The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law

« Calling things by the wrong name adds to the affliction of the world. » Albert Camus.

The Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC)

One of the six principal organs of the UN, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is the central UN forum for international economic and social issues. The Council coordinates the economic and social work of the UN system, which engages 70 percent of the system’s human and financial resources. All of the UN specialized agencies (e.g., the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization), as well as all of the UN programs and funds (e.g., UNICEF and the World Food Program), report to ECOSOC.

Established under Chapter 10 of the UN Charter, ECOSOC is the primary organ for promoting higher standards of living, full employment, and economic and social progress; solutions of international economic, social, health, and related problems; international cultural and educational cooperation; and universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Council is the principal UN forum for discussing economic and social issues and for formulating policy recommendations. It plays a key role in fostering international cooperation for development and in setting priorities for action. It also offers NGOs the opportunity to bring their expertise to the UN through the consultative status that it grants them (Art. 71 of UN Charter), thereby maintaining a vital link between the UN and civil society.

The Council has fifty-four member countries, elected by the General Assembly for three-year terms. Seats on the Council are allotted based on geographical representation, with fourteen allocated to African States, eleven to Asian States, six to Eastern European States, ten to Latin American and Caribbean States, and thirteen to Western European and other States. Voting is by simple majority; each country has one vote (Art. 61 of UN Charter). It meets for one month each year, alternating its session between New York and Geneva. A special meeting of ministers discusses the most pressing economic and social issues. Beginning in 1998, the Council expanded its discussions to include humanitarian matters. The year-round work of the Council is carried out in its subsidiary bodies, which meet regularly and report back to the Council.

At the 2005 World Summit, heads of State and government mandated the Economic and Social Council to hold Annual Ministerial Reviews (AMR) and a biennial Development Cooperation Forum (DCF). The objective of the AMR is to assess progress in achieving the internationally agreed development goals (IADGs) arising out of the major conferences and summits. It consists of an annual thematic review and national voluntary presentations on progress and challenges toward achieving these goals. The objective of the DCF is to enhance the coherence and effectiveness of activities of different development partners. By reviewing trends and progress in international development cooperation, the Forum is to provide policy guidance and recommendations to improve the quality and impact of development cooperation.

The Council’s current program of work focuses on enhancing dialogue with international financial and trade institutions; enhancing international development cooperation; improving economic, humanitarian, and disaster-relief assistance; mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programs of the United Nations; improving sustainable development and social development; as well as fostering the system of crime prevention and criminal justice.

Committee on economic, social, and cultural rightsNGOsUnited NationsUnited Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


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