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The story of the United Nations is rooted in more than a century of multilateral cooperation. Its origins can be associated with the first international peace conferences, the establishment of the first international organizations, and to the creation of the League of Nations in the aftermath of World War I. Following the tumult of a WWII and the pressing need to develop lasting peace, which ultimately led to the establishment of the United Nations, a global effort which continues to work for sustainable peace, inclusive development, global health and prosperity for all.

Before the League of Nations

The first modern international organization were established in the 19th century. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was created by a small group in Geneva in 1863,  which developed the first international humanitarian treaty, the Geneva Convention of 1864. The International Telecommunication Union, founded in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, and the Universal Postal Union, established in 1874, have since become UN specialized agencies.

In 1899, the International Peace Conference was held in The Hague to elaborate mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of international disputes, preventing wars and codifying the rules of war. It adopted the Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes and established the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which began work in 1902.

The forerunner of the United Nations was the League of Nations, the first international organization created "to promote international cooperation and to achieve peace and security.". Its founding document, the Covenant of the League of Nations, was adopted at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and included in the Treaty of Versailles. The League of Nations was dissolved in 1946. The International Labour Organization was also created under the Treaty of Versailles. The ILO became the first UN specialized agency in 1946.

The League of Nations (1919-1946)

At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, to avoid a repeat of a devastating war, the League of Nations objective was to maintain universal peace within the framework of the fundamental principles of the Pact accepted by its Members. The goal was to develop cooperation among nations and to guarantee them peace and security.

The first years of existence of the League of Nations were considered successful. In accordance with the provisions of the Pact, several international disputes – between Sweden and Finland, and between Greece and Bulgaria – were resolved peacefully. The Locarno Agreements signed in October 1925, which marked the beginnings of a Franco-German reconciliation, were entrusted to the League. A direct consequence, Germany, became a Member in 1926. In 1929, the delegate from France, Aristide Briand, put forward to the Assembly the very first political project of a European Federal Union.

Although the League was not able to avoid the outbreak of World War Two, there were notable achievements and successes in the field of international technical cooperation. Under its auspices, in fact, considerable number of conferences, intergovernmental committees and meetings of experts were held in Geneva, in areas as diverse as health and social affairs, transport and communications, economic and financial affairs and intellectual cooperation.

The Palais des nations

salle de pas perdu

In 1920, the seat of the League of Nations was established in the hôtel National, today known as Palais Wilson, along the shores of Lake Geneva. In 1926, an international architectural competition was launched for the design of the Palais des Nations.

Originally the new building of the League was planned to be built along the shores of Lake Geneva. However, the donation of a Library in 1927 extended significantly the architectural project and the League was forced to find a new site. Ultimately, through an exchange with the City of Geneva, the Palais found its home in the Ariana Park, which had been bequeathed to the City of Geneva by Gustave Revilliod upon his death in 1890.

The construction of the Palais started in 1929 and was completed in 1938. Since then, the Palais des Nations has undergone numerous extensions and additions, including the ongoing Strategic Heritage Project (SHP).

Today, the Palais consists of 34 conference rooms and approximately 2,800 offices, making it the second largest United Nations center after the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Birth of the United Nations

The United Nations did not come into existence spontaneously, but instead through a series of meetings and events which took place over a number of years.

Efforts built up between the Declaration of St. James' Palace to the the Atlantic Charter and several other meetings held around the world, leading up to the San Francisco Conference in 1945.

The United Nations Charter was signed on 26 June 1945, in San Francisco at the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on International Organization.

The United Nations has accomplished many things since its founding in 1945. Geneva has played a critical role in many of those achievements, find out how Geneva acquired its international renown.

Conseil économique et social (ECOSOC) / Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

Conseil des droits de l’homme (CDH) / Human Rights Council (HRC)

Commission Economique des Nations Unies pour l’Europe (CEE-ONU) / United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

Conférence des Nations Unies sur le commerce et le développement (CNUCED) / United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

Institut des Nations Unies pour la recherche sur le désarmement (UNIDIR) / United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR)

Institut de recherche des Nations Unies pour le développement social (UNRISD) / United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)

Bureau de la coordination des affaires humanitaires (BCAH) / Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

Commission d’indemnisation des Nations Unies (UNCC) / United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC)

Commission du droit international (CDI) / International Law Commission (ILC)

Corps commun d’inspection du système des Nations Unies (CCI) / Joint Inspection Unit of the United Nations System (JIU)

Conférence du désarmement / Conference on Disarmament (CD)

Bureau des affaires de désarmement des Nations Unies (UNODA) / United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA)

Organisation mondiale du commerce (OMC) / World Trade Organizations (WTO)

Organisation internationale pour les migrations (OIM) / International Organization for Migration (IOM)

Bureau international d’éducation (BIE) / International Bureau of Education (IBE-UNESCO)

Organisation internationale du Travail (OIT) / International Labour Organization (ILO)

Organisation mondiale de la Santé (OMS) / World Health Organization (WHO)

Programme commun des Nations Unies sur le VIH/Sida (ONUSIDA) /Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)

Organisation mondiale de la propriété intellectuelle (OMPI) / World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

Union internationale des télécommunications (UIT) / International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

Bureau des Nations Unies pour la réduction de risques de catastrophe (UNDRR) / United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)

Haut-Commissariat des Nations Unies pour les réfugiés (UNHCR) / Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)