United Nations on its 64th Birthday: A Retrospect

Article by Patricia Danica Calauagan

October 24 marks a legacy in world history as the establishment of the United Nations in 1945.

As its birthday, it's usually marked by different meetings, discussions and exhibits around the world, presenting the goals and achievements of the organization. The day is also notable for the messages of the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly, often shown by national TV stations in different countries. Several international schools also celebrate the diversity of their student body on this momentous occasion through cultural performances, food fairs and a presentation of national costumes.

But how did the United Nations come to be in the first place?

The Successor of the League of Nations

In 1919, the League of Nations came into existence as an organization as a result of the 1919-1920 Treaty of Versailles. It aimed to protect the Rights of Man, settling disputes through negotiation and diplomacy and improving the quality of life around the world. However it lacked the armed forces to enforce its own sanctions, depending much on the Great Powers at that time to enforce its resolutions or to provide an army when needed. The United States, too, did not join the League of Nations. And with the onset of World War II, it failed its primary purpose: to avoid any future world wars.

Following the failure of the League of Nations, representatives of 50 countries and of other non-governmental organizations met up at San Francisco in 1945 to draft the Charter of the United Nations, a term first coined by Franklin D. Roosevelt to describe the Allied countries. They reviewed and discussed the proposals presented by the representatives of China, France, the former Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. The Charter was signed on June 26, 1945 by the representatives of the 50 countries and on October 24, 1945, the United Nations finally came into existence upon the ratification of the Charter by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

United Nations as an International Organization

As of the present, there are 192 member states which includes nearly every sovereign state in the world. According to the Charter, the UN as an international organization aims "to maintain international peace and security; to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples; to cooperate in solving international economic, social, cultural and humanitarian problems and in promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and to be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in attaining these ends." (UN Charter Chapter I, 1945).

There are five (formerly six, with the Trusteeship Council suspending its operations in 1994) principal organs of the United Nations:

The General Assembly, which is the main deliberative assembly of organizations and composed of all the representatives of the members of the United States; the Security Council, which is in charge of the maintenance of international peace and order and composed of 15 members, with five vetowielding members and 10 elected members with a two-year term; the Economic and Social Council, which promotes international economic and social development; the International Court of Justice, which is the primary judicial court of the organization; and the UN Secretariat, headed by the UN Secretary-General.

The United Nations Family of Organizations however is much larger, consisting of the UN Secretariat, the organizations funds and programmes, its specialized agencies and other related organizations. While subsidiaries of the five principal organs or linked only to the organization through special agreement, each member of the United Nations Family addresses specialized areas and at times, have their own budgets and legislative systems. Altogether, these organizations addresses different economic and social issues around the world.

The Functions of an International Organization

The principal functions of the United Nations include: peacekeeping missions, where the organization has been called upon several times to prevent disputes from escalating into war or to resolve armed conflicts through dialogue and diplomacy; human rights and humanitarian assistance, where the international community has relied upon the UN in times of natural disasters and catastrophes; and social and economic development, aimed "to promote higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic progress and social progress and development." (UN Charter Chapter IX, 1945)

However, such functions have also invited criticisms and controversies from the international community. From the UN's moral relativism with regards to genocide and terrorists, to member states' reluctance to enforce Security Council resolutions, to abuse of human rights and failure to protect them.

Where to now?

The United Nations is facing different challenges at present.

With the passing of the verdict on Aung San Suu Kyi last August, the Security Council has expressed its serious concern over the further 18 months of house arrest of Aung San, as well as called for the release of political prisoners in Myanmar. This, and the other disputes that are still going on around the world. Furthermore, the global economic crisis also presents a hard-hit on the organization as it continue to push millions of people into poverty and hunger.

The UN has been responding by helping countries meet the Millenium Development Goal by 2015, aimed to reduce poverty, protect human rights, prevent epidemic diseases such as AIDS and promote a global partnership for development. But such is not enough to help families suffering from economic hardship.

Last September 2009, Secretary Ban-Kimoon expressed that faith too has a key role addressing current global challenges, ranging from disarmament to climate change to the economic crisis, and in bringing people together to promote peace and progress. "Faith can 'strengthen our ability to reach the UN’s life-saving goals, for the sake of our planet and all people'." (UN News Center, 2009) ▪

United Nations Charter [http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/]
UN News Center [http://www.un.org/