The League’s History

At the first League Convention in 1920, delegates called for “adhesion of the United States to the League of Nations with least possible delay,” in recognition of the need for a mechanism to facilitate settlement of international disputes. When the issue of U.S. participation in the League of Nations turned into a bitter partisan battle, active League support did not materialize until 1932.

During World War II, the League, conscious of its earlier hesitancy, began to study “U.S. participation in the making and execution of plans for worldwide reconstruction and for a postwar organization for peace to eventually include all peoples, regardless of race, religion or political persuasion.” In 1944, the League supported “U.S. membership in an international organization for the peaceful settlement of disputes, with the machinery to handle economic, social and political problems.”

Even before the United Nations was formally established, the League launched an unprecedented nationwide campaign to help build public understanding of the Dumbarton Oaks and Bretton Woods agreements to establish the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The League trained more than 5,000 speakers and distributed more than a million brochures during a six-month period. At the UN Charter Conference in 1945, the League was one of 42 nongovernmental organizations invited by President Truman to serve as consultants to the U.S. delegation. Since then, the League has maintained a presence at the United Nations through its UN Observer, periodically hosting “League Day at the UN” for League members.

The UN position evolved through continued study. By 1948, the League called for strengthening the United Nations and its specialized agencies through increased use, adequate financial contributions and improved procedures. It also supported the UN’s peacekeeping functions. In 1962, the League evaluated “means of strengthening the UN under present conditions,” most notably heightened antagonisms between the United States and the Soviet Union.

In 1976, the League reexamined the UN system “with emphasis on relations between developed and developing countries and their implications for U.S. policy.” Members studied how world issues had changed alignments at the United Nations from a primarily East-West to an increasingly rich-nation/poor-nation focus and its effect on U.S. participation in the UN system. The result was a resounding reaffirmation of support for a strengthened UN system and agreement that the United States should work constructively within the UN to further our foreign policy goals.

The League consistently monitors U.S. actions at the UN – sometimes praising, sometimes criticizing, always urging the United States to upgrade the role of the United Nations in its foreign policy. The League continues to urge adequate funding for the UN, both by regular assessments and voluntary contributions, full payment of U.S. financial obligations to the UN and full U.S. participation in the UN system.

In addition to supporting increased use and strength of the UN peacekeeping machinery, under the UN position in support of “continuing efforts to reduce the risk of war,” the League has lobbied for Senate ratification of certain disarmament measures, notably the UN-negotiated nuclear nonproliferation treaty. Leagues’ efforts in their communities to develop public understanding and awareness of UN accomplishments, limitations and potential took on special significance in 1995 when the League celebrated its 75th anniversary and the United Nations its 50th.

In 1995, the League participated in the UN 4thWorld Conference on Women and the NGO Forum on Women in Beijing, China, sponsoring workshops on “Organizing Candidate Debates” and “Making Democracy Work: Strategies for Grassroots Organization, Education and Advocacy.” This was followed in 1999 with a League co-sponsored regional conference of the President’s Interagency Council on Women, “Women 2000: Beijing Plus Five,” to prepare for the Special Session of the General Assembly, “Women 2000, Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-First Century,” which our UN Observers were accredited to attend in 2000.

In 1997, the League was granted Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which provides the opportunity to make interventions on issues the League supports. We joined other NGOs in submitting an official statement on behalf of the Girl Child that was presented at the UN Commission on the Status of Women meeting in March 2000. As members of the Steering Committee for the NGO UNICEF Working Group on Girls at the UN, League UN Observers participated in the effort to focus world governments on the plight of girls.

League activity on women and girl-related issues continued in the 2000s. In 2002, the LWVUS submitted testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of Senate ratification of CEDAW (UN Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women). The League joined other NGOs in official statements to the UN Commission on the Status of Women:  advocating protection of girls’ rights in a life cycle approach to gender issues in 2004; emphasizing that financing for girls’ equality and for the empowerment of girls is a basic and sound strategy for the implementation of all human rights in 2008. The League also joined the United Nation’s Campaign UNITE to End Violence against Women, 2008-2015, whose overall objective is raising public awareness and increasing political will and resources for preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls worldwide. In 2011, as the move to ratify CEDAW continued, the LWVUS submitted testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Civil and Constitutional Rights.

In 2002, the League urged President George W. Bush to work with the UN to develop clear policy goals and actions with regard to the U.S.’s possible intervention in Iraq. On initiation of combat operations, the League’s Board issued a statement saying that continued diplomatic efforts through the UN would have better served international unity, and military force should have been used as a tool of last resort.

