1945 - Delegates meet in San Francisco to negotiate a charter for the United Nations. UN Photo/McCreary
As World War II continued into its final year, delegates from 50 nations gathered in San Francisco, California (United States), from 25 April to 26 June 1945 to draw up a charter for the future United Nations, an organization they hoped would preserve peace and help build a better world. Deliberations at the UN Conference on International Organization, also known as the San Francisco Conference, were based on proposals that had been worked out the previous year at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in Washington, D.C., by representatives of four countries – China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. Above, a crowd gathers as US President Harry S. Truman arrives at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.
1945 - Historic negotiations. UN Photo/Mili
The San Francisco Conference, which took place at the opera house, the Fairmont Hotel and other venues throughout the city, was arguably one of the most important international gatherings in history, and possibly the largest ever at the time. A total of 850 delegates participated, along with their advisers and staff, representing more than 80 percent of the world’s population. Also in attendance were more than 2,500 representatives of the international press, ensuring that the work of the conference received wide media coverage as the war-weary world looked on. Shown representatives deliberate in one of the many committee meetings. Standing is Lieutenant Colonel Henri Rolin of Belgium.
1945 - Breaking news amid busy negotiations: World War II ends in Europe. UN Photo
Much of the work in San Francisco took place in committees before proposals were voted on by the full gathering, where every segment of the proposed charter had to pass by a two-thirds majority. Throughout the two-month conference, delegates overcame differences of opinion on vital issues, including the Security Council voting system on matters of peace and security. In addition to the UN Charter, participants also drafted the Statute of the International Court of Justice. Pictured, on 8 May 1945 in San Francisco, Norway’s Foreign Minister and soon-to-become the first UN Secretary-General, Trygve Lie (left), with Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk, pause upon receiving the news that World War II has ended in Europe.
1945 - United Nations Charter adopted unanimously in San Francisco. UN Photo/Yould
On 25 June 1945, the United Nations Charter was put to a vote and passed unanimously by all representatives. The following day, 26 June, at the Veterans War Memorial Hall, each delegate signed the Charter along with the Statute of the International Court of Justice. The Charter came into effect later that year, on 24 October, once a majority of signatory States had ratified it. Here, US Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius Jr., chairman of the US delegation, signs the historic documents as US President Harry Truman stands to his right.
1946 - General Assembly begins its work. UN Photo/Marcel Bolomey
The United Nations Charter established six main organs of the organization, including the General Assembly – the main deliberative forum comprised of all Member States, each of which has one vote. The General Assembly first met in London’s Central Hall (United Kingdom) on 10 January 1946, and two weeks later, on 24 January, adopted its first resolution establishing a commission to address the problems posed by the discovery of atomic energy. Pictured, at the Assembly’s inaugural meeting, General Assembly President Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium addresses delegates.
1946 - Economic and Social Council holds first meeting. UN Photo
On 23 January 1946, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) commenced its work at Church House in London (United Kingdom). Tasked by the UN Charter with promoting higher standards of living, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress, as well as respect for human rights worldwide, this principal organ of the UN plays a key role in fostering international cooperation for development and setting priorities for action. Shown, at its first session, delegates congratulate Sir Ramaswami Mudaliar of India on his election as President.
1946 - Inaugural meeting of the Security Council. UN Photo/Marcel Bolomey
The United Nations Security Council began its work on 17 January 1946 at Church House in London (United Kingdom). Charged with responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, the Council is endowed by the UN Charter with the power to make legally binding decisions that Member States are obligated to carry out, in contrast with other UN organs, which make recommendations to Member States. Later in 1946, the Council moved its work to venues in New York (United States), meeting at Hunter College in Manhattan and, subsequently, in Lake Success on Long Island until the world body’s headquarters complex was completed in 1952. Here, Norman J. O. Makin of Australia presides at the Council’s first meeting in London.
1948 - For the record: Behind-the-scenes snapshot of UN documentation process. UN Photo/KB
Precision, speed and accuracy are at the core of the editorial process developed by the United Nations to record its multilingual proceedings. In 1948, country representatives who had spoken at a UN meeting were given 48 hours to check their speeches and submit any corrections for incorporation into the final official record of the meeting. Shown, in an era pre-dating email and desktop publishing, members of the Official Records team check the correct spelling of names of country representatives, as written on a blackboard, to ensure editorial uniformity.
1949 - UN marks fourth birthday with cornerstone ceremony for New York headquarters. UN Photo
On 24 October 1949, the fourth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, during a special open-air meeting of the General Assembly, Secretary-General Trygve Lie (left) deposits copies of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into the cornerstone of the world body’s New York headquarters, and seals them with the help of chief architect Wallace K. Harrison. In 1945, the United States Congress had unanimously agreed to invite the UN to establish its permanent headquarters in the US. John D. Rockefeller Jr., US philanthropist, provided funding for purchase of the property, with additional gifts from the City of New York.
1948 - General Assembly adopts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. UN Photo
Determined to prevent the atrocities of World War II from ever happening again, on 10 December 1948, three years after the United Nations was created and the war ended, the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an instrument that would bring about sweeping change to post-war societies. The Declaration provides a roadmap aimed at guaranteeing the rights of every individual everywhere in the world. Without constituting a binding treaty per se, the Declaration carries the force of law and continues to serve as a living legal document. Left, Eleanor Roosevelt, the US delegate to the Assembly who led the international drafting committee for the Declaration, displays a French translation of the text.
