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UN Glossary for beginners



38th floor: In the main building of the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the 38th floor was occupied (before the current renovations) by the offices of the Secretary-General and his cabinet. The metonym “this comes from the 38th floor” means that the item in question comes from the Secretary-General’s office.

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UN Headquarters in New York - UN Photo/UN Photo/Mark Garten


3G (Global Governance Group): Created in 2009, at the instigation of Singapore and as a response to the structuring of the G20 at the level of Heads of State, the 3G gathers 28 non-member states of the G20. Its objective is to voice, through a constructive dialogue, the position of the non-member states of the G20 on matters decided upon by the G20. The 3G advocates a G20 that is “more consultative, inclusive and transparent,” namely through UN-framed consultation.

Absent (from a vote) : Said of a delegation that does not cast a vote. It may be in the room but either not entitled, or choosing not, to vote.


ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative (Alliance since 2009) for the Peoples of Our America): ALBA was created in December 2004 at the instigation of Venezuela and Cuba in order to act as a counterbalance to the economic model proposed by the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). It aims to promote political, social and economic cooperation between socialist countries in Latin America and the Caribbean and establishes the State as an engine for economic development and as a market regulator. ALBA currently has 9 member countries: Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Dominica, Ecuador, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The member countries regularly coordinate with each other at the United Nations with respect to economic and development issues.

Acclamation : A procedure whereby a conference adopts a proposal without a vote, all delegations having indicated their support for it, e.g. by applause.

Amendment : A modification to a proposal (draft resolution, decision or other text) under debate or negotiation, formally proposed by someone other than the sponsor(s) of the proposal.

AOSIS : Alliance of Small Island States. A caucus group of 43 small island and low-lying coastal States in the climate change negotiations. Has also functioned at a number of other conferences in the UN system. www.sidsnet.org/aosis


Arria (or “Arria Formula”): Under Security Council practice, only delegations, government representatives and UN officials are authorized to speak during sessions and consultations of the Council. In 1992, during the crisis in former Yugoslavia, Venezuelan Ambassador Diego Arria by-passed this restriction by inviting Security Council members to gather over coffee in the delegates’ lounge in order to listen to the story of a Bosnian priest. This practice has since then been put to general use, and the “Arria Formula” now allows Security Council members to hear, during informal meetings outside the Council Chambers, people whose expertise may be helpful to the Council.

Burden-sharer: designates the delegation which is responsible, at the General Assembly, for the negotiations for a resolution on behalf of the European Union, when this delegation is neither the EU delegation nor the delegation of the country holding the presidency of the EU.

C34 (or Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations): is a committee of the General Assembly created in 1965 and whose mandate is to carry out a comprehensive study each year on the issue of peacekeeping operations.

Chapter VII: Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, entitled “Action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression,” authorizes the Security Council to impose enforcement measures (sanctions, use of force), in the case of failure of Chapter VI (which deals with “Peaceful settlement of disputes”). It is the keystone of the collective security system. The commonly used phrase is “Chapter VII resolution.”

Committees of the General Assembly (GA): Due to the large number of issues it must address, the United Nations General Assembly divides the items on its agenda between six main committees. Resolutions adopted by the committees are then adopted in plenary meetings.

- The First Committee is concerned with disarmament and international security.

- The Second Committee deals with economic and financial issues.

- The Third Committee is concerned with social, humanitarian and cultural issues.

- The Fourth Committee, dubbed “The Special Political and Decolonization Committee,” deals with all issues not dealt with by the other committees.

- The Fifth Committee deals with administrative and budgetary matters.

- The Sixth Committee deals with legal matters.

Committee on Information: Dealing with the United Nations public information policies and activities. www.un.org/ga/coi/


Consensus: A text is said to be adopted by consensus when all the members of the organ tasked with taking the decision give their tacit consent. No voting takes place. Consensus differs from unanimity which is an explicit agreement, resulting from a vote in which all members cast a vote. In summary: a consensus is obtained without voting when no one opposes the decision, and unanimity is when everyone agrees and votes in favour of the text.

