When the United Nations was created in 1945, almost a third of the world's population – 750 million people at the time – lived in territories that were dependent on colonial powers. Today, there are still 17 "Non-Self-Governing Territories" around the world, with a total population of 1.6 million people.
“Much has been achieved, yet we have not completed the task of decolonization or reached the goal of eradicating colonialism”, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in his opening message to the 2015 Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization held in Managua, Nicaragua, from 19 to 21 May. The message was delivered by Josiane Ambiehl, Chief of the DPA's Decolonization Unit.
The Secretary-General was referring to the fact that since 1945, more than 80 former colonies have gained their independence. But he also stressed that the international community has an obligation to ensure that a full measure of self-government is achieved in the remaining Territories, in accordance with the United Nations Charter and relevant United Nations resolutions. The 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories are American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, French Polynesia, Gibraltar, Guam, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States Virgin Islands and Western Sahara.
Cover picture by Josiane Ambiehl/Department of Political Affairs, UN
The Administering Powers are France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. They are bound by the UN Charter to promote, the well-being of the inhabitants of the Territories, including through ensuring their social, economic, political and educational progress; and assist the Territories in the progressive development of their free political institutions, taking into account the particular circumstances and varying stages of advancement of each Territory and its peoples. The United Nations in turn monitors progress towards self-determination in the Territories.
The last "Non-Self-Governing Territory" to change its status was Timor-Leste, which in 2002 became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century, following three years of UN administration.
East Timor achieved its independence after a UN-run popular consultation in 1999. This gave the East Timorese population the chance to choose between autonomy within Indonesia or independence. In May 2002, the UN handed over authority to the democratically-elected government of now Timor-Leste, which was admitted as 191st UN Member State on 27 September of the same year.
The General Assembly had placed East Timor on the international agenda in 1960, when it added the territory to its list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. Nearly 40 years later, an agreement between the UN, Indonesia and Portugal gave the people of East Timor an opportunity to achieve their internationally recognized right of self-determination.
Regional Seminar on Decolonization
The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples (also known as the Special Committee on Decolonization or C-24) organized the seminar in Nicaragua. On the occasion of the UN’s 70th anniversary this year and the mid-point of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2011 – 2020), the seminar took stock of progress in the decolonization agenda. It brought together United Nations Member States, including administering Powers, representatives of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, experts, civil society and non-governmental organizations.
“The annual seminar on decolonization enables these 17 Territories to come together and have their voices heard”, says Ms. Ambiehl, who participated in the three-day event in Nicaragua. The seminar also presents the opportunity for them to interact with the C-24, other Member States and with each other. For the members of C-24, it’s also a unique opportunity for interaction with the Territories themselves before drafting recommendations that later form part of a number of General Assembly resolutions.
The Special Committee will now consider the conclusions and recommendations of the seminar during its session in June 2015. Once all recommendations are agreed upon by the C-24, they form part of a report that will be submitted to the General Assembly.
Past General Assembly resolutions reaffirmed the determination of the UN body to eradicate colonialism and its support for the aspirations of the peoples under colonial rule to exercise their right to self-determination and requested the administering Powers to cooperate fully with the C-24, including by regularly transmitting information on economic, social and educational conditions, as well as political and constitutional developments in the Territories.
* A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) (ST/CS/SER.A/42)