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UN flag

Founding of the United Nations

After the end of World War II a series of conventions and declarations began to articulate universal human rights. The war ended in 1945, but only after the destruction of millions of lives, including through the first and only use of atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Many countries were left devastated by the war, and millions of people died or became homeless refugees.

As the war drew to a close, the victorious powers decided to establish a world organisation that would prevent further conflict and help build a better world. The United Nations (UN) was established in 1945 with four primary aims:

  • to ensure peace and security
  • to promote economic development
  • to promote the development of international law
  • to ensure the observance of human rights.

In the UN Charter – the UN’s founding document – the countries of the United Nations stated that they were determined ‘to affirm the dignity and worth of every human person’. In other words, the United Nations upholds people’s fundamental human rights.

In its early years, the UN set about establishing and documenting basic human rights standards that would serve all people and all nations. Australia was a founding member of the UN and played a prominent role in the negotiation of the UN Charter in 1945 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

The UN has continued to expand the range of standards that set out the obligations that governments and people can be expected to live up to. There are currently 192 United Nations member states.