The United Nations is an organization that helps to create world peace. The UN tries to help solve problems before they lead to fighting. Did you know that November 16th is designated as International Tolerance Day by the UN?
On June 26, 1945 at the end of World War II, 50 countries' leaders met in San Francisco, California to sign the UN charter. People wanted the world to be a better place after World War II. The UN started taking effect on October 24, 1945. The major member countries (aka: the Security Council) are: the USA, France, China, Russia, and the United Kingdom. The two goals of the UN are to keep world peace and to keep human dignity. The UN tries to help solve problems before they lead to fighting. There are six major groups of the UN that does its work: the General Assembly, Security Council, Secretariat, Economic and Social Council, International Court of Justice, and Trusteeship Council. There are also many other UN agencies that specialize in helping to deal with communication, food and farming, health, and work issues. The United Nations emblem shows a world map bordered by branches of an olive tree-- a symbol of peace.
The History of the UN
Before the UN, there was another organization working for world peace called The League of Nations. The League of Nations was formed after World War I in 1919 because of all the destruction and the deaths of the war. The League of Nations was set up to promote world cooperation and achieve peace and security. The goals of the League of Nations were not successful because World War II started in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. The League of Nations stopped its activities when World War II began.
After World War II, the UN was then formed because so many people were killed in World War II. The leaders from 51 countries agreed to work together to try to make the world more peaceful and successful. These leaders signed a charter which states their purposes, beliefs, and goals. To this day there are 192 member nations of the UN.
The UN Charter
The Charter of the UN is the constitution of the UN. The rules of the UN and how the UN will be organized is stated in the charter. The charter also states the goals and basic beliefs as well as the responsibilities of UN members. The UN members pledge to live together in peace.
The Charter lists 4 goals and 7 basic beliefs of the United Nations.
The goals are:
- to create a world free from war
- to bring justice and equality
- to help the poor people of the world
- to encourage friendly relations between states
The basic beliefs are:
- all members have equal rights
- all members will be responsible to do their jobs under the charter
- all members will settle disputes peacefully
- all members agree not to use force against other nations, except in self-defense
- all members will help the UN in every action it takes to carry out the goals
- the UN agrees that every country, non-members and members are responsible to preserve world peace
- the UN will not interfere in actions within the borders of member nations, but these actions must not hurt other nations
The first 51 members of the UN were the members that signed the charter in 1945. Poland, which was not represented at the charter signing did not sign the charter, but is one of the original members. UN membership is open to peaceful nations that are willing and able to carry out the duties required by the charter. The Security Council and the General Assembly must approve membership applications.
The UN does have any power over its members. It expects its members to be honest and follow the goals and beliefs of the charter as well as any decisions and guidelines the UN makes. It is up to each member nation to decide if it will cooperate. If a member nation does violate the UN charter, it may be suspended or even expelled from the UN.
The UN created a special document called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This document lists the basic rights that the UN believes everyone in the world has. These rights are:
- everyone should be free from slavery
- everyone should have the right to a fair trial
- everyone has the right to marry and own property
- everyone has the right to believe in whatever religion they choose
- everyone has the right to freedom of movement
- everyone has the right to work
- everyone has the right to equal pay for equal work
- everyone has the right to rest and leisure
- everyone has the right to education
The UN set up a special group called the UN Commission on Human Rights to monitor any country that is breaking these rights. This helps nations around the world be aware of other countries human rights record and makes it difficult for countries to abuse these rights.
How the UN Works
The UN is divided into six major groups. Each group has an important job to do within the UN system. They are the General Assembly, Security Council, Secretariat, Economic and Social Council, International Court of Justice, and Trusteeship Council.
The General Assembly is a big meeting in which all UN member nations are represented. At this meeting, the UN member nations elect a new president. The president's job is to lead the General Assembly's discussions and guide its work. The General Assembly decides how the UN spends its money, and discusses any concerns or questions of world issues. The General Assembly makes decisions by taking a vote. Most votes are decided by a simple majority. However, some important issues, such as peace, security, and election of new UN members require two-thirds of the member nations to vote in favor in order for it to pass. Each member nation can send five people and five alternates and as many advisers to this meeting. But, each UN member nation only has one vote. The General Assembly holds one regular session each year that begins on the third Tuesday in September and lasts for about three months. A special meeting can be called if the Security Council or a majority of member nations request it. An emergency special session can be called upon 24 hours notice if peace is threatened and the Security Council has not acted. The General Assembly creates different committees to help carry out its work too.
