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UN Membership: Introduction

United Nations Membership

UN Charter, Chapter II, Articles 3-6 concern Membership in the UN. Only states can be members of the United Nations.

Membership in different organs of the UN varies.

Membership of the principal organs is determined by the Charter of the United Nations and the Statute of the International Court of Justice:

  • According to the UN Charter, Article 9, "The General Assembly shall consist of all the Members of the United Nations"
  • According to the UN Charter, Article 23, "The Security Council shall consist of fifteen Members of the United Nations"; there are five permanent members and ten non-permanent members, five of which are elected each year by the General Assembly for a two-year term
  • According to UN Charter, Article 61, "The Economic and Social Council shall consist of fifty-four Members of the United Nations elected by the General Assembly"; eighteen Members are elected each year for a three-year term
  • According to the Statute of the International Court of Justice, Chapter I, Articles 2-33, the ICJ is composed of fifteen "independent judges, elected regardless of their nationality from among persons of high moral character, who possess the qualifications required in their respective countries for appointment to the highest judicial offices, or are jurisconsults of recognized competence in international law"; five members are elected every three years for nine year terms. The General Assembly and Security Council independently elect the judges and candidates must obtain an absolute majority in both organs

In accordance with the Charter, the General Assembly (Article 22), Security Council (Article 29) and the Economic and Social Council (Article 68) may establish subsidiary organs.The decision to establish a subsidiary organ (also called the mandate) usually includes:

  • Type of members: e.g. states or individuals serving in personal capacity
  • Number of members
  • Distribution of seats according to equitable geographical distribution among the regional groups
  • Method of electing members
  • Length of term of membership
  • Example: A/RES/60/251 establishing the Human Rights Council

Additional Resources

Websites, research guides, and FAQs with more information.

Security Council Membership

According to the UN Charter, Article 23, "The Security Council shall consist of fifteen Members of the United Nations"

The Security Council has 15 members:

  • Five permanent members with veto power:
    • China
    • France
    • Russian Federation
    • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
    • United States of America
  • Ten non-permanent members, five of which are elected each year by the General Assembly for a two-year term

In 1963, the General Assembly recommended an amendment to the Charter to increase the membership of the Security Council

  • A/RES/1991 (XVIII) of 17 December 1963
  • Entered into force on 31 August 1965
  • Increased membership from 11 to 15

Economic and Social Council Membership

According to UN Charter, Article 61, "The Economic and Social Council shall consist of fifty-four Members of the United Nations elected by the General Assembly". 

The Economic and Social Council has 54 members

  • 18 members are elected by the General Assembly each year for a three-year term

The Charter has been amended twice to increase the membership of the Economic and Social Council

  • Originally 18 members
  • A/RES/1991 (XVIII) of 17 December 1963 recommended amending the Charter
    • Entered into force 31 August 1965
    • Increased membership to 27
  • A/RES/2847 (XXVI) of 20 December 1971 recommended amending the Charter
    • Entered into force 12 October 1973
    • Increased membership to 54

Human Rights Council Membership

According to A/RES/60/251, the Human Rights Council consists of forty-seven Member States elected by the General Assembly for three year terms.

The Human Rights Council has 47 members

Membership, Participation and Observer Status

In the context of the Charter, membership and participation in the UN are different. Articles 31-32 concern participation in the Security Council by states. Articles 69-71 concern participation in the Economic and Social Council by states, specialized agencies and non-governmental organizations. 

In addition, the General Assembly has an established practice of granting observer status to states and intergovernmental organizations, see decision 49/426 in A/49/49 (Vol. I), page 341.

To research these matters further, consult secondary sources about the organ or the article of the Charter. For example, the Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council has a section on the Council's role in membership as well as section on participation in the Council

Regional Groups

Regional groups in the UN are groups of states that, among other discussions, coordinate nomination of candidates for election to various bodies.The major regional groups are the Group of African States, the Group of Asian States, the Group of Eastern European States, the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, and the Group of Western European and Other States.

The Journal of the United Nations announces the monthly chairs of the regional groups, as well as a wealth of other information.

Additional Resources