1949 - In post-war Austria, hungry children await UN food aid. UN Photo
World War II’s devastating toll left millions of people without proper food, fuel, clothing or shelter. Children were especially hard hit. In Europe, where famine and disease were widespread, in some regions half of all babies died before their first birthday. UNICEF – then known as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, and now as the UN Children’s Fund – was created by the UN General Assembly in 1946 to provide relief assistance to children affected by war. Operating under the principle that children are above the political divide, UNICEF offered aid equally to those in vanquished as well as victorious countries. Here, a young Austrian boy thrusts his empty cup forward to receive his daily allotment of hot milk provided by UNICEF.
1950 - Countries unite to restore peace to Korean Peninsula. UN Photo/Leo Morel
After North Korean troops invaded the Republic of Korea in June 1950, igniting the Korean War, the United Nations Security Council recommended that Member States assist in repelling the attack and in restoring peace and security to the Korean Peninsula. In July, on further recommendation by the Council, troop-contributing countries made their forces available to a unified command led by the United States and authorized to fly the UN flag, even though it was not a UN peacekeeping operation. Fighting continued until July 1953 when an armistice was signed. Shown, members of a voluntary contingent from New Zealand pull a truck from the mud during a training exercise.
1952 - UN Radio shines spotlight on needs of developing countries. UN Photo
Fighting poverty and disease, and raising living standards in developing countries around the world, have figured high on the agenda of the United Nations from its inception. To draw attention to these issues, in May 1952, UN Radio, in cooperation with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), produced a three-part radio drama entitled Jungle in Retreat. Reconstructed from original diaries, notes and recordings chronicling a 100-day, 25,000-mile expedition to Southeast Asia by a UN reporting team, the series highlighted development cooperation between UN experts and local government specialists in the region. Pictured, US actor Gene Kelly (second from left), who narrated the production, rehearses with an international cast of actors in London (United Kingdom).
1955 - Ambassadors to the public: UN tour guides. UN Photo/MB
United Nations Headquarters became one of New York’s most popular attractions when the Organization began to offer guided tours in 1952. Over the years, UN tour guides have introduced the landmark to more than 40 million visitors. The “human face” of the Organization, guides must be capable of fielding challenging questions with accuracy and tact. For a quarter century, the guides were exclusively women. Since 1977, when the first male guide was recruited, the team has consisted of both men and women, representing an array of nationalities and offering tours in more than 20 languages. Left, in 1955, guides from Turkey, Egypt and the United States take a break in their dressing room between assignments.
1955 - UN pillars: Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld confers with political chief Ralph Bunche. UN Photo/MB
Dag Hammarskjöld (left), the second United Nations Secretary- General, headed the Organization from 1953 until his death in a plane crash in 1961, while en route to negotiate peace in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The youngest ever to hold the post, at age 47, he championed the concept of preventive diplomacy. Three months after his death, he was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Here, Hammarskjöld consults with then Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs Ralph Bunche, who won the prize in 1950 for his successful diplomacy in ending the first Arab-Israeli War in 1949. Bunche, who played a major role in drafting the UN Charter, spearheaded, via the Trusteeship Council, the dismantling of existing colonial rule in Africa and Asia.
1958 - UN observers dispatched to Lebanon as armed rebellion erupts. UN Photo
In 1958, the President of Lebanon, Camille Chamoun, announced that he intended to seek a constitutional amendment so he could run for a second term, sparking an armed rebellion that soon grew to the proportions of civil war. At the request of the Lebanese Government, which had complained to the United Nations Security Council that the then United Arab Republic (a political union between Syria and Egypt) was supplying arms to subversive elements in the country, the Council dispatched the UN Observation Group in Lebanon (UNOGIL) with the aim of ensuring that “no illegal infiltration” of personnel or arms crossed Lebanese borders. Here, Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld meets with members of the team in Beirut, including Rajeshwar Dayal of India, with whom he is shaking hands, Major General Odd Bull of Norway and Galo Plaza Lasso of Ecuador.
1956 - Toward equal rights and self-determination: UN International Trusteeship System. UN Photo
When the United Nations was established in 1945, 750 million people, almost a third of the world’s population, lived in territories that were dependent on colonial powers. To address this concern, the framers of the UN Charter laid out principles that continue to guide UN decolonization efforts today, and established the International Trusteeship System to monitor how Trust Territories were being administered. Today, more than 80 former colonies have gained independence and have joined the UN, and fewer than two million people live in the 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories. Pictured, a UN staff member poses with citizens of New Guinea, then administered by Australia, and now the independent nation of Papua New Guinea, during a 1956 mission of the Trusteeship Council.
1957 - Queen Elizabeth II addresses General Assembly. UN Photo/AF
As delegates to the United Nations General Assembly’s 12th session (1957-1958) grappled with issues ranging from post-war reconstruction on the Korean Peninsula to peace in the Middle East, from apartheid in South Africa to the expansion of international trade, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (shown), was among heads of State to address the General Debate. “Time has… made the task of the United Nations more difficult than it seemed when the terms of the Charter were agreed at San Francisco,” the monarch observed during her first of two speeches to the world body, the second occurring 53 years later, in 2010.
