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The United Nations: An Introduction for Students

Photo of conference The UN Charter

Even as the Second World War raged, the leaders of Britain, China, the US and the USSR, under intense pressure from the press and public, discussed the details of a post-war organization. In 1944 representatives of China, the UK, the US and the USSR meeting at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, prepared a blueprint for an international organization. Towards the end of the war representatives of 50 countries gathered in San Francisco between April and June 1945 to hammer out the final text that would lay the foundations of international cooperation. This was the Charter of the United Nations, signed on 26 June by 50 countries. Poland, the 51st country, was not able to send a representative to the San Francisco conference but is considered an original member.

Although the League was abandoned, most of its ideals and some of its structure were kept by the United Nations and outlined in its Charter. The ideals of peace and social and economic progress remained the basic goals of the new world organization. However, these were developed to fit the new and more complex post-war world.

The League's Council was transformed into the Security Council consisting of the five victors of the war as permanent members and ten other countries serving two year terms. The five permanent members - China, France, the UK, the USSR, and the US were also given veto power, which means that decisions taken by the Security Council can be blocked by any of the five permanent members. This is significant firstly because the Security Council is the principle UN organ responsible for ensuring peace, and, secondly, because it is the only body whose decisions are binding on all Member States. Since the creation of the UN the balance of Big Powers has changed and over one hundred new Member States, mainly non-Western, have joined. With these changes have come increasing demands to reform the Security Council.

The brief provision for Social Activities in the League's Covenant was turned into a comprehensive prescription for international economic and social cooperation, with the aim of achieving conditions of stability and well-being recognised as essential for peaceful relations among nations. Under the aegis of a new organ, the Economic and Social Council, the work of existing and anticipated Specialized Agencies in the fields of labour, education, health, agriculture, development and many others would be coordinated within the UN system. Racism and repression demanded that another, new, people's element should enter emphatically into the Charter, that of rights. Many sorts of rights, from the right to self-determination, which encouraged the independence of colonized peoples, to general human rights, which aimed to protect individuals, are enshrined in the Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and two Covenants which have become major, standard-setting additions to international law.


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