conditions around the globe, such as the implementation of the MDGs.

2.2.2  ECOSOC regional commissions

17.27  There are five ECOSOC regional commissions (each of which has sub-regional offices):

  • •  Economic Commission for Africa (ECA);

  • •  Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP);

  • •  Economic Commission for Europe (ECE);

  • •  Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); and

  • •  Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

17.28  The terms of reference for the regional commissions vary in the extent to which they make reference to social improvement. For instance, the terms of reference for the ECE make no reference to social conditions, yet the terms of reference of the ECA make explicit reference to the interplay between economic and social development.82 Similarly, in November 1959, the General Assembly, having ‘recognis[ed] that economic development and social development are interrelated and that social progress is an end in itself’, noted with approval the ECOSOC’s decision to expand the terms of (p. 636) reference for the ESCAP (then the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East) and the ECLAC (then the Economic Commission for Latin America), ‘to include the social aspects of economic development and the interrelationship of the economic and social factors’.83 Further, the Committee on Women and Development, a subsidiary organ of the ECA, is charged with, inter alia,

[i]dentify[ing] and highlight[ing] the major economic and social development issues and concerns with a view to promoting policies and strategies for gender equality and women’s advancement in collaboration with the other technical committees of [the] ECA.84

17.29  As with the other regional commission with similar relevant mandates, the ESCAP conducts applied research on social policy options, strategies, and programmes. It seeks to promote cooperation and to assist countries within its region in the implementation of internationally agreed commitments to promote the social integration of vulnerable groups and gender equality. At its 4th session, the ESCAP

identified a number of priority issues for action, including confronting rising inequalities, reducing poverty and enhancing social protection. Senior officials also acknowledged the importance of addressing unemployment and underemployment among young people, placing gender equality and women’s empowerment at the centre of the policy agenda, and continuing implementation of the Incheon Strategy in order to support the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities.85

17.30  Like the ECA, the ESCAP is comprised of various committees including, relevantly, the Committee on Social Development.

17.31  The steps taken by the ESCAP to improve social conditions are fairly representative of the actions taken by the remaining regional committees, which will not therefore be considered in detail.

2.3  Social issues in the work of the Security Council

17.32  Since the inception of the UN Charter, the range of matters that may be regarded as a ‘threat to international peace and security’ under Article 39 of the Charter has increased tremendously.86 The Security Council has recognized that the concept of threat to peace and security may extend beyond the threats posed by war and armed conflict to sources of instability in the economic, social, humanitarian, and environmental fields.87 The Council has increasingly sought to take action with regard to social concerns on a (p. 637) global,88 regional,89 and national scale.90 In most cases the social issues are considered by the Security Council as part of a certain armed conflict, in connection either with the sources or, alternatively, the consequences of such conflicts.91 In particular, the Council has recognized that social measures are an important part of comprehensive post-conflict solutions,92 such as in Afghanistan,93 and of achieving stability.94

(p. 638) 17.33  The Security Council has also, on occasion, dealt with the consequences of instability that are caused by, or which exacerbate, social issues unrelated to armed conflict, for example health-related problems95 and problems caused by natural disasters.96 In addition, the Security Council has also dealt with social topics in a more general or abstract manner, making recommendations to member states and non-state actors, such as civil society, and requesting specific actions from other UN bodies.97 The most frequent social themes in Security Council resolutions have been: gender equality and the role of women in armed conflict;98 the role of children99 and youth;100 crime, including transitional justice;101 poverty;102 and health.103

17.34  However, while the Council has been able to take some measures, including the use of peacekeeping, to deal, on rare occasions, with the immediate consequences of sudden social problems that can lead to immediate instability and insecurity, it must also be remembered that the Security Council is not equipped to take measures that will address the structural causes of social problems. Also, though practice has established that the concept of threats to the peace extends beyond international conflicts and inter-state violence, and includes internal conflicts and terrorism, it is not yet settled to what extent the jurisdiction of the Council and the concept of a threat to peace can be expanded to deal with matters that do not relate at all to violence.104

(p. 639) 2.4  Social issues in work of the Secretary-General

17.35  The Secretary-General has undertaken a series of initiatives in an attempt to further the UN’s social objectives. General statements usually highlight such goals and call for specific courses of action, aiming to improve various social conditions. For instance, Secretary-General António Guterres has highlighted issues such as growing social inequality, natural disasters, employment, and education.105 Similarly, former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon often stressed the need to address gender inequality,106 the effects of climate change,107 health,108 and poverty,109 usually under the broader theme of development.110

17.36  The General Assembly, the Security Council, ECOSOC, and other UN bodies have also entrusted the Secretary-General with specific functions conducive to the improvement of social conditions. In particular, the Secretary-General has often been requested to provide expert reports or surveys on the following topics:

crime prevention, including drug control;111 sports as a means to achieve education, health, and development;112 the advancement of women;113 and youth.114 To this end, (p. 640) the Secretary-General has established several expert panels, such as the High-Level Panel of eminent persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda,115 and has delegated tasks to other UN bodies within the UN Secretariat, such as the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and its subdivisions.116 Furthermore, the Secretary-General issues an annual report on the work of the UN, appraising its activities and outlining its future priorities.117 Social themes that have appeared frequently in those reports include: sustainable development; drug control and crime prevention; and development of Africa.118

