TIME Thailand

Thailand Defends Its Decision to Forcibly Return Uighur Migrants to China

The move has been condemned by the U.N., Washington and human-rights groups

Thailand’s junta government has defended the forcible return of more than 100 Uighur migrants to China despite their fears of persecution.

“Thailand has worked with China and Turkey to solve the Uighur Muslim problem,” Colonel Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, deputy spokesman for the Thai government, told reporters Thursday. “We have sent them back to China after verifying their nationality.”

The move has been condemned by the U.N., Washington and human-rights groups, and led to violent scenes in Turkey when pro-Uighur protesters attacked the Thai consulate in Istanbul with clubs and rocks.

Uighurs are a Muslim minority in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang, but they are ethnically, culturally and geographically closer to the Turkic peoples of Central Asia than to the Han — China’s dominant ethnic group. Thousands have fled the escalating violence and perceived abuses in Xinjiang in recent years.

Despite hosting hundreds of thousands of displaced people, mainly from Burma, within its borders, Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and still does not have functioning asylum procedures.

The 109 Uighurs returned Wednesday “self-identified as Turks, expressed fear of being sent to China and expressed the strong desire to go to Turkey,” Vivian Tan, Bangkok-based spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency, tells TIME. Their forced return “violates international law,” she adds, notably prohibitions on “sending people back to a place where their lives and freedoms could be in danger.”

Washington echoed U.N. concerns about the deportations. “We strongly urge the government of Thailand, and other governments in countries where Uighurs have taken refuge, not to carry out further forced deportations of ethnic Uighurs,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

The reaction in Turkey was particularly fierce. Late last month, Thailand won approval in Turkey — but a stern rebuke from Beijing — by sending a group of 170 Uighurs there. Bangkok’s decision to send the present batch of Uighurs to Beijing is seen as kowtowing to the Chinese leadership, which is extremely sensitive to the Uighur issue.

“The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uighur refugees,” said Alim Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association, in a statement. “Governments and multilateral agencies must not permit China to disregard international human rights norms.”

Xinjiang is rich in natural resources, boasting China’s largest deposits of oil, natural gas and coal. It is also comparatively underdeveloped and sparsely populated, with its wide open spaces a tempting prospect to settlers from the rest of densely populated China.

An influx of Han Chinese has raised overall living standards, says Beijing, though Uighurs claim of marginalization and the erosion of their traditional culture. During the current Islamic holy month of Ramadan, for example, all students and state employees, among them many Muslim Uighurs, were forbidden from fasting.

Such grievances have spurred an insurgency, often targeting Chinese civilians (as was the case in March 2014, when 29 were killed during a bloody knife attack at Kunming’s train station in western China’s Yunnan province). Many Turks see themselves as having a cultural and spiritual bond with the Uighurs, and the unrest has strained relations with Beijing. The attack on the Thai consulate was preceded by fierce protests outside the Chinese consulate and badgering of Chinese tourists in Istanbul.

Thailand’s junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha warned Thursday that “we might temporarily have to close the embassy in Turkey” should the situation deteriorate. As Thailand currently holds another 50 Uighur migrants while “their nationalities are verified,” this fear is very real. Thai authorities must weigh Beijing’s ire, their international responsibilities and another backlash from Turkey. However, owing to close socioeconomic ties — China is Thailand’s second biggest trading partner — Beijing no doubt remains favorites in this ethnic tug of war.

TIME Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ Latest Mission: Stopping Nuclear Weapons

Pope Francis attends a private audience with President of Slovakia Andrej Kiska at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City, Vatican, on April 9, 2015.
Getty Images Pope Francis attends a private audience with President of Slovakia Andrej Kiska at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City, Vatican, on April 9, 2015.

The U.S. State Department is revving up its efforts to work with the Holy See

The Vatican has long opposed nuclear weapons, but Pope Francis is making the cause one of the top diplomatic priorities of his two-year-old papacy.

In December, the Vatican submitted a paper calling for total nuclear disarmament to the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. In January, Pope Francis touted nuclear disarmament as a major goal alongside climate change in his speech to the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. And on Easter Sunday, he publicly prayed that the prospective multi-nation deal to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program would be “a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.”

Many observers expect the Pope to raise the topic in his speech to the United Nations in September, especially as that event also commemorates the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s historic U.N. speech calling for “never again war, never again war.”

