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UN Economic and Social Council

On January 23, 1946, the first session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was held.  Almost 68 years later, ECOSOC is still grappling with the world’s economic, social and environmental challenges.  The broad categorization is daunting, especially since the Council and its subsidiary bodies are responsible for about 70 percent of the entire U.N. human and financial resources.  The span of ECOSOC encompasses economic, social, cultural, educational and health concerns, according to the U.N. Charter.  The Council’s subsidiary bodies demonstrate the diversity under ECOSOC’s umbrella of responsibility: U.N. Forum on Forests, Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Commission for Social Development, and the various regional commissions.

The U.N. General Assembly elects the 54 member-governments, with each region allocated a certain number of seats.  The U.S.’ three year term began in 2012 and will end in 2015.  The Colombian representative is currently President, with four Vice-Presidents from Albania, Austria, Pakistan and Sudan.  The year 2013 has seen major reform efforts from the Council, aiming to make ECOSOC more effective, more issues-oriented, and more responsive.  For example, the Commission on Sustainable Development held its final session in September after it was slated to be dismantled due to lack of progress in its sector.  The chairperson acknowledged that though the Commission greatly influenced the 21st century environmental goals, it did not create the change sought out by the larger Council.

As a result of its extensive areas of focus, ECOSOC is one of the most important humanitarian bodies in the United Nations.  One of the early acts by ECOSOC was to adopt the Commission on Human Rights’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an early stepping-stone in the path to equality.  The current reforms mark an important return to an issue-centered approach that many hope will lead to greater progress in the subsidiary bodies’ foci.

Katey Baker-Smith

Sources: UN News Centre, UNISDR