1960 - Surge in UN membership. UN Photo
In 1960, its 15th anniversary year, the United Nations experienced a growth spurt as the General Assembly admitted 17 countries as Member States on the recommendation of the Security Council. This boosted the number of members to 99, the largest increase in a single year since the Organization’s founding. In September, a record number of Heads of State or government from all sides of the political divide came to New York City for the Assembly’s General Debate to discuss the complex problems facing the international community during the Cold War era. Among participating dignitaries was newly-appointed Prime Minister of Cuba and former rebel leader Fidel Castro (left), who spoke for more than four hours.
1960 - As world leaders debate, UN Headquarters hosts US talk show. UN Photo/Marvin Bolotsky
Among the many world figures to address the General Assembly’s 15th session in the autumn of 1960 was Premier Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union. While in New York, the Soviet leader (right) accepted an invitation from talk-show host David Susskind (left) to be interviewed on US television. The interview, which took place in UN Conference Room 3, was controversial during the tense Cold War era and sparked protests.
1961 - Nuclear arms control takes centre stage at General Assembly’s 16th session. UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata
Concern over the nuclear arms race was high on the agenda as the United Nations General Assembly’s 16th session opened in 1961. On 20 September, the Soviet Union and the United States submitted a joint statement of principles to guide disarmament negotiations. In October, the Assembly appealed to the Soviet Union to refrain from carrying out nuclear tests and adopted a resolution stressing the need for a nuclear test-ban treaty. Concerned that nuclear testing had resumed, in November the Assembly adopted a declaration banning the use of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons and, in the following weeks, a series of related resolutions. Shown, US President John F. Kennedy greets Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko at a reception in New York.
1962 - Smallpox: Countries join forces to defeat deadly disease. UN Photo/BZ
In the 1960s, smallpox, the acutely contagious disease for which there is no known cure, was ravaging communities throughout Africa and Asia, resulting in death for up to 30 percent of its victims and badly scarring those who survived. In an unprecedented decades-long push to eradicate the scourge, countries around the world joined together to implement strategies such as vaccination campaigns, surveillance and prevention measures. The last natural case of smallpox was documented in Somalia in 1977. Three years later, in 1980, the virus was declared eradicated and became the first disease to have been successfully battled on a global scale. Pictured, in 1962 in Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, in the then Republic of the Congo, a medical worker immunizes young girls and mothers against smallpox.
1962 - Preventive diplomacy: Averting nuclear catastrophe in the Caribbean. UN Photo/MH
The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is widely acknowledged as a pivotal moment in the Cold War. In October, the discovery by United States intelligence of nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba triggered a 13-day superpower standoff, with the US imposing a naval blockade of Soviet arms shipments to the Caribbean nation. From 16 to 28 October, the world appeared close to a nuclear conflagration as Soviet and US warships encircled Cuba. In what has been termed a key example of preventive diplomacy, U Thant, then Acting United Nations Secretary-General following Dag Hammarskjöld’s death, intervened. Eventually, the parties agreed to a moratorium, buying time to work out an agreement. Shown, at a meeting of the Security Council on 25 October 1962, delegates view maps and photos displayed by the US said to show missile installations in Cuba.
1963 - United Nations champions peaceful uses of outer space. UN Photo/YN
Since the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the world’s first satellite, known as Sputnik, the United Nations has been working with countries to ensure that outer space is used only for peaceful purposes, and that benefits from space activities are shared by all. In 1963, Soviet cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin (left) and Valentina Tereshkova, the first male and female astronauts to travel into space, visited the UN at the invitation of Secretary-General U Thant and were presented to the General Assembly. The same year, on 13 December, the Assembly called for international agreements on the rescue and return of astronauts and objects launched into outer space, and liability for damage caused by space objects.
1964 - Celebrated rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. visits the UN. UN Photo
On his way to Oslo, Norway, to receive the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, renowned US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (left) visited United Nations Headquarters with his wife, activist Coretta Scott King (centre), at the invitation of his friend, Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs Ralph Bunche (right). In 1950, Bunche had become the first African-American Nobel Peace Prize laureate and King was about to become the second. A year later, in 1965, Bunche joined King’s historic campaign for voting equality in the US State of Alabama, marching with him and other rights leaders from the city of Selma to the state capital, Montgomery. The promotion of human rights has been a guiding principle of the UN since its inception.
1966 - India’s first female Prime Minister pays official visit to the UN. UN Photo/Teddy Chen
Shortly after taking office as India’s Prime Minister in 1966, Indira Gandhi paid an official visit to the United Nations and met with Secretary-General U Thant (above). Her country, a founding member of the UN, took an active role in the work of the Organization from the start, and was one of the original nations to sign the UN Charter. The first woman President of the General Assembly was India’s Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, elected in 1953 to head the 8th session. Since then, the Assembly has been led by a woman only two other times: in 1969, when Angie Elisabeth Brooks of Liberia was elected President of the 24th session, and in 2006, when Bahrain’s Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa was elected to lead the 61st session.
1966 - As the Cold War wears on, Vietnam crisis dampens international relations. UN Photo
The war in Vietnam cast a pall over international affairs and was particularly troubling to United Nations Secretary-General U Thant who, in 1966, travelled to the capitals of concerned parties and drew up a plan he hoped would pave the way toward ending the conflict. In his annual report that year, he commented that the crisis was increasing distrust among governments and impairing international cooperation on issues of critical importance. The plight of the Vietnamese people should be the first, and not the last, consideration of all concerned, he added. Shown, in Paris, U Thant holds private talks with French President Charles de Gaulle (right) in April 1966, which include the situation in Vietnam.