The Security Council is the most powerful group of the UN. It is in charge of keeping the world peaceful and safe. The Security Council is a meeting of representatives from fifteen member nations in the UN. There are five permanent members of the Security Council-China, France, the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia. These are the five countries who won World War II. These members have veto power in the Council which means that they can stop any decision they don't like. The ten other members of the Council are elected for a two-year term by the General Assembly. The presidency of the Security Council changes each month too. The Security Council meetings are called whenever there is a situation that is serious enough that may lead to fighting. The Security Council has the responsibility to help sort out any problem between countries before it turns to fighting a war. The Security Council has the power to decide what the UN should do to settle disagreements between countries. They may ask UN members to stop trading with the country that is not being peaceful or it could send people called negotiators to help talk the problem out. Sometimes the Security Council does give permission for countries to take military action. The Security Council also must approve any membership applications before a country is allowed to join the UN. It also selects candidates for secretary-general.
The Secretariat is the UN Headquarters which is located in New York City. There are also UN offices in most countries around the world.
There are many people who work for the UN like economists, translators, secretaries, computers experts, security guards, librarians, lawyers, writers and journalists. People who work for the UN cannot take orders from member nations. They work only for the UN. The Secretary-General is in charge of the entire UN and reports to the General Assembly each year. The job of the Secretary-General is to talk to governments and use his/her influence to make sure countries are being peaceful. The Secretary-General advises the Security Council about dilemmas that may threaten peace and safety of any UN member nation. The Secretary-General has the job to talk to countries to help avoid conflicts. The Secretary-General is nominated by the Security Council and appointed by the General Assembly to a five-year term. There are eight people who have been the UN Secretary-General.
1. Trygve Lie of Norway, 1946 to 1953
2. Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden, 1953 to 1961
3. U Thant of Burma (now Myanmar), 1961 to 1971
4. Kurt Waldheim of Austria, 1972 to 1981
5. Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru, 1982 to 1991
6. Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, 1992 to 1996
7. Kofi Annan of Ghana, 1997 to 2006
8. Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, became secretary-general in 2007
The Economic and Social Council works to improve the way people live. It helps to promote better standards of living, good health, cultural, and educational cooperation among countries and observing human rights. The Economic and Social Council advises the General Assembly and UN special agencies about these topics and projects it feels need the support of the UN. The Economic and Social Council also works with over 100 organizations throughout the world. There are 54 member nations in The Council. The General Assembly elects 18 members to serve a three year term. They meet a minimum of two times a year. Decisions are made by a simple majority vote. Other UN members or special agencies may be invited to discuss any concerns, but only members of the Council get to vote.
The International Court of Justice settles any legal problems of the UN. There are 15 judges that have been appointed to nine-year terms. The General Assembly and the Security Council select the judges. No two judges may come from the same country. The International Court of Justice is located at The Hague in the Netherlands. The court is only open to governments, not individuals. The UN General Assembly and Security Council can ask for the court's opinion on any legal matter. The court makes it decisions by majority vote.
The Trusteeship Council was created to help support eleven territories that did not have their own governments at the end of World War II. Over the years, the UN assisted these territories in developing their own governments. By 1994, all eleven of these territories had their own governments. The Trusteeship Council does not currently operate.
Other UN Agencies
A main goal of the United Nations is to create a world without fighting. However, there are times that require neutral soldiers' help to keep the peace by acting as a police force between two countries in a war zone. The UN does not have an army. The UN members volunteer to send soldiers and equipment for peacekeeping missions. The peacekeeping soldiers wear their country's uniform and a blue hat or helmet with the UN emblem on it which identifies them as a UN peacekeeper.
There are two types of UN peacekeeping operations-observer missions and peacekeeping forces. Observer missions are when UN soldiers make sure conditions of cease fires are met and report to the UN if anyone is breaking international agreements. Peacekeeping forces are put into place to assist in the ending of a conflict. They help patrol buffer zones between fighting nations and make sure they both follow the rules of peace agreements. They use minimal force and use words to help solve problems and prevent any more fighting. Peacekeepers may also help to bring food and water to people who are starving. The UN peacekeeping forces were given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 and 2001.
The UN assists poor countries to improve their standard of living to help prevent countries from going to war. The UN has many different agencies that work with specific problems such as hunger, drought, and world health, to help poor countries. The World Health Organization, WHO, helps countries to provide better health services for its citizens. UNICEF, The UN International Children's Emergency Fund, was started to help children suffering because of World War II. Now, UNICEF workers continue to help children all over the world who are in desperate need of health care, food, education, and safe clean water. The Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, helps poor countries to grow their own food and increase the amount of food it produces. The UN Environment Program was created to discuss pollution and ways to protect the world's natural resources, water, land, fuel, and clean air.
The UN Today & Tomorrow
The Untied Nations still is the main world's group that promotes international peace and safety. Each UN member country's government has to decide if it wants to continue to support the ideas and programs of the UN that will hopefully make the world a more tolerant, peaceful and secure place for all people.