Peacekeepers from the United Nations are a familiar sight during many international conflicts. There are currently 13 ongoing UN peacekeeping operations on three continents. But this was not always the case.
It was the crisis on the Suez Canal that led to the establishment of the UN's first peacekeeping force. The General Assembly convened its First Emergency Special Session in response to military action taken by Israeli and Anglo-French forces against Egypt. On 7 November, the General Assembly passes a resolution establishing the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF). UNEF would patrol the armistice demarcation line until June 1967.
In 1954, the General Assembly passed the ‘Atoms for Peace’ resolution expressing the hope that an atomic energy agency would be established “as quickly as possible” to facilitate the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes, and to encourage international co-operation in the further development and practical use of atomic energy for the benefit of humanity. Work on drafting a statute for such an agency began in April 1955 and was submitted to the 1956 Conference on the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency. After its approval, the General Assembly would pass an agreement that governed the relationship between the United Nations and the new agency, known as the International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA. The Agency reports to the Assembly annually and to the Security Council on matters of safety and security. Today, the IAEA continues to partner with Member States and others worldwide to promote the safe, secure, and peaceful use of nuclear technologies. The IAEA received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for its efforts.
The precursor of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) - the UN's global development network - was the United Nations Special Fund. In 1958, the General Assembly took action to “employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples…”, as stated in the Charter of the UN. The United Nations Special Fund was established on 14 October 1958 by resolution A/RES/1240 (XII). The Fund would be equipped to carry out large-scale projects of a pre-investment nature. Its operations would speed the economic development of less-developed countries by creating conditions that facilitated new capital investments of all types. The Special Fund, along with the Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance would combine in 1966 to form the United Nations Development Programme.
The League of Nations- predecessor to the United Nations- adopted the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child, recognizing “that mankind owes to the Child the best that it has to give”. The United Nations built on this international agreement with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, in 1959, with the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, the first UN statement devoted exclusively to the rights of children. The General Assembly unanimously passed the Declaration, which says, “The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity.” Thirty years later, the principles laid out in the Declaration will become the basis for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
When the United Nations came into being in 1945, over 1/3 of the world’s people lived in dependent territories. In 1960, the UN would admit 17 new Member States, 16 of which are newly independent African nations. Believing decolonization needed to occur faster, the General Assembly adopted, on 14 December 1960, the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. It states “[T]he necessity of bringing to a speedy and unconditional end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations…all peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."
United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld lost his life on 18 September 1961 when his plane crashes on his way to the the town of Ndola for peace talks between the Congolese government and the separatists. As the UN and the world mourn, many pay tribute to the fallen Secretary-General and on 20 September, members of the United Nations eulogised Hammarskjöld in a plenary meeting of the General Assembly.
“Let us recall on this day of grief the man we knew, the man for whom difference between races or nationalities did not exist, the man who faced all problems with a profound desire to find the best peaceful solution" (Mr. Bahizi of Congo, Leopoldville).
During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, both the Acting Secretary-General U Thant and the Security Council played a vital role in averting an international crisis when a dispute between the United States of America and the Soviet Union over Cuba escalated. In the Security Council, representatives for the US, Cuba and USSR stated their views for the world to hear publicly. Behind the scenes, Acting Secretary-General U Thant worked as a mediator between US President Kennedy and USSR Premier Khrushchev, appealing to both to find a solution to the situation without military action. Thant addressed the Security Council stating, "Today the United Nations faces a moment of grave responsibility. What is at stake is not just the interests of the parties directly involved, nor just the interests of all the Member States, but the very fate of mankind. If today the United Nations should prove itself ineffective, it may have proved itself so for all time."
The United Nations had been grappling with apartheid, South Africa’s system of legalized racial discrimination, since it was founded. In 1963, South Africa began an arms build-up that many feared would be used to enforce the government’s racial policies. In response, the Security Council passes the first voluntary arms embargo on 7 August 1963. The Council “calls upon all States to cease forthwith the sale and shipment of arms, ammunition of all types and military vehicles to South Africa." The embargo is the UN’s strongest condemnation of apartheid to date and strengthens the General Assembly’s previous resolutions calling on South Africa to reject Apartheid and release all political prisoners. Thirty-one years later, in 1994, the UN would observe South Africa's first multi-racial elections in which former political prisoner Nelson Mandela would be elected the country's first black president.
The Republic of Cyprus became independent in 1960. The country’s constitution intended to balance the needs of its Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities and Cyprus, Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom entered into a treaty to guarantee the basic provisions of the constitution. However, the constitution could not ease the difficulties between the two communities and tensions grew. On 15 February 1964, the representatives of the UK and Cyprus requested action by the Security Council in an attempt to restore peace. Three weeks later, the Council adopts resolution 186 (1964); recommending the establishment of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). The Force will become operational on 27 March 1964 and continues to operate on the island today: supervising ceasefire lines, maintaining a buffer zone, undertaking humanitarian activities, and supporting the good offices mission of the Secretary-General.
Article I of the Charter of the United Nations states the United Nations is to promote and encourage "respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” In 1965, the General Assembly considered the question of the prevention of discrimination and the protection of minorities and, on 21 December, approved A/RES/2106(XX), the text of an International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The States Parties to the Convention agree “to adopt all necessary measures for speedily eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and manifestations, and to prevent and combat racist doctrines and practices in order to promote understanding between races and to build an international community free from all forms of racial segregation and racial discrimination.”