3.  UN Departments, Programmes, and Offices involved in social issues

3.1  The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs

17.37  DESA’s work falls mainly into three categories: norm-setting, analysis, and capacity-building.119 Over the years, DESA has issued a number of publications, including surveys, reports, working papers, policy briefs, and national development strategies. Since 2008, these documents have focused on the following social themes: public administration; gender; social development; sustainable development; and population.120

17.38  As well as supporting deliberations on social issues in the General Assembly, ECOSOC, and ECOSOC subsidiary bodies, DESA also serves as the Secretariat for (p. 641) conferences, summits, and a range of intergovernmental and expert groups with a social focus.121 DESA’s main priorities are promoting progress towards and strengthening accountability in achieving UN development goals. Furthermore, DESA is responsible for ensuring civil society engagement with the UN through ECOSOC.

17.39  DESA is comprised of various Divisions, including the Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD), the Division for Sustainable Development (DSD), the Population Division, and the Division for Public Administration and Development Management (DPADM).

3.1.1  DESA Division for Social Policy and Development

17.40  The DSPD ‘promotes awareness and understanding of the core social issues of poverty eradication, employment generation and social integration through its analytical and normative work’.122 The ‘issues’ with which the DSPD is concerned are: ageing; civil society; cooperatives; disability; employment and decent work; family; indigenous peoples; poverty eradication; social integration and social inclusion; youth.123

17.41  While certain of these issues fall within the remit of human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and are thus the concern of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), the work undertaken by the DSPD can be contrasted with the primary objective of the CESCR. The latter’s task is to monitor implementation of the ICESCR through both the periodic reporting and individual communication mechanisms,124 whereas the DSPD’s role is mainly promotional. This distinction is exemplified by the work undertaken by the DSPD in the context of the issue of employment and decent work. In that context the DSPD’s objective is to promote productive employment and decent work for all by organizing expert group meetings and panel discussions to highlight this important issue.

17.42  The DSDP also provides support to the CSocD. In addition to its relationship with the Commission, the DSDP launched the United Nations Social Development Network, which includes as one of its purposes

raising awareness of social development initiatives among stakeholders, including academia, civil society and the private sector, creating a dynamic social development network, and reaching out to the public by sharing knowledge, skills and tools.125

(p. 642) 3.1.2  DESA Division for Sustainable Development

17.43  The DSD leads the work of the Secretariat in promoting and coordinating implementation of the sustainable development agenda of the UN, including 17 SDGs set out in Agenda 2030.126 It carries out this work by: providing support to UN intergovernmental processes on sustainable development; analysis and policy development; capacity development at country level; inter-agency coordination; and knowledge management, communication, and outreach.127 It prepares the Secretary-General’s reports on sustainable development topics,128 and also supports member states in preparing their voluntary national reviews.

17.44  The member states’ reviews are considered by ECOSOC’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPFSD), which was established in 2013 and operates under the ‘auspices of the General Assembly and [ECOSOC]’.129

3.1.3  DESA Population Division

17.45  The Population Division was established in 1946 to serve as the Secretariat of ECOSOC’s Population Commission, created in 1946, and now serves as the Secretariat for the CPD.130 Over the years, the Population Division has played an active role in the intergovernmental dialogue on population and development, and has led substantive preparations for the major UN conferences on population and development.131 Much of the work of the Population Division is analytical and, together with the CPD, it produces constantly updated demographic estimates and projections for all countries, as well as developing and disseminating new methodologies. The Division produced data that were essential for the monitoring of the progress in achieving the MDG.132

17.46  The Population Division deals with the same social themes as the CPD, such as youth, ageing, and mortality.133 In addition to its work for the CPD, it provides (p. 643) support to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration and Development.134 It co-chairs the Population cluster of the Executive Committee on Economic and Social Affairs, together with the Population Division of Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.135

3.1.4  DESA Division for Public Administration and Development Management

17.47  The DPADM’s mission is to assist UN member states in strengthening governmental capacity with the aim of promoting sustainable development, advancing public sector reform, and improving service delivery.136 In order to achieve this goal, the DPADM was charged with providing secretariat support to the United Nations Programme in Public Administration.137

3.2  UN Offices dealing with specific social themes

3.2.1  United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

17.48  The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) was created in July 2010 by the General Assembly with the purpose of enhancing the UN’s goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women.138 UN Women was created by merging four separate parts of the UN system, which had dealt with promotion of women and gender equality, and it took on the mandates and functions of those entities.139 UN Women is overseen by a complex multi-tiered intergovernmental governance structure, which involves an Executive Board for the entity, the CSW, ECOSOC, and the General Assembly.140 The operational activities of UN Women are primarily overseen by an Executive Board composed of 41 member states. The CSW on the other hand, provides overall policy guidance to UN Women, which ought to then inform the entity’s operational strategies and activities.141 UN Women submits an annual report to the Commission on the normative aspects (p. 644) of the entity’s work and on its implementation of the policy guidance provided by the Commission.142 It also submits an annual report on operational activities to the Executive Board and to ECOSOC, with the latter submitting the report to the Assembly.143

