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Research Guides

UN Documentation: Secretariat

Activities of the Secretariat

The UN Secretariat carries out a wide range of activities around the world. The Secretariat is broadly organized into departments and offices by topic (e.g. political affairs, legal affairs, public information), with specialized divisions and units within each larger department. There are also regional offices (e.g. UN Office at Geneva, UN Office at Nairobi).

Over time, the structure of the Secretariat has evolved to reflect the changing needs of the Organization. The first resolution on the Organization of the Secretariat was A/RES/13 (I) of 13 February 1946.

Most programmes and activities carried out by the Secretariat are mandated by a principal organ. An organ's request for an activity or programme often includes a request for a report of the Secretary-General on the actions carried out to fulfill the mandate. The mandate may not specify which department should carry out the activity.

Research on the activities of a particular department, office, division or unit, can be complicated due to changes in name, reporting structure and/or size. In general, identify the time period of interest then use secondary or reference resources to find UN primary materials. Some suggestions for starting research on the Secretariat are:

  • Yearbook of the United Nations
  • Everyone's United Nations
  • Blue Books (on various topics)
  • UN Telephone Directories 
    • Document series symbol: ST/CS/--
  • UN Documents
    • see box "Documentation related to the Secretariat"

Resources and Links

Documentation related to the Secretariat

The Secretariat performs many activities in a wide variety of areas, from servicing meetings to serving in peacekeeping operations. Much of the work of the Secretariat is reflected in documentation about the activities of the organization.  

Key documents related to the Secretariat are:​

  • Report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization
    • symbol pattern: A/session/1
    • example: A/72/1
    • summarizes major activities of the UN around the world
    • cites to other reports with more in-depth information
    • Supplement 1 of the General Assembly Official Records (GAOR)
  • Report of the Secretary-General on the Composition of the Secretariat
    • example: A/72/123
    • provides statistics on nationality, gender, age and other demographic information
      • as of 2014, there are about 40,000 Secretariat staff members
      • about half work in field operations and half in non-field operations
  • Budget documents
  • Secretary-General reports to the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and Security Council
  • Administrative issuances
    • concern the internal administration of the Secretariat
    • document series symbol: ST/--
    • key series of Administrative Issuances include:
      • Secretary-General Bulletin: ST/SGB/--
        • e.g. Regulations, rules, organization of departments, etc.
      • Administrative Instruction: ST/AI/--
        • e.g. Young professionals programme, staff selection system, family leave, rest and recuperation, etc
      • Information Circular: ST/IC/--
        • e.g. No smoking policy, revised salary scales, index to administrative issuances, etc.
    • the annual "Index of Administrative Issuances" includes a subject index of documents in force at the beginning of each year
    • the UN Human Resources Handbook links to relevant administrative issuances

Resources and Links

Mandate of a UN Secretariat Department, Office or Division

To find the original mandate of a UN Secretariat department, office or division can be challenging.

Since the first General Assembly resolution on the Organization of the Secretariat (A/RES/13 (I) of 13 Feb. 1946), the structure and mandates of many parts of the Secretariat have been modified, expanded, re-organized, and otherwise modified. In some cases, the General Assembly adopts a resolution endorsing a new department. In other cases, the Secretary-General may submit information within the proposed programme budget and the General Assembly resolution adopting the budget may not explicitly mention the name of the department or office.

In some cases, the Secretary-General's Bulletin on the Organization of the Secretariat and the related documents issued for each office may provide the mandate.

To get started on researching the mandate of a UN Secretariat department, office or division, check the following:

  • Department website
  • United Nations Handbook
  • Yearbook of the United Nations
  • UNBISnet, the Library's catalogue
    • ST/SGBs with title "Organization of ..."
    • Resolutions with subject "Department of ..."

Historic Note

The symbol assigned to the Organization of the Secretariat Manuals has changed over the years. We have the following information in our files:

  • 1945: UNPC/EX 113/Rev.1
  • 1951: ST/AFS/2
  • 1959: ST/SGB/122 (ST/ADM/1)
  • 1960: ST/SGB/123
  • 1961: ST/SGB/124
  • 1964: ST/SGB/128
  • 1966: ST/SGB/131
  • 1974: ST/SGB/Organization

Links