Many organizations located in Geneva work for peace, rights and well-being.
Left: Infographic "Peace is more than the absence of war", created by the Perception Change Project.
The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom's history starts in 1915, when 1,200 women from a diversity of cultures and languages came together in The Hague during the First World War, to study, make known and eliminate the causes of war. They issued resolutions, sent out delegations to most countries engaged in the First World War and created the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in 1915.
WILPF's mission is to end and prevent war, ensure that women are represented at all levels in the peace-building process, defend the human rights of women, and promote social, economic and political justice. WILPF has two main offices, in Geneva and in New York.
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 organization. The United Nations Organization 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 specialized 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 Organization, the Palais des Nations being one of its jewels. While the headquarters of the new Organization 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.
The Geneva Peacebuilding Platform is an inter-agency network that connects the critical mass of peacebuilding actors, resources, and expertise in Geneva and worldwide. Founded in 2008, the Platform has a mandate to facilitate interaction on peacebuilding between different institutions and sectors, and to advance new knowledge and understanding of peacebuilding issues and contexts. It also plays a creative role in building bridges between International Geneva, the United Nations peacebuilding architecture in New York, and peacebuilding activities in the field. The Platform's network comprises more than 700 peacebuilding professionals and over 60 institutions working on peacebuilding directly or indirectly.
The Geneva Peacebuilding Platform is a joint project of four institutions: The Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP), of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies; the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP); Interpeace; and the Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva (QUNO).
Interpeace is an independent, international peacebuilding organization and a strategic partner of the United Nations. It was created by the United Nations in 1994.
In 2000, it became an independent organization while maintaining a unique partnership with the UN. Interpeace is headquartered in Geneva.
Interpeace's approach contributes to building lasting peace through inclusive and nationally-led processes of change.
Launched in 2013, the Geneva Peace Talks is an annual, public event organized on the occasion of the International Day of Peace in partnership between the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform and Interpeace.
The Peace Talks, which now take place in Geneva and in other locations, bring together people from different sectors and their ideas related to peace to expand the space for discussions on conflict resolution, peacebuilding and practical solutions to violent conflict.
Collection of publications published by the association "Geneva: a Place for Peace" (Genève : un lieu pour la paix).
In 1889, the Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) was co-founded by William Randall Cremer, the British pacifist and Member of the Parliament, and Frederic Passy, the founder of the French “Ligue de la Paix” and Member of Parliament. Thus, the first truly international political organization, whose aim was to promote international arbitration and world peace, was born. As a result, a new kind of pacifism, based on parliamentarian support, was established. By 1914, one third of all members of the 24 State Parliaments had joined IPU, and their ultimate goal was to compel their Governments to resolve disputes by means of peaceful settlement and arbitration. IPU acclaimed with satisfaction the initiative of Tsar Nicholas II, who had called the Peace Conferences held at The Hague in 1899 and 1907.
IPU was directed by a Council headed by a President who was to have been both a Member and the President ex officio of the Executive Committee. All the annual IPU conferences served as forums by which States could “perfect” the process of international arbitration. The IPU Bureau transferred its operations from Bern to Brussels in 1911. It is now based in Geneva.
The International Peace Bureau (IPB) was founded in 1891-92, as a result of consultations at the Universal Peace Congresses (large gatherings held annually to bring together the national peace societies that had gradually developed) mainly in Europe and North America, from the end of the Napoleonic Wars onwards.
The representatives of the Peace Societies felt that the movement needed a permanent office to coordinate the activities of the national associations and to organise the Universal Peace Congresses. Thus was born the 'Permanent International Peace Bureau', as it was known ('Permanent' was later dropped from the title). The seat of the new organisation was Berne, the capital of neutral Switzerland.
During its early years the IPB was more or less the only international peace organization. It took positions, not only in favour of disarmament, but also on the various international conflicts of the day. IPB was active in promoting the idea of the establishment of a League of Nations and an International Court.
The IPB was of course unable to prevent the outbreak of World War 1, and in due course, World War 2. During both of these conflicts the peace movement was largely inactive (with certain notable exceptions such as the women's gathering in 1915 that led to the creation of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom). Many peace activists were either swept up in the war fever, joined the armed forces, or were limited to providing aid to refugees and wounded combatants. Many IPB members shared the enthusiasm surrounding the birth of the League of Nations, and it was logical that the Bureau should move its office to Geneva in 1924 to be close to the international institutions there.
Born with the will of the victors of the First World War to avoid a repeat of a devastating war, the League of Nations objective was to maintain universal peace within the framework of the fundamental principles of the Pact accepted by its Members: "to develop cooperation among nations and to guarantee them peace and security".
The first years of existence of the League of Nations were marked by great successes. In accordance with the provisions of the Pact, several international disagreements – between Sweden and Finland, and between Greece and Bulgaria – were resolved peacefully. The Locarno Agreements signed in October 1925, which marked the beginnings of a Franco-German reconciliation, were entrusted to the League. A direct consequence, Germany, beaten and excluded from the League by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, became a Member in 1926. In 1929, the delegate from France, Aristide Briand, put forward to the Assembly the very first political project of a European Federal Union.
In spite of these early successes, the League of Nations did not manage to prevent the invasion of Mandchuria by Japan, the annexation of Ethiopia by Italy in 1936, or that of Austria by Hitler in 1938. The powerlessness of the League of Nations to prevent further world conflict, the alienation of some of its Member States and the generation of the war itself, added to its demise from 1940.
The failure, politically, of the mission of collective security of the League of Nations must nevertheless not make one overlook its success in, what was from the beginning to be, a secondary aspect of its objectives: international technical cooperation. Under its auspices, in fact, a considerable number of conferences, intergovernmental committees and meetings of experts were held in Geneva; in areas as diverse as health and social affairs, transport and communications, economic and financial affairs and intellectual cooperation. This fruitful work was validated by the ratification of more than one hundred conventions by the Member States. The unprecedented work on behalf of refugees carried out by the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen from 1920 should also be noted.
At the end of the war, 43 States were still Members of the League of Nations, though for all intents and purposes it had ceased to exist. However, the formal termination of the organization was necessary. A final and official disposition had to be taken concerning the transfer of the League of Nations’ properties to the United Nations: its concrete assets in the form of its buildings and grounds, its Library, and last but certainly not least, its archives and historical collections.
In 1945, the San Francisco Conference set up a Preparatory Commission that met in London with the Supervisory Commission of the League of Nations in order to do this. At the initiative of the British Foreign Office, the last Assembly (the twenty-first) was held in Geneva on 8 April 1946. In his final speech, Lord Robert Cecil, one of the League of Nations’ founders, proclaimed that the efforts of those who had established the League of Nations were not lost, because without them the new international organization, the United Nations, could not exist. Lord Cecil closed the Assembly with the words: “The League is dead, long live the United Nations!”
The final act of transfer was signed in Geneva on 18 April 1946 by Sean Lester, the last Secretary-General of the League of Nations, and Wlodzimierz Moderow, the representative of the United Nations.
Thus, having handed over all of its assets to the United Nations, and having granted the new Secretariat full control of its Library and archives, the 43 Members attending this last Assembly declared by unanimous vote that as of 20 April 1946, the League of Nations would cease to exist.
Photo credit: UN Archives at Geneva (First Assembly, Geneva, 1920).