Independence of Colonial Peoples - Trust territories

The main features of the trusteeship system are outlined in the chapter on the Trusteeship Council. What follows here is a brief description of the territories originally placed under UN trusteeship in 1946.

Trust Territories That Have Achieved Independence

Three types of countries became part of the UN's trusteeship system: (1) territories still administered by a nation under a League of Nations mandate, (2) territories detached from enemy states as a result of the Second World War, and (3) territories voluntarily placed under the system by states responsible for their administration. All 11 territories that were placed under the trusteeship system in 1946 have since achieved the goals of the charter, either as independent states or as parts of independent states.

Following is a list of the territories that have achieved independence. The territories are listed under their administering powers.


Nauru (coadministered with New Zealand and the United Kingdom). The territory became independent on 31 January 1968, in accordance with a 1965 General Assembly resolution setting this date as the target for accession to independence.

New Guinea. The trust territory of New Guinea was administered by Australia together with the non-self-governing territory of Papua until the two were united and became the independent state of Papua New Guinea in 1975.


Ruanda-Urundi under Belgian administration. In a special session convened in June 1962, the General Assembly approved separate independence for the two territories, which were established on 1 July 1962 as the Republic of Rwanda and the Kingdom of Burundi.


Togoland. In 1958, with the agreement of France, the UN supervised elections, and the territory became the independent state of Togo on 27 April 1960.

Cameroons. Following a notification in 1958 by its legislative assembly of the desire of the territory to become independent and acting upon the recommendation of the Trusteeship Council, the General Assembly, in agreement with France, resolved that on 1 January 1960 trusteeship status would end and the territory would become independent as Cameroon.


Somaliland. In union with the dependency of British Somaliland, the territory became the sovereign state of Somalia on 1 July 1960.

New Zealand

Western Samoa. In agreement with the administering authority, the UN conducted a plebiscite in May 1961, following which the territory attained independence on 1 January 1962.

United Kingdom

Togoland . To ascertain the freely expressed wishes of the people as to their political future, the UN, in agreement with the United Kingdom, conducted a plebiscite in 1956. As a result of the plebiscite, the territory united in March 1957 with the former Gold Coast to form the independent state of Ghana.

Cameroons . Both the northern and southern sectors of the territory were administered as part of the federation of Nigeria, a British dependency. Following a plebiscite held under UN supervision in March 1961, the northern sector became part of newly independent Nigeria on 1 June 1961. Following a similar plebiscite, the peoples of the southern sector joined the newly independent state of Cameroon on 1 October 1961.

Tanganyika. Following negotiations between the United Kingdom and African leaders, the territory attained independence on 9 December 1961. It united with Zanzibar in 1964 to become the United Republic of Tanzania.

United States

Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. By the end of 1975, only the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands remained under the UN trusteeship system. It was administered by the United States under an agreement approved by the Security Council. Because it is a "strategic" trust territory, it was under the ultimate authority of the Security Council rather than the General Assembly. (See the chapter on the Trusteeship Council.)

The Pacific Islands, collectively known as Micronesia, include the former Japanese-mandated islands of the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Northern Marianas (except Guam, which was ceded to the United States by Spain in 1898). In 1975, a covenant for political union with the United States was approved by the people of the Northern Marianas. In February 1976, the United States Congress gave final approval for granting commonwealth status to the Northern Marianas. The Commonwealth Covenant with the Northern Marianas came into force on 3 November 1986.

In a referendum held on 12 July 1978, Kosrae, Ponape, Truk, and Yap—in the Caroline archipelago—approved and ratified a draft constitution for a proposed Federated States of Micronesia. The four districts subsequently held elections, and the Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia was inaugurated on 10 May 1979. The Compact of Free Association with the Federated States of Micronesia also came into force on 3 November 1986.

On 21 December 1978, the Marshall Islands Constitutional Convention approved a draft constitution, and in a referendum held on 1 March 1979, the voters of those islands adopted it by a substantial majority. Legislative power in the Marshall Islands was vested in the Nitijela (legislature); the first general election under the new constitution took place on 10 April 1979. The Compact of Free Association with the Marshall Islands came into force on 21 October 1986.

