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10072012-2 If you have siblings, there is a pretty good chance you occasionally disagree with them, perhaps vehemently, about a range of important topics. Consider the tactics you use during your conflicts: persuasion, compromise, bribery, secret alliances, peaceful boycotts, or aggressive actions. Who mediates your disagreements? What is done to keep the peace within your household?

There are 196 independent countries in the world representing countless ethnicities, religions, and cultures. Strife within and between countries is a regular part of our world. The Kingston Trio song, Merry Minuet, captures the universality of international conflict. (The lyrics were written in 1959. Just for fun, note which lyrics are still true. Which new verses would you insert?) World peace may be a lofty goal, yet it is a worthwhile one nonetheless. It is the job of the United Nations to broker peace worldwide, to protect human rights, to work toward justice and the rule of law, and to better the standard of life for all. The United Nations serves as world mediator and advocate. It is no small undertaking.10072012-6

Representatives from 193 nations make up the United Nations. Each September through December, the General Assembly—representatives from all 193 U.N. member nations—gather at the UN headquarters in New York. The United Nations is now in session and world leaders and diplomats are meeting to discuss issues related to human rights, international law, and peacekeeping.

This week, step into the United Nations headquarters, online, to discover more about the United Nations, its mission, and work.

Working Toward a Stronger World

10072012-1 The United Nations was not the first attempt to create an international agency to work for peace. However, its predecessor, the League of Nations, failed and World War II rocked the world. The United Nations grew from the wreckage of World War II. On July 26, 1945, 50 countries signed the charter that formally established the United Nations. Since then, membership in the United Nations has swelled to 193. What observations do you have from watching the interactive map of United Nations membership? The complete list of United Nations members includes countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.  City-states (the Vatican City), territories (Puerto Rico and Taiwan), and territories whose governance is in dispute (Western Sahara) are not members.

10072012-3 The United Nations is led by a Secretary General. Ban Ki Moon is the eighth person to serve in this position. In 2012, Ban Ki Moon was appointed to a second term. After accepting the appointment, he outlined his goals for the next five years.

Step aboard the United Nations CyberSchoolBus for an introduction to the United Nation’s chief purpose. United Nations agreements are not legally binding. Instead, the U.N. relies upon agreements and consensus. What challenges do you expect this poses? Examine the aims and principles of the United Nations. To understand the mission of the United Nations, read the Preamble of the United Nations’ Charter. The Charter contains 30 articles, each outlines a belief that guides the United Nations’ work and to which member states agree to uphold. Divide the articles among your classmates; share a summary of your article as well as the results of the questions and activities found below the article. Considering the aims and articles, what programs do you expect the United Nations sponsors?10072012-7

Working toward peace and for human rights, justice, and human well-being is challenging, especially in a world plagued by war, injustice, and inequality. The United Nations divides its work into ten categories. Read more about the United Nations work on behalf of children and women, to strengthen education, peace, health, human rights, and to end poverty, HIV/AIDS, climate change, emergencies, How do these ten issues intersect? Why do you think the United Nations selected them as the focus of their work? There may be much more work to be done; however, the United Nations’ aim is to work to make the world better and better.

10072012-4The United Nations is organized into six bodies that each oversees a variety of agencies and programs. In order to tackle these ten broad topics, the U.N. establishes subsidiary agencies that each focus on the one or more of the ten topics in different and cooperative ways. One of the most widely known U.N. programs is the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF.  UNICEF’s focus is on improving the lives of children, but to do that it sponsors programs related to education, health, nutrition, safety, and sanitation.

One of the newest UN programs, OROLSI, supports peacekeeping operations. What is peacekeeping? How does the UN decide to accept a peacekeeping mission? Peacekeeping missions (or whether to begin one) often capture newspaper headlines. They require a global partnership, and are not the work of independent United Nations forces.10072012-5

Once again, the General Assembly met in September to open a new session. Ban Ki Moon opened the 67th session of the General Assembly general debate with a warning about our “direction as a human family.” From September 25 through October 1, leaders of over 100 countries addressed the General Assembly, including President Obama, and Afghanistan President Ahmadinejad. To watch a particular speech, locate when it was given and then find it in the video archive of speakers.