1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted (1948)
From its earliest meetings, the U.N. General Assembly sought to ensure that atrocities on the scale of those that occurred during World War II would never happen again. On December 10, 1948, the assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which built on the principles of the U.N. Charter and served as a road map to safeguarding the rights of all individuals throughout the world. Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, led the drafting committee and was recognized as the declaration’s guiding force.''
2. First full-fledged peacekeeping force deployed (1956)
Though the U.N. Charter does not specifically mention the use of international armed forces, under the control of the Security Council, to mediate between warring parties, this type of peacekeeping has been an important part of the U.N. mission since 1956. The U.N. General Assembly met in its first emergency special session that November in order to address the ongoing Suez Crisis, which had begun when Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal Company, a joint British-French enterprise. After pressure from the United States led Britain and France to accept a ceasefire and end their short-lived military action against Egypt, the first United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was deployed to supervise the end of hostilities and the withdrawal of British, French and Israeli forces.
3. World Food Program established (1961)
In 1960, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed to the U.N. General Assembly that “a workable scheme should be devised for providing food aid through the U.N. system.” The following year, the assembly approved the establishment of the World Food Program (WFP) on a three-year experimental basis. The WFP got off the ground immediately, however, providing urgently needed food supplies to the victims of a 1962 earthquake (Iran) and hurricane (Thailand), as well as to some 5 million refugees resettling in Algeria. Today, though there are still some 820 million people affected by hunger worldwide, the efforts of the WFP have helped that number fall by more than 100 million in the past decade.
4. UNICEF wins Nobel Peace Prize (1965)
The creation of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) dates back to 1946 when it grew out of the pressing need to provide food, clothing and health care to the children of war-ravaged Europe. The program became a permanent part of the United Nations in 1953. In 1959, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which represented the first major international consensus on the fundamental principles of children’s rights, including shelter, education, health care, and good nutrition. In awarding UNICEF its Peace Prize in 1965, the Nobel Committee lauded the organization for promoting “brotherhood among the nations” and for realizing “that children provide the key to the future.” Now in more than 190 countries, UNICEF remains the world’s leading organization for children.
5. Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (1968)
The U.N.’s first resolution, adopted way back in January 1946, focused on peaceful uses of atomic energy and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. Although this landmark treaty, approved in June 1968, ultimately did not stop nuclear proliferation, it represented a major success for advocates of arms control (especially coming in the middle of the Cold War) and set a precedent for international cooperation on the issue. Since then, nuclear-armed nations such as South Africa and Kazakhstan have voluntarily agreed to give up their atomic weapons, while other countries have vowed to end nuclear-research programs and submit to inspections by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency.
6. International Women’s Year (1975)
Support for women’s rights was actually built into the United Nations charter. Article 1 reads, “To achieve international co-operation…in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” The General Assembly designated 1975 as International Women’s Year, and organized the first World Conference on Women in Mexico City. Since 2010, the U.N Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (known as U.N. Women) continues its efforts to support women’s rights, particularly the need to end violence against women. In 2014, U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson launched the HeForShe campaign, which calls on men to fight for gender equality and combat violence and discrimination against women.
7. UNESCO names 12 initial sites for protection (1978)
In 1978, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published its first list of 12 world heritage sites—those man-made monuments or natural areas deserving of special protection due to their “outstanding value.” Aside from the original list, which included the Galapagos Islands and Yellowstone National Park, UNESCO now protects nearly 1,000 sites worldwide, helping set the standard for the preservation of some of our most important historic monuments and natural treasures.
8. Kyoto Protocol (1997)
This international treaty, named for the Japanese city where it was adopted, committed 41 countries plus the European Union to reduce the emission of dangerous greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. Called by many the most significant environmental treaty in history, its success would be hampered by the fact that three major carbon-emitting nations—China, India and the United States—do not abide by the protocol. In 2012, participants voted to extend the Kyoto Protocol until 2020 and pledged to create a new climate-change treaty requiring all greenhouse-gas-producing countries, including those not bound by the Kyoto Protocol, to limit and reduce their emissions. This became the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015.
9. Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS (2001)
Since 1996, U.N. efforts to combat acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and its cause, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), have been coordinated by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, representing some 10 other U.N. system agencies. In June 2001, a special session of the U.N. General Assembly adopted this Declaration of Commitment, which laid out specific national targets and global actions aimed at reversing an epidemic that had caused boundless suffering and death worldwide. Today, UNAIDS remains the leading advocate for global action against HIV/AIDS. In 2022, the program’s report showed a 58% reduction in new HIV infections among children from 2010 to 2022.
10. First-ever U.N. Emergency Health Mission (2014)
To combat an unprecedented Ebola epidemic in West Africa—including nearly 30,000 people infected and 11,000 killed—the United Nations established its first-ever emergency health mission, the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in September 2014. The temporary mission provided financial, logistical and human resources to the hardest-hit countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, in an effort to bring the number of Ebola cases to zero. UNMEER closed in July 2015, turning oversight of the U.N. emergency Ebola response over to the World Health Organization (WHO).