Multilingualism is of particular importance for the United Nations. It is designed to facilitate the effective involvement of all UN members in the United Nations’ debates and work. It is the means by which the UN encourages, defends and preserves the diversity of languages and cultures in the world. It also enables wide public access to UN activities.
In February 1946, the General Assembly approved Resolution 2 (I) whereby Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish became the official languages of all UN bodies. On 18 December 1973, Resolution 28/3191, added Arabic as the sixth official language.
Under Resolution 2 (I), French and English remain the two working languages of the Secretariat. Resolution 61/266 on multilingualism reaffirmed this in 2007. Communication within the UN, whether official communication between Member States and all the players involved in the work of the United Nations, or between Member States and the UN Secretariat, requires to distinguish between working languages and official languages.
External communication intended for the general public may include languages other than the official ones.
Balancing the six official languages used for daily work has been a constant concern since the United Nations was established, particularly for its various Secretaries-General. In Resolution 54/64 of 6 December 1999, the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to appoint a senior Secretariat official as coordinator for multilinguism-related issues within the Secretariat. The coordinator’s task is to harmonise procedures and propose strategies to ensure that the UN’s language practice complies with the recommendations and clauses which the various resolutions on multilinguism include. The coordinator traditionally performs the job of Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information and is supported by an informal network of focal points. Resolution 50/11 of 2 November 1995 requested the Secretary-General to treat all language services equally and provide them with the resources and working conditions to enable them to optimise the quality of their services. It stressed the importance for the Department of Public Information of using all UN’s official languages when carrying out its activities and reaffirmed the need to achieve absolute parity for the six official languages on the UN’s websites. It also encouraged United Nations information centres to pursue their local action in favour of multilingualism. Such priorities were recalled in Resolution 61/266 on multilingualism in 2007, as well as in resolutions concerning the Information and Conference planning Committee.
Update : July 2010
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