HISTORIC OVERVIEW



The Idea of a Peaceful World Community

Although the United Nations came into being during the Second World War (1939-1945), the ideal of a community of nations living in peace was conceived much earlier. Back in 1795, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant developed the idea of perpetual peace, a doctrine based on what we now call the rule of law. He advocated that nations establish a peaceful world community, not through a global government, but with each country becoming a free State respectful of its citizens and foreign visitors, thus promoting a peaceful society worldwide.

With this idea, Kant not only influenced philosophical and political thinking, he also sparked the development of international law and the creation of institutions such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union (established in 1889, a forerunner to the League of Nations and, today, a Permanent Observer at the United Nations). His influence is likewise clearly visible in the “Fourteen Points” speech given by American President Woodrow Wilson to the United States Congress on 8 January 1918, which included the first mention of the League of Nations.

Creation of the United Nations

The idea of the United Nations was born during the Second World War. Allied world leaders who had collaborated to end the war felt a strong need for a mechanism that would help bring peace and stop future wars. They realized that this was possible only if all nations worked together through a global organization. The United Nations was to be that organization.

Declaration by United Nations

On New Year’s Day 1942, representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and China signed a short document known as the Declaration by United Nations. The next day, representatives of 22 other nations added their signatures. This important document pledged the signatory governments to the maximum war effort and bound them against making a separate peace.

Three years later, when preparations were being made for the San Francisco Conference, only those States that had declared war on the Axis powers and subscribed to the Declaration by United Nations by March 1945 were invited to take part.


What is the United Nations?

The United Nations is a unique organization composed of independent countries that have come together to work for world peace and social progress. The Organization formally came into existence with just 51 countries. By 2012, the membership of the United Nations had grown to 193 countries.

A Forum for all Countries, not a World Government

Governments represent countries and peoples. The United Nations represents neither a particular government nor any one nation. It represents all its Members and does only what the Member States decide that it should do.

Guiding Principles of the United Nations

The Charter of the United Nations is the founding document guiding all of its under-takings. It is a set of guidelines that explains the rights and duties of each Member country and what needs to be done to achieve the goals they have set for themselves. When a nation becomes a Member of the United Nations, it accepts the aims and rules of the Charter.

Emblem

The original emblem was designed for the San Francisco Conference. After slight modifications, it was approved on 7 December 1946 as the emblem of the United Nations

The design is a map of the world surrounded by a wreath consisting of crossed olive branches. The world map is centred on the North Pole and extends to 60 degrees south latitude: this projection allows for all countries to be displayed with none at the centre, representing the equality of all nations. The olive branches symbolize peace.

The original colours were gold on a field of smoke-blue with all water areas in white.

 

Flag

The official flag of the United Nations was adopted on 20 October 1947. It consists of the official emblem of the United Nations in white on a blue background. The emblem is one half the height of the flag and entirely centred.

 

Structure of the Organization

The work of the United Nations is carried out almost all over the world by six principal organs:

All these organs are based at United Nations Headquarters in New York, except for the International Court of Justice, which is located at The Hague, Netherlands.

There are 15 specialized agencies that coordinate their work with the United Nations. In addition, there are 24 UN programmes, funds, institutes and other bodies with responsibilities in specific fields. All in all, the United Nations family of organizations focuses on areas as diverse as health, food and agriculture, telecommunications, tour-ism, labour, postal services, the environment, civil aviation, children, atomic energy, cultural preservation, science, refugees, intellectual property, gender equality, drugs, crime and terrorism, human settlements, maritime transport and weather. All these various bodies work together with the United Nations Secretariat and compose the United Nations System.

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, known as UN-Women, created in 2010, is the latest addition to the United Nations family of organizations. It replaces four separate entities devoted to women’s issues.

United Nations Headquarters

The United Nations Headquarters in New York is an international zone. This means that the land on which the United Nations sits does not belong to just the United States, the host country, but to all the Members. The United Nations has its own flag and its own security officers who guard the area. It also has its own post office and issues its own stamps. These stamps can be used only from United Nations Headquarters or from United Nations offices in Vienna and Geneva. The compound has its own onsite bookshop which specializes in UN affairs and related topics. For more information about the Headquarters visit the United Nations Visitor Centre page.


Membership and Budget

The United Nations currently has four completely distinct budget lines:

  • The regular budget, for core functions at Headquarters in New York, major regional offices at Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna and a range of field offices situated in all continents.

  • The peacekeeping budget, to cover the cost of peacekeeping operations, often in war-torn zones, around the world.

  • The budget for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, situated in Arusha, Tanzania, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, situated in The Hague, Netherlands.

  • An approved budget of $1.9 billion allocated towards a renovation project of the United Nations Headquarters—the Capital Master Plan (CMP)—which is expected to be complete by 2014.

Payment to the United Nations for all types of budgets is compulsory. Members pay according to an agreed-upon scale of assessment. This scale, reviewed every three years, is based on a country’s ability to pay, national income and population.

The specialized organizations that form part of the United Nations System have budgets separate from the four United Nations budgets described above. The bulk of their resources emanate from voluntary contributions by governments, individuals and institutions.

Becoming a Member of the United Nations

United Nations Organization has 193 Member States.

Membership, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, “is open to all peace-loving States that accept the obligations contained in the United Nations Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able to carry out these obligations”. States are admitted by decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.

In brief, the procedure is as follows:

  • The requesting country or entity submits an application to the Secretary-General and a letter formally stating that it accepts the obligations under the Charter.

  • The Security Council considers the application. Any recommendation for admission must receive affirmative votes from 9 of the 15 members of the Council, provided that none of its five permanent members—China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States of America—has voted against the application.

  • If the Council recommends admission, the recommendation is presented to the General Assembly for consideration. A two-thirds majority vote is necessary in the Assembly for admission of a new State.

  • Membership becomes effective on the day the resolution for admission is adopted.


Permanent Observers

Non-Member States of the United Nations, which are members of one or more specialized agencies, can apply for the status of Permanent Observer. The status of a Permanent Observer is based purely on practice; there are no provisions for it in the United Nations Charter. The practice dates from 1946, when the Secretary-General accepted the designation of neutral Switzerland as a Permanent Observer to the United Nations. Switzerland became a Member State in 2002. By 2012, the Holy See (Vatican City) has a Permanent Observer status while State of Palestine has a Non-member Observer status.

Non-member Observer States have free access to most meetings and relevant documentation.

Many regional and international organizations are also Observers of the work and annual sessions of the General Assembly.

Official Languages

The official languages used at the United Nations are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. The working languages at the United Nations Secretariat are English and French.

During meetings, delegates may speak in any of the official languages, and the speech is interpreted simultaneously in the other official languages. Most United Nations documents are also issued in all six official languages.

At times, a delegate may choose to make a statement using a non-official language. In such cases, the delegation must provide either an interpretation or a written text of the statement in one of the official languages.

 

For more detailed information about the United Nations visit the page UN at a Glance.

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