The United Nations completed 75 years this year. In order to commemorate the historic moment, world leaders come together on 21 September 2020, at a one-day high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly. The meeting, themed as ‘’The Future We Want, the UN We Need: Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism’, is a landmark event, as for the first time in 75 years, the 193-member body would be holding the session virtually on account of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The declaration adopted at the meeting looks back at the glorious years of the UN and remarked upon its achievements as well as failures. It also set out its goals for the next decade. “The next 10 years, which have been designated as the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development, will be the most critical of our generation. It is even more important as we build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic,” read the report. The goals listed out for the next ten years include protection of the planet and environment, promoting peace, gender equality and women empowerment, digital cooperation, and sustainable financing.
The United Nations was born out of the horrors of World War II. At the time of its foundation, it was primarily tasked with the goal of maintaining world peace and saving future generations from the evils of war.
The birth of the United Nations
The UN was born out of the ashes of yet another international organisation created with the intention of keeping war away. The League of Nations was created in June 1919, after World War I, as part of the Treaty of Versailles. However, when the Second World War broke out in 1939, the League closed down and its headquarters in Geneva remained empty throughout the war.
Consequently, in August 1941, American president Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill held a secret meeting aboard naval ships in Placenta Bay, located in the southeast coast of Newfoundland, Canada. The heads of the two countries discussed the possibility of creating a body for international peace effort and a range of issues related to the war. Together they issued a statement that came to be called the Atlantic Charter. It was not a treaty, but only an affirmation that paved the way for the creation of the UN. It declared the realisation of “certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they based their hopes for a better future for the world.”
The United States joined the war in December 1941, and for the first time the term ‘United Nations’ was coined by president Roosevelt to identify those countries which were allied against the axis powers. On January 1, 1942, representatives of 26 allied nations met in Washington DC to sign the declaration of the United Nations, which basically spelled out the war objectives of the Allied powers.
Over the next couple of years, several meetings took place among the Allied big four — The United States of America, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and China — to decide on the post-war charter that would describe the precise role of the United Nations.
The United Nations finally came into existence on October 24, 1945 after being ratified by 51 nations, which included five permanent members (France, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the UK and the US) and 46 other signatories. The first meeting of the General Assembly took place on January 10, 1946.
The four main goals of the UN included maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations, achieving international cooperation in solving international problems and being at the center for harmonising the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.
Achievements and failures of the UN in the last 75 years
While at the time of its formation, the UN consisted of only 51 member states, independence movements and de-colonisation in the subsequent years led to an expansion of its membership. At present, 193 countries are members of the UN.
The UN boasts of several significant achievements in the last 75 years. It has also expanded its scope to resolve over a large number of global issues such as health, environment and women empowerment among others.
Soon after its formation, it passed a resolution to commit to the elimination of nuclear weapons in 1946. In 1948, it created the World Health Organisation (WHO) to deal with communicable diseases like smallpox, malaria, HIV. At present the WHO is the apex organisation dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. In 1950, the UN created the High Commissioner for Refugees to take care of the millions who had been displaced due to World War II. It continues to be on the frontlines of crises faced by refugees from countries across the world. In 1972, the UN environment programme was created. More recently in 2002, the UN established the UN criminal court to try those who have committed war crimes, genocide, and other atrocities.
The UN has also met with its share of criticisms. In 1994, for instance, the organisation failed to stop the Rwandan genocide. In 2005, UN peacekeeping missions were accused of sexual misconduct in the Republic of Congo, and similar allegations have also come from Cambodia and Haiti. In 2011, the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan was unsuccessful in eliminating the bloodshed caused in the civil war that broke out in 2013.