17.49  UN Women works, amongst other issues, towards: the elimination of discrimination against women and girls (including the elimination of violence against women); the empowerment of women; and the achievement of equality between women and men. The entity performs the institutional task of supporting inter-governmental bodies, such as the CSW, in their formulation of policies, global standards, and norms. Operationally, it also helps member states to implement these standards by providing technical and financial support, and by forging effective partnerships with civil society. Within the UN System, the entity leads and coordinates work on gender equality, as well as promoting accountability, including through regular monitoring of system-wide progress.144

3.2.2  The United Nations Human Settlements Programme

17.50  The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) was established by the Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities.145 It is the focal point for all urbanization and human settlement matters within the UN system. UN Habitat’s first predecessor was the United Nations Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation (UNHHSF), which was created in 1975 by the Assembly as the first official UN body dedicated to urbanization.146 In 1976, when urbanization became a more pressing issue around the globe, the first international UN conference fully dedicated to this issue was held.147 This conference, HABITAT I, resulted in the creation, in 1978, of the other two precursors of UN-Habitat: the United Nations Commission on Human Settlements (an intergovernmental body); and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (commonly referred to as ‘HABITAT’), which served as the executive secretariat of the Commission.148 A Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (HABITAT II) was held in 1996,149 followed by a General Assembly special session in 2001, the latter adopting (p. 645) a Declaration on Cities and Other Human Settlements in the New Millennium.150 A year after that Declaration, HABITAT’s mandate was strengthened and its status elevated to a fully fledged Programme in the UN System, operating as a subsidiary organ of the Assembly.151 The Programme is overseen by a Governing Council composed of 58 members elected by ECOSOC for four-year terms.

17.51  The main social issues arising from urbanization with which UN-Habitat is concerned include: water and sanitation; safety; housing and slum upgrading; gender; youth; city reconstruction; and city planning and design.152 UN-Habitat was also engaged in fulfilling the objectives set out in the Millennium Declaration, in particular the achievement of a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers by the year 2020, and to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by the year 2015.153 UN-Habitat also works with member states to go beyond current targets for ending city slums, by reducing slum populations and improving the lives of slum-dwellers.154

3.2.3  United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes

17.52  The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) was established in 1997 through a merger between the United Nations Drug Control Programme and the Centre for International Crime Prevention.155 It is mandated to oversee and implement the UN’s International Drug Programme and its Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme in an integrated manner, on the understanding that issues of drug control, crime prevention, and international terrorism are interrelated and must be seen in the context of sustainable development and human security.156 It serves as the (p. 646) central drug control entity within the UN, ‘with exclusive responsibility for coordinating and providing effective leadership for all United Nations drug control activities’.157 With respect to international crime prevention and control it is responsible for:

strengthening regional and international cooperation in preventing and combating transnational crime, in particular organized and economic crime, money-laundering, illicit trafficking in women and children, financial crimes and terrorism in all its forms; and promoting effective and fair administration of justice, with due respect for the rights of all those affected by crime or involved in the criminal justice system.158

17.53  The UNODC also serves as a repository for technical expertise of the matters within its mandate, and provides services to the General Assembly, ECOSOC, and the committees and conferences dealing with drug control and crime. The Executive Director of the UNODC acts on behalf of the Secretary-General in fulfilling his/her responsibilities under international treaties and resolutions of the UN with respect to international drug control or crime prevention.159

17.54  The UNODC provides governments and other development partners with specialized assistance and expertise in the adoption and implementation of various conventions, treaties, and protocols, as well as with technical and financial assistance to these governments.160 The UNODC’s works include reports, studies, and online tools, which help to combat crime and other threats to security and health.161 For instance, the UNODC issues an annual report that presents a comprehensive assessment of the international drug problem. This report, which is based on data and estimates collected or prepared by Governments, the UNODC, and other international institutions, attempts to identify trends in the evolution of global illicit drug markets.162 The UNODC is a member of the United Nations Development Group (UNDG).163

3.3  Other UN bodies and permanent Programmes with a role in the improvement of social conditions

17.55  In addition to the bodies already discussed, the following bodies, Offices, or Programmes engage in work that, to varying extents, may have a role in improving social conditions:

  • •  The Executive Committee on Economic and Social Affairs (ECESA), which was established in 1997. The ECESA brings together the heads of various UN entities (including, DESA, the five Regional Commissions of ECOSOC, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United (p. 647) Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), UN-Habitat, UNODC, UN Women, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Nations (OHRLLS), and the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa (OSAA), as well as the research/training institutes such as the United Nations University (UNU), the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR)) to ‘identify ways of pooling resources and services to maximize programme impact and minimize administrative costs and more generally to facilitate joint strategic planning and decision-making’.164

  • •  The Inter-Agency Support Group (IASG) on Indigenous Issues, which is part of the DSPD and is engaged in supporting and promoting the mandate of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues within the UN System. Its main objectives are to provide an opportunity for the exchange of information as regards the Forum’s work on indigenous issues; and to strengthen inter-agency cooperation to promote the human rights and the wellbeing of indigenous peoples.165

