Frequently asked questions

Membership in the United Nations

How many Member States are there?

There are currently 193 Member States of the United Nations. The latest State to join the United Nations was Montenegro (in 2006). According to Article 4 of the Charter of the United Nations:

"1. Membership in the United Nations is open to all … peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.

"2. The admission of any such state to membership in the United Nations will be effected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council."

Can a Member State be expelled from the United Nations?

Article 6 of the Charter reads as follows:

"A Member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council."

This has never happened.

Article 5 provides for the suspension of a Member State:

"A Member of the United Nations against which preventive or enforcement action has been taken by the Security Council may be suspended from the exercise of the rights and privileges of membership by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. The exercise of these rights and privileges may be restored by the Security Council."

Meaning of the United Nations emblem and flag

The Presentation Branch of the United Nations Office of Strategic Services prepared a design for the emblem of the United Nations in April 1945 in response to a request for a button design for the San Francisco conference at which the Charter of the United Nations was drafted and approved. In its resolution 92 (I) of 7 December 1946, the General Assembly approved the San Francisco design with slight modifications and recommended that Members of the United Nations should take measures to prevent the use for commercial purposes of the emblem, name or initials of the United Nations without authorization by the Secretary-General.

The symbols in the emblem of the United Nations speak for themselves. The olive branch, symbolizing peace, can by traced back to ancient Greece. The world map is a symbol of the area and universality with which the United Nations is concerned in achieving its main purpose: peace.

On 20 October 1947 it was decided that the flag of the United Nations should be the official emblem adopted by the General Assembly centred on a light blue background. As far as is known, the colours have no special significance.

Languages used at the United Nations

Why is everything written in English and French at the United Nations?

English and French are the two working languages of the United Nations, as decided by the General Assembly in 1946. A second Assembly resolution, adopted on 1 February 1946, outlined the rules of procedure with regard to languages. In that resolution, the Assembly decided that:

  • In all the organs of the United Nations other than the International Court of Justice, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish shall be the official languages and English and French the working languages.
  • Speeches made in either of the working languages shall be interpreted into the other working language.
  • Speeches made in any of the other three official languages shall be interpreted into both working languages.
  • Any representative may make a speech in a language other than the official languages. In this case he shall himself provide for interpretation into one of the working languages. Interpretation into the other working language by an interpreter of the Secretariat may be based on the interpretation given in the first working language.

The General Assembly added Arabic as an official language in a resolution adopted in 1973. Arabic was added as an official language of the Security Council in 1983.

Secretary-General

Who is the Secretary-General? What is the election procedure and what is the length of the term of office?

The current Secretary-General is Ban Ki-moon of the Republic of Korea. He has been in office since January 2007. The Charter of the United Nations provides that the Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Security Council. The term for a Secretary-General is five years. Although there is technically no limit to the number of five-year terms the top official and chief administrative officer of the United Nations may serve, no Secretary-General has held office for more than two terms.

What are the qualifications to become Secretary-General?

In most instances, the Secretary-General has had experience serving as a high-level official of his home country, often as Foreign Minister, as is the case with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. His predecessor, Kofi Annan of Ghana, was the only person who rose through the ranks of the United Nations system to become Secretary-General.

Who is the top-ranking official at the United Nations Office at Vienna?

The Secretary-General of the United Nations is represented in Vienna by the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Vienna. The Director-General of UNOV is Mr. Yury Fedotov (Russian Federation), who was appointed in July 2010. Mr. Fedotov also serves as the Executive Director of UNODC.

The United Nations in Vienna

How and why was Vienna chosen as a United Nations headquarters?

Vienna is one of the four main duty stations of the United Nations, the others being New York, Geneva and Nairobi.

At the invitation of the Government of Austria, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization established their headquarters in Vienna in 1957 and 1967, respectively. In the 1970s, the Government provided a permanent residence for those two organizations: the Vienna International Centre (VIC), which was officially opened on 23 August 1979. To make full use of the new facility, other United Nations units were transferred from New York and Geneva to Vienna. Many of them were consolidated in the United Nations Office at Vienna (UNOV), which was established on 1 January 1980.

How many people work for the United Nations in Vienna?

More than 4,000 staff members from over 100 countries work for the organizations based at the VIC. About one third of those staff members are Austrian nationals.
The organizations located at the VIC include:

What is the significance of the shape of the buildings of the Vienna International Centre?

In 1968, a competition was held in which 656 architects from 50 countries participated. The design of Johann Staber of Austria was chosen. The outer walls of each of the six Y-shaped towers are concave. Every office has at least three windows and the lifts are at the centre of each tower. Altogether, there are 24,000 windows in the VIC.

Visiting the Vienna International Centre

How can I visit the United Nations in Vienna?

Guided tours of the VIC are open to everyone. Multilingual guides from different countries will inform you about the work of the United Nations and the Vienna-based organizations. During your tour, you will visit exhibitions and a conference room and get to know the fascinating world of the United Nations. Tours are available for individuals from Monday to Friday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. For groups, prior registration is required. Tours are conducted in English, German and 10 other languages.

For groups with a special interest, such as university students, teachers, military or police officers, government employees or company workers or members of non-governmental organizations, the Visitors Service also offers lectures on the various areas of work of the United Nations, such as peacekeeping or human rights, and of the Vienna-based organizations. Lectures are also offered for groups of at least 20 secondary-school pupils aged 17 and above.

To obtain further information or to book a guided tour, contact:

Vienna International Centre
Visitors Service
PO Box 500
1400 Vienna
Tel.: (+43-1) 26060-3328
Fax: (+43-1) 26060-5991
E-mail: tours@unvienna.org
Website: www.unis.unvienna.org

To book a lecture, contact:

Tel.: (+43-1) 26060-4106
Fax: (+43-1) 26060-5991
E-mail: lectures@unvienna.org

To reach the VIC, take the metro (underground) line U1 to "Kaisermühlen/Vienna International Centre" and then proceed to the main entrance (Gate 1) of the Centre. A valid identification document is required to enter the VIC.

How does one become a tour guide?

United Nations tour guides are called "the United Nations ambassadors to the public" because of their direct contact with the people who visit the Organization every day. The guides play a pivotal role in shaping people's perceptions of the work of the United Nations. They are young people from all over the world who have different backgrounds but share a common interest in international issues.

Although German is not an official language of the United Nations, all tour guides in Vienna are required to be fluent in English and German, as over half of the 50,000 persons who visit the VIC each year are German-speaking. Most guides speak three or more languages. In addition to having excellent communication and presentation skills, they need to show a keen interest in the work and values of the United Nations, as well as in current affairs.

All tour guides in Vienna are employed as part-time temporary staff. Recruitment takes place on average every 18-24 months. Interested candidates are invited to submit their applications (curriculum vitae and cover letter) by e-mail tours@unvienna.org.