The Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Credit: League of Nations Archives, UNOG Library.
Credit: The text for this title has been kindly provided by The United Nations Office at Geneva, Library Archives.
On 15 November, 1920, an enthusiastic crowd welcomed the delegates of the First Assembly of the League of Nations at Geneva. A ceremony, at the foot of the statue of Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the same day, recalled that the choice of Geneva as the headquarters of the first political international organisation in history is not insignificant, and refers to the famous ‘Spirit of Geneva’ that the first years of existence of the League of Nations have praised.
Having installed its Secretariat in the Palais Wilson, the League of Nations made a durable mark on the urban landscape of Geneva by constructing the Palais des Nations in which the League was installed in 1936.
The efforts of the League of Nations did not however succeed in removing the major obstacles to peace, which occurred in the early ‘30s, and it was powerless in the face of the Second World War.
The concept of an international organisation was however firmly embedded in people’s minds and on the 1st January, 1942, the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, announced the term “United Nations”.
On 26 June, 1945, the Representatives of fifty countries meeting in San Francisco adopted the Charter of the United Nations, founder of the new international organisation. The United Nations Organisation was born officially on 24th October, 1945, when the signatory countries ratified the Charter.
In spite of its political failure, the legacy of the League of Nations at the same time appears clearly in a number of principles stated by the Charter and in the competencies and experiences developed in the area of technical cooperation. The majority of the specialised institutions of the United Nations system can in fact be considered the legacy of the work initiated by the League of Nations.
Dissolved at a final Assembly held in Geneva in April, 1946, the League of Nations handed over its properties and assets to the United Nations Organisation, the Palais des Nations being one of its jewels. While the headquarters of the new Organisation has since been established in New York, the European Office of the United Nations was created in the Palais des Nations, becoming the United Nations Office at Geneva in 1966. It constitutes a world centre for diplomatic conferences, and an operational base for a great number of activities in the economic and social fields, and continues to keep alive in Geneva this ‘spirit’ which urged the people in 1920 to choose the city as the meeting place for nations.
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