On 24 January 1946, the General Assembly adopts its first resolution, entitled “Establishment of a Commission to Deal with the Problems Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy” in London. At the dawn of the atomic age, the 51 members of the newly-formed United Nations make it the first order of business to address the role for peaceful uses of nuclear energy and the elimination of atomic weapons.
The origins of the International Law Commission are rooted in the UN Charter, which directs the General Assembly to encourage “the progressive development of international law and its codification.” On 21 November 1947, the Assembly passed resolution 174(II) to provide for the creation of an "International Law Commission" to do just that. In its first session in 1949, the International Law Commission would tackle major issues in international law including the formulation of the Nuremberg principles and the question of international criminal jurisdiction.
At the end of the Second World War, the international community vows never to allow such atrocities again. World leaders agree to complement the UN Charter with a “universal bill of rights.” The Commission on Human Rights, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, is charged with drafting the document. The 18 members of the Commission are from various political, cultural and religious backgrounds. Two years later, the UN General Assembly adopts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948 in Paris.
The core principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is embodied in Article 1, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is established by General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees. When the Agency begins operations in 1950, it is responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees with the initial mandate to “prevent conditions of starvation and distress… and to further conditions of peace and stability.” As of 2014, five million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.
When the People’s Army of North Korea crossed the 38th Parallel into the Republic of Korea on 25 June 1950, the matter came before the Security Council. The Council called upon the members of the United Nations in the resolution of 27 June 1950 to “furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security in the area.” Sixteen countries will respond by contributing combat units to the United Nations Command in Korea.
Two important milestones in the international protection of refugees occurred in 1951.
First, a diplomatic conference in Geneva adopts the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees on 28 July 1951. It becomes the framework for defining who is a refugee, their rights, and the legal obligations of states.
Second, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – with a mandate to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees - begins operations. UNHCR was initially tasked with solving the urgent problem of the 1 million European refugees displaced by the Second World War. The organization would receive its first Nobel Peace prize for these efforts in 1954.
On 10 November 1952, the first Secretary-General of the United Nations, Trygve Lie of Norway, announces his intention to resign from what he famously described as "the most difficult job in the world." In a speech to the General Assembly, he says, "I shall be grateful if you would propose as a new item on the agenda, 'Appointment of the Secretary-General of the United Nations'." After seven years in office, the Security Council declined to re-appoint Mr. Lie for another term, leaving his continuation as Secretary-General untenable. He will remain in office until Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld assumes the post in April 1953.
The UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) was founded in 1946 for an immediate purpose – giving relief to children in countries devastated by world war.
By the early 1950’s, the emphasis of UNICEF activities had moved from aiding children in Europe to developing countries such as Guatemala (pictured) and from emergency to long-range programmes for economic and social development. To reflect this shift, the General Assembly unanimously adopted Resolution 802 (VIII), which renamed the organization the United Nations Children’s Fund, but kept the now-famous acronym. It also amended the fund's temporary nature. No longer an "emergency" agency, UNICEF was empowered to continue its mission to support children all over the world.
On 10 December 1954, Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld was asked to intervene in an international conflict by the General Assembly. Resolution 906 requested that - in the name of the United Nations - he sought the release of 11 American airmen of the United Nations Command in Korea and all other captured personnel of that Command desiring repatriation, in accordance with the Korean Armistice Agreement. For the General Assembly to ask the Secretary-General to intercede for other than humanitarian reasons was without precedent. Mr. Hammarskjöld sent a personal cablegram to Chou En-lai, Prime Minister of the People's Republic of China, expressing the desire to meet with him for direct discussions. During his visit to Peking, 30 December 1954 to 13 January 1955, the Secretary-General secures the release of fifteen airmen.
At the end of 1955, the Security Council recommends sixteen countries for admission to the United Nations – Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Ceylon, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Laos, Libya, Nepal, Portugal, Romania, and Spain. It begins the first period of significant expansion of UN membership since the organization’s founding ten years earlier. Membership increases from 60 to 76 states in 1955 and by 1960 has grown to 99 members. Over the next decade, the process of decolonization will bring many more newly independent countries to a seat at the United Nations.