Leagues nationwide work to realize the United Nations' Millennium Goals outlined by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the September 2000 Millennium Summit and adopted by 191 states. In 2005, the League urged the Administration to support the goals of the UN’s 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, an historic effort to end global poverty, promote peace and strengthen the UN, and urged Congress to reject the United Nations Reform Act.

The League’s Position

Statement of Position on the United Nations, as Announced by National Board, June 1977 and Updated, June 2002:

The League of Women Voters of the United States supports a strong, effective United Nations and endorses the full and active participation of the United States in the UN system. The League supports UN efforts to:

  • promote international peace and security;
  • advance the social and economic well-being of the world’s people;
  • ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  • foster trust and cooperation among nations by encouraging adherence to conventions, treaties, and  other international agreements;
  • protect the integrity of the world environment;
  • achieve the full and equal participation of women in all aspects of civil and political life.

The United Nations should be an important component of U.S. foreign policy. The League supports U.S. policies that strengthen the UN’s capacity to solve global problems and promote prosperity throughout the world. The United States should work actively and constructively within the UN system, exercising diplomatic leadership in advance of decision-making. The United States should not place conditions on its participation in the United Nations, except in the most extreme cases, such as flagrant violations of the Charter.

The League supports UN leadership in a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to promoting world peace and security that includes ongoing efforts to eliminate the underlying causes of conflict. UN peace operations should include such strategies as

  • an increased emphasis on preventive diplomacy and the use of such techniques as an early warning system to identify possible threats to peace and mediation to help resolve disputes;
  • preventive deployment of UN peacekeepers to forestall the outbreak of hostilities;
  • enhanced capacity to respond rapidly and effectively to contain conflict and establish a just and stable peace;
  • UN peacekeeping operations that have strong political and financial support from the world community and the consent of the local parties;
  • military intervention, as a last resort, to halt genocide and other crimes against humanity and to prevent the spread of conflict;
  • protection of civilian populations, including protection of displaced persons;
  • long-term commitment, both pre- and post-conflict, to establishing the institutions and conditions needed for real economic and social development;
  • enhanced capacity at UN headquarters to plan, manage and support UN peace operations.

The United States should support all aspects of UN peace operations. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have an important role to play in peace operations, including participating in behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts and providing humanitarian aid.

The League strongly supports the central role of the United Nations in addressing the social, economic and humanitarian needs of all people. The advancement and empowerment of women is fundamental to achieving peace and prosperity and should be a high priority for UN programs. Other areas for emphasis include

  • eradicating poverty and hunger;
  • improving basic living standards worldwide;
  • promoting the well-being and potential of children, with special attention to the girl child;
  • promoting human and political rights;
  • ensuring access to a basic education for all;
  • ensuring a basic level of health care for all;
  • protecting the environment and the world’s natural resources.

The League supports efforts to strengthen the development and humanitarian work of the United Nations through greater coordination among agencies, more efficient use of resources, additional funding as required, and more partnerships with NGOs and other non-state actors. UN-sponsored world conferences are valuable forums for building international consensus and developing practical plans of action to solve global problems.

The United States should provide strong leadership and financial support to the UN specialized agencies, participate constructively in international conferences, and fulfill all agreed-upon commitments.

The League believes that world peace and progress rest in part on a body of international law developed through conventions, covenants, and treaties and on the judgments of international courts. Disputes between nations should be considered and settled in the International Court of Justice, and its judicial decisions should be honored.

The League supports the creation of a permanent international tribunal, such as the International Criminal Court, to try individuals charged with crimes of genocide, war crimes, and other systematic crimes against humanity.

All court procedures must meet the highest judicial standards, including guarantees of due process protections and the integrity and impartiality of the courts’ officials.

The League supports full U.S. participation in the international judicial system and U.S. ratification and observance of international treaties and conventions consistent with LWVUS principles and positions.

The League supports the basic principles of the UN Charter. The League supports one-nation, one-vote in the General Assembly, the veto power in the Security Council, and a strong, effective office of the Secretary-General. The League supports measures to make the Security Council a more representative body that better reflects the diverse interests of UN member nations and the world's people. The United States should work to encourage member nations to consider the needs of the world as a whole and avoid divisive politicization of issues.

Member nations have the collective responsibility to provide the resources necessary for the UN to carry out its mandates, with each providing financial contributions commensurate with its ability to pay. The United States should meet its financial obligations to the UN on time, in full, and without conditions.