Although the Covenant of the League forbade wars of aggression—that is, wars of conquest—the League's founding members did not see the need to underwrite this provision in a positive assertion of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples. The UN Charter embodies an implicit recognition of the belief that denial of equal rights and the right of peoples to self-determination is a potential cause of war.
Thus, Article 1 of the Charter sets forth as a basic purpose of the UN "to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace" (italics added). Article 76, which sets out the main objectives of the international trusteeship system that was to replace the mandate system of the League, leaves no doubt of the value attached to its role as a means of helping the UN, in the words of the Preamble to the Charter, "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." The article reads as follows:
"The basic objectives of the trusteeship system, in accordance with the Purposes of the United Nations laid down in Article 1 of the present Charter, shall be:
"(a) to further international peace and security;
"(b) to promote the political, economic, social, and educational advancement of the inhabitants of the trust territories, and their progressive development towards self-government or independence as may be appropriate to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned, and as may be provided by the terms of each trusteeship agreement;
"(c) to encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion, and to encourage recognition of the interdependence of the peoples of the world; and
"(d) to ensure equal treatment in social, economic, and commercial matters for all Members of the United Nations and their nationals, and also equal treatment for the latter in the administration of justice…. "
Thus, in addition to emphasizing the importance of the trusteeship system as an instrument for peace, Article 76 defines the framework for the elaboration of obligations that the countries designated to administer the territories placed under UN trusteeship must undertake toward the peoples concerned. In essence, these obligations amount to a pledge on the part of the administering authorities to work toward the liquidation of the trusteeship system itself by preparing the peoples in trust territories for independence, or at least self-government.
The Charter does not specify the actual territories to be placed under UN trusteeship. Article 77 merely states that the system shall apply to three categories: (1) territories still under 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.
On the question of designating the administrators of trust territories, the Charter is equally nonspecific. It states simply that the individual trusteeship agreements shall designate the authority in each case, which may be "one or more states or the Organization itself." The provision that the UN itself may serve as an administering authority is a compromise solution that was adopted when it was decided at the San Francisco Conference to abandon an ambitious plan, originally proposed by China and initially supported by the US, to make the UN directly responsible for the administration of all trust territories.
It was decided that the powers that had administered mandates on behalf of the League of Nations were to conclude agreements with the new world organization and administer the same territories that were still dependent. There was one exception. The Pacific islands, which after World War I had been given to Japan as Class C mandates, were, by a special arrangement embodied in the Charter, classified as a strategic area to be administered by the US under a modified trusteeship.
As a result of agreements worked out by the General Assembly, 11 trust territories were placed under UN trusteeship, and seven countries were designated as administering authorities. These figures exclude the former German colony of South West Africa, which after World War I had been mandated to the Union of South Africa, because South Africa refused to place the territory under UN trusteeship. The distribution of the territories and their respective administering authorities was as follows:
in East Africa : Ruanda-Urundi administered by Belgium, Somaliland by Italy, and Tanganyika by the UK;
in West Africa : Cameroons administered by the UK, Came-roons by France, Togoland by the UK, and Togoland by France;
in the Pacific : Nauru, administered by Australia and on behalf of New Zealand and the UK, New Guinea by Australia, Western Samoa by New Zealand, and the Pacific islands of the Marianas, Marshalls, and Carolines by the US.
In September 1975, when New Guinea acceded to independence, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands became the only Territory on the agenda of the Trusteeship Council.
By virtue of a Trusteeship Agreement approved by the Security Council in 1947, the Territory was placed under United States administration as a strategic area under the terms of Article 83 of the Charter. In compliance with the provisions of that Article, the Trusteeship Council reported to the Security Council on all matters concerning the Territory, which was comprised of four entities (Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau).
Negotiations on the future political status of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands began in 1969. In 1975, the Northern Mariana Islands, in a referendum observed by the Trusteeship Council, chose to become a Commonwealth of the United States. In a series of referendums held in 1983 and duly observed by the Trusteeship Council's Visiting Missions, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands opted for a status of Free Association with the United States, while in Palau, the 75% majority required under its Constitution for the approval of the compact of Free Association with the United States could not be obtained in that and six later referendums.
In 1986, the Trusteeship Council, noting that the "peoples of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and Palau have established constitutions and democratic political institutions providing the instruments of self governments," recommended an early termination of the Trusteeship Agreement.
In December 1990, the Security Council considered the status of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands and adopted, by 14 votes to 1, resolution 683 (1990). By that resolution, the Council determined the objectives of the Trusteeship Agreement had been fully attained with respect to those three entities and that therefore the applicability of the Trusteeship Agreement to them had been terminated. Palau, therefore, remained the only entity under the 1947 Trusteeship Agreement. The Trusteeship Council at its annual regular sessions continued to review the situation in Palau.
In November, 1993, the Pacific island of Palau, the last of the islands remaining under the Trusteeship Agreement, succeeded in passing a referendum for the approval of the compact of Free Association with the United States. In January 1994, the Council requested the United States and Palau to agree on a date on or about 1 October 1994 for the full entry into force of the Compact of Free Association, and expressed the hope that, in the near future, the Trusteeship Agreement would be terminated by the Security Council (see chapter on Independence of Colonial Peoples).