  • •  The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), which has the sui generis status of an ‘autonomous United Nations activity’.166 It was established by the UN Secretariat to conduct research into the problems and policies of social development and the relationship between social and economic development during the different phases of economic growth.167 Its research is intended to inform the work of the Secretariat itself, regional commissions and specialized agencies, and national institutions. UNRISD’s stated aim is to ensure that social equity, inclusion, and justice are central to development thinking, policy, and practice.168 To this end, UNRISD:

    • •  focuses on the often neglected social content and impacts of development processes and the role of social institutions, relations, and actors in shaping development policies and pathways;

    • •  engages researchers, policy makers, and civil society actors from around the world in generating and sharing knowledge, in order to shape policy within and beyond the UN System;

    • •  mobilizes and strengthens the research capacity of individuals and institutions in developing countries through collaborative inquiry; and

    • (p. 648) •  provides a space for the exchange of ideas, giving prominence to marginalized viewpoints, often challenging mainstream development thinking and offering alternative policy options.169

  • •  The UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW), which is the UN autonomous research institute devoted to research, training, and knowledge management to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment. It works by building alliances with governments around the world, the UN System, academia, civil society, the private sector, and other actors. All of UN-INSTRAW’s programmes are related to improving the social conditions of women. These are:

    • •  Human security (aiming, inter alia, to end violence against women);

    • •  Development (dealing with, inter alia, the impact of migration on national and community development, and the formation of transnational families; and

    • •  Human Rights (which seeks, inter alia, to strengthen women’s role in politics and decision-making).170

  • •  The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) is another UN autonomous research institute that undertakes important activities in the social field.171 It was originally established in 1967 by the Secretary-General as the United Nations Social Defence Research Institute (UNSDRI),172 following an ECOSOC resolution that outlined its creation, functions, and organizational arrangements. On 24 May 1989, ECOSOC renamed the Institute to the ‘United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute’ and adopted its present Statute, which reaffirms and enlarges the previous mandate.173 UNICRI’s mandate has been to assist intergovernmental and governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in their efforts to formulate and implement improved policies in the fields of crime prevention and justice administration of both juvenile delinquency and adult criminality.174

  • •  The United Nations Human Development Programme (UNDP), is a subsidiary organ of the Assembly. It was created by the Assembly in 1965 as a result of the merger between the United Nations Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance, created in 1949, and the United Nations Special Fund, established in 1958.175 By addressing issues of human development, the UNDP contributes to the (p. 649) improvement of social conditions. In recent years, the UNDP has focused on the following social issues:

    • •  the Millennium Development Goals (including poverty and hunger reduction, the fight against HIV, gender equality and the reduction of child mortality, and the achievement of universal and primary education);

    • •  democratic governance in post-conflict societies; and

    • •  sustainable development (encompassing the connected issues of multidimensional poverty, inequality, exclusion, and sustainability).176

  • The UNDP has a significant field presence, where it works with national governments to meet development challenges and develop local capacity.177 It often plays a coordinating role at field level among UN agencies. One of its significant activities is the issuance of an annual Human Development Report since 1990, which measures and analyses developmental progress.178 In particular, the Human Development Report provides new measurement tools, innovative analysis, and often controversial policy proposals. The UNDP is one of the main UN organs involved in the implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.179

  • •  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which was created by the Assembly on 11 December 1946 to provide emergency food and healthcare to children in countries that had been devastated by World War II.180 In 1953, UNICEF became a permanent Programme of the UN System, and its name was shortened from the original United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, although it retained the original acronym.181 UNICEF is mandated by the Assembly to advocate for the protection of children’s rights, to help meet their basic needs, and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential.182 The most relevant social issues with which UNICEF is concerned include:

    • •  child protection and social inclusion;

    • •  child survival (including immunization, disabilities, nutrition, health, water, sanitation, and hygiene);

    • •  education; and

    • •  gender equality.183

  • (p. 650) UNICEF also seeks to implement the relevant MDGs.184 Most of UNICEF’s work is in the field, with staff in over 190 countries and territories.185 Its main activities include statistics and data-gathering, provision of logistics and supplies, research though its Office of Research—Innocenti, development of social and economic policies, and situation analysis.186

  • •  The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is a joint organ of the UN and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), established for the purpose of addressing hunger and promoting food security. The WFP was first established in 1961 after the 1960 Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Conference.187 It was formally established in 1963 by the FAO and the Assembly on a three-year experimental basis, but the programme was extended on a continuing basis in 1965. Since 1996, the WFP has been overseen by an Executive Board that reports to ECOSOC and the FAO Council.188 The Executive Head of the Programme is appointed jointly by the UN Secretary-General and the Director-General of the FAO. The WFP works to eradicate hunger and poverty, with the ultimate goal of eliminating the need for food aid itself. It is the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger, and provides food to tens of millions of people each year.189

4.  Institutional coordination of UN social action

17.56  As the foregoing analysis indicates, there are numerous organs and divisions within the UN that play a role in improving social conditions. The general mandates and responsibilities of these institutions seem to indicate that coordination on economic, social, and humanitarian issues and the governance of the UN’s operational activities in these areas are undertaken by ECOSOC, under the authority of the Assembly.190

