Signing of United Nations Charter
On June 26, 1945, 50 nations signed the United Nations Charter.
Following the Paris Peace Conference that ended World War I, several nations joined together to create the League of Nations, aimed at maintaining world peace. However, the league was unable to prevent the aggression of the Axis powers in the 1930s that ultimately led to World War II.
By 1939, the U.S. State Department had formulated a place for a new world organization to replace the League of Nations. Additionally, representatives from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and nine other nations met in London in June 1941 to sign the Declaration of St. James’ Palace. This was the first of six conferences that ultimately led to the founding of the United Nations.
That December, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt suggested the term United Nations as a name for the Allies of World War II. Then, on December 29, 1941, Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill drafted the Declaration of the United Nations, an agreement to uphold the Atlantic Charter, commit all resources to war against the Axis powers, and to not sign separate treaties with Germany or Japan. Twenty-six nations signed the declaration in early January 1942 at the Arcadia Conference (21 more nations would sign it within the next three years).
Over the course of the war, the idea of the United Nations continued to evolve as Allied nations met at the Moscow and Tehran Conferences. Through these meetings national leaders agreed to the need for an international peace and security organization. President Franklin Roosevelt wrote that the work of the U.N. was “peace: more than an end of this war – an end to the beginning of all wars.”
This led to a meeting of 46 nations in San Francisco on April 25, 1945. Exhausted from the extended war and disheartened by the inhumanity they’d seen, they were determined to prevent future generations from experiencing what they had seen firsthand. Their ultimate goal was to form an international organization that would have the power to maintain security and foster prosperity and give human rights an international legal status.
A group of non-governmental organizations lobbied vigorously for a strong commitment to human rights in the U.N. Charter. In particular, several small Latin American countries were committed to the inclusion of such a guarantee. A Pan-American conference held in Mexico City produced a group united in their determination to see such goals met. A number of American non-governmental groups also pushed for a type of “bill of rights” in the charter. Over 1,300 organizations placed ads in newspapers demanding that human rights be an integral part of the international organization.
When the member nations met in San Francisco in April of 1945, their proposal fell short of the clear and concise commitment to human rights that these groups sought. Forty-two American groups serving as consultants to the U.S. delegation convinced participating governments of the need to clearly state a policy of protection for individual human rights. They were persuasive, and the result was a legal commitment by governments around the world to promote and encourage respect for the inalienable human rights of every man, woman, and child.
On June 26, 1945, the fifty nations present signed the United Nations charter, with its high goal. “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights…to establish conditions under which…international law can be maintained, and…to promote social progress and better standards of life…”
In order for the charter to come into effect, it had to be ratified by China, France, the USSR, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and a majority of the other 46 nations. Over the next four months, 29 nations ratified the charter, setting it into effect on October 24, 1945. The remaining nations ratified it by the end of the year and the U.N. held its first General Assembly on January 10, 1946.
Today, the U.N. vision has grown to include nearly every country in the world.