On 2 April 1979, the Constitutional Convention of Palau adopted a draft constitution, which was approved by a referendum on 9 July. Elections were held on 4 November 1980, and the new constitution came into force on 1 January 1981. However, since its constitution required a 75% majority for the approval of the Compact of Free Association with the United States, Palau was unable to obtain approval for the compact in seven different referendums over the next 10 years.

In November 1992, Palau held a constitutional amendment referendum and changed the requirement for approval to simple majority (50% plus 1). Thereafter, the eighth plebiscite was held in November 1993 and the compact was approved by 68 per cent of Palauans voting in favor. In January 1994, the United States informed the Trusteeship Council that its government and the government of Palau intended to implement the compact as soon as practicable. Planning for the smooth transition to Palau's new status was under way. In late 1994 the two countries implemented the Compact of Free Association and with it came the official end of Palau's status as a trusteeship territory.

Non-self-governing Territories

The delegates attending the 1945 San Francisco Conference, at which the UN was founded, included many spokesmen for anticolonialist sentiment. As a result of their efforts and generous proposals by Australia and the United Kingdom (which possessed the world's largest colonial empire at the time), the charter incorporates a pledge on the part of the colonial powers to assume certain obligations toward the peoples of their dependencies.

Charter Declaration on Non-self-governing Territories

The pledge takes the form of a declaration regarding non-selfgoverning territories that is embodied in Article 73, Chapter XI, of the charter. Under Article 73, all UN members "which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount, and accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost, within the system of international peace and security established by the present Charter, the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories, …" This general obligation is then divided into five specific obligations:(a) to "ensure, with due respect for the culture of the peoples concerned, their political, economic, social, and educational advancement, their just treatment, and their protection against abuses"; (b) to "develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions, according to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples … "; (c) to "further international peace and security";(d) to "promote constructive measures of development … "; and(e) to "transmit regularly to the Secretary-General for information purposes, subject to such limitations as security and constitutional considerations may require, statistical and other information of a technical nature relating to economic, social, and educational conditions in the territories for which they are respectively responsible…."

Today, when so many of these people have claimed and won their independence, the obligations contained in the declaration may not seem very far-reaching. For example, nothing is said about preparing non-self-governing territories for actual independence—indeed, the word "independence" appears nowhere in the declaration. Although due account is to be taken of the "political aspirations of the peoples," all that is explicitly acknowledged is the obligation to develop "self-government," which does not necessarily imply independence.

However, the validity of the declaration must be considered in the context of its era. Few people at the San Francisco Conference foresaw how intense or universal the desire of colonial peoples for full political sovereignty would be. All told, the obligations included in the declaration probably represented the maximum that reasonably could be expected from colonial countries at that time. Moreover, in the circumstances then prevailing, the agreement by the colonial nations, under paragraph (e) of Article 73, to submit information to an international body concerning their own territories—in effect, to yield up a degree of their sovereignty—was a considerable concession.

TERRITORIES COVERED BY THE DECLARATION The somewhat unwieldy term "non-self-governing territory" was chosen primarily because it was broad enough to include the various constitutional designations given by administering powers to their dependencies—colony, protectorate, and so on—as well as all stages of political development short of actual self-government or independence. The declaration includes all those territories "whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government." However, the precise meaning of the phrase "a full measure of self-government" was not specified in the charter, an omission that left the door open for subsequent dispute and controversy.

At the outset, it was considered the responsibility of the eight colonial powers that were UN members to identify the dependencies they regarded as non-self-governing within the meaning of Article 73 of the charter. At its first working session, in 1946, the General Assembly adopted a resolution enumerating 74 non-selfgoverning territories that the administering countries had identified as falling within the provisions of the declaration. The eight colonial countries were Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The combined population of their dependencies—which ranged from tiny Pitcairn Island, with a population of 100 persons, to the Netherlands Indies, with 73 million—was estimated at 215 million. The dependencies of Spain and Portugal could not be included in the 1946 list, since these two colonial powers were not UN members at the time. (For the non-self-governing territories listed by the General Assembly in 1946 and subsequently, see Table 1.)

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