“Pope Francis has recently pushed the moral argument against nuclear weapons to a new level, not only against their use but also against their possession,” Archbishop Bernedito Auza, the Holy See’s Ambassador to the U.N., says. “Today there is no more argument, not even the argument of deterrence used during the Cold War, that could ‘minimally morally justify’ the possession of nuclear weapons. The ‘peace of a sort’ that is supposed to justify nuclear deterrence is specious and illusory.”

The Vatican push on nuclear weapons comes as the United States is in the final stages of negotiating a deal with Iran and as 190 parties that have supported the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty prepare for its five-year review. The upcoming NPT RevCon, as the U.N. treaty review conference is called, is the first NPT review during the Francis papacy, and Francis’ voice is already adding moral and political weight to the conversation. The Holy See, a party to the Treaty, has opposed the possession and use of nuclear weapons since the beginning of the nuclear age.

The Holy See is “very concerned,” Auza adds, about nuclear-capable states’ commitment to disarmament, arguing that the central promise of the treaty remains unfulfilled. “The fact that nuclear-possessing States not only have not dismantled their nuclear arsenals but are modernizing them lies at the heart of nuclear proliferation,” he says. “It perpetuates the ‘injustice’ in the NPT regime, which was supposed to be temporary while nuclear disarmament was in progress…. how could we reasonably convince the pre-NPT non-nuclear countries not to acquire or develop nuclear arms capabilities? Now, the real and present danger that non-state actors, like terrorist and extremist organizations, could acquire nuclear weapons ‘in the black market’ and ‘not-so-black market,’ ‘in the back alleys’ and ‘not-so-back alleys’ should terrify us all.”

On Thursday, two events on opposite sides of the planet signaled Pope Francis’ diplomatic reach ahead of the NPT review. In New York at the United Nations’ headquarters, the Holy See’s Mission to the U.N. and the Global Security Institute hosted a conference of diplomats and interfaith partners to promote the abolition of nuclear weapons. At the Vatican, a United States diplomatic delegation was courting Catholic Church leaders on President Obama’s commitment to nuclear disarmament.

Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller has picked up on the Vatican’s keen interest in nuclear disarmament and has made it a priority to engage the Holy See. Gottemoeller first visited the Vatican in January to discuss arms control and nonproliferation issues with several counterparts. In late March, the State Department invited the Holy See to participate as an observer in its new disarmament verification initiative, the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification. This week, Gottemoeller returned to the Vatican with Madelyn Creedon, the Department of Energy’s principal deputy administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration, for a two-day diplomatic visit.

Gottemoeller’s efforts have centered on briefing the Vatican on the United States’ disarmament agenda. She has been working to reach highest-level counterparts, as well as technical experts and non-governmental experts. “President Obama from the very beginning of his term in office has been very clear that his goal is to proceed with nuclear disarmament,” she says. “People think sometimes that that is just a kind of propaganda slogan out there without a lot of ‘there’ there, so I wanted to make sure that our Vatican counterparts knew the degree to which the President’s Prague initiative has become substantively a very significant part of our national policy.”

The United States knows the political capital Pope Francis holds when it comes to national and international decision-making. Most notably, the White House credited Francis for his role in brokering the U.S.-Cuba deal in December. “I think there is a huge moral impact of the Vatican on issues that relate to nuclear weapons deterrence and the disarmament agenda overall,” Gottemoeller says. “I see it is as a confluence of interest in a very positive sense. … You can’t just wave a magic wand and make nuclear weapons go away. It takes hard work and it takes a lot of very practical steps, but we can get there, and that is the President’s message. I just hope that we will be met by patience from the community trying to work on these issues.”

