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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: June 2018

21 - The United Nations



The United Nations was established following the conclusion of the Second World War and in the light of Allied planning and intentions expressed during that conflict. The purposes of the UN are set out in article 1 of the Charter as follows:

  • To maintain international peace and security, and to that end, to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;

  • To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;

  • To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

  • To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

  • While the purposes are clearly wide-ranging, they do provide a useful guide to the comprehensiveness of its concerns. The question of priorities as between the various issues noted is constantly subject to controversy and change, but this only reflects the continuing pressures and altering political balances within the organisation. In particular, the emphasis upon decolonisation, self-determination and apartheid mirrored the growth in UN membership and the dismantling of the colonial empires, while increasing concern with economic and developmental issues is now very apparent and clearly reflects the adverse economic conditions in various parts of the world.

    The Charter of the United Nations is not only the multilateral treaty which created the organisation and outlined the rights and obligations of those states signing it, it is also the constitution of the UN, laying down its functions and prescribing its limitations. Foremost amongst these is the recognition of the sovereignty and independence of the member states. Under article 2(7) of the Charter, the UN may not intervene in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state (unless enforcement measures under Chapter VII are to be applied).

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