17.57  In more detail, the Assembly usually makes specific requests to ECOSOC and the Secretary-General, while these report back to the Assembly.191 At the same time, in order to fulfil some of the requests of the Assembly, the Security Council and ECOSOC, the Secretary-General resorts to the subdivisions of the Secretariat and establishes ad hoc expert groups.192 The Secretary-General also prepares an annual (p. 651) report of the activities of the UN as a whole.193 Lastly, the Secretariat also has a coordinating role:

  1. (a)  the Deputy Secretary-General helps to manage Secretariat operations and to ensure coherence of activities and programmes;

  2. (b)  four executive committees oversee the organization’s main areas of work (peace and security, economic and social affairs, development operations, and humanitarian affairs); and

  3. (c)  a Senior Management Group chaired by the Secretary-General is the functional equivalent of a ‘Cabinet’.194

17.58  Furthermore, the Assembly and the ECOSOC are assisted by the Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination (OESC) in the performance of their coordination tasks.195 The OESC is a division of the DESA, which is a department of Secretariat.196 In particular, the OESC assists the ECOSOC in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by coordinating efforts to achieve internationally agreed goals.197

17.59  Lastly, the UNDG, which is chaired by the Administrator of the UNDP,198 has an important coordinating function.199 It unites the UN Funds, Programmes, specialized agencies, Departments and Offices that play a role in development in over 150 countries.200 The UNDG operates at different levels. At the global level, its main function is to serve as a high-level forum for joint policy formation and decision-making between those bodies.201 It is also responsible for implementing the existing coordination programme at regional and national levels.202

17.60  To an external observer, the UN institutional network appears to be a rather tangled web, as organs frequently have overlapping functions. In this regard, many commentators have described the UN’s complex structure as highly fragmented, or even as a ‘non’-system,203 while others have expressed the view that such complexity leads to overall inefficiency and ineffectiveness.204

(p. 652) 17.61  Coordination within the Secretariat has been the subject of some criticism. As a result of the growing membership at the UN, coordination within the Senior Management Group became cumbersome. In an attempt to resolve the issue, two executive decision-making committees were established within the Group in 2005: a Policy Committee and a Management Committee. Nonetheless, it is still unclear whether the new committees have improved coordination between the Secretariat’s various Offices and Departments, including those that undertake activities in the social field. The role of the Deputy Secretary-General in enhancing coherence of the UN’s activities in social and economic areas has also been criticized. This is because some of the tasks performed by the Deputy Secretary-General appear to be unconnected with each other,205 as a result of his/her broad responsibility to undertake any assignment as determined by the Secretary-General.206 Lastly, it has been argued that the Secretariat’s ECESA has not helped to create a more cohesive and unified leadership at the operational level in the economic and social fields. This is principally due to its large and heterogeneous membership, coupled with the irregularity of its meetings. Moreover, the production of papers by the ECESA has been infrequent and laborious, particularly as regards the social dimensions of macroeconomic policy.207

17.62  In the 1960s, the so-called Jackson Report proposed a series of efforts to bring about a more efficient alignment of the UN bodies involved in the promotion of social development.208 In 2006, a High-Level Panel on UN System-Wide Coherence, established by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, published its ‘Delivering as One Report’.209 In this report, the Panel identified as problems the fact that ‘there is a large number of overlapping functions, failures of coordination and policy inconsistency within the UN system’.210 The Panel recommended a series of reforms, including the establishment of ‘One United Nations’ at country level (with one leader, one programme, one budget, and, where appropriate, one office for all UN agencies); the creation of the position of UN Development Coordinator (to be exercised by the UNDP Administrator), with responsibility for the performance and accountability of all (p. 653) development activities; and the establishment of a Sustainable Development Board to oversee the One United Nations country Programme.211

17.63  Some of the criticisms regarding coordination within the UN are directed at ECOSOC’s mandate and functions.212 One of the main criticisms of ECOSOC is that it does not have any decision-making functions, in spite of (i) its numerous subsidiary bodies; (ii) the diverse subjects with which it is concerned; (iii) its relationship with many UN specialized agencies; and (iv) its role in implementing the SDGs.213 In fact, without such a decision-making power or a leadership position, it is unlikely that ECOSOC will be able to implement and coordinate the achievement of its SDGs. Along similar lines, commentators have stated that ECOSOC is too large214 and has fallen far short of its envisaged role of coordination and overall direction in the economic and social fields.215 Some have proposed solutions to ECOSOC’s ineffective coordinating role, which vary from its abolition and replacement216 to the strengthening of its function as a coordinator of the various parts of the system and of its subsidiary bodies.217

17.64  The issue of overlapping functions was also identified between ECOSOC, the Second Committee of the General Assembly, and the Trade and Development Board, as an analysis of these bodies’ agendas show that very often the same topics are addressed without any real difference of approach.218 In addition, it is sometimes difficult to characterize ECOSOC’s functions, given the ambiguity of its relationship with the (p. 654) Assembly,219 as defined in Article 60 of the UN Charter.220 In particular, it is difficult to identify which specific coordinating function pertains to each of these two bodies.

