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Stories from the UN Archive: Leap year events from UN history

From expanding indigenous peoples’ seats at the UN table to appointing an Israeli-Palestinian orchestra co-founded by renowned scholar Edward Said as a UN Global Advocate for Cultural Understanding, here is a peek at some of what happened on this day across the decades.

Zanzibar, which became independent on 10 December 1963, was admitted as the 112th UN Member State. (file)
UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata

Zanzibar, which became independent on 10 December 1963, was admitted as the 112th UN Member State. (file)

1964: Zanzibar signs on to World Health Organization

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) accepted memberships from nations and territories in every region of the world. After all, in 1964, there were 115 UN Member States and dozens of colonies yet to achieve independence.

Zanzibar, an island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa, became independent of British rule and joined the UN as its 112th Member State in December 1963. On 29 February in 1964, the country submitted its application for WHO membership. That followed Tanganyika’s WHO application in 1962, which came after the East African nation fought for independence from the British the previous year.

While the two countries held separate UN and WHO memberships at the time, by the end of April 1964, Zanzibar and Tanganyika became a single UN Member State, merging to become the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar. By November that year, the country was renamed the United Republic of Tanzania.

The heavily damaged buildings of the city of Tyre in southern Lebanon after an attack by the invading Israel forces in 1978. (file)
UN Photo/John Isaac

The heavily damaged buildings of the city of Tyre in southern Lebanon after an attack by the invading Israel forces in 1978. (file)

1984: Soviet Union vetoes draft to send UN force to war-torn Lebanon

The veto is a power vested in the UN Security Council’s five permanent members – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States. On this day in 1984, the Soviet Union, now Russia, vetoed a Security Council draft resolution that would have called up a UN force to assist Government of Lebanon, which had been embroiled in a civil war that ended up spanning 1975 to 1990.

Tabled by France, the draft resolution would have had the Council “issue an urgent appeal for an immediate ceasefire and the cessation of all hostilities through Lebanon”. In addition, and in agreement with the Government, it would have constituted immediately, under its authority, “a UN force composed of personnel furnished by Member States other than the permanent members of the Security Council and selected, if appropriate, from contingents of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)”.

The UN force would have been mandated to monitor compliance with the ceasefire and help to protect civilian populations, including in Palestinian refugee camps. While the draft was vetoed, the Council renewed UNIFIL’s mandate in April 1984 and has, annually, ever since.

Portrait of the members of the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers group, who participated in launching the International Year of Indigenous Peoples  at UN Headquarters in 1993. (file)
UN Photo/John Isaac

Portrait of the members of the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers group, who participated in launching the International Year of Indigenous Peoples at UN Headquarters in 1993. (file)

1996: UNGA expands fund for indigenous peoples’ seats at the UN table

On this day in 1996, the General Assembly adopted a resolution to expand the mandate of the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations, created a decade earlier.

The original purpose of the fund was to financially assist representatives of indigenous communities and organizations to participate in meetings pertaining to them. The fund’s scope has expanded eight times since its inception, including to provide assistance to attend the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2001, an expert mechanism on their rights in 2008 and Human Rights Council sessions in 2010.

In 2013, the Assembly adopted a name change for the initiative, which is now called the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples. Contributions between January 2020 and May 2022 totalled $1.9 million, according to its latest report, with Canada being the largest donor, contributing almost $470,000 in 2022.

The UN Security Council votes to authorize the deployment of  a multinational force to Haiti in 2004. (file)
UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The UN Security Council votes to authorize the deployment of a multinational force to Haiti in 2004. (file)

2004: Security Council deploys multinational force to Haiti

A night meeting of the Security Council authorized the immediate deployment of a multinational interim force to Haiti, on 29 February 2004.

Acting in response to a deteriorating political, security and humanitarian situation, the 15-member Council adopted resolution 1529. The multinational force was mandated to deploy for a period of three months to help secure the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other areas of the country.

In June, the Council established the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to take over from the multinational force, which operated in the country until 2017.

2016: Israel-Palestinian orchestra newest UN advocate for cultural understanding

On this day in 2016, the UN Secretary-General appointed the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra as a UN Global Advocate for Cultural Understanding.

Speaking to press with co-founder and UN Messenger of Peace maestro Daniel Barenboim, the Secretary-General said that the orchestra’s every performance is a testimony to the power of music to break down barriers, to promote cultural understanding and to build bridges between communities.

Mr. Barenboim founded the orchestra in 1999 with world renowned Palestinian scholar and musician Edward Said, who died in 2003. The goal was simple: unite young musicians from Israel and Arab countries to foster dialogue and people-to-people diplomacy.

The 100th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence was celebrated in Kandahar and across the country in August 2019. (file)
UNAMA/Mujeeb Rahman

The 100th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence was celebrated in Kandahar and across the country in August 2019. (file)

2020: UN welcomes United States-Taliban deal

On this day in 2020, the United States and the Taliban announced their peace treaty in Qatar.

The deal included guarantees to prevent groups hostile to the US from operating on Afghan soil and for a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan, where US troops and their allies had been deployed since 2001, shortly after the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres commended efforts to achieve a “lasting political settlement” in the country, reiterating the UN commitment to support the people and the Government of Afghanistan.

UN forces left Afghanistan in August 2021. The Taliban seized power shortly thereafter.

#TBT leap days

A leap year takes place roughly every four years, when an extra day is added to the Gregorian calendar. That extra day is tacked onto the end of our shortest month, February, and the 29th is known as “leap day”. The next one will be in 2028, but the next time #ThrowbackThursday happens on a leap day, it will be 2052!

Every #TBT, UN News is showcasing epic moments across the UN’s past, cultivated from UN Photo and UN Audiovisual Library’s 49,400 hours of video and 18,000 hours of audio recordings in the Stories from the UN Archive series. Visit UN Video’s playlist here and our accompanying series here.

Join us next Thursday for another dive into history.

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