Since the creation of the UN, more than 80 territories that were formerly under foreign rule have become sovereign states and members of the UN. In this radical transformation of the world's political map, the UN has played a significant role that stems from the basic precepts of its charter as laid down in Article 1, which states that one of the purposes of the UN is to "develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, …" Chapters XI, XII, and XIII of the charter are devoted specifically to measures that are designed to promote the welfare of dependent peoples.

In its efforts to implement these measures, the UN has dealt with two types of territories: (1) former colonial territories administered by designated member states as UN trust territories pending independence, and (2) non-self-governing dependencies or colonies of UN member states. Since the UN powers and responsibilities differ considerably in regard to the two categories of territories, this chapter has been divided into two sections.

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