The pre-amble to the UN Charter is an impressive expression of idealism. Even in the wake of World War Two, world leaders had an expectation that humanity was going to lift itself up from the degradations experienced in the years prior. It’s worth reading in full.
WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to regain faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
AND FOR THESE ENDS…to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,
HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS…Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.
Those words became the foundation of the United Nations. And exactly 70 years to the day that world leaders gathered in the United States to sign this expression of a more hopeful future, the United States Supreme Court offered a profound affirmation of the human rights of one of the world’s most historically marginalized peoples.
The timing of the Supreme Court’s decision could not have been more serendipitous for Ban Ki Moon who was visiting San Francisco to both commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 1945 San Francisco Conference that birthed the United Nations and accept an award from the Harvey Milk Foundation.
Both events took place at City Hall, where 37 years ago Harvey Milk was the victim of a hate crime and not far from the spot where, on June 26 1945, the UN Charter was signed by the UN’s founding members. Flanked by Mayor Ed Lee, Governor Jerry Brown, Nancy Pelosi–and with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousavzai looking on — Ban noted that the Charter was one month older than him, but even as a child he quickly learned the value of the UN, first hand.
“When the Korean War ravaged my country, I lost my home, my school, all I knew,” he said. “Help came bearing the United Nations flag: sacks of grain from UNICEF, textbooks from UNESCO, and many young soldiers from 21 nations, including the United States. The United Nations showed us we were not alone.”
Moments after accepting the Key to the City of San Francisco, Ban Ki Moon was honored by the Harvey Milk Foundation for his support of LGBT rights around the world. Ban started the UN’s Free and Equal Campaign in 2011 to combat discrimination, and during his tenure as Secretary General he has consistently fought for the expansion of basic human rights for the LGBT community. Even the normally humble Ban Ki Moon acknowledged that the mainstreaming of LGBT Rights into the traditional human rights agenda of the United Nations will likely be his most enduring legacy as Secretary General when his term expires at the end of next year.
And it all goes back to the UN Charter, which gives the UN a platform to push the boundaries of human rights.
Today was very much a day of celebration for Ban Ki Moon and for the city of San Francisco, which gave birth to both the United Nations and to the modern LGBT Rights movement. But most important, today is an affirmation that the idealism enshrined in the UN Charter, which asks us to “regain faith in fundamental human rights,” is as relevant today as it was 70 years ago.