In 1963, the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to establish a UN Institute for Training and Research as an autonomous body within the framework of the UN. UNITAR commenced functioning in March 1965. It is headed by an executive director and has a board of trustees appointed by the UN Secretary-General in consultation with the president of the General Assembly and the president of the Economic and Social Council. UNITAR originally had its headquarters in New York and a European office in Geneva. In 1993 UNITAR's headquarters was transferred to Geneva. It maintains a liaison office in New York to coordinate training activities.
The mandate of UNITAR is to enhance the effectiveness of the UN in attaining its major objectives—particularly the maintenance of peace and the promotion of economic and social development—through training and research. Its functions include ensuring liaison with UN organizations and strengthening cooperation with academic institutions; conducting training programs in multilateral diplomacy and international cooperation for diplomats accredited to the United Nations and national officials; and carrying out a wide range of training programs in social and economic development. In addition, UNITAR responds to ad hoc requests for training. For example, in 1993 UNITAR received requests for programs from UNDP, UNEP, and other UN bodies.
In the late 1990s, UNITAR offered courses in the following areas: debt, economic, and financial management; foreign economic relations; international affairs management; international migration policy; peacemaking and preventive diplomacy; applications of environmental law; chemicals and waste management; climate change; decentralized cooperation; and information and communication technologies.
In a typical year, UNITAR designs and conducts some 70 different training programs on five continents for the benefit of more than 3,000 national staff and government officials. In the early 1990s training programs in diplomacy, negotiation, foreign affairs management, and debt and financial management were developed for newly independent countries in Europe and Central Asia; countries in transition in Africa, Asia, and Europe; and for the Palestinian negotiating team.
The institute's research program originally concentrated on three main areas: UN institutional issues, peace and security issues, and economic and social issues. After restructuring in 1992, basic research on training was conducted only if extrabudgetary funds were provided.
UNITAR is supported by voluntary contributions from governments, intergovernmental organizations, foundations, and other nongovernmental organizations.