United Nations Day is a celebration held annually on October 24. In a move to signify the end of the WWI formally, the League of Nations was founded through the Treaty of Versailles. The members of the league signed the treaty on June 28, 1919, in the French city of Versailles.
The objectives of the League of Nations included helping to make the quality of life of people around the world better, settling international disputes through negotiations and diplomatic means, preventing wars from breaking and promoting disarmament. These scenarios were ideal but they were not strong enough to prevent the WWII outbreak. It signifies that the world needed something different to stop world wars from starting.
Celebrating the United Nations Day is a commemoration of the formation of the organization, the massive collaborative efforts of the member nations to maintain world peace, promote social progress and human rights. The day also serves as a reminder to accept and acknowledge cultural diversity.
Formation of the United Nations
A few years before WWII ended, the formation of a united alliance of nations was being floated as early as 1939 under the endorsement of the State Department of the United States. Two years later, representatives of Yugoslavia, Poland, Norway, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Greece, Czechoslovakia and Belgium together with the Union of South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom held a meeting in London. Joining them was France’s General Gaulle. The Declaration of St. James’ Palace was signed during the meeting, which was the initial conference out of the six that resulted in the establishment of the United Nations and its Charter.
Did you know? The name United Nations came from the suggestion from President Franklin Roosevelt of the U.S. He suggested the name to Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain in reference to the allied nations that joined forces in World War II in 1941. PM Churchill was in the U.S. at that time as a guest of the White House. The British PM accepted the suggestion, which he recalled was used by Lord Byron in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, a poem where a reference to the Allies at the Battle of Waterloo was mentioned.
Declaration of the United Nations
During a meeting at the White House, Franklin Roosevelt of the United States, Winston Churchill of Britain and Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s aide, drafted the text of the Declaration of the United Nations a few days before the end of 1941.
The first time the term United Nations was used officially was on January 1 to 2 in 1942. During that two-day period, the Declaration was signed by 26 governments. By 1945, 21 additional states have joined in signing the Declaration.
Formal establishment of the United Nations
The United Nations Conference on International Organization started in San Francisco on April 25, 1945, a few months before the end of WWII. Aside from the 51 different governments, several non-government organizations including the Lions Clubs International and Rotary International were invited to help draft the UN Charter.
By mid-June, the Charter of the United Nations was presented and signed by the member nations. According to the charter, it should be ratified by the United States, United Kingdom, the USSR, France and the Republic of China for the charter to take effect.
By October 24, 1945, the Charter was signed by most of the original 51 member nations. It was declared that the United Nations was an official world organization on that day.
Under the umbrella of the United Nations are several specialized agencies that implement various and specific objectives, such as:
- WHO (World Health Organization)
- FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization)
- UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)
- UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund)
- ILO (International Labour Organization)
- UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)
- UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council)
Celebrating United Nations Day
The first time the United Nations Day was first celebrated was on October 24, 1948; making 2018 the 70th year the special day is observed. Also, the United Nations recommended the day to be a public holiday in 1971. Member nations observe the day to recall the tremendous role, massive work and great achievements of the United Nations along with its different agencies in the areas of refugee settlement, health and welfare promotion, disease eradication, ending famine and supporting human rights.
There are several ways that member nations celebrate United Nations Day.
Typically, exhibits, discussions and meetings are held around the world to honor the achievements of the organization and highlight the organization’s goals.
Because it is now a public holiday, many schools commemorate the occasion with fun activities and parades. Acknowledgement of diversity is often one of the themes of different celebrations, particularly among schools. International schools around the world often hold food fairs, arts and crafts exhibits and cultural performances.
In the Philippines for example, schoolchildren often dress up in the national costumes of different UN member nations for school presentations, parades or pageant. In some schools, classes are assigned one country to study and represent.
Interesting facts about UN Day
The United Nations is 73 years old and throughout its existence, it established several milestones to achieve its continuing goals. There are some many interesting facts, some of them well known and popular, while some are less known. So here goes:
- The first elected president who presided over the first session of the United Nations General Assembly was Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium. He was the foreign minister of Belgium and held office for one session of the General Assembly on January 16, 1946.
- António Guterres of Portugal is the current Secretary-General of the United Nations, succeeding Ban Ki-moon of South Korea.
- The UN General Assembly elects one president and 21 vice-presidents. The positions are held for one year. The UN Presidents is the one who presides over the General Assembly sessions. The sessions start in September each year. Since 1971, the secretary-generals are elected for five-year terms and can be elected for second terms according to the discretion of the member nation representatives.
- The UN presidency rotates every year among member nations located in Western Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.
- The mandate of the United Nations is to promote and maintain human rights and international peace. The international organization continues to do activities worldwide to provide humanitarian assistance, prevent conflicts, peacebuilding and peacekeeping.
- When it first started, the UN has 51 member countries. Today 193 countries comprise the United Nations.
- The United Nations operates in almost every part of the world and works to fight climate change with 140 countries. The organization has 80 different declarations and treaties for human rights protection.
- World War II ended in September 1945. The timing of the founding of the United Nations in October 1945 is a veiled reference to one of UN’s main purpose – attaining peace. In its logo, the peace symbols, two olive branches are superimposed over the stylized representation of the world.
- The United Nations boosts the work of translators and interpreters. It uses six languages officially – English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian and Chinese.
- The 193rd member of the United Nations is South Sudan. It joined the UN on July 14, 2011, five days after it became independent.
- The building and the land in New York City where the United Nations headquarters is located are regarded as an international territory. Interestingly, they do not meet the city’s building and fire safety codes.
- Annually, the staff members of the UN wear their national costumes to observe their special day.
- John D. Rockefeller, Jr. provided the funds to purchase the land in New York City where the United Nations building was erected. Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier designed the building.
- The United Nations has its own postage stamp and post office. The UN stamps are available from the UN offices in Vienna, Geneva and New York.
- The logo of the United Nations was initially a design for a lapel pin. Its designer was Donal McLaughlin, an employee of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was the forerunner of the Central Investigation Agency (CIA).
These are some of the fun and interesting facts worth knowing about the United Nations, an organization that touches the lives of almost all the people around the world.
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