Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
[Photo: The Australian Minister for External Affairs and Attorney-General, Dr HV Evatt, signs the Charter of the United Nations on behalf of Australia, watched by the Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Francis M Forde (right), San Francisco, 26 June 1945. – UN Photo/McLain]
24 October 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the ratification of the United Nations Charter.
In 1945, as the Second World War was ending, the world came together to create a new instrument for peace, and to enshrine the protection of human rights.
Australia was one of the first countries to respond to the call for unity. Two Australians in particular were important to the birth of the UN.
Herbert Vere ‘Doc’ Evatt – our External Affairs Minister in the 1940s – was a leader at the originating conference in San Francisco in 1945, where he helped craft the UN Charter.
He negotiated for fairer representation for the smaller nations. As he put it, “No sovereign State, however small, will wish to think that its destiny has been handed over to another power, however great.”
Evatt became President of the UN General Assembly in its third session.
Jessie Street was Australia’s only woman delegate. Out of 850 delegates in San Francisco, just eight were women.
Street worked with other women to make sure the word ‘sex’ was in the clause ‘without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion’ wherever it occurs in the UN Charter.
Australia has continued to support the UN’s efforts on women’s rights, particularly through the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, which turns 20 in October.
Ever since we provided the first ever UN peacekeepers in 1947, delivering a ceasefire between the Dutch and the new Indonesian Republic, Australia has been involved in major peace processes in our region.
In the late 1980s, we helped break an impasse in the Cambodian peace process. It was our push for UN control of the transition that helped bring peace to Cambodia.
Then in Timor Leste, Australia led an International force that brought a new nation into being.
We’ve been involved in humanitarian and health missions, and in 2020 Australia has worked within the UN to confront the global COVID-19 pandemic.
For 75 years, Australia has been a leader in the UN’s vital work: defending human rights, securing peace and prosperity, and supporting the frameworks that help us work together as a community of nations.
We were there in the beginning. We will be there as the UN evolves to meet the challenges of the decades ahead.
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