17.65  The Assembly’s coordinating role in improving social conditions, particularly as regards its relationship with ECOSOC, has also been criticized. In this regard, some have proposed a better definition of these organs’ mandates so as to avoid any duplication and overlapping.221 More generally, it is argued that the Assembly, although the parent body in the System or the ultimate locus of coordination, has neglected socio-economic and organizational coordination, due to the excess of items in its agenda.222 In this connection, some have proposed that the Assembly’s authority should be enhanced.223 This would be in line with the objective set in paragraph 30 of the Millennium Declaration, which is ‘to restore the central position of the General Assembly as the chief deliberative policy making and representative organ of the UN and to enable it to play its role effectively’.224

17.66  As one commentator has highlighted, authority, purpose, and specialization are key components of coordination.225 Yet the foregoing analysis seems to indicate that there is great confusion as to what the exact functions of UN bodies are in the social field. This is particularly due to the overlap and duplication of these functions. Growing interest in cross-cutting and often vague themes, such as ‘sustainable development’ or ‘human development’, tends to compound this problem.226 Furthermore, there is no clear or effective coordinating authority for the activities of the various UN bodies that have social objectives.227


1  UN Charter, Preamble, para 4.

2  UN Charter, Art 1(3).

3  UN Charter, Art 55(a) and (b).

4  Stoll, ‘Article 55’ in The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary (3rd edn, Simma et al (eds), 2012), 1541.

5  See Kotschnig, ‘The United Nations as an Instrument of Economic and Social Development’ (1968) 22(1) International Organization 16, at 16.

6  UN Charter, Arts 13(b) and 62(1).

7  UN Secretary-General, ‘70 Years—Eight Secretaries-General’, available at http://www.un.org/un70/en/timelines/secretaries-general.

8  UN Secretary-General, ‘The Secretary-General’s Five-Year Action Agenda’, 25 January 2012, available at https://www.un.org/sg/en/priorities/index.shtml.

9  UN Charter, Art 24(1).

10  See, inter alia, SC Res 2313 (2016); SC Res 2282 (2016); SC Res 2250 (2015); SC Res 2122 (2013); and SC Res 1674 (2006).

11  See ch 7, ‘United Nations Specialized Agencies’, particularly section 7, ‘Relationship agreements’.

12  Some important Assembly resolutions that set out the UN’s more specific social goals and actions to achieve them include: GA Res 1710(XVI) (1961), defining the ‘Development Decade’; ‘The Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and the Programme of Action 1995’, being the Outcome Documents of the World Summit for Social Development (WSSD), UN General Assembly, Report of the World Summit for Social Development, UN Doc A/CONF.166/9, 6–12 March 1995; ‘The UN Millennium Declaration’, GA Res 55/2 (2000), particularly section III establishing the Millennium Development Goals; ‘The Future We Want’, GA Res 66/288 (2012), being the Outcome Document of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), 2012; ‘Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, GA Res 70/1 (2015), establishing 17 specific Sustainable Development Goals.

13  See ch 18, ‘Improving Economic Wellbeing’; Kotschnig, n 5, 16.

14  Stoll, n 4, 1545, para 36.

15  See the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and Programme of Action of the Word Summit for Social Development, UN Doc A/CONF 166/9, 19 April 1995.

17  Kotschnig, n 5, 22; DuBois, ‘New Directions in the Social Development Programme of the United Nations’ (1966) 9(3) International Social Work 21; Stoll, n 4, 1545, paras 34–5.

18  See Stoll, n 4, 1545, para 35. That the concept of ‘development’ as used within the UN is confined to improving the situation of developing countries can be seen in the fact that many of the commitments contained in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted under the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ (GA Res 70/1 (2015) and n 12) apply to states regardless of their level of development. See Langford, ‘Lost in Transformation? The Politics of the Sustainable Development Goals’ (2016) 30 Ethics & International Affairs 167.

19  The UN Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, developed the concept of sustainable development. The summit adopted the ‘Rio Declaration on Environment and Development’, UN Doc A/CONF 151/26 (1992) (vol I), which proclaims that ‘In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it’ (Principle 4). The summit also adopted Agenda 21, UN Doc A/CONF 151/26 (1992), which sets out a comprehensive plan of action with regard to sustainable development.

20  The MDGs are contained in Section III of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, GA Res 55/2 (2000). The Declaration was adopted by all 189 states then members of the UN, with 147 of them represented at the summit that adopted the Declaration by their Heads of State and Governments. As adopted, there were eight goals and 18 targets, which were to be achieved by 2015. The eight goals are: eradicating extreme hunger and poverty; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development. Emphasis was put on monitoring progress towards achievement of the goals and on measuring that progress. Within a year of the adoption of the goals and targets, 48 indicators for monitoring progress towards their achievement were adopted by consensus by experts from the UN, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the World Bank. See Report of the Secretary-General, Road map towards the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, UN Doc A/56/326, 6 September 2001, Annex 1, pp 55–8. See also at http://mdgs.un.org. In 2007, the MDG framework was revised to include four new targets agreed by member states at the 2005 World Summit (GA Res 60/1 (2005)), and recommended, in 2006, by the Secretary-General in his report on the work of the Organization (see Secretary-General, Report on the work of the Organization, UN Doc A/61/1, 16 August 2006, para 24). In 2007, the General Assembly took note of the Secretary-General’s report in which he presented the new framework, including the indicators to monitor progress towards the new targets, as recommended by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on MDG Indicators (IAEG). See at http://mdgs.un.org/unsd/mdg/Host.aspx?Content=Indicators/OfficialList.htm.

