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UN Day 2021: A Look at 76 Years of the UN Charter

“The General Assembly declares that 24 October, the anniversary of the coming into force of the Charter of the United Nations, shall henceforth be officially called ‘United Nations Day’ and shall be devoted to making known to the peoples of the world the aims and achievements of the United Nations and to gaining their support for the work of the United Nations”.

—UN General Assembly, 101st plenary meeting, 31 October 1947

The signing of the UN Charter in June 1945 | UN photo

United Nations Day marks the day the UN Charter came into force 76 years ago following the UN Conference on International Organization. The charter is considered an international treaty that binds Member States, including Canada. It codifies the sovereignty of nations and encourages discourse on matters of international relations.

As a global organization within the international community, the UN has become the universal and leading forum for addressing issues that transcend national boundaries and cannot be resolved by any one country alone. Through its main organs, specialized agencies, programs, and funds, the UN has played a crucial role in the international arena in its pursuit of maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, and supporting sustainable development and climate action. In addition, it has strengthened mutual respect for the fundamental freedoms of all people and serves as a reference for coordinating and directing the world’s nations towards common goals.

Most recently, the UN has worked with global health experts, governments and partners to address the COVID-19 pandemic through the World Health Organization (WHO) by expanding scientific knowledge, launching global dialogues and advising countries and individuals on measures to protect their health. The WHO has prioritized securing adequate vaccine supplies, vaccinating people in hard-to-reach places, and spreading awareness. Already, Secretary-General António Guterres has pledged to dedicate his second term to “helping the world chart a course out of the COVID-19 pandemic”. He believes the solution to ending the pandemic lies in global solidarity and equality, a sentiment echoed by WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who linked humanity’s victory over smallpox to nations coming together to fight the current pandemic.

The UN’s agenda spreads across a wide variety of themes through various organizations and commitments. The World Food Programme “provides food and assistance to 97 million people in 88 countries”. UN-Women “works with governments and civil society to design laws, policies, programmes and services needed to...benefit women and girls worldwide”. The Paris Agreement seeks to keep the global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. UNICEF “works in over 190 countries to save children’s lives, to defend their rights, and to help them fulfil their potential”. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, helps millions of displaced people find the right to asylum and safety.

Significantly, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030 set an agenda for Member States to address the greatest issues of our time, “including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, and peace and justice”.

As a founding member of the UN, Canada’s foreign and national policies are influenced by its commitment to furthering the mission and objectives of the UN. The Towards Canada 2030 National Strategy proposes indicators and targets for tracking Canada’s progress towards achieving the 17 SDGs.

Reflecting on the organization’s history, a significant story of Canada’s contribution to the UN is through that of Lester B. Pearson, the 14th prime minister of Canada, after whom Canada’s busiest airport is named. Pearson played an important role in founding both the UN and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for his critical role in the deployment of the first UN Emergency Force, which set the precedent for future UN peacekeeping missions, in the wake of the Suez Crisis. His Nobel lecture, The Four Faces of Peace, focused on what he regarded as essential to peace: free trade, checks on power, diplomacy and inter-cultural exchange.

Edited by Ali Shahrukh Pracha


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