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The United Nations (UN) is an international organization whose stated aims are to facilitate cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, and human rights issues. It was founded in 1945 with the signing of the United Nations Charter by 50 countries.

The UN was founded after the end of World War II by the victorious Allied Powers in the hope that it would act to intervene in conflicts between nations and thereby avoid war. The organization's structure still reflects in some ways the circumstances of its founding. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, each of which has veto power on any UN resolution, are the main victors of World War II or their successor states: the People's Republic of China (formerly the Republic of China), France, Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), the United Kingdom, and the United States.

There are currently 192 United Nations member states, encompassing almost every recognized independent state. From its headquarters in New York City, the UN and its specialized agencies decide on substantive and administrative issues in regular meetings held throughout each year. The organization is divided into five major administrative organs - the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Secretariat, the International Court of Justice, and the Economic and Social Council. Additional bodies deal with the governance of all other UN System agencies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The UN's most visible public figure is the Secretary-General, currently Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, who attained the post on 1 January 2007.

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The United Nations Charter is the treaty that forms and establishes the international organization called the United Nations. While this document is occasionally misconstrued as a constitution it is, in fact, an agreement between states and not a compact among the individual peoples to create a government. It was signed at the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco, California, United States, in 1945, by 50 of the 51 original member countries (Poland, the other original member, which was not represented at the conference, signed it later). It entered into force on October 24, 1945, after being ratified by the five permanent members of the Security Council—the Republic of China (later replaced by the People's Republic of China), France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (later replaced by the Russian Federation), the United Kingdom, and the United States—and a majority of the other signatories.

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Susan Rice (born 17 November 1964) is an American foreign policy advisor and the permanent United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Rice was as a foreign policy aide to Michael Dukakis during the 1988 presidential election. She served at various posts in the Clinton administration before being appointed Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in 1997, a post she held until the end of Clinton's presidency in 2001. Rice joined the Brookings Institution in 2002, and focused on U.S. foreign policy, weak and failing states, the implications of global poverty, and transnational threats to security. During the 2008 presidential campaign, she served as a foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama, and was nominated by him to be the United States Ambassador to the United Nations after his election win.

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Refugee camp in Zaire
Rwandan refugees making camp in Kimbumba, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), in 1994 following the Rwandan Genocide.

Photo credit: United States Federal Government

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U Thant
Every human being, of whatever origin, of whatever station, deserves respect. We must each respect others even as we respect ourselves.
U Thant, Secretary-General from 1961 to 1972

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