United Nations Day: Recognizing the UN’s Work in Making the World a Better Place Bailey Shafer (2022-23 Iowa UNA College Ambassador from the University of Iowa)
Happy United Nations Day! This annual celebration recognizes the official creation of the United Nations on October 24, 1945. Since its establishment after the Second World War, the UN has worked to spread its values by promoting peace, advocating for human rights and global health, responding to humanitarian conflicts, and combatting the climate crisis. The United Nations has undoubtably made the world a better place through its peacekeeping operations, human rights promotion, global health initiatives, humanitarian aid, sustainable development goals, and so much more. In the following paragraphs, I will touch on several UN accomplishments that I believe best represent the organization’s impact on the world.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is one of the first major accomplishments of the UN and was a milestone in the history of human rights. The Declaration was passed in December 1948 and for the first time in history sets a common standard of fundamental human rights that need to be universally protected. In essence, the UDHR guides much of the work of the UN organization, by relating to all three pillars of the organization: peace and security, development, and human rights. It is not possible to have peace and security without fundamental freedoms, and development is nearly impossible without the rights to education or health. The UDHR is important because it has come to define human rights standards that act as a guide for governments, individuals, and nongovernmental groups. While the UDHR is not legally binding, it has contributed to the development of major treaties that are legally binding, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention Against Torture, ,the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Overall, the UDHR provides a solid framework for other laws to be based on and creates a worldwide standard for human rights.
For many individuals, including myself, travel is an enjoyable pastime and a great way to educate oneself on the world and its history. The United Nations makes this possible through its agency, the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO. UNESCO works to identify and preserve sites that are deemed culturally and historically significant. These sites receive the status of a World Heritage Site. The area around the Giza pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt is an example of a World Heritage. In 1995, construction on an eight-lane highway was started a mile south of the Sphinx that threatened the architectural site and its ancient structures. Fortunately, UNESCO officials were dispatched to discuss this issue with Egyptian governmental authorities, who eventually agreed to change plans to better preserve the World Heritage Site. This is just one example of the positive effects the UN has had on preservation efforts throughout the world. As development continues, the role of UNESCO will become even more important to the preservation of our world’s heritage.
In the realm of global health, the UN has made significant contributions to the fight against several diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) is a UN agency that coordinates international efforts to improve health for all across the globe. Perhaps the most successful effort of the WHO was its role in the eradication of smallpox, the only disease to have been eradicated. Unlike other common diseases, smallpox is not spread by animals but is instead spread by humans. After realizing this fact, UN officials located disease carriers and kept them completely isolated during their infection period. This effort paired with the development and distribution of a smallpox vaccine helped contribute to the disease being declared extinct after a 13-year immunization campaign. We also saw the importance of the WHO during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they issued guidance and regulations on a worldwide scale. The WHO also maintains a valuable database that tracks cases, guidance, and public health measures adopted by countries to manage threats from COVID-19. A rise in health threats from climate change and other worldwide issues will continue to make the UN and WHO relevant and important in the combatting of disease.
Sustainability efforts are an integral part of the UN organization and are vital for the future of the world. The UN’s work on the Sustainable Development Goals has set targets for reducing poverty and inequality in ways that also protect the environment. Countries across the globe have adopted measures to make progress towards the SDG targets.
The UN also does significant work in combatting the climate crisis. In 1987, the UN produced perhaps its most successful effort to combat climate change by successfully implementing the Montreal Protocol. The UN Environment Program received the pledges of 24 nations to act against the deterioration of the ozone layer over Antarctica by reducing the emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on a wide scale. Prior to this effort, scientists observed a hole in the ozone layer that extended over 7.7 million square miles. Thanks to global efforts, the hole is shrinking and is expected to completely heal by 2050.
Creating and sustaining peace are key pillars of the UN, and UN peacekeeping missions ensure these pillars are supported. As stated by Iowa UNA Executive Director Debra DeLaet in her recent blog, “UN peacekeeping missions help to create the conditions in which peaceful settlements are more likely and have proven to be effective in protecting civilians in conflict zones.” Since the UN’s inception, there have been numerous peacekeeping missions throughout the world that have been deemed successful. The United Nations Mission in Liberia is an example of a successful UN peacekeeping mission. In 2003, the UN oversaw a ceasefire agreement after their president’s resignation that ended the second Liberian civil war.
With the help of other organizations, over 100,000 combatants were disarmed and demobilized. A later survey found that 94% of Liberians said this mission helped improve their situation. Another success story can be found in neighboring Sierra Leone, where a peacekeeping mission between 1999 and 2006 helped to implement an agreement that ended the Sierra Leone civil war. Again, UN peacekeepers assisted the government in disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration plan that successfully brought the country peace.
Overall, the United Nations is a vital organization for the betterment of our world. As we celebrate UN Day 2022, it is fulfilling to look back on the great successes of the organization, and exciting to look towards the future. A few of the greatest accomplishments of the UN include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the establishment of UNESCO, the work of the WHO in promoting health, the protection of the ozone layer, and successful peacekeeping operations. Looking forward, the UN will continue working to maintain human rights, protect culturally important places, fight disease and sickness, encourage sustainability, and maintain world peace. I’ll conclude with a quote by political scientist, UN mediator, and Nobel Prize-winning diplomat Ralph Bunche. “The United Nations is our one great hope for a peaceful and free world.” Although the mission to create a peaceful and free world is ongoing, we have and continue to make great strides in making these words reality.