1967 - Monitoring the Middle East: UN military observers. UN Photo/VA
The situation in the Middle East has been a concern of the United Nations since its earliest years and is an issue out of which the concept of UN peacekeeping evolved. The first such operation, an unarmed observer mission – the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) – was created in 1948 to monitor an armistice following unrest over the creation of the State of Israel. UNTSO military observers remain in the Middle East today to monitor ceasefires, prevent isolated incidents from escalating and to assist other UN peacekeeping operations in the region. In July 1967, the Security Council authorized UNTSO observers to be stationed at the Suez Canal following a resumption of hostilities between Israel and neighbouring Arab countries. Pictured, UNTSO military observers on duty in the Suez Canal sector.
1968 - Combating illiteracy. UN Photo/PB
Literacy is acknowledged as a fundamental human right by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and has been a priority for United Nations development efforts since the Organization came into being. Despite progress in combating illiteracy, in the 1960s four out of every 10 people in the world could neither read nor write. Among its activities to boost progress in this area, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched work-oriented adult literacy projects around the world in cooperation with governments and with the financial backing of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Shown, in one such program in Isfahan province, Iran, farmers and their families from 14 villages attend fortnightly literacy classes.
1971 - People’s Republic of China delegation is seated in General Assembly Hall. UN
On 25 October 1971, after what was described in press reports as a night of “tension and drama,” the United Nations General Assembly voted to admit the People’s Republic of China (mainland China) and to expel the Republic of China (Taiwan) from membership in the organization. Three weeks later, on 15 November, the delegation of the People’s Republic of China was formally seated in the General Assembly Hall as the press looked on. Among delegation members shown are (front row) Chairman Chiao Kuan-hua (left) and the Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Huang Hua (centre).
1972 - Kurt Waldheim takes the helm at the United Nations. UN Photo/Meyrowitz
Kurt Waldheim (Austria) took office as the fourth Secretary-General of the United Nations on 1 January 1972. From the beginning of his term, he made it a practice to visit areas of special concern to the Organization, traveling to such countries as South Africa and Namibia in 1972, and to Cyprus for discussions with Government leaders. In 1973, he called on the governments of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to discuss recovery following the war on the subcontinent, and in 1974 he journeyed to Africa’s Sahel region where the UN was mounting a drought relief effort. He also paid a number of visits to countries in the Middle East. Here, Waldheim is shown with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Foreign Minister Abba Eban in 1973.
1974 - Palestine invited to participate as an Observer in the General Assembly. UN
The question of Palestine has been at the forefront of deliberations at the world body since April 1947. Twenty-seven years later, in 1974, the United Nations General Assembly included the issue as a separate agenda item at its 29th session. That year it also invited the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), as the representative of the Palestinian people, to participate in its work as an Observer. For the first time, the Chairman of the PLO’s Executive Committee, Yasser Arafat (pictured), addressed the Assembly. In 1988, Arafat led the Palestinians to accept the principle of peaceful coexistence between Israel and a future Palestinian state, and advanced that goal when he signed the Oslo accords in 1993.
1974 - UN peacekeepers killed in the line of duty. UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata
United Nations peacekeepers serve in some of the world’s most volatile and dangerous environments. Since the first peacekeeping mission was established in 1948, more than 3,300 “blue helmets” have lost their lives as a result of acts of violence, accidents and disease. In 1974, in the Great Bitter Lake area of Egypt’s Suez Canal, two Finnish soldiers with the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) were killed, and five others seriously injured, when their truck hit an anti-tank mine while rushing to rescue colleagues injured in an earlier explosion in an uncharted Israeli minefield. Following the incidents, the Israeli armed forces sent a helicopter to evacuate the injured to a hospital while an Egyptian explosive ordnance disposal team uncovered and defused the remaining mines.
1974 - United Nations aids a divided Cyprus. UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata
In 1964, amid confrontation between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, the United Nations established a peacekeeping force in Cyprus, known as UNFICYP, to prevent a recurrence of fighting and to contribute to law and order and a return to normal conditions. A coup d’état on 15 July 1974 by Greek Cypriot and Greek elements was followed five days later by military intervention by Turkey, whose troops established Turkish Cypriot control over the northern part of the island. Since then, UNFICYP has supervised ceasefire lines, maintained a buffer zone and undertaken humanitarian activities, while the Secretary-General has assisted in the search for a mutually acceptable settlement through his good offices. Shown, officers of the Swedish contingent of UNFICYP visit monks confined to their monastery during the events of 1974.
1979 - Easing the plight of Vietnamese “boat people.” UN Photo/John Isaac
Three decades of war that wracked Vietnam and neighbouring countries from 1945 to 1975 led to the exodus of more than three million people from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and a massive refugee crisis. At the forefront of the international response was the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR). By June 1979, countries in the region warned that they had reached their limit and could not accept more refugees. Boatloads of arriving refugees were being pushed back. The principle of asylum was in jeopardy. In July that year, 65 governments responded to an invitation from Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim to attend an international conference on Indochinese refugees where they pledged funds and made offers of permanent asylum, temporarily easing the crisis. Shown, Vietnamese refugees living in boats in Hong Kong.