For Francis, nuclear disarmament—like most everything—must be viewed from the position of the poor instead of the position of the powerful. Inequality and nuclear power are interwoven. “Spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations,” Pope Francis wrote to the Vienna Humanitarian Conference in December. “To prioritize such spending is a mistake and a misallocation of resources which would be far better invested in the areas of integral human development, education, health and the fight against extreme poverty. When these resources are squandered, the poor and the weak living on the margins of society pay the price.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has also been deepening its theological and political attention to disarmament. Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, spoke at the Holy See’s U.N. panel. During the NPT RevCon, the USCCB plans to sponsor an event with the Kroc Institute on evolving Catholic perspectives from nuclear deterrence to disarmament. Stephen Colecchi, director of the USCCB’s Office of International Justice and Peace, says that the USCCB is trying to move the Holy See’s moral discussion forward in the U.S.—the USCCB had a close relationship with the Administration during the time of the New START Treaty, and has continued the dialogue with Gottemoeller, who is Catholic. “We certainly urge the United States to work with Russia and we have been urging them to separate the issue of the day, which is Ukraine, from the issue of the decades, which is nuclear disarmament,” Colecchi says. “Deterrence is even less stable in a multipolar world. We might ask, Are nations, including our own, serious about nuclear disarmament if they are modernizing nuclear weapons systems?”

After a period of denuclearization in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, several states in the developing world went nuclear and events recently have further undermined the NPT. U.N. Ambassador Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines—who was the president of the previous NPT RevCon—flew in from Manila to speak at the Holy See’s event at the U.N. on Thursday. “Nothing has been achieved. Nothing much,” Cabactulan told the U.N. gathering, describing the progress of disarmament in the last five years. “What perhaps I achieved, that was calling more on temporal power, and maybe I failed, because in the order of things it’s the tally sheet, what has been done. And that is why I am gratified…to have spiritual leaders.”

Ambassador Antonio Patriota, permanent representative of Brazil to the United Nations, believes that Francis’ position will resonate during the NPT review conference. “He himself coming from South America, we feel that he has a very deep understanding of the challenges posed by inequality,” Patriota says. “His words carry quite a bit of political weight. It is a powerful message from man of high moral standing in a time when leadership is scarce.”

TIME United Nations

U.N. Hosts First Ever Meeting Dedicated to Combating Anti-Semitism

Bernard-Henri Levy
Richard Drew—AP French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Levy addresses the United Nations General Assembly, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015.

Meeting planned long before the recent attacks in Paris

The U.N. General Assembly gathered Thursday for its first ever meeting dedicated to global action against anti-Semitism.

The informal meeting, attended by approximately half the bloc’s 193 member states, was organized by mainly Western nations in order to address an “alarming outbreak of anti-Semitism worldwide.”

Planning began last October in response to the murder of three people outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium, and the killing of a rabbi and three children in Toulouse, France, the Associated Press reports.

The U.N.’s 57 Islamic nations unanimously condemned all words and acts that encourage “hatred, anti-Semitism [and] Islamophobia.” The statement, given by the Saudi ambassador, Abdallah Al-Moualimi, was “extremely significant,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power.

Al-Moualimi stressed the importance of dialogue in efforts to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and denounced “any discrimination based on belief and religious practices.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor said that the Holocaust had elicited pledges that anti-Semitism had no place in the modern world. Yet, he lamented, “Here we are again.”

TIME Syria

John McCain Hits the Jackpot With a Syrian Complaint

AFGHANISTAN-US-DIPLOMACY
Wakil Kohsar—AFP/Getty Images U.S. Senator John McCain looks on during a meeting with Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul on Dec. 25, 2014

He's now upset Vladimir Putin, ISIS, Fidel Castro, and the Syrian regime — and he couldn't be more pleased

U.S. Senator John McCain tweeted his pride at winning a diplomatic “superfecta” Monday night, after Syria’s ambassador to the U.N. lashed out at him for violating the country’s sovereignty after McCain visited rebel-held territory in 2013.

A delighted McCain grouped the Syrian complaint with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s March 2014 decision to put him on a sanctions list as occasions when he had upset powers to which he was opposed.

The other two occasions were former Cuban President Fidel Castro’s September 2014 tirade, in which he accused McCain of creating the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) together with the Israeli secret service agency Mossad, and the time, he claimed to Fox News, when ISIS declared him as their No. 1 enemy.

The Syrian complaint was made on Monday, when envoy Bashar Ja’afari asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N.’s 15-member Security Council in a letter to take “the necessary measures against their nationals who enter Syrian territory illegally,” according to Reuters.

Ja’afari also lambasted French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith for entering Syria without a visa.

The Arizona Senator fired back at Damascus and accused Bashar Assad’s government of massacring its own people.

