In the poignant image below, the United Nations (U.N.) offices in Geneva, Switzerland are in the background. The mission of the U.S. delegation that works in the Geneva office reads, “The United States Mission to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva advances U.S. policy on the front lines of multilateral diplomacy at over 100 international organizations in Geneva. U.S. Mission personnel engage daily on issues as diverse as refugee crises, global health, international law, economic development, trade, the environment, arms control and human rights.”
Outside the Geneva U.N. building, the children of the world are welcome to play in a pop-up water fountain while their international families look on. There is no translation necessary in this universal invitation of fun! Unfortunately, for many children in the world something deadly comes in between the creative freedom of childhood and the justice the U.N. is seeking.
The chair that you see between the U.N. entrance and the fountain in this photograph is a sculpture called Broken Chair by the Swiss artist Daniele Berset, constructed by carpenter Louis Genève. There is one leg on the chair that is broken and charred. This broken “limb” is a reminder that there are estimated to be around 110 million anti-personnel mines in the ground and another 100 million stockpiled around the world today. Death and traumatic physical and psychological damage are still inflicted upon children and adults by landmines each day around the world.
The United Nations’ offices in Geneva, Switzerland are beautifully situated on land donated originally to the League of Nations. The Palais des Nations, the Völkerbund (League of Nations) Palace, is located in the midst of the Ariana Park on the banks of Lake Geneva. The palace was built in the 1930s and contains many beautiful examples of the art and style from that era.
Since 1966, the building has housed the European headquarters of the U.N., and is therefore international territory. The palace has been extended from the original length and now contains 34 conference rooms and about 2,800 offices.
The League of Nations organization was a precursor to what we know as the UN today. It was founded on 10 January 1920 as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was convened after WWI in order to strive to ensure that there never would be anything as terrible as the first World War. From the U.S. Department of State, the Office of the Historian,”The League of Nations, in 1920, was an international organization, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, created after the First World War to provide a forum for resolving international disputes. Though first proposed by President Woodrow Wilson as part of his Fourteen Points plan for an equitable peace in Europe, the United States never became a member.”
However, in 1945 the United Nations was born, and this time the U.S. was key. In fact, Eleanor Roosevelt was instrumental in the formation of this distinguished body with its ambitious agenda. The U.S. “sought bipartisan support and in September 1943 the Republican Party endorsed U.S. participation in a postwar international organization, after which both houses of Congress overwhelmingly endorsed participation. President Roosevelt also sought to convince the public that an international organization was the best means to prevent future wars. The Senate approved the UN Charter on July 28, 1945, by a vote of 89 to 2. The United Nations came into existence on October 24, 1945, after 29 nations had ratified the Charter.”
Guided tours (1 hour) are available of the Geneva offices, upon request, in 12 languages. The tour includes the Hall of Human Rights, the “Concourse”, the Assembly Hall, the Council Chamber, a film presenting the activities and objectives of the United Nations Office at Geneva, and the donations made to the institution of the UN from the various countries. I can say that in a similar way when visiting the U.N. International Headquarters in New York City, I felt a sense of awe at the responsibilities being carried out in this place and a bit of a sacredness in terms of the mission and decisions that have been and continue to be made in these places.
I love seeing the flags of the nations (representing 154 members) on display outside of the Geneva United Nations offices. However, the many barricades in front of the main entrance serve as a sobering reminder that all is not at peace in the world. Clearly, there is an immense amount of work that still needs to be done in regard to “refugee crises, global health, international law, economic development, trade, the environment, arms control and human rights.”