SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Seventy years ago, representatives from 50 war-weary countries gathered in San Francisco to create an international organization aimed at saving future generations from the “scourge of war:” the United Nations.
On Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon travels to its birthplace by the bay to commemorate the signing of the U.N. charter.
“The secretary-general is very pleased to be able to go back to San Francisco to mark the 70th anniversary of the single cornerstone document of the United Nations: the United Nations charter,” said Farhan Haq, Ban’s deputy spokesman. “It was historic that leaders of the world were able to start in San Francisco to get the ball rolling for the creation of the U.N.”
The celebration won’t be as festive as the one San Francisco hosted in 1995 for the 50th anniversary of the charter’s signing. That party lasted over three days and drew then-President Bill Clinton and South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Maya Angelou recited a poem written for the occasion.
Chris Whatley, executive director of the United Nations Association of the USA, said San Francisco was selected for the two-month conference and eventual signing, partly, to remind nations that World War II was being fought on two fronts: In Europe and in the Pacific. Plus, the city with its shipyards perfectly embodied the century’s booming industrial economy.
“It was emblematic of America’s economic power and the U.S. host wanted to show what could be achieved in a nation at peace,” Whatley said. “It was more than a venue for the negotiations. The city itself was a participant in the negotiations.”
Former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos goes further: “It also was a city that coincided with the principles and the tradition of equal rights and self-determination of all people, and that’s what the United Nations was trying to achieve.”
The U.N., made up of nearly 200 member countries today, has the key goals of safeguarding peace, promoting human rights and delivering humanitarian aid. It has an annual budget of more than $1 billion and has more than 100,000 peacekeepers deployed in more than a dozen conflict zones, said Haq. The mission in modern times has come to embrace climate change and sustainable development as issues.
On Friday, Ban is scheduled to give a speech at Stanford University. There will be remarks at San Francisco City Hall at noon, and in the evening, dignitaries will gather in at the Fairmont Hotel, where dicey security negotiations took place in the penthouse.
This year, the Harvey Milk Foundation will honor Ban with a medal for the U.N.’s “Free and Equal” campaign, launched in 2013 to battle discrimination against gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people. Milk, an openly gay San Francisco supervisor assassinated in 1978, was deeply affected by the imprisonment of Jewish people and other minority groups during the war, said his nephew Stuart Milk. In the United States, more than 100,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were forced into relocation camps.
“My uncle’s core message was visibility, and without visibility the LGBT community would get nowhere. That message is still so needed,” he said, “particularly globally.”
The signing was a start. The representatives then went back to their countries to seek approval from home governments.
On Oct. 24, the United Nations was born.
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