1981 - Promoting rights of persons with disabilities. UN Photo/John Isaac
More than a billion people live with some form of disability, making them the largest minority in the world. To promote their participation in society, the General Assembly proclaimed 1981 as the International Year of Disabled Persons. A major outcome of the Year was an action plan adopted by the Assembly in December 1982, which focused on equalization of opportunities, rehabilitation and prevention of disabilities. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force in 2008, asserts the rights of people with disabilities to, among other things, education, health, work, adequate living conditions and freedom from exploitation. Pictured, two boys play chess at a rehabilitation centre for paraplegic and tetraplegic patients in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
1983 - Advancement of women and girls: overcoming barriers to education. UN Photo/John Isaac
Despite progress toward gender equality, more needs to be done worldwide as girls are still disadvantaged when it comes to education. In South and West Asia, for example, 80 percent of out-of-school girls are unlikely to start school compared to just 16 percent of boys. UN support for the rights of women began with the Charter, and the 1980s saw momentum build on this issue. For example, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which brings together in a legally binding form internationally accepted principles on the rights of women and girls, entered into force in 1981. Shown, a group of girls study in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1983.
1985 - Struggle to end apartheid in South Africa wears on. UN Photo/P. Mugubane
In 1946, the elimination of South Africa’s system of legalized racial discrimination, or apartheid, was placed on the agenda of the very first session of the UN General Assembly. Through the years, the world body contributed to the global struggle against the racist system by drawing attention to its inhumanity, legitimizing popular resistance, instituting an arms embargo and supporting an oil embargo and boycotts in many fields. Developments in the 1980s included a 1984 Security Council resolution declaring South Africa’s racist constitution null and void, and the General Assembly’s call in 1989 for negotiations to end apartheid and replace it with a non-racial democracy. Above, a civil disturbance in South Africa in 1985.
1985 - International Court of Justice receives Pope John Paul II at The Hague. UN Photo
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations charged with settling legal disputes between States and giving advisory opinions to the Organization and its specialized agencies. Its Statute is an integral part of the UN Charter. The General Assembly and the Security Council can ask the Court, which consists of 15 judges elected for nine-year terms, for an opinion on any legal question. Pictured, in May 1985, while on a visit to the Netherlands, Pope John Paul II paid a visit to the Court, where he emphasized the Holy See’s historic support for the ICJ and the work of the United Nations as a whole.
1988 - Signalling end of the Cold War, Mikhail Gorbachev addresses General Assembly. UN Photo/Saw Lwin
The President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, played a key role in initiating reforms that led to the end of the Cold War through his policies of glasnost and perestroika (openness and restructuring) and through his advocacy of disarmament. In a seminal speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1988 (above), he indicated a major shift in Soviet foreign policy, announcing cuts in the country’s military presence in Eastern Europe and suggesting that to improve the international situation the use or threat of force “must no longer be an instrument of foreign policy.” According to media reports, it was as though the earth moved inside the United Nations.
1989 - Namibia: Former colonial territory prepares for independence. UN Photo/Milton Grant
After more than a century of often bloody struggles against colonial oppression, Namibia, formerly known as South West Africa, achieved independence in March 1990, and in April joined the United Nations as its 160th member. Formerly a German colony, later administered by South Africa, Namibia became the responsibility of the United Nations in 1967 after the General Assembly in 1966 revoked South Africa’s rights over its vast mineral-rich land. In 1989, the United Nations deployed a peacekeeping force to Namibia, known as the UN Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG), to monitor the peace process and elections for a constituent assembly. Shown, in advance of Namibia’s elections, a woman holds her voter registration card outside a registration centre in Windhoek.
1988 - The positive power of fame: UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Audrey Hepburn. UNICEF/NYHQ/1988-0184/Isaac
Because of their mass appeal, celebrities can focus the eyes of the world on issues of concern and call on those in power to effect change. From the moment internationally-acclaimed film star Audrey Hepburn was appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), she became a dynamic supporter. Born in Belgium in 1929, she had been a recipient of food and medical relief as a child after suffering malnutrition during World War II. In 1988, she traveled to Ethiopia to draw attention to the plight of children and women during a period of severe famine. Here, she is visiting a UNICEF-backed food distribution centre in the town of Mehal Meda.
1990 - Triumph over injustice: End of apartheid. UN Photo/Pernaca Sudhakaran
One of the great successes of the United Nations was its engagement in the global movement to abolish apartheid, the system of institutionalized racism imposed by the South African Government. Condemned as a crime against humanity, apartheid was on the General Assembly’s agenda from 1948 until its demise in the early 1990s. Through the years, the Organization made use of tools, including sanctions, embargoes and diplomatic isolation, to bring an end to the regime. Epitomizing the struggle was Nelson Mandela, elected in 1994 as the first President of a free South Africa, shown here addressing the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid. For 67 years, Mandela devoted his life to the service of humanity as a human rights lawyer, a prisoner of conscience and an international peacemaker.
1991 - Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar’s term is capped with deal to end civil war in El Salvador. UN Photo/Milton Grant
In 1982, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (Peru) became the fifth UN Secretary-General. His tenure was notable for his efforts to mediate the Falklands (Malvinas) conflict, to revitalize the Organization during a time of financial crisis and to advance its agenda as the Cold War thawed. His second term was rewarded by achievements in which he played a pivotal role: the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the Geneva accords on Afghanistan, the independence of Namibia, and a successful peace process in Central America marked by the signing at midnight on his last day in office, 31 December 1991, of a peace accord on El Salvador. Here, the parties to the conflict applaud him after the signing of that accord.
