Insights and Analysis

The United Nations Charter at Seventy

June 24, 2015

By David D. Arnold

In 1945, as World War II entered its terrible final months, world leaders were working on a new institution they hoped would prevent the next conflagration, a world forum built on international law, where nations could settle their differences with words instead of warfare. That June, delegations from 50 nations made their way to San Francisco, by ship, by train, and sometimes by misadventure, to forge the agreement that would create the United Nations. After two months of study and debate involving hundreds of delegates, advisors, universities, and NGOs, and legions of volunteers, the UN Charter was signed on June 26.

Photo/Flickr user Prayitno

The UN still provides the only forum where every nation, large or small, rich or poor, can listen and be heard. Photo/Flickr user Prayitno

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of that charter, a suitable moment to honor the ideals that it set forth, as well as to look ahead to those tasks that remain undone.

The purpose of the new international organization was to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war; to restore and defend fundamental human rights, human dignity, and the equal rights of men and women; to support international law; and to promote social progress and better lives for people around the world.

It is easy to re-examine this list today and see that, 70 years on, there is still a long way to go. War has not vanished from the earth, nor have poverty, hunger, injustice, and oppression. And yet, this is why the United Nations remains relevant to this day. The UN still provides the only forum where every nation, large or small, rich or poor, can listen and be heard. Only this international body can articulate our common goals for peace, global development, or women’s empowerment. And while there is much still to be done, much has been accomplished.

United Nations membership now stands at 193 countries. It has fed five million people a month and vaccinated two million children against polio. It has provided disaster relief for millions and assisted millions of refugees, fought poverty, provided clean water, and improved maternal health.

In 1948, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights made the concept of human rights part of international law. In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women adopted a landmark platform that set the international agenda for women’s rights. In 2000, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals once again concentrated the world’s attention and resources on the poor, the sick, the hungry, and the oppressed, and called for a global partnership for environmentally sustainable development. The Post-2015 Development Agenda renews and expands these commitments, to include global resource management, climate change, and environmental protection.

The principles and aspirations first articulated by the United Nations so many years ago here in San Francisco are echoed in The Asia Foundation’s 60 years of work on the ground in Asia – a commitment to peace, justice, and the goal that all may thrive. For this reason, we are pleased to serve on the host committee for the upcoming 70th anniversary events in the Bay Area. We are especially pleased that on June 26, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will speak at Stanford University and answer questions with Asia Foundation Trustee Kathleen Stephens, former U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Korea. Later that day I will have the privilege of dining with the secretary-general and other luminaries at the historic Fairmont Hotel, where many of the original UN meetings took place in 1945.

The beloved Burmese diplomat U Thant, third secretary-general of the United Nations, once said: “The war we have to wage today has only one goal, and that is to make the world safe for diversity.” It is a goal that both the UN and The Asia Foundation share.

David D. Arnold is president of The Asia Foundation. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related topics: Asia Foundation History


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InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

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