The Economic and Social Council - Subsidiary organs

The council accomplishes its substantive work through numerous subsidiary organs in the form of commissions, committees, and ad hoc and special bodies. In Article 68, the charter specifically states that the council "shall set up commissions in economic and social fields and for the promotion of human rights…." Several types of commissions and other organs have been set up within this provision, including the regional commissions, to deal with economic and social problems in the different geographical areas of the world, and the functional commissions, to handle social, human rights, and environmental questions.

Regional Commissions

There are five regional commissions: the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE); the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); and the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). Each has its own staff members, who are considered part of the regular staff of the UN. Regional commission expenditures come out of the regular UN budget. The regional commissions are discussed in the chapter on Economic and Social Development.

Functional Commissions

Since 1946, the council established functional commissions and subcommissions to advise and assist it in its work.

The Statistical Commission, with 24 members, assists in developing international statistical services, promoting the development of national statistics and improving their comparability, coordinating the statistical work of the specialized agencies and the central statistical services of the UN Secretariat, and advising the UN organs on general questions relating to the collection, analysis, and dissemination of statistical information.

The Commission on Population and Development, with 47 members, studies population changes, including migration, and their effect on economic and social conditions and advises on policies to influence the size and structure of populations and on any other demographic questions on which the UN or its specialized agencies may seek advice.

The Commission for Social Development, with 46 members, advises the council on social policies in general and on all matters in the social field not covered by the specialized agencies; it gives priority to the establishment of objectives and programs and to social research in areas affecting social and economic development.

The Commission on Human Rights, with 53 members, makes recommendations and prepares reports to the council on human rights questions, including the status of women, the protection of minorities, the prevention of all forms of discrimination, and the implementation of international conventions on human rights. Its various working groups are composed of experts nominated by members to explore problems such as arbitrary detention, involuntary disappearances, and the rights of indigenous peoples.

The Commission on Human Rights has also established working groups on specific human rights questions, including slavery, indigenous populations, minorities, enforced or involuntary disappearances, and mental health detainees. It also encompasses a Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.

The Commission on the Status of Women, with 45 members, prepares reports on matters concerning the promotion of women's rights in the political, economic, social, and educational fields and makes recommendations to the council on matters requiring immediate attention in the field of women's rights. The commission has established a working group on communications concerning the status of women.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs, with 53 members, advises the council and prepares draft international agreements on all matters relating to the control of narcotic drugs. Over the years, the commission has established five subsidiary bodies. The Subcommission on Illicit Drug Traffic and Related Matters in the Near and Middle East and the Meeting of Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies (HONLEA), Asia and the Pacific, were the first subsidiary bodies to be established; both were convened for the first time in 1974. The need for similar coordination in other regions of the world led to a global network of HONLEA meetings: the Meeting of HONLEA, Africa, was established in 1985; the Meeting of HONLEA, Latin America and the Caribbean, in 1987; and the Meeting of HONLEA, Europe, in 1990.

The Commission on Science and Technology for Development . The United Nations has been concerned with the effects of advances in science and technology to world peace and social development since its inception in 1945 at the dawn of the nuclear era. In 1963 the first United Nations Conference on the Application of Science and Technology for the Benefit of the Less Developed Countries met in Geneva and began to form an agenda for international action. This was followed in 1979 by the United Nations Conference on Science and Technology for Development, held in Vienna, which produced the Vienna Programme of Action. In affirmation of the conference's program, the General Assembly established an Intergovernmental Committee on Science and Technology for Development, open to all states, to draw up policy guidelines, monitor activities within the United Nations system, promote implementation of the Vienna Programme, identify priorities, and mobilize resources. In 1989, on the tenth anniversary of the 1979 Conference, the General Assembly expressed its disappointment with the implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action and eventually decided to transform the Intergovernmental Committee and its subsidiary body, the Advisory Committee on Science and Technology for Development, into a functional commission of ECOSOC (General Assembly Resolution 46/235).

The Commission on Science and Technology for Development met for the first time in May 1993. It has 33 members elected by ECOSOC for a term of four years on the principle of equitable geographic distribution. At its first session, the commission recommended to ECOSOC that it be charged with the following tasks:

(a) assisting the council in providing science and technology policy guidelines and recommendations to member states, in particular developing countries;

(b) providing innovative approaches to improving the quality of coordination and cooperation in the area of science and technology within the United Nations system, with a view to ensuring optimum mobilization of resources;

(c) providing expert advice to other parts of the United Nations systems.

The Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice was established in December 1991 by General Assembly Resolution 46/152. An existing ECOSOC Committee on Crime Prevention and Control was dissolved, and its funds were made available to the new commission, which met for the first time in April 1992. The new commission is charged with developing, managing, monitoring, and reviewing implementation of the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme created at a Ministerial Meeting held in Versailles, France, in 1991. In addition, it will consult member states on the drafting of a convention on crime prevention and criminal justice. Priority areas of the commission include: national and transnational crime; organized crime; economic crime, including money laundering; the role of criminal law in the protection of the environment; crime prevention in urban areas; and juvenile and violent criminality. The main difference between the former committee and the new commission is that the decisions of the commission will be decisions of the governments, rather than of independent experts. Decisions at this level were considered essential to tackle the problems of drug trafficking, illegal arms sales, terrorism, dumping of industrial waste, and criminal negligence resulting in environmental degradation, corruption, and financial offences. The commission has 40 members.

The Commission on Sustainable Development . As a result of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the council established a new functional commission in February 1993: the Commission on Sustainable Development. The new, 53-member commission began its work of monitoring the implementation of UNCED's Agenda 21 action plan with its first session in New York in June 1993. The commission's mandate includes: monitoring progress towards the UN target of providing 0.7 percent of gross national product of industrialized countries for official development assistance; considering information on the implementation of environmental conventions; and recommending action to the General Assembly. The commission will interact with other UN intergovernmental bodies, regional commissions, and development and financial institutions. A high-level Advisory Board, consisting of eminent persons from all regions of the world, will provide input to the commission and the council through the Secretary-General.

Other Subsidiary Organs

Article 68 of the charter provides that, in addition to the commissions specifically mentioned in the charter, the council should establish "such other commissions as may be required for its functions." With three exceptions, however, the other subsidiary organs created have not been given the name "commission." Instead, they are called "standing committees" or "expert bodies."

In 2002, ECOSOC had the following standing committees and expert bodies: Committee for Programme and Coordination, Commission on Human Settlements, Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, Committee on Negotiations with Intergovernmental Agencies, Ad hoc Open-ended Working Group on Informatics, Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods and on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names, Committee for Development Policy, Meeting of Experts on the United Nations Programme in Public Administration and Finance, Ad Hoc Group of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for Development, and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Semiautonomous bodies, which generally report both to the council and to the General Assembly, include the following: Committee for Programme and Coordination, High-level Committee on the Review of Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations Development Fund for Women, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and the World Food Programme (WFP).

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