The UN Specialised Agencies

From human rights to world hunger, children, health and labour; different focuses for different organisations

Many specialised agencies are part of the United Nations complex. From science to culture, from education to health, there are many issues and activities.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is the body primarily dedicated to the promotion and guarantee of human rights. Along with this, there are other key UN organisations and we will briefly get to know them.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, known by experts as the OHCHR, is the main UN-branded agency dealing with human rights universally. Through its advocacy activities and subsequent supervision and implementation, the OHCHR ensures that the rights recognised by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and confirmed by international law are guaranteed. In addition to this, the High Commissioner also acts as a secretariat for the other institutions within the UN that deal with human rights, namely the Human Rights Council, the Group of Independent Experts and the committees monitoring the implementation of the main human rights treaties. This important institution is based in Switzerland, in Geneva.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, is the UN agency known for its many activities to save the lives and rights of the world's refugees, stateless persons and displaced persons. UNHCR works with OHCHR, as well as other agencies, to ensure that the rights of refugees are fully guaranteed and respected. OHCHR's expertise in this context helps to understand and ensure respect for human rights. It is headquartered in the United States, in New York.

The United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs, abbreviated to UNOCHA, coordinates the humanitarian action of the various UN agencies. As well as managing the fund for humanitarian emergencies, it frequently organises meetings and conferences on humanitarian crises and specific topics. The agency is also headquartered in New York.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation, better known as FAO, aims to overcome the serious problem of world hunger. Through the creation of agreements and the study of specific initiatives, the organisation helps both developing and developed countries. Together with the FAO, when we talk about food in the world, we also refer to the WFP, the World Food Programme. The so-called World Food Programme is the UN agency responsible for combating hunger by distributing essential foodstuffs to the world's hungry. These include not only the poor, but also returnees, displaced persons, refugees, those affected by civil conflicts and environmental disasters. Joining them is the International Fund for Agricultural Development, or IFAD. This is another organisation in the sector, joining FAO and WFP. The three cooperate in the fight against world hunger, and their headquarters are in Rome, Italy.

The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, is the organisation responsible for assisting populations mostly from developing countries or in crisis situations. The main fields of application of this fund are population and development, reproductive health problems, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases in order to promote health. It is based in the United States, in New York.

The Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS, UNAIDS, pools resources to help combat and prevent the spread of HIV. The main activities, aimed at assisting people at risk and those affected by AIDS worldwide, seek to take effective action against the epidemic. For example, spreading useful information, advancing guidelines, monitoring and assessing infection are key activities in the fight against this serious problem. The Programme is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, simply known as UNESCO, fosters contact between cultures through the promotion of peace and development and through education, culture, science, information and communication. Its headquarters are in Paris, France.

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, is the world agency par excellence for defending children's rights. The organisation was originally set up to provide assistance to children in countries affected by the Second World War, and today it is committed to providing humanitarian support and assistance to children and their mothers. Its main activities are characterised by child development; child protection; basic education; and the promotion of children's rights. UNICEF's headquarters are in the United States, in New York.

The World Health Organisation, known as WHO, is the main international institution responsible for health issues. As confirmed by its intervention during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is responsible for: preventing and combating epidemics; improving the health, hygiene and environmental conditions of people around the world; conducting research and advancing health standards and guidelines; and providing health care when governments request it in a situation of need. The WHO is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

The International Labour Organisation, abbreviated to ILO, is the oldest of the United Nations specialised organisations. Its aim is to promote employment issues, including equal employment opportunities for women and men, in accordance with the principles of equality, freedom, security and human dignity. The headquarters of this organisation are also located in Geneva.

The United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, is the organisation that aims to stimulate the development of the countries that have access to resources, knowledge and experience within this network. Within this network, countries cooperate to find the best solutions to development challenges with the help of competent staff. The programme is based in New York, USA.

The World Bank, WB, together with the International Monetary Fund, IMF, aims to provide technical and financial assistance to developing countries and to help people to achieve sustainable development. In addition to promoting international monetary cooperation and trade, the IMF aims to combat poverty and promote economic growth. The sharing of resources, skills and knowledge, as well as the possibility of forming partnerships, are the main activities carried out. The World Bank Group is headquartered in Washington D.C., USA.

Translated by Francesca Cioffi

Original version by Sofia Abourachid

The sources used to edit this article can be consulted freely:

Agenzie specializzate in ambito Nazioni Unite. Centro di Ateneo per i Diritti Umani “Antonio Papisca”, Università degli Studi di Padova

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UN System. United Nations

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). United Nations Brussels

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  • L'Autore

    Sofia Abourachid

    Dottoressa in Scienze Politiche, Relazioni Internazionali e Diritti Umani con Laurea acquisita presso l’Università degli Studi di Padova.

    Dottoressa Magistrale in Relazioni Internazionali curriculum di Diplomazia e Organizzazioni Internazionali con Laurea acquisita presso l’Università degli Studi di Milano.

    Appassionata di diritti umani e di tutto ciò che concerne il sociale, tra cui tematiche di uguaglianze di genere, minori, donne, immigrati e terzo settore. Altrettanto appassionata di storia e di politica internazionale, così come di formazione, comunicazione, e percorsi di motivazione.

    Con la sua storia, le origini arabe, e skills personali, in Mondo Internazionale ha ricoperto la carica di Project Manager per il progetto TrattaMI Bene; oggi, oltre ad essere Editor, ricopre il ruolo di Chief Editor dell'area Diritti Umani.


    Graduated in Political Science, International Relations and Human Rights with a Degree from the University of Padua.

    Master's Degree in International Relations, Diplomacy and International Organizations
    curriculum with a Degree from the University of Milan.

    She is interested in human rights and everything related to social issues, including gender equality, minors, women, immigrants and the third sector. She is equally passionate about history and international politics, as well as training, communication, motivation and personal growth.

    With her personal history, her arab origins, and personal skills, in Mondo Internazionale she held the role of Project Manager for the TrattaMI Bene project; today, in addition to being Editor, she also holds the role of Chief Editor of the Human Rights area.


From the World Sections Human Rights International Organizations


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