Each year, the UN prepared a report on progress achieved towards implementing the goals, based on data relating to the indicators, aggregated at global and regional levels. See at http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/reports.shtml.

21  See Langford, n 18, 169. On the achievements made during the period of the MDGs, see United Nations, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 (United Nations 2015). For criticisms of the MDGs, see Pogge, ‘The First United Nations Millennium Development Goal: A Cause for Celebration?’, (2004) 5 Journal of Human Development 377; Amnesty International, From Promises to Delivery: Putting Human Rights at the Heart of the Millennium Development Goals(2010), & Saith, ‘From Universal Values to Millennium Development Goals: Lost in Translation’, (2006) 37 Development and Change 1167. Some of criticisms were that: some of the targets were unambitious, and were easily met by middle-income countries; that progress was uneven across countries; and that some of the indicators set for various targets were limited, thus creating perverse incentives for implementation.

22  The SDGs were adopted by the General Assembly in ‘Transforming our World: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, GA Res 70/1 (2015). The Agenda calls on member states to achieve 17 goals and 169 targets by 2030. The commitments apply to states without regard to their level of development, and cover economic, social, and environmental issues. The 17 goals aim to achieve: no poverty; no hunger; good health; quality education; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; sustainable industrialization and innovation; reduced inequalities; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; urgent action to tackle climate change; unpolluted oceans; sustainable action on land; peace, justice, and strong institutions; and partnerships to achieve the goals. See at http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/. The follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda is the primary responsibility of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). See Report of the Secretary-General, Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, UN Doc E/2016/75, 3 June 2016, in which the Secretary-General outlined progress made with respect to each of the 17 SDGs.

23  For a list, see at http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/what-we-do/conferences.html. These major conferences and summits include the World Conferences on Women held in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985), and Beijing (1995); the 1990 World Summit for Children; the 1990 World Conference on Education for all; the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janiero; the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development; the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women; the UN Conferences on Human Settlement (HABITAT I & II); the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples; the 2016 General Assembly High-Level Meeting on the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS +10); and the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit.

24  See n 12.

25  See General Assembly, 24th Special Session, Agenda Item 9, GA Res S-24/2 (2000).

26  Following the 2000 World Summit for Social Development, the Assembly adopted an outcome document that reaffirmed the Copenhagen Declaration, and which proposed further initiatives for social development and methods to achieve the same, including, for instance, ‘[e]nsur[ing] appropriate and effective expenditure of resources for universal access to basic education and primary health care’, ‘[s]trengthening mechanisms for the participation of all people, and promot[ing] cooperation and dialogue among all levels of government and civil society as contributions to social integration’, and ‘[r]eassess[ing], as appropriate, [member states’] macroeconomic policies with the aim of greater employment generation and reduction in the poverty level while striving for and maintaining low inflation rates’ (GA Res S-24/2 (2000)).

27  The 1995 Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development pledged to make the conquest of poverty, the goal of full employment, and the fostering of social integration overriding objectives of development. See particularly paras 2, 6, 9, and 16 of the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development in the Final Report of the World Summit for Social Development (The Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action), UN Doc A/CONF 166/9, UN World Summit for Social Development 1995, at http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/wssd/text-version/. Five years on, world leaders reconvened in Geneva in June 2000, to review what had been achieved, and to commit themselves to new initiatives.

The Millennium Declaration that contained the MDGs was adopted following the 2000 Millennium Summit, with the 55th session of the General Assembly (2000) designated as ‘The Millennium Assembly of the United Nations’. On the MDGs, see n 20.

In 2013, noting that the deadline for the attainment of those goals (2015) was drawing closer, the President of the General Assembly hosted a special event to follow up on efforts made towards achieving the MDGs. Following this event, member states undertook to ‘intensify all efforts for [the MDGs’] achievement by 2015’ and to hold a high-level summit in 2015 to adopt a post-2015 development agenda, which would ‘reinforce the international community’s commitment to poverty eradication and sustainable development’. See General Assembly, ‘Outcome document of the special event to follow up efforts made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals’, 68th session, Agenda Items 14 and 118, UN Doc A/68/L.4*, available at https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/758308.

28  See n 22.

29  UN Charter, Art 14(b).

30  Some important examples are the resolutions referred to in n 12.

31  See, inter alia, GA Res 49 (I) A–C (1946); GA Res 49 (I) A (1946); GA Res 4 (I) (1946); GA Res 123 (II) (1947); GA Res 119 (II) (1947); GA Res 280 (III) (1949).

32  See, in particular, GA Res 1675 (XVI) (1961).

33  GA Res 278 (III) (1949).

34  GA Res 395 (V) (1950); GA Res 554 (VI) (1952).

35  GA Res 2542 (XXIV) (1969).

36  GA Res 417 (V) (1950).

37  GA Res 2497(XXIV) (1969).

38  GA Res 401 (V) (1950); GA Res 524 (VI) (1952); GA Res 625 (VII) A–B (1952).

39  GA Res 537 (VI) (1952); GA Res 2598 (XXIV) (1969).

40  GA Res 532 (VI) A (1952); GA Res 1163 (XII) (1957); GA Res 1162 (XII) (1957); GA Res 2263 (XXII) (1967).

41  GA Res 525 (VI) (1952); GA Res 1714 (XVI) (1961).

42  GA Res 527 (VI) (1952); GA Res 308 (IV) (1949).

43  GA Res 1677 (XVI) (1961).

44  See GA Res 1710 (XVI) (1961), proclaiming the 1960s the ‘United Nations Development Decade’. During the Decade, developing countries were to set their own targets of a minimum annual growth rate of 5 per cent of aggregate national income. In addition, the Assembly also called for accelerated measures to eliminate illiteracy, hunger, and disease. As set out in para 17.10, the General Assembly, in 2000 and 2015, adopted the MDGs and the SDGs, respectively.

