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UN at 70: How far have we come in decolonization?

 

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, Turkish and Caicos Islands, United States Virgin Islands and Western Sahara.

Cover picture by  Josiane Ambiehl / Department of Political Affairs, UN

17 Non-Self-Governing Territories and the Administering Powers

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.

Timor-Leste

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 September 27 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.

 
 

 

Future Timorese President José Ramos Horta (second from right) addresses the Security Council as representative of FRETILIN, the Revolutionary Front for Independence of East Timor, in December 1975.   Long an item in the UN's decolonization agenda, Timor-Leste was the last Non- Self-Governing Territory to gain independence. December 15, 1975. UN PhotoFuture Timorese President José Ramos Horta (second from right) addresses the Security Council as representative of FRETILIN, the Revolutionary Front for Independence of East Timor, in December 1975. Long an item in the UN's decolonization agenda, Timor-Leste was the last Non- Self-Governing Territory to gain independence. December 15, 1975. UN Photo

Future Timorese President José Ramos Horta (second from right) addresses the Security Council as representative of FRETILIN, the Revolutionary Front for Independence of East Timor, in December 1975.   Long an item in the UN's decolonization agenda, Timor-Leste was the last Non- Self-Governing Territory to gain independence. December 15, 1975. UN Photo

 

 

 

Secretary-General Kofi Annan meets with Foreign Minister Ali Alatas of Indonesia (left) and Foreign Minister Jaime Gama of Portugal (right), prior to the signing of their Agreement on East Timor. May 05, 1999. UN PhotoSecretary-General Kofi Annan meets with Foreign Minister Ali Alatas of Indonesia (left) and Foreign Minister Jaime Gama of Portugal (right), prior to the signing of their Agreement on East Timor. May 05, 1999. UN Photo

Secretary-General Kofi Annan meets with Foreign Minister Ali Alatas of Indonesia (left) and Foreign Minister Jaime Gama of Portugal (right), prior to the signing of their Agreement on East Timor. May 05, 1999. UN Photo

 

 

 Timor-Leste Becomes 191st State to Join United Nations: The flag of Timor-Leste is raised to join those of other Member States in a special ceremony to mark the occasion at United Nations Headquarters.  Left and center are Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  September 27, 2002. UN PhotoTimor-Leste Becomes 191st State to Join United Nations: The flag of Timor-Leste is raised to join those of other Member States in a special ceremony to mark the occasion at United Nations Headquarters. Left and center are Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan. September 27, 2002. UN Photo

Timor-Leste Becomes 191st State to Join United Nations: The flag of Timor-Leste is raised to join those of other Member States in a special ceremony to mark the occasion at United Nations Headquarters. Left and center are Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan. September 27, 2002. UN Photo 

 

 
 

Regional Seminar on  D ecolonization

C-24 or Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples

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 Special Committee on Decolonization or C-24) was established in 1961 by the General Assembly; it is guided by the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples of 1960, and subsequent resolutions on decolonization. The Committee, comprised of 29 members, holds one annual session, an annual regional seminar (which is organized alternatively between the Caribbean and the Pacific regions), reports to the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee) and takes action on approximately 12 resolutions under 5 General Assembly agenda items. The C-24 also participates in the annual session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

The 29 members of the Special Committee are Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Chile, China, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Fiji, Grenada, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Mali, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Russian Federation, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sierra Leone, Syria, Timor-Leste, Tunisia, United Republic of Tanzania and Venezuela. The latest country to join the C-24 was Nicaragua, the host country of this year's regional seminar on decolonization.

 

Decolonization Unit

The Decolonization Unit, part of the Department of Political Affairs of the United Nations, advises the leadership of the Department on decolonization issues, supports the Special Committee on decolonization by preparing annual reports on all 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs); informational material; the annual Regional Seminar and ‘Visiting Missions’.

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.

 
 Participants of the regional seminar on decolonization in Managua, Nicaragua from 19 to 21 May 2015. Glomara Iglesias / UNDP NicaraguaParticipants of the regional seminar on decolonization in Managua, Nicaragua from 19 to 21 May 2015. Glomara Iglesias / UNDP Nicaragua

Participants of the regional seminar on decolonization in Managua, Nicaragua from 19 to 21 May 2015. Glomara Iglesias/UNDP Nicaragua

 

Chief of the UN's Decolonization Unit Josiane Ambiehl delivering the Secretary-General's message (right). On the left, Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, Adviser to the President of Nicaragua on Foreign Affairs and a former President of the UN General Assembly in 2008/2009. Glomara Iglesias/UNDP Nicaragua

 

Second from the right: Ms. Pamela Ward Pearce, representative of St. Helena, a territory located in the South Atlantic Ocean about mid-way between South America and Africa. Glomara Iglesias/UNDP Nicaragua 

 
 

 

Upcoming Events:

15-26 June 2015: 2015 substantive session of C-24 

8-15 October 2015:  General Assembly Fourth Committee's consideration of the C-24 report, general debate on and actions on proposals under decolonization items 
December 2015:  Adoption of draft resolutions on decolonization items at the General Assembly plenary 

For more information, please check out The United Nations and Decolonization website.

* 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 )