How are countries elected to membership in UN bodies?
Last Updated: Oct 09, 2019     Views: 815

Election to a UN body is one way states signal their interest in particular areas of the UN's work. To ensure that membership represents a broad range of UN member states, elections are usually held with due regard to "equitable geographical representation".

The first mention of this comes in the UN Charter. Article 23 specifies that non-permanent members of the Security Council should be elected by the General Assembly with "due regard ... to equitable geographical representation". The Preparatory Committee also used this phrase in its proposed Rules of Procedure for the General Assembly (PC/EX/113/Rev.1). The General Assembly's Rules of Procedure have used this phrase since 1946. 

Over time, resolutions on equitable geographical representation were adopted with regard to the composition of the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiaries, as well as to officers of the General Assembly. Some notable resolutions include:

  • A/RES/207 (III) : Distribution of membership in subsidiary organs of the Economic and Social Council 
  • A/RES/1990 (XVIII) : Question of the composition of the General Committee of the General Assembly: amendments to rules 31 and 38 of the Assembly's rules of procedure
  • A/RES/1991 (XVIII) : Question of equitable representation on the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council
  • A/RES/2847 (XXVI) : Enlargement of the Economic and Social Council
  • A/RES/33/138 : Question of the composition of the relevant organs of the United Nations : amendments to rules 31 and 38 of the rules of procedure of the General Assembly

​Resolutions or decisions establishing a new body will often indicate the number of seats allocated to each region, as well as the total number of members. For example, in accordance with A/RES/60/251, the Human Rights Council has 47 members, with the following distribution:

  • African States: 13 seats
  • Asia-Pacific States: 13 seats
  • Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats
  • Western European and other States: 7 seats
  • Eastern European States: 6 seats

Regional groups play an important role in negotiations related to elections to the various UN bodies. Each regional group usually proposes the candidates from its region for a particular election, in accordance with the number of seats allocated to the regional group.

When the elections are held, voting usually takes place by regional group; see for example, A/73/PV.89. Elections are usually conducted by secret ballot: a summary of the vote is given, but there is no information on how each state voted individually. See the UN Documentation : Overview : Voting research guide for more information on different kinds of vote.

Elections are held in the General Assembly for many bodies, including:

  • General Assembly President, Vice-Presidents, Chairs of the Main Committees
  • Security Council
  • Economic and Social Council
  • Human Rights Council
  • Subsidiary bodies of the General Assembly composed of Member States, including:
    • Committee on Conferences
    • Committee on Contributions
    • Committee on Information
  • Subsidiary bodies of the General Assembly composed of experts or individuals appointed in their personal capacity, including:
    • Board of Auditors
    • International Law Commission

Elections are held in the Economic and Social Council for its subsidiaries

  • Composed of Member States, such as:
    • Commission on the Status of Women
    • Statistical Commission
  • Composed of experts or individuals appointed in their personal capacity, such as:
    • Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
    • UN Group of Experts on Geographical Names

Elections for roles such as Chair, Vice-Chair, etc. usually take place within a body. Election for the officers of the Main Committees of the General Assembly take place in each Committee.

Appointment of officials such as the Secretary-General, judges of the International Court of Justice, and high-level officials, often take into account geographic representation. The report of the Secretary-General on the composition of the Secretariat concerns the geographic representation of the staff, among other factors.


Membership in and election to UN bodies can be difficult to research. Often decisions are not published in official documents until long after the election has been held. Decisions may cite the date of the meeting, but not the symbol of the meeting record document that records the candidates and the voting.

Resources for research on membership and elections include:

  • UN Yearbook : Appendix III : Structure of the United Nations, lists all bodies that met during the year and their composition
  • Resolutions and decisions of the electing body
  • Annual report of principal organs to the General Assembly
  • Annual or sessional report of subsidiary bodies to their parent organ
  • Index to the Proceedings of the principal organs


Disclaimer: answers are prepared by library staff using resources available at the time of writing. This site may include links and references to third-party databases, websites, books and articles, this does not imply endorsement by the United Nations.


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