“It is a sad but unsurprising truth that the Assad regime is less concerned with its massacre of more than 200,000 men, women and children than it is my visit with those brave Syrians fighting for their freedom and dignity,” said McCain in a statement.

TIME Syria

U.N.: $8.4 Billion Needed for Syria and Neighbors Hosting Refugees

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres gestures during a news conference for the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 in Geneva
Pierre Albouy—Reuters U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres gestures during a news conference to launch of the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva Dec. 8, 2014

Nations hosting refugees to also benefit from improvements to infrastructure and services

The U.N. is seeking $8.4 billion to help the nearly 18 million victims of the Syrian conflict.

The money will go toward jobs, education, public health and public works, reports the New York Times. The request for development aid is an acknowledgement that the conflict may last for many years and that it has seriously disrupted the lives of the Syrian people.

Syria’s war is still escalating,” said António Guterres, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, in a statement Thursday. “And the humanitarian situation is becoming protracted.”

For the first time, this war chest includes aid for neighboring countries, which are feeling the strain of the flood of Syrian refugees.

More than 12 million Syrians are displaced inside the country while 3.2 million have fled to neighbors such as Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. The U.N. estimates that the number of Syrian refugees will rise to 4.3 million in 2015.

In addition to helping Syrian refugees, the U.N.’s financing plan includes estimates that 20.6 million people in host countries will benefit indirectly from improvements to infrastructure and services.

TIME Afghanistan

Opium Crop at Record High in Afghanistan

An Afghan farmer works on a poppy field collecting the green bulbs swollen with raw opium, the main ingredient in heroin, in the Khogyani district of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 17, 2014.
Rahmat Gul—AP An Afghan farmer works on a poppy field collecting the green bulbs swollen with raw opium, the main ingredient in heroin, in the Khogyani district of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 17, 2014.

As US withdraws troops, opium cultivation reaches new levels

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says Afghanistan’s potential opium production for 2014 is set to increase by 27% from the previous year, up to an estimated 6,400 tons. The Afghan poppy crop has provided the bulk of the world’s heroin supply over the past twenty years, accounting for nearly 70% of it in 2000.

The U.S. said in October they had spent $7.6 billion trying to eradicate opium poppies since troops arrived in the country in 2001 to oust the Taliban. As NATO and U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan this year, it comes as little surprise that this year’s report is particularly sobering. Opium poppy cultivation has risen by 7% year on year and now covers more than 553,000 acres of land.

The overwhelming majority of cultivation takes place in the Southern and Western provinces, parts of the country which have been subject to the most violence and are the least secure. Opium accounts for nearly $1 billion, roughly 4% of the country’s estimated GDP.

UNODC Director Yury Fedotov said in a statement that illicit drugs have had a disastrous impact on the country, with more than one million Afghans currently drug dependent.

Fedotov met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last weekend to discuss plans to counter the harmful effects of drug production on Afghans and their neighbors. Money from the drug production finances Taliban operations and contributes to a great deal of organized crime and corruption in the Afghan government.

TIME Syria

U.S. Says Syria Still Has Several Chemical-Weapons Facilities

Syria: Anniversary of Chemical Massacre in Aleppo
Karam Almasri—Pacific Press/AP Protesters stand in the first anniversary of the chemical massacre in East Ghota, where hundreds of civilians were killed, in Aleppo, Syria on August 21, 2014.

The claim comes just months after the ending of a U.N. joint mission to destroy the country's illicit stockpile

The U.S. envoy to the U.N. Samantha Power took to Twitter on Tuesday, claiming Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has at least four chemical-weapons sites.

Power said that Sigrid Kaag, the special coordinator of a joint mission to eliminate Syria’s declared chemical-weapons program, confirmed that the embattled Syrian regime failed to declare the four facilities.

Kaag told fellow diplomats of the suspect facilities during a briefing at the U.N. on Tuesday.

The U.N.’s joint mission to destroy the Assad government’s illicit chemical arsenal concluded earlier this summer — more than a year after the regime’s forces used sarin nerve gas against rebel fighters and civilians in the suburbs of Damascus, killing hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

The Assad regime later brokered a deal with Moscow, allowing international authorities to destroy the country’s chemical weapons in order to prevent U.S. forces from launching air strikes against forces loyal to the Syrian government.

