International Unitarian Universalism

Happy 76th Birthday to the United Nations

By Bruce Knotts

This post was originally sent out on October 22 via a monthly email message from Director Bruce Knotts of the Unitarian Universalist Association Office at the United Nations. Subscribe to the UU@UN email list.

Black and white photo of the signing of the United Nations Charter in a room lined with national flags from UN member states and the UN logo on a curtain to the right. US Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius, Jr. sits at a round table to sign the document while President Harry S. Truman stands by at the left looking pleased. Additional diplomats stand behind wearing suits.

U.S. Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., Chairman of the U.S. Delegation, signing the UN Charter at a ceremony held in San Francisco in 1945. President Harry S. Truman stands by at left looking pleased.

As a child, I could not tell that day by day, I was growing. Instead, my father marked my height every year so we could see how much I had grown.

October 24, 2021 is the 76th birthday of the United Nations. The UN Charter was signed in 1945 by the representatives of 51 nations. (All those representatives were men.)

At the time, most of the world remained under colonial rule. The first orders of business were (1) to guarantee there would never be another global war and (2) to decolonize the world. Although colonial legacies remain very much alive today, nations that have achieved their independence and become Member States since 1945 have transformed the UN towards a fuller realization of what it was created to be: a convening place for the peoples of the world.

While we continue to experience conflicts, there has been no repetition of world wars. Nuclear weapons are monitored with the hope they will be abolished, as stipulated in the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that entered into force on January 22, 2021.

The United Nations has convening authority; it can bring people together and point the way. But the work of transforming society, infrastructure, economics, and laws has to be done by Member States and their citizens.

The UN remains essential after 76 years because it is the sole entity that can bring nations together to address global issues related to climate change, human rights, war, migration, sustainable development, and much more. It works with nations to set up standards, rules, and limits to create a world where we can, if we work at it, resolve the problems that affect us all.

In my work at the UU@UN, I operate with the principles of patience, persistence, and professionalism. In conversations with civil society, Member States, and UN staff, the UU@UN advocates for the values of our faith at every opportunity.

As leaders within the UN community, we have become recognized experts in some areas of human rights, especially sexual orientation/gender identity human rights.

Over time these conversations produce systemic change within the Human Rights Council and in the community of faith-based NGOs at the UN. We have been successful in moving important issues from the margins to the center of concern. That is what we are attempting to do now with demilitarizing global police forces.

The work is slow and tedious. However, like measuring the growth of a child, over time one can see great progress, even if it appears like there’s been no change from day to day.

Today, there are 193 Member States of the UN. About 50 Member States’ Permanent Representatives are women. Over the past 76 years, the UN has transformed the concept of human rights through conventions, declarations, and resolutions that have vastly improved inclusion and access to justice.

I am so grateful to have your strong support behind me as I advocate for your values at the UN.

This weekend, many UU congregations will be marking the UN’s birthday with a special United Nations Sunday worship service. This is a great opportunity to honor the connections between Unitarian Universalism and our world community as embodied in the United Nations.


P.S. The pivotal UN Climate Summit, COP26, is coming up in just over a week. Join the UU@UN and UU Ministry for Earth for events in the lead-up to COP26.

The UUA Office at the United Nations is supported by the generosity of individuals like you. Donate now.

About the Author

Bruce Knotts

Bruce Knotts is the Director of the Unitarian Universalist Office at the United Nations. He was born and raised in Southern California. He got his Bachelor’s Degree in History from Pepperdine University and his Master’s Degree in International Education from the Monterey Institute of...

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