45  See, inter alia, GA Res 1838 (XVII) (1962); GA Res 2264 (XXII) B (1967).

46  GA Res 71/162 (2016) (see ‘General Assembly Adopts 50 Third Committee Resolutions, as Diverging Views on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity Animate Voting’, 19 December 2016, at https://www.un.org/press/en/2016/ga11879.doc.htm).

47  See, eg, GA Res 70/182 (2015).

48  See, eg, GA Res 71/161 (2016); GA Res 71/160 (2016); GA Res 71/159 (2016); GA Res 70/183 (2015).

49  See, eg, GA Res 70/170 (2015).

50  See, eg, GA Res 70/205 (2015).

51  The Second Committee is responsible for economic issues; and to the extent that, as discussed in section 1.2, ‘The “social” issues addressed by the UN’, there is an overlap between economic and social issues, the Second Committee will also deal with some social issues. See generally, ch 18, ‘Improving Economic Wellbeing’.

52  See Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations, The PGA Handbook: A Practical Guide to the United Nations General Assembly (2011), 65.

53  For example, in 2016 the General Assembly adopted 50 resolutions and eight decisions recommended by the Third Committee on issues such as gender, the death penalty, digital privacy, the question of refugees, racism, human rights, crime prevention, drug control, literacy, and the family. See GA Res 71/162 (2016) (see ‘General Assembly Adopts 50 Third Committee Resolutions, as Diverging Views on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity Animate Voting’, 19 December 2016, at https://www.un.org/press/en/2016/ga11879.doc.htm). At its second plenary meeting, on 16 September 2016, the General Assembly determined to include in the agenda of its 70th session, and allocate to the Third Committee, the item entitled ‘Social development’, which included: (i) Social development, including questions relating to the world social situation and to youth, ageing, disabled persons, and the family; (ii) Literacy for life: shaping future agendas (see UN General Assembly, UN Doc A/71/252, 16 September 2016, p 14).

Similarly, in its 2015 Report, ‘General Assembly, Report of the third Committee: Social Development, Seventieth Session, Agenda Item 28’, UN Doc A.70/481, 1 December 2015, the Third Committee recommended a number of draft resolutions to the Assembly, including on social inclusion policies and programmes involving youth, and cooperatives in social development. The Assembly subsequently adopted each of these draft resolutions.

54  For example, in 2015: ‘At the seventieth session of the General Assembly, the Third Committee considered over 65 draft resolutions, more than half of which were submitted under the human rights agenda item alone. These included three so-called country-specific resolutions on human rights situations. The Third Committee is expected to consider a similar number of draft resolutions during the [71st] … session of the General Assembly’ (Social, Humanitarian & Cultural—Third Committee, available at http://www.un.org/en/ga/third/).

55  The report of the HRC is allocated both to the Third Committee and to the Plenary of the General Assembly. As with other agenda items shared between committees, the General Committee of the Assembly recommends which aspect of the item is considered by which committee. See The PGA Handbook, n 52, 38 and 65.

58  For a fuller discussion of the functional and regional commissions, including their institutional features such as membership, see ch 6, ‘Subsidiary Organs’.

59  ECOSOC Res 1992/1.

60  ECOSOC Res 1992/22. The CCPCJ has stated: ‘In developing normative frameworks which prevent and mitigate corruption, transnational organised crime, the trafficking in persons, as well as protect victims, and address the impact of crime and violence on women and children—the Commission has worked to protect the most vulnerable individuals and improve development prospects across societies. This speaks to the universality of the work of the CCPCJ as well as one of the sustainable development agenda’s highest ambitions: to give every person the access to the safety and justice necessary to contribute to the growth, employment, health, education, institutional strengthening and integrity goals of their own societies’ (Note on Contribution of the Commission on Crime Prevention to the 2016 High-Level Forum on Sustainable Development on ‘Ensuring that no one is left behind’, 23 May 2016).

61  ECOSOC Res 9(I) (1946).

62  ECOSOC Res 1999/30.

63  UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Note on the Contribution of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to the 2016 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development on ‘Ensuring that no one is left behind’, 23 May 2016. This society-centred approach to combatting the world drug problem was reiterated by the Assembly in its Outcome Document following its Special Session on the World Drug Problem in 2016.

64  See ECOSOC Res 11(II)(1946).

65  ibid.

66  In addition to conducting the initial work for the elaboration of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted by GA Res 34/180 (1979), the Commission (or Working Groups or committees of the Commission) has also prepared a number of other conventions and declarations. These include: the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, adopted by the General Assembly on 20 December 1952; the Convention on the Nationality o