1992 - Boutros Boutros-Ghali becomes sixth Secretary-General. UN Photo/A Morvan
The sixth United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt), served from 1992 to 1996. His term was marked by brutal conflicts in Haiti, Somalia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, among others. Soon after his inauguration, the Security Council met in its first-ever summit of Heads of State. At their request, Boutros-Ghali authored the report called An Agenda for Peace, an analysis on ways to strengthen UN capacity for preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peacekeeping. Also during his tenure, he spearheaded UN structural and management reform. Shown, the Secretary-General visits Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) in late 1992, accompanied by peacekeepers from the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR). The war in the Balkans, accentuated by widespread “ethnic cleansing,” lasted 42 months, ending in 1995.
1992 - El Salvador: Celebrating a ceasefire after 12 years of war. UN Photo/J. Bleibtreu
In El Salvador, negotiations brokered by Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar and his personal representative culminated in the 1992 peace accords that ended a 12-year conflict that had claimed 75,000 lives. The United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL), the first peace operation mandated by the Security Council to focus on human rights, monitored the accords, including the demobilization of combatants. The Mission also assisted in bringing about judicial reforms and establishing a new civilian police force, and observed the 1994 elections at the request of the Government. Left, members of the opposition celebrate as an ONUSAL vehicle accompanies them to a ceasefire zone.
1993 - Cambodia: Restoring civilian rule following years of civil war and foreign intervention. UN Photo/John Isaac
The Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia was in a state of internal conflict and relative isolation prior to United Nations-brokered peace agreements in 1991. The country had suffered from the spillover of the Vietnam War and had been devastated by the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge regime, during which, from 1975 to 1979, nearly two million people perished, many of them murdered on the infamous “killing fields.” The UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was established by the Security Council in 1992 with a mandate that included ensuring implementation of the peace agreements, monitoring human rights and conducting free and fair elections in 1993. Pictured, children at the killing fields memorial.
1993 – Cambodia holds first democratic elections. UN Photo/Pernaca Sudhakaran
In 1993, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) assisted the country in its first democratic elections. Since then, UN agencies have supported the Government in strengthening reconciliation and development. In 2003, an agreement was reached with the Government for the UN to help it set up and run a special court to prosecute crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge. The court issued its first charges in 2007, and in 2008 Cambodians who suffered under the Khmer Rouge were able to participate in the court for the first time. In 2014, the court found two senior surviving regime leaders guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced them to life in prison. Shown, in 1993, ahead of elections, UNTAC distributes fliers announcing an upcoming multi-party meeting.
1994 - Genocide in Rwanda. UN Photo/C. Dufka
In 1993, at the request of the Hutu-led Government, the United Nations established a mission in Rwanda, known as UNAMIR, to monitor a peace agreement with the Tutsi-led Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF). In April 1994, systematic waves of political and ethnic killings of Tutsi and moderate Hutus by Hutu-dominated militias erupted after the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, both Hutus, were killed in a plane crash caused by rocket fire. In May, the Security Council increased UNAMIR’s strength, with additional troops arriving six months later. In July, RPF forces took control of Rwanda, ending the civil war. By then, more than 800,000 people had been slaughtered. Shown, in 1995, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali places a wreath near the remains of those killed during a massacre.
1997 – Kofi Annan appointed seventh Secretary-General. UN Photo/Milton Grant
Kofi Annan (Ghana) served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006, and was the first to emerge from the ranks of UN staff. An advocate for human rights, the rule of law, the Millennium Development Goals, and Africa, he sought to bring the Organization closer to the global public by forging ties with civil society, the private sector and other partners. A champion of UN reform, at his initiative UN peacekeeping was strengthened to enable the Organization to adapt to a rising number of operations. Above, in Arusha, Tanzania, Annan (second from left) meets in 1998 with justices of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda established by the Security Council to prosecute those responsible for the 1994 genocide.
2000 - Partnering against poverty in the new millennium. UN Photo/Terry Deglau (Eastman Kodak)
The new century began with a breakthrough as world leaders gathered in New York in September 2000 (shown) and adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets with a deadline of 2015 that became known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The most successful anti-poverty effort in history, the MDGs serve as the springboard for the new sustainable development agenda, including a set of Sustainable Development Goals to be adopted by the General Assembly in 2015 that aim to put all countries on track toward a more prosperous, sustainable and equitable world.
2001 - Halting HIV/AIDS epidemic. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
For years, the United Nations system has been at the forefront of efforts to halt the spread of AIDS, with 10 UN agencies joining forces under the direction of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) to battle the disease and end the discrimination and stigma associated with it. The Millennium Summit in 2000 set out goals to reverse the spread of HIV, and in 2001 a special session of the General Assembly went further, setting out a series of national and global actions. In 2015, UNAIDS declared that the world was on track to end the epidemic by 2030. Pictured, in June 2001, the UN Secretariat building is lit with a red ribbon to mark the Assembly’s special session and show UN support for those living with HIV.