Co-sponsor or co-author: Co-sponsors are member States which commit, through their sponsorship, to voting for a resolution. Their names appear at the top of the resolution document.

Expert: An expert is a diplomat of a permanent mission, usually at the level of first secretary, in charge of a particular issue. The Permanent Mission of France has some thirty experts (3 responsible for African issues, 3 responsible for human rights, etc.). An expert meeting brings together diplomats from a number of missions in charge of the same issue.

Explanation of vote (EOV), explanation of position: When a text is adopted by the General Assembly or the Security Council, Member States have the opportunity to explain their national position and the reasons for their vote before (explanation of position) or after (explanation of vote) it. These statements have primarily political purposes and may be intended to recall an essential element of the negotiation or something that the Member State considers poorly reflected in the compromise text.

Facilitator: At the United Nations, a facilitator is a diplomat who volunteers to lead unofficial negotiations on a draft resolution and to work toward obtaining a consensus. In case of a deadlock, the facilitator offers, if necessary, a compromise proposal. In order to ensure impartiality, there are often two designated facilitators, one from a Western country, and another from the South (from the G77, see definition). They are called co-facilitators.


G77: The Group of 77 at the United Nations is a coalition of emerging economies and developing countries, founded in 1964 by 77 countries to promote the collective economic interests of its members and to boost their capacity for negotiations at the United Nations. The Group has since expanded and now includes 132 member States. China is often associated with this group; when speaking, the representative of the G77 speaks “on behalf of the G77 and China.”

G193: The G193 informally designates all the member countries of the United Nations, or more specifically the General Assembly, in comparison to the G20 in particular. This designation serves as a reminder that the United Nations’ legitimacy stems from the fact that the UN represents the entire international community. The term G173 is sometimes also used to by opposition to the G20.

Humanitarian space: Rather than a physical area, the concept represents a symbolic space in which humanitarian agencies can operate freely and in relative security, regardless of any political, military and economic agendas. It is therefore a space for negotiations and compromises between humanitarian agencies and the parties in power (states, local government, non-state forces). It enables an independent needs assessment, humanitarian access to vulnerable populations and the freedom to verify the distribution of aid.

Indonesian Lounge: Lounge located next to the General Assembly, favoured by diplomats thanks to its quiet and cozy atmosphere, often used for private discussions. The lounge was named after two Balinese sculptures offered as a gift by the government of Indonesia and representing peace and prosperity.

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The Indonesian Lounge - Photo/ France onu - Juliette Charvet


IPCC: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is an intergovernmental organization whose mandate is to assess objectively changes and risks associated with human-induced climate change and to propose solutions. The IPCC provides a clear scientific view through its analyses (assessment reports and technical documents) in order to assist negotiations undertaken within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Close to 3 000 scientists and economists contribute to the IPCC. The next (fifth) “assessment report” (the 5th Assessment Report) is due in 2014.

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High-Level meeting on Climate Change - General Assembly - 24 September 2007 - UN Photo/Marco Castro


Meditation Room: See Quiet Room


Ministerial Week: This is the busiest and the most “star-studded” week of the year at the United Nations. Most Heads of State and Government come to New York City during the third week of September for the opening of the new session of the General Assembly. Numerous events are organized concurrently with the ministerial week. In September 2010, a summit on the Millennium Development Goals was held just before the opening of the session.

NAM (Non-Aligned Movement): The Non-Aligned Movement was created in 1956. It represented a group of countries which claimed to be neither with nor against any major power bloc. The movement continued after the Cold War, and now has 118 member States. As a group, these countries negotiate issues related to disarmament.

No-action motion: At the General Assembly, a no-action motion interrupts the debates between member States on a draft resolution. The motion is put to a vote and requires a majority vote.

