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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 General Assembly

The United Nations General Assembly (GA, UNGA) is one of the five principal organs of the United Nations and the only one in which all member nations have equal representation. Its powers are to oversee the budget of the United Nations, appoint the non-permanent members to the Security Council, receive reports from other parts of the United Nations and make recommendations in the form of General Assembly Resolutions. The General Assembly meets under its president in regular yearly sessions which last from September to December, although it can reconvene for special and emergency special sessions. Its composition, functions, powers, voting, and procedures are set out in Chapter IV of the United Nations Charter. Voting in the General Assembly on important questions – recommendations on peace and security; election of members to organs; admission, suspension, and expulsion of members; budgetary matters – is by a two-thirds majority of those present and voting. Other questions are decided by majority vote. Each member country has one vote. The first session was convened on 10 January 1946 in the Methodist Central Hall Westminster in London and included representatives of 51 nations.

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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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Colin Powell
At the UN Security Council in February 2003, Colin Powell, then United States Secretary of State, holds up a model vial of anthrax, while arguing that Iraq is likely to possess Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Photo credit: United States Government

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Norman Cousins
If the United Nations is to survive, those who represent it must bolster it, those who advocate it must submit to it, and those who believe in it must fight for it.
Norman Cousins, political journalist, author, professor, and world peace advocate

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