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The United Nations (UN) is an international organization whose stated aims are to facilitate cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, and human rights issues. It was founded in 1945 with the signing of the United Nations Charter by 51 countries.

The UN was founded after the end of World War II (24 October 1945) by the victorious Allied Powers in the hope that it would act to intervene in conflicts between nations and thereby avoid war. The organization's structure still reflects in some ways the political power-structure of when it was founded. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, each of which has veto power on any Security Council resolution, are the main victors of World War II or their successor states: the People's Republic of China (formerly the Republic of China), France, Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), the United Kingdom, and the United States.

There are currently 193 United Nations member states, including the majority of internationally recognized independent states. From its headquarters in New York City, the UN and its specialized agencies decide on substantive and administrative issues in regular meetings held throughout each year. The United Nations is divided into five major administrative organs: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Secretariat, the International Court of Justice, and the Economic and Social Council. Additional bodies deal with the governance of all other United Nations system organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The UN's most visible public figure is the Secretary-General, currently António Guterres of Portugal, who took office on 1 January 2017. The newest Member State is South Sudan, admitted in July 2011.

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The United Nations Charter is the treaty that forms and establishes the international organization called the United Nations. While this document is occasionally misconstrued as a constitution it is, in fact, an agreement between states and not a compact among the individual peoples to create a government. It was signed at the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco, California, United States, in 1945, by 50 of the 51 original member countries (Poland, the other original member, which was not represented at the conference, signed it later). It entered into force on October 24, 1945, after being ratified by the five permanent members of the Security Council—the Republic of China (later replaced by the People's Republic of China), France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (later replaced by the Russian Federation), the United Kingdom, and the United States—and a majority of the other signatories.

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Javier Pérez de Cuéllar

Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (born 19 January 1920) is a Peruvian diplomat who served as the fifth Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1982 to 1991. He studied in Colegio San Agustín of Lima, and then at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

Pérez de Cuéllar joined the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1940, and in 1944 began serving as Secretary, then Ambassador, at seven countries' Embassies. He was a member of the Peruvian delegation to the first UN General Assembly session in 1946, as well as the 25th through 30th sessions. In 1971, he was appointed the UN's Permanent Representative of Peru, and was appointed as United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs in 1979.

Pérez de Cuéllar succeeded Kurt Waldheim as Secretary-General in 1981. During his two terms, he led mediations between Britain and Argentina in the aftermath of the Falklands War and promoted efforts to bring peace and stability to Central America. He also interceded in the negotiations for the independence of Namibia, conflict in Western Sahara, and the Cyprus issue. After serving at the UN, Pérez de Cuéllar returned to Peruvian politics, eventually retiring in France in 2004.

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UN bombing victims
At Baghdad International Airport in 2003, cases containing the bodies of victims of a truck bombing of the UN Office of Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, and draped in the UN flag, are carried onto an aircraft to be airlifted to their respective home countries.

Photo credit: United States Federal Government

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Kofi Annan
We may have different religions, different languages, different coloured skin, but we all belong to one human race. We all share the same basic values.
Kofi Annan, Secretary-General from 1997 to 2006

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