2002 – Timor-Leste: A new country is born. UN Photo/Sergey Bermeniev
East Timor, now called Timor-Leste, endured an often violent journey from the time the General Assembly placed it on the United Nations agenda in 1960 – adding it to its list of Non-Self- Governing Territories – until it gained independence from Indonesia in 2002. A former territory of Portugal, and later a province of Indonesia, its path was punctuated by periods of unrest. Following a process leading to independence in August 1999, a UN transitional administration, known as UNTAET, was established to administer the territory in October of that year. Two-and-a-half years later, the UN flag was lowered and the East Timorese flag was raised, signalling the birth of the new nation. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a white shirt (above), hailed those who had struggled for independence.
2002 – Pursuit of justice: States parties to International Criminal Court treaty hold first session. UN Photo/Mark Garten
States parties to the Rome Statute, the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC) which came into force on 1 July 2002, held their first session in New York in September 2002 (shown above) to finalize practical arrangements and rules of procedure. The ICC is the world’s only permanent tribunal for prosecuting individuals responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Although not part of the United Nations, its Statute allows States parties as well as the UN Security Council to refer situations for investigation. The Court assigned its first two cases to its pre-trial chambers in July 2004.
2003 - Deadly attack: Terrorists bomb UN headquarters in Iraq. UN Photo/AP Photo
On 19 August 2003, a massive truck bomb was detonated outside the Canal Hotel that housed United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, killing the top UN envoy to the country, Sergio Vieira de Mello (Brazil), and 21 other staff members. More than 150 others, who had also been serving there in support of the political, humanitarian and economic reconstruction of the country, were injured. On the anniversary of that attack, the UN marks World Humanitarian Day to pay tribute to aid workers who carry out life-saving activities around the world, often in dangerous and difficult circumstances. Pictured, the rubble of the Canal Hotel following the blast.
2004 - Messengers of Peace shine light on UN concerns. UN Photo /Ky Chung
United Nations Messengers of Peace are distinguished individuals from the arts, literature, science, entertainment, sports and other arenas of public life who, backed by the highest honor that the Secretary-General can bestow on a global citizen, volunteer their time, talent and passion to help focus worldwide attention on the work and concerns of the United Nations. Shown, at the annual International Day of Peace ceremony in New York in 2004, three Messengers of Peace – boxing champion Muhammad Ali (left), conservationist Jane Goodall (centre), and author and journalist Anna Cataldi (right) – listen as a youth orchestra performs.
2004 – Response to natural disasters: UN relief experts rush aid to Indian Ocean tsunami victims. UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Natural disasters, mostly weather-related, affect hundreds of millions of people every year, primarily in developing countries. In the first decade of this century, three of the most deadly disasters claimed the lives of more than 600,000 people – the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, 2008’s Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In 2015, world leaders meeting in Sendai, Japan, reached agreement on a new blueprint that will enable communities to be better prepared for disasters over the next 15 years. Above, in December 2004, an aerial view of Indonesia’s tsunami-ravaged landscape in Aceh province.
2007 - Haiti: Joining forces to assist Tropical Storm Noël victims. UN Photo/Marco Dormino
When Tropical Storm Noël ripped across Haiti in October 2007, leaving death and destruction in its wake, peacekeepers with the United Nations mission there, known as MINUSTAH, sprang into action to support the Haitian authorities in the relief effort, evacuating thousands of people from affected areas who were threatened by rising waters, distributing meals and providing medical assistance. The storm also hit neighbouring Dominican Republic, which received support from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Shown, in Port-au-Prince, a MINUSTAH peacekeeper from Brazil carries an infant to safety.
2008 - Education for all. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
The United Nations Education for All (EFA) movement, launched in 1990, redoubled its efforts in the 2000s with the goal of meeting a global commitment to provide quality basic education to all children, youth and adults by 2015. In July 2015, with the number of out-of-school children and adolescents around the world rising and international aid to education dropping to below 2010 levels, EFA warned that it would cost an extra $39 billion to provide 12 years of education to everyone in low- and lower-middle-income countries. To fill that shortfall, donor countries would have to increase their aid to education six-fold. Pictured, in Burkina Faso, primary school students attend class in a tent supplied by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
2009 - Sudan: Disarming and reintegrating combatants. UN Photo/Tim McKulka
In 2009, the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reported gains in the process of disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating soldiers in the country, a key component of the 2005 agreement that ended the country’s 21-year civil war. Shown, in 2009, UNMIS burns a stockpile of rifles from demobilized soldiers.
2009 - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appeals for action on climate change. UN Photo/Mark Garten
Ban Ki-moon (Republic of Korea) is the eighth United Nations Secretary-General. Currently serving a second term, his priorities have been to mobilize world leaders around a set of new global challenges, from climate change and economic upheaval to pandemics and increasing pressures involving food, energy and water. Since taking office in 2007, he has undertaken extensive diplomatic efforts and public awareness activities that have helped to put climate issues at the top of the global agenda. In 2009, standing on a rapidly melting glacier in Norway, he appealed to the world to take urgent measures to protect the planet. Here, the Secretary-General (centre) confers with scientists as he measures ice thickness at the Arctic Polar Ice Rim.
