The United Nations was set up in 1945.
Its aim: to prevent another world war and make the world a better place. Its mission statement is laid down in the UN charter.
The UN is made up of 193 member states. Members convene at the United Nations General Assembly, which is the main policy making section of the UN. All sounds very important.
The UN Security Council maintains international peace and security. No big deal.
The Security Council has five permanent members;
France, Russia, China, the USA and the UK. 10 additional nations serve two-year terms.
In 1961 the United Nations created the World Food Programme. This provides food to around 90 million people. The number of starving people in the world has dropped by around 100 million in the last decade.
Eradicating smallpox is one of the United Nations greatest achievements, according to Alex Buskie at the United Nations Association.
By vaccinating more than half the world’s children against deadly diseases the UN is estimated to save 2.5 million lives a year.
The UN also takes a tough stance on war criminals.
A war crime is defined as an act carried during a war that violates accepted international rules of war.
Think: killing civilians and torturing prisoners. Not nice stuff.
In 2003 the UN set up a tribunal to trial Liberian politician Charles Taylor for war crimes during the Liberian Civil war. Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in jail. Go UN!
Oh, and the UN has a list of Global Development Goals which will make the world a better place. Read: the United Nations’ plan to save the world
A 1970 UN nuclear treaty committed most members to getting rid of all nuclear weapons. Some countries like South Africa have got rid of their weapons. Yet in 2015, there are still around 15,000 nukes in the world. Yikes.
The United Nations has also struggled to make headway in the fight against climate change.
In 2009, all the UN states met at a summit in Copenhagen to agree on a deal to tackle climate change. It was expected a legal treaty would be signed – but everyone came away with nothing. UN member states meet again in Paris this year to try to lock in a deal. If at first you don’t succeed.
Though the UN keeps the world looking pretty by protecting World Heritage Sites it failed to stop Islamist group Islamic State blowing up ancient temples at Palmyra, Syria.
United Nations peacekeepers are now being dispatched to protect other heritage sites around the globe. Better late than never.
The United Nations has also been criticised for the failure of some of its peacekeeping missions. Let’s just say the success rate is well below 100%.
The United Nations also failed to prevent another genocide (mass killing of an ethnic group or large group of people) in Srebrenica, Bosnia.
During the Bosnian civil war killings occurred inside zones that were deemed as “safe havens” by UN peacekeeping forces.
According to Human Rights Watch “United Nations peacekeeping officials were unwilling to heed requests for support from their own forces stationed within the enclave, thus allowing Bosnian Serb forces to easily overrun it and
— without interference from U.N. soldiers — to carry out systematic, mass executions of hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilian men and boys and to terrorize, rape, beat, execute, rob and otherwise abuse civilians being deported from the area.”
Not the UN’s finest hour.
Though the Security Council is supposed to reduce international conflict there’s been tension between certain member states. Ahem, America and Russia.
The five Permanent council members have a veto power, or the power to reject plans put forward by other states. If just one of the five permanent member vetoes a particular action, it cannot go ahead – even if the other 14 countries voted for it.
Things got awkward when the UK, France and the USA wanted to intervene in the Syrian civil war… only to be blocked repeatedly by Russia and China.
Then there’s the selection of Saudi Arabia as the head of the UN human rights panel.
Despite some of the shortcomings listed above it is clear that the United Nations has done a lot of good in the world. However some still call it “outdated” and say that it needs to be reformed. What do you think?