The existence of chemical-weapons facilities within Syria continues to vex foreign governments and analysts alike, who fear that any number of the myriad opposition forces, including ISIS, could one day get their hands on the illicit stockpile.

The news follows confirmation from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in September that chlorine-based weapons have been deployed against rebel forces fighting the government in Syria.

“The report cites witness accounts indicating helicopters were used in the attacks — a capability the opposition lacks. This strongly points to Syrian regime culpability,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s office in a statement late last month.

TIME politics

U.N. Headquarters in South Dakota: How It Could Have Happened

UN HQ - Dec. 10, 1945
TIME From the Dec. 10, 1945, issue of TIME

New York City wasn’t the obvious choice for the United Nations headquarters

Representatives from around the world are now gathering in New York City for the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly. A vast cadre of diplomats, staff and heads of state have descended on the Big Apple — ensuring a nightmare for daily commuters. But, though that traffic jam is now a dependable annual event, New York City wasn’t the obvious choice for the United Nations headquarters.

In the wake of the 1945 conference establishing the modern day United Nations — which took place in San Francisco — a committee was set up to find the best spot for what would essentially become the world’s capital. A look back into TIME’s coverage of that period shows that the competition to host the U.N. was wide open, though one thing was clear: New York City, where the UN would be overshadowed by “Wall Street, etc…” as one TIME story put it, was no good.

Philadelphia made a strong case for itself when delegates visited to check out potential sites in 1946, TIME reported:

When the time for on-the-spot inspection came, the spirit of brotherly love was almost overpowering. There was a cocktail party for them in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Day, who would be evicted if [one of the potential locations] were chosen. Mr. and Mrs. Day thought that would be a fine idea.

…Philadelphia’s hosts never missed a bet. There was a concert by the famed Philadelphia Orchestra, a luncheon at the Art Museum (under pictures by Matisse, Gauguin and Reynolds). In a helicopter provided for the delegates, Holland’s Jan de Ranitz and Dr. M. P. M. van Karnebeek plopped down near Philadelphia for a hearty greeting by a local farmer & family.

But, still, even Philadelphia was considered to be too close to New York and Washington, D.C.

Chicago, San Francisco, Atlantic City and Boston were among the other locales lobbying to become the permanent headquarters. One unlikely contender, the Black Hills region of South Dakota, made the rational argument that it was far from the reach of an atomic bomb, unlike the coastal cities.

“In the Black Hills there are no military objectives, and the gentlemen who are striving for the peace of the world can live at peace while the atomic bombs are falling,” Paul Bellamy, a businessman representing the Black Hills, told an assembly of the U.N., which was temporarily based in London, according to a TIME story from December 1945.

“It was no part of Bellamy’s job, or of the booster tradition,” the author noted, “to ask what the gentlemen would be doing at that point.”

Ultimately, Bellamy’s urgings were for naught. Despite the organizers’ original misgivings, real-estate concerns ended up carrying more weight than atomic ones: New York City received the boost it needed when philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. gifted a parcel of Manhattan land to the U.N.

Read a 1952 cover story about the building of the current United Nations headquarters: Cheops’ Architect

TIME Syria

Thousands Are Fleeing From Syria to Turkey to Escape the Latest ISIS Onslaught

TURKEY-SYRIA-KURDS-REFUGEES
Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images Syrian Kurds carry belongings as they cross the border between Syria and Turkey near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, on Sept. 20, 2014.

Turkey is already home to nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees

At least 100,000 Syrian refugees flooded across the border into Turkey over the weekend as Sunni extremist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) launched an offensive against Kurdish communities in northern Syria.

Approximately 150,000 people have been displaced since ISIS began to encircle the border town of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, last week.

“Four or five days ago this area was quite safe,” Selin Unal, a spokesperson with the U.N.’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, told TIME on Monday. “And then after three days, 100,000 Syrians fled to Turkey.”

The militants have reportedly routed dozens of towns and executed at least 11 people in the villages outside of Kobani, according to activists.

“[ISIS] are continuing to advance,” Welat Avar, a doctor, told Reuters from Kobani. “Every place they pass through they kill, wound and kidnap people. Many people are missing and we believe they were kidnapped.”

International aid groups and Turkish officials warned that thousands of additional refugees are likely to try to cross the border in the coming days amid the militants’ offensive. Before the weekend’s onslaught, Turkey had already been home to close to 1.5 million refugees from the conflict-torn nation.

