With peace operations, diplomacy and humanitarian capacities pushed to the limit, the international body had to deal with a wide range of problems including an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, global warming and terrorist groups and ongoing conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
UN-mediated Syria peace talks end in failure
In January, the UN convened a conference in the Swiss city of Geneva to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria.
The basis of the talks, known as Geneva II, was the implementation of an action plan that called for an immediate end to fighting and the formation of a transitional governing body, including members of the opposition and the government.
The talks collapsed Feb. 15 after only two rounds. UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi blamed the collapse on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for its reluctance to address the opposition’s demands.
The dispiriting failure raised questions on the future of negotiations as a means to end the conflict. Brahimi resigned in May, voicing regret about his inability to ensure a coherent international response to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The conflict in Syria that began in March 2011 has claimed nearly 200,000 lives, according to the UN.
Report documents 'widespread, systematic abuses' in North Korea
A long-awaited UN report urged the international community to act on the human rights situation in North Korea, including a referral to the International Criminal Court.
The 400-page report, culled from first-hand testimony from victims and witnesses and published Feb. 17, said that ordinary North Koreans faced “unspeakable atrocities” including murder, enslavement, torture, rape, forced starvation and disappearances.
“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” said the commission tasked with preparing the report.
Pyongyang denied the claims and refused to cooperate with the investigating team.
The report inspired a UN General Assembly resolution that urged the Security Council to consider referring Pyongyang to the International Criminal Court over the alleged violations.
UN urges Vatican to ‘immediately remove’ child abusers
The Vatican’s global response to clerical sexual abuse claims faced international scrutiny for the first time in January.
Vatican officials testified for eight hours before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva.
Allegations of sexual and physical abuse by parish priests and in parochial schools—particularly in Germany, Ireland, and the United States—brought the Holy See under its closest media scrutiny in recent years.
In February, the committee encouraged the Vatican to ensure the immediate removal of all priests suspected of being connected to child pornography and other crimes.
The report was followed in March by another UN hearing that scrutinized the Catholic Church’s handling of abuse.
Unanimously approves resolution demanding aid access in Syria
The Security Council on Feb. 22 unanimously approved a resolution authorizing humanitarian aid access to rebel-held areas without government approval.
The move marked the first time the council united on the issue, with staunch Assad allies, Russia and China, yielding veto powers.
Resolution 2139 also demanded that all parties cease attacking civilian-populated areas, including through shelling and aerial bombardment with barrel bombs.
In December, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said the resolution has been continuously violated by the Syrian regime with bomb attacks on civilians.
“In many parts of Syria the level of violence has worsened, with civilians continuing to pay heavily with loss of life," Amos told the Security Council.
The Syrian conflict paved the way for extremist movements such as ISIL to gain a foothold in the region.
World leaders meet at UN climate summit
World leaders reaffirmed the need to take urgent action to limit global temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius in the largest high-level climate meeting since 2009.
The UN Climate Summit was held Sept. 23 in New York with attendees that included125 heads of state and government.
Efforts to move beyond the much-criticized Kyoto treaty culminated in December with the UN’s annual climate change conference in Lima, Peru, where almost 200 nations agreed on the foundation for a global climate pact due to be finalized in 2015.
For the first time, countries will have to put forward “nationally determined” plans to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions beginning next March, with the aim of reigning in rising temperatures.
That formed a key part of the draft text produced at the summit that countries are set to ratify and sign in Paris next year, to move beyond the Kyoto treaty that expires in 2020.
The only international agreement to date that calls for action to reduce carbon emissions, the Kyoto Protocol faces universal criticism for being ineffective and economically inefficient.
First-ever UN emergency health mission launched to fight Ebola
The United Nations deployed its first-ever emergency health mission to West Africa to combat the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.
The UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER, was established Sept. 19 after its unanimous adoption at the Security Council’s first emergency meeting on a public health crisis.
The virus has claimed more than 7,500 lives since the first known case of the current outbreak in West Africa last December, according to the World Health Organization.
It was also the first large-scale Ebola outbreak to demonstrate the potential for the virus to spread beyond Africa – a risk raised by the ease and high rate of international travel.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a $1 billion urgent appeal fund to help fight the outbreak. As of Dec. 17, the fund has received a deposit of just $125 million.
Turkey loses Security Council bid
The General Assembly elected Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain and Venezuela as non-permanent members of the Security Council for the 2015-2016 term, the latter two beating Turkey to represent the West.
The new members will replace Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, South Korea and Rwanda, whose terms conclude Wednesday.
Turkey has been one of the harshest critics of the Security Council, given the strong decision-making capabilities of the permanent members.
"The world is bigger than five,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has frequently said, including in his address to the General Assembly in September.
Turkey proposed a rotating system that would allow 193 member countries to be represented at the Council, with no notion of permanent membership and every country having the chance to be represented.
The Security Council comprises 15 members, with five permanent members – China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. -- having the right of veto.
Others still serving include Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania and Nigeria, who won their seats in the 2013 election.
UN schools in Gaza attacked by Israeli forces
Israeli forces reportedly targeted six UN schools that provided shelter to thousands of displaced Palestinian civilians during its 51-day military offensive on Gaza.
The deadliest of the attacks was launched on a school in the city of Rafah, that killed at least 10 civilians.
The UN chief described the attack as "a moral outrage and a criminal act."
In November, Ban set up a commission of inquiry into the attacks in which civilians were killed and significant damage to schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
More than 2,000 Gazans, mostly civilians, were killed and nearly 11,000 injured during the seven-week offensive.
It ended Aug. 26 with the announcement of an indefinite cease-fire agreement.
North Korea discussed at Security Council for the first time
North Korea’s human rights record came under scrutiny for the first time at the UN Security Council, despite opposition from China and Russia.
The inclusion of an issue on the Council's agenda means that it can be brought up at any time.
The historic Dec. 22 session followed a General Assembly vote to urge the 15-member council to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court over alleged human rights violations.
North Korea is not a party to the Rome Statute that established the court but the Security Council has the right to refer humanitarian crimes committed in any state, regardless of whether it is a party to the treaty.
Binding Security Council action appears unlikely, however, as permanent members China and Russia are the allies of the reclusive communist state.
'Devastating' year for children
The UN declared 2014 as a year of devastation for millions of children caught up in violent conflicts across the world.
"The year 2014 has been one of horror, fear and despair for millions of children, as worsening conflicts across the world saw them exposed to extreme violence and its consequences, forcibly recruited and deliberately targeted by warring groups," UN children agency UNICEF said Dec. 8.
An estimated 230 million children live in areas affected by armed conflicts, with as many as 15 million directly caught up in fighting in Palestine, Syria, Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan and Ukraine, according to the agency.
“Children have been killed while studying in the classroom and while sleeping in their beds; they have been orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, raped and even sold as slaves," UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said. "Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality.”
Hundreds of children have been kidnapped in 2014 from their schools or on their way to school, and tens of thousands have been recruited or used by armed forces and groups.