2010 - Advancing nuclear disarmament for a safer world. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Nuclear arms are the most dangerous weapons on Earth – just one is capable of inflicting catastrophic harm to people and the environment. Despite an array of international agreements aimed at reducing nuclear arsenals, the world’s 22,000 existing nuclear weapons continue to pose a threat to peace and security. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has placed nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation high on the UN agenda, has warned that bold steps toward a nuclear-weapons-free world have stalled, leading to mounting tensions between States and a return to Cold War mentalities. Above, in 2010, at the annual Peace Memorial ceremony in Hiroshima, Japan, the Secretary-General (right) and Director General Yukiya Amano of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) pay their respects to the victims of the 1945 nuclear attack on that city.
2011 - Indigenous peoples: Overcoming discrimination and injustice. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
The world’s 370 million indigenous identify themselves as distinct peoples with their own social, economic and political systems. Effective advocates for their rights, they have engaged the United Nations since its foundation to build solidarity for their centuries-old struggles to overcome injustice and discrimination. Progress has been made incrementally through, among other mechanisms, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues established in 2000. The landmark UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, sets out minimum standards for their survival, dignity and well-being. Above, a dancer performs at an event on indigenous rights in 2011 at the UN Office at Geneva.
2011 – Gaza: Against steep odds children break world records. UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan
Defying intimidation when unknown assailants attacked their summer camp run by the United Nations in 2011, children in Gaza broke a total of four Guinness World Records as they participated in events organized by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Since 1950, UNRWA has been providing assistance and protection to nearly 5.2 million registered Palestine refugees through health care, education, social services, infrastructure and emergency support, including in times of armed conflict. Above, children set one of four new records in 2011, dribbling the largest number of soccer balls simultaneously.
2012 - After years of displacement families return to North Darfur in Sudan. UN Photo/Albert González Farran
Since 2003, conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region between government forces and armed rebel groups has taken a major toll on civilians, leaving thousands dead and millions displaced. In 2007, the Security Council established the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), the largest-ever peacekeeping operation, mandated to protect civilians and support the peace process in the region. In 2012, the UN applauded a milestone in the ongoing peace process, the inauguration of the Darfur Regional Authority, a body intended to facilitate peace in the war-torn region. Shown Members of the Arab Mahammid community return to Damra Toma, North Darfur State, in February 2012 following nine years of displacement.
2012 - Lessons learned from 1995 Srebrenica massacre: Responsibility to protect. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
The war in the Balkans culminated in 1995 when Bosnian Serb forces overran the city of Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina and massacred 8,000 Muslim men and boys, the worst such atrocity to take place on European soil since World War II. In 2012, on a visit to the Potočari memorial site, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (above) paid his respects to the victims of the genocide and called on the world to draw lessons from the massacre and stop the bloodshed in Syria by implementing the principle of “responsibility to protect,” which holds States responsible for shielding their own populations from genocide and war crimes and requires the international community to step in if that obligation is not met.
2013 - At Auschwitz, Secretary-General Ban urges the world to remain on guard against rising discrimination. UN Photo/Evan Schneider
In 2013, while on a visit to Warsaw, Poland, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau (above) where more than a million Jews and members of other minorities perished during World War II. Warning that the world must never forget, deny or downplay the Holocaust, Ban said: “I stand in disbelief before the gas chambers and crematorium, and shudder at the cruelty of those who designed this death factory.” Hatred and persecution have not ended, he cautioned, adding that, in Europe and elsewhere, migrants and minorities face rising discrimination. “We must remain ever on our guard. And we must do more, far more, to promote equality and fundamental freedoms” he said.
2014 - Syria conflict: UN appeals for humanitarian access to millions of people trapped by fighting. UNRWA Archives
Throughout the conflict in Syria, which in its fifth year has killed more than 200,000 people and forced almost half the population to flee their homes, humanitarian access to meet the needs of civilians trapped by the fighting has been a key concern for the United Nations. In 2014, as peace talks to end the conflict stalled, UN officials appealed multiple times to both sides to allow the delivery of relief aid, but with limited success. Pictured, in January, the UN agency tasked with protecting Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East, known as UNRWA, was permitted to deliver only small quantities of food aid to the 18,000 malnourished residents living in the besieged Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Syria.
2014 - International community supports West Africa in response to Ebola crisis. UN Photo/Evan Schneider
In 2014, an unprecedented outbreak of the Ebola virus devastated the populations and economies in West Africa. Despite efforts by the United Nations and its partners to bolster government response to the emergency, the epidemic affected more than 27,000 people, killing more than 11,000 – mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – and eroded achievements in the areas of peace and development, disrupted health, education and social services, and set back major economic sectors such as agriculture, mining, trade and tourism. In July 2015, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened an international conference to help mobilize resources to support affected countries on their path to recovery. Shown, in 2014, the UN chief visits an Ebola treatment facility in Monrovia, Liberia, operated by the United States.
The way forward: Building a more peaceful, tolerant and prosperous world. UN Photo/Logan Abassi
Every day, the United Nations is at the forefront of international efforts to help the world. It feeds the hungry, shelters refugees, vaccinates people against disease and defends human rights. Its peacekeepers are on the front lines of conflicts; its mediators bring combatants to the negotiating table. Moving forward, it draws lessons from past successes and setbacks as it adapts to a changing world, guided by the principles and values set forth under the UN Charter. “The United Nations is the hope and home of all humankind. The Charter is our compass,” says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “Let us never relent on the journey to a better world for ‘we the peoples.’” Pictured, in Haiti, a child dons a UN blue helmet.