“Turkish government authorities and UNHCR are preparing for the possibility of hundreds of thousands more refugees arriving over the coming days, as the battle for the northern Syrian city of Kobani forces more people to flee,” read a statement released by the U.N. refugee agency over the weekend.

On Sunday, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group classified as a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington, called on fellow Kurds to take up arms to repel ISIS.

“Supporting this heroic resistance is not just a debt of honor of the Kurds but all Middle East people. Just giving support is not enough, the criterion must be taking part in the resistance,” the PKK said in a statement.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that hundreds of Kurdish fighters from inside Turkey crossed into Syria over the weekend to help beat back the ISIS offensive. Near the border, Turkish Kurds demonstrated in solidarity with the refugees, leading to clashes with authorities, who deployed tear gas and water cannon against the protesters.

While ISIS’s thrust in Iraq has been largely slowed by U.S. air strikes, American forces have yet to target the militant group’s myriad positions in neighboring Syria, thus allowing the group to continue to consume large swaths of territory across the country’s north and east.

During an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power hinted that the White House and its allies are ready to strike in Syria, but refrained from announcing how the Obama Administration was preparing to do so.

“The President has said we’re not going to allow [ISIS] to have a safe haven in Syria,” said Power. “But no decisions have been made in terms of how we’re going to proceed in that.”

Earlier this month, Turkey refrained from joining the U.S.-led coalition aiming to take the fight to the jihadist organization.

The uptick in violence along Turkey’s frontier coincides with the release of 49 Turkish diplomats over the weekend. All 49 had been in ISIS’s custody for three months since jihadist militants routed Iraqi security forces in Mosul in July.

Ankara has yet to provide firm details regarding the so-called rescue operation that succeeded in freeing the diplomats.

TIME politics

The History Behind the Other ‘United Nations’

united nations - Jan. 19, 1942
TIME From the Jan. 19, 1942, issue of TIME

In 1942, the group known as the United Nations was convened to accomplish one goal: defeat the Axis powers

The United Nations was created in 1942 — but not the United Nations as we know it, the group whose representatives are this week converging in New York City for the 69th General Assembly.

When the phrase first “slipped into the world’s vocabulary,” as TIME wrote, the world was in the midst of war, and the concept of wide-scale international collaboration was fraught. World War II had already exposed the failure of the League of Nations, the international organization set up after the previous world war. Still, in January of 1942, 26 nations, including the U.S., the U.K., Russia and China, signed a pact uniting them in one goal: to defeat the Axis powers. The name, which had been proposed by the Roosevelt administration, became the official title for the Allied powers.

“For the people of the Axis countries that fact could not be other than sobering: 26 nations—count them—26, all determined that Hitler and his tyranny shall be destroyed,” TIME wrote at the time.

Even then there was skepticism that the United Nations could be effective. Some called for a cooperative body to oversee the war effort, while others continued to call for a union of peoples and not just an intergovernmental pact.

But the United Nations prevailed, and when, after the war, world leaders descended on San Francisco for the conference to hash out the details of an intergovernmental organization to jointly confront the world’s problems, they called it the United Nations. The first session of the United Nations General Assembly opened in 1946.

Take a look at TIME’s coverage of the signing of the declaration of the original United Nations in 1942:

The significance of the pact was slower being digested. In Washington, enthusiasts compared it to the Articles of Confederation that had held the 13 States together until the Constitutional Convention. Advocates of Union Now thought it did not go far enough, wanted a union of peoples, rather than of governments. Josephus Daniels recalled his last talk with Woodrow Wilson, when Wilson had said: “The things we have fought for are sure to prevail . . . [and] may come in a better way than we proposed.” Advocates of a revived, strengthened League of Nations hoped the United Nations would prove the better way.

Taken at its face value, the Declaration was impressive. If the signing nations could actually employ their “full resources,” their power would be staggering. Their combined populations came to almost 1,500,000,000 of the world’s 2,145,000,000. They held twice as much of the world’s steel capacity as the Axis, most of its wheat, most of the materials needed for making war or prospering in peace.

Today’s United Nations, by those standards, is even more impressive: instead of 26 member nations, there are 193.

Read the 1942 story about the original United Nations here, in TIME’s archives: The United Nations

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