Keeping Nations United: this year, the United Nations celebrates its 60th anniversary. Swiss News looks at the structure of the UN and its history, as well as the activities of its office in Geneva and how the UN is trying to adapt to the challenges of a changing world.

AuteurVenning, Mona
Fonction UN In Geneva Special

The forerunner of the United Nations, The League of Nations, was founded in 1919, after the end of the First World War. The Treaty of Versailles has established the League "to promote international cooperation and to achieve peace and security." At the time, many looked to the League to bring stability to the world.

The Secretariat of the League was based in Geneva, Switzerland, at the newly built Palais des Nations. This choice was natural as Switzerland was a neutral country and had not fought in the First World War. Furthermore, The Red Cross, by then a well-respected international organisation, was already based in Switzerland. The League of Nations ceased its activities after failing to prevent the Second World War.

The UN Charter

During the Second World War, the name 'United Nations' was first used in the 'Declaration by United Nations' on January 1st 1942, when representatives of 26 nations pledged their governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers.

In 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organisation to draw up the United Nations Charter.

The UN Charter, an international treaty, set out basic principles of international relations and the goals of the UN organisation. These goals are:

* To maintain international peace and security;

* To develop friendly relations among nations;

* To cooperate in solving international problems and in promoting respect for human rights;

* And to be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations.

On October 24th 1945, the UN Charter was signed by 51 countries.

The Structure of the UN System

The United Nations has six main organs: The General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the Secretariat and the International Court of Justice. The former five are based at UN Headquarters in New York, while the latter is located at The Hague in the Netherlands.

Though not a world government, the United Nations' mission is to provide the means to help resolve international conflicts and formulate policies on matters affecting people around the world. The UN's main forum, The General Assembly, is in New York, where all the Member States are represented and have one vote each. Its annual session is held in the autumn and lasts for three months. Decisions on important issues require a two-thirds majority, others a simple majority vote. Today, nearly every nation in the world belongs to the UN: membership totals 191 countries.

The Security Council

The General Assembly has lost some of its political weight, which has shifted to the Security Council, the UN's highest decision-making body and Member States must abide by its decisions and resolutions. The Security Council can call for binding economic sanctions and decide to undertake collective military interventions (such as peacekeeping) if it believes international peace and security are...

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