Official languages and working languages: The UN recognizes six official languages: English, Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Spanish, French and Russian. Representatives from member countries can express themselves in one of these six languages; their speeches are then translated into five other languages. It is possible to communicate in a language other than these six; however, this can be done only when an interpreter is provided, who then interprets in one of the six official languages and becomes the intermediary for the other five. Official documents must be available in the six official languages. The working languages used by the United Nations Secretariat are English and French.

Order of precedence at the Security Council: The order of precedence at the Security Council is firstly determined by the speakers’ rank. The Heads of State and Government speak before the ministers, who speak before the permanent representatives. After that the first-come, first-served rule is applied: each State asks to be registered on the list of speakers. The Security Council President (monthly rotation) speaks last, regardless of his/her rank.

P5: The P5 refers to the five permanent members of the Security Council: China, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Russia. We use the phrase “a meeting of the P5” (a frequently used format for the negotiations on a draft resolution before the text is distributed to all the Security Council members). The P3 includes the United States, France and the United Kingdom. The term E10 (“Elected Ten”) is sometimes used; this refers to the 10 non-permanent members.

Peacebuilding Commission: Intergovernmental subsidiary advisory body of the Security Council and the General Assembly established in 2005. It aims to institutionalize and systematize the links between peacekeeping operations, post-conflict operations and donors international network of support and mobilization. Learn more on peacebuilding.


Pen holder: This term refers to the delegation which is the author of the first draft of a resolution. For example, France has traditionally been a pen holder for Security Council resolutions related to Côte d’Ivoire.

Permanent observer: Permanent observers are entities which do not have the status of a member of the United Nations and no voting rights. Three observers, the Holy See, Palestine (“non-member States”) and the European Union (“intergovernmental organization”) have specific rights which allow them to participate actively in debates.

Permanent representative: The permanent representative is the head of a permanent mission. He/she has the same rank as an ambassador. The deputy permanent representative (DPR) is the number 2 of the mission. (Do not confuse the “Ambassador, Permanent Representative of France to the UN” with the “Ambassador of France in Washington.”)

PGA: The President of the General Assembly (PGA) is elected by the members of the Assembly for a non-renewable, one-year term. The presidency rotates annually between the five regional groups.

M. Vuk Jeremić (Serbi), President of the General Assembly’s sixty-seventh session - New York - 25 September2012 - UN Photo/Marco Castro


President of the Security Council: On a rotational basis and in alphabetical order (in English) of the names of member States, each State holds the presidency of the Security Council for one month.

Put in blue: At the Security Council, when a State wishes to put a draft resolution in blue, this means that it wishes to present it for a vote. The draft resolution is then printed in blue ink and officially distributed by the Secretariat to the Security Council members. In general, a draft resolution is put in blue 24 hours before the vote.

Quiet Room: Located next to the main Security Council chamber and the Council’s consultations room, this room is the Council’s anteroom, accessible to the delegates of non-Member States of the Security Council, but not to the press. It is in fact an important meeting place which can be noisy, in contrast with its name. This room shouldn’t be confused with the Meditation Room, a small quiet room, open to the public, next to the General Assembly and next to a stained glass window by Marc Chagall. It is dedicated to world peace for people of all faiths and religions. Its creator, former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, also called it the “Room of Quiet.”


Regional groups: Member States of the United Nations are divided into five regional groups: Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC), Asia, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), and Western European and Others Group (WEOG). These groups allow for an equitable rotation and division of the positions within the UN (i. e. for the President of the General Assembly) and seats (i.e. for the non-permanent members of the Security Council). The regional groups do not however reflect geopolitical reality. For example, the European Union members are spread out across three regional groups (WEOG, CEE and Asia for Cyprus).

Right of rebuttal/reply: The rules of procedure of many conferences provide that a delegation which so requests must be given an opportunity to make a brief statement in reply to a statement made by another delegation if it believes that its own position has been misunderstood or misrepresented. Also used in practice to respond to remarks which are considered injurious.


