In San Francisco, Ban celebrates 70th anniversary of UN Charter – 'compass' to a better world

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (at podium) addresses a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Charter in San Francisco in 2015. UN Photo/Mark Garten

26 June 2015 – Bringing the idea of the United Nations to life required huge leaps of statecraft to bridge differences, declared Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today in San Francisco, ommemorating the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Charter, which he said “symbolizes the hope and aspirations that we can bring the world as it is a little closer to the world as it should be.”

“In signing this document, the founders achieved what many thought impossible. It falls to us to heed the Charter's call to 'unite our strength' and to use their creation – the United Nations – for the common good,” he said, adding that the drafting of the Charter was a “glorious gamble.”

Several high-level officials attended the ceremony, including; Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman and Democratic Leader of the United States House of Representatives; Jerry Brown, Governor of California; Edwin Lee, Mayor of San Francisco; and Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whom the UN chief called the “torchbearer” of her generation.

“So much faith was lost in the trenches and gas chambers of two world wars in the space of one generation. But they dared to believe in something bigger than person or country. Through intense negotiations, the delegates realized their dream.”

He said that for two months, they turned San Francisco's War Memorial into a 'Peace Palace.' More than three thousand women and men took part. One of them was Ellen Magnin Newman, a high school senior at the time. She was a Spanish interpreter – and helped everyone speak the universal language of peace, he said welcoming Ms. Newman to the ceremony.

With the adoption of the Charter, a world in rubble found a path to renewal, the Secretary-General went on to say, recalling that while he had been born just months before the UN, it did not take long for the Organization to change his world for good.

“When the Korean War ravaged my country, I lost my home, my school, all I knew. Help came bearing the United Nations flag: sacks of grain from UNICEF, textbooks from UNESCO, and many young soldiers from 21 nations, including the United States. The United Nations showed us we were not alone,” said Mr. Ban.

“Today, when I travel to refugee camps and conflict areas around the world, I tell young people: you are not alone. I made it. You can, too. The United Nations will stand with you,” said the UN chief, underscoring that every day, the UN feeds the hungry, shelters refugees and vaccinates children against deadly disease.

“Every day, we defend human rights for all, regardless of race, religion, nationality, gender or sexual orientation,” and in that regard, he welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that paves the way for gay and lesbian Americans to have their relationship legally recognised, no matter which part of the United States they are living in.

Continuing, he said the United Nations had led the charge in dismantling colonialism, bringing freedom to millions. It had mobilized the world to defeat apartheid. Its peacekeepers are on the frontlines of war; our mediators bring warriors to the table of peace.

“Yet tragedy has also been with us every step of the way. Genocide, war and a thousand daily indignities and abuse plague far too many people, especially women'” he said, explaining that conflict has forced more people to flee their homes today than at any time since the Second World War.

“Forces of division are on the march, peddling the false promise of isolation in ever more interdependent world. And the planet itself is at risk,” he said, declaring: “We have big work ahead.”

To that end, he noted that in September, world leaders will adopt an inspiring new development agenda to end global poverty. In December, the international community has committed to reach a bold climate change agreement to place the world on more sustainable footing.

“These are once-in-a-generation opportunities. This is our San Francisco moment,” he said, stressing that in signing the Charter, the founders achieved what many thought impossible. The United Nations is the hope and home of all humankind. The Charter is our compass. Let us never relent on the journey to a better world for 'we the peoples,'” concluded the Secretary-General.

At an event in New York to mark the anniversary, Deputy Secretary-general Jan Eliasson said the UN Charter is essentially an expression of hope. It was written at the end of one of the darkest chapters in human history. “It symbolises the hope and aspirations that we can bring the world as it is a little closer to the world as it should be. This we can do through cooperation, dialogue, peaceful settlement of disputes and respect of human rights.”

“Yes, the UN Charter is truly a gift. It reminds us – as the present stewards of the United Nations – of our responsibilities to live up to the Purposes and Principles of the Charter. It connects us to our strongest roots and our best aspirations as we reach out to an uncertain, yet hopeful, future – if we travel the right road, Mr. Eliasson said.

Also addressing the ceremony, Einar Gunnarsson, Vice-President of the General Assembly, speaking on behalf of Assembly President Sam Kutesa, said that over the course of 70 eventful years, the UN has addressed severe global problems that afflict and challenge humanity's stability and progress.

The contributions of the UN to the contemporary issues of our time are undeniable. From supporting the major decolonization efforts across Africa and Asia to providing a critical platform for discourse throughout the Cold War; the United Nations has, and continues to be, at the forefront of efforts to ensure a secure, prosperous and equitable world.

“As we mark this historic anniversary, we have every reason to celebrate all that we have accomplished as a community of nations over the last seven decades. We also need to reflect on how to adapt and align the United Nations to remain effective and relevant in a dynamic and globalized new world,” he said.


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