The Story of the United Nations Charter

The Charter of the United Nations was signed on the June 26, 1945 by representatives of 50 countries who met in San Francisco following deliberations of proposals that had earlier been worked out at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC, United States, from August to October 1944 by representatives of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. Poland though not present at the Conference signed it later, thus becoming one of the original 51 Member states of the United Nations. The membership today is 192. Sri Lanka became a member in 1955.


The story of the UN Charter begins in 1941 London, UK. Despite the ravages of war representatives of 5 countries, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa and 9 governments exiled in London were hopeful of final victory. They met on the June 12, 1941 at the ancient St. James’s Palace and signed a declaration that stated:

“The only true basis of enduring peace is the willing cooperation of free peoples in a world in which, relieved of the menace of aggression, all may enjoy economic and social security; It is our intention to work together, and with other free peoples, both in war and peace, to this end”.

Two months after the Declaration of St. James’s Palace, in August 1941, a dramatic meeting took place between President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. On August 14, the two leaders issued a joint declaration that came to be known as the Atlantic Charter.

On January 1, 1942 President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, Maxim Litvinov of the USSR and T.V.Soong of China signed a short document which later became known as the United Nations Declaration. In October 1943 the Foreign Ministers of Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union and the Chinese Ambassador to the Soviet Union signed a document that came to be known as the Moscow and Teheran Declaration.

The Declaration “recognized the necessity of establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organization based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving states, and open to membership of all such states, large and small, for the maintenance of international peace and security”. This concept was approved by President Roosevelt, Stalin and Prime Minister Churchill at their meeting in Teheran in December 1943.

On October 7, 1944, the principles of the world organization were finalized by representatives of the United States, Great Britain, the USSR and China at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, D.C. According to these proposals, 4 principal bodies were to constitute the organization known as the United Nations: The General Assembly composed of all the nations; The Security Council; The International Court of Justice; and the Secretariat. These principles became the basis for deliberations that culminated in the UN Charter on June 26, 1945 in San Francisco,


There are currently 192 members in the United Nations. Each country large or small, rich or poor, has a single vote. However, none of the decisions taken by the Assembly are binding. Nevertheless such decisions become resolutions that carry the weight of a world governmental opinion.

The United Nations Headquarters is in New York, USA, but the land and buildings are international territory. The UN has its own flag, its own Post Office and its own postage stamps. Six official languages are used at the UN: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. The principal organs of the United Nations currently are: a General Assembly, a Security Council, an Economic and Social Council, a Trusteeship Council, an International Court of Justice and a Secretariat.


The Charter contains a preamble and 19 chapters. The Chapters of particular interest are: Chapter 1 that sets out the “Purposes and Principles” of the Charter;

Chapter 5 that deals with the Security Council;
Chapter 14 that deals with The International Court of Justice; and

Chapter 15 that deals with the Secretariat.
The remaining Chapters deal with related aspects of the UN Organization.


1. 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;

2. 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;

3. 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

4. To be a Centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.


1. The Security Council shall consist of fifteen Members of the United Nations. The Republic of China, France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America shall be permanent members of the Security Council. The General Assembly shall elect ten other Members of the United Nations to be non-permanent members of the Security Council, due regard being specially paid, in the first instance to the contribution of Members of the United Nations to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the Organization, and also to equitable geographical distribution.

2. The non-permanent members of the Security Council shall be elected for a term of two years. In the first election of the non-permanent members after the increase of the membership of the Security Council from eleven to fifteen, two of the four additional members shall be chosen for a term of one year. A retiring member shall not be eligible for immediate re-election.

3. Each member of the Security Council shall have one representative.


The International Court of Justice shall be the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It shall function in accordance with the annexed Statute, which is based upon the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice and forms an integral part of the present Charter. Each Member of the United Nations undertakes to comply with the decision of the International Court of Justice in any case to which it is a party. The General Assembly or the Security Council may request the International Court of Justice to give an advisory opinion on any legal question.


The Secretariat shall comprise a Secretary-General and such staff as the Organization may require. The Secretary-General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council for a period of 5 years. He shall be the chief administrative officer of the United Nations.