Right of veto: The right of veto gives each of the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Russia) the option of opposing a resolution. Regardless of the number of votes in favor, one veto is enough to ensure that a draft resolution is not adopted. In practice, and despite the Charter of the United Nations which requires an affirmative vote from the five permanent members in order for a resolution to be adopted, if one permanent member abstains, the resolution can still pass.

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China and Russia veto the draft resolution on Syria - 4 October 2011- UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras


Sanctions Committee: a subsidiary organ of the Security Council created by the Security Council in accordance with a resolution which sets out its objectives and its mode of operation. Each committee consists of all the members of the Security Council and is chaired by the permanent representative of a non-permanent member of the SC, selected by consensus. A sanctions committee is named after the resolution that created it (for example, 1737 Committee on Iran, 1970 Committee on Libya). Sanctions committees sometimes also include an expert panel (for example, 1737 Committee, or 1718 Committee on North Korea). The range of sanctions can include comprehensive economic and trade sanctions, or more targeted measures (arms embargoes, travel bans, freezing of assets).

Security Council: Types of Meetings

Public debate: A public debate, in contrast to a private session, is a debate which is broadcast live on the United Nations website, via the UNWebcast and is not meant to be distributed.

Open debate (open session): An open debate of the Security Council is a debate in which non-member States of the Council or observers can participate.

Closed debate: The debate is only for the member States of the Council, and, if applicable, for the parties directly involved (can still be either public or private).

Briefing: Presentation of regular reports by a member of the Secretariat (Secretary-General, Under-Secretary-Generals, special representatives or special envoys) to the Security Council.

Consultations: Informal meetings between permanent representatives of member States of the Security Council on the topics listed on the agenda. These meetings take place behind closed doors and in an adjoining room; there are no meeting minutes for consultations.



Security Council: How the Council Expresses Itself

The Charter only mentions “decisions.” In practice resolutions and PRSTs are decisions:

Resolution: Resolutions are legally binding for all members of the United Nations. In order for a resolution to be adopted, it must be approved by at least nine members of the Security Council, without a veto by one of the five permanent members.

PRST (abbreviation of the words “Presidential Statement”): A Presidential Statement (officially “Statement by the President of the Security Council”) is an official document that also constitutes a Security Council decision and is read out in the Council chamber by the president. Just like the resolution, a presidential statement has a classification number and is translated into the official languages of the Council. In contrast to a resolution, a presidential statement is not subject to a vote. A consensus (see above) is therefore required.

Press statement: This is a document adopted by the members of the Security Council in order to present the Council’s position on a topic listed on the meeting agenda. The document is read out during the Security Council “stakeout” (see below) by the Council President. It is an official document of the Security Council and as such is assigned a classification number.

Elements to the press: These are minimal public expressions of opinion by the Security Council. The approved lines are not necessarily written down. The Security Council members agree on the main ideas they wish to convey and task the Security Council president with communicating them to the press following the meeting.


Stakeout: A media stakeout is an opportunity for members to address the journalists as they exit the Security Council or a meeting room (for example, “the Ambassador is holding a media stakeout”). The term also refers to the place where the stakeout is held (for example, “the Ambassador is at the stakeout”). If an ambassador addresses the journalists before entering the Security Council, then this is called a media stakein.

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Mr. Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France and President of the Security Council for May 2011, briefs the press following the Council’s meeting and consultations on the humanitarian situation in Libya - 9 May 2011 - UN Photo/Mark Garten


Turtle Bay: This is the name of the Manhattan neighborhood in New York, along the East River and approximately between 40th and 50th Streets, where the UN Headquarters are located. The term is used as a metonym for the world of the UN diplomats and personnel.

Unanimity: see Consensus.

UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association): professional organization of journalists from around the world accredited to the UN. The association represents the interests of the UN press corps at the Secretariat.

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The UN Secretary-General speeks to the press - UNCA Photo


(November 2012)



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