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Economic Social

Topic: Non Self-Governing Territories

The ownership and possession of land is at the heart of many international conflicts. It is perhaps one of the most fundamental measures of a state’s power. In the 20th century, the debate of land ownership centers on the right of a state to control territories not directly affiliated with the nation and the right of the indigenous peoples of that land to self-governance. As empires crumbled after World War II, the United Nations devised a means to settle disputes over land, determine the status of territories, and help the peoples under colonialism reach self-governance.

Upon the creation of the United Nations in 1945, there was a need to set up measures to decolonize the world. The end of World War II had left the future and status of many territories rather ambiguous. Some of these colonies were controlled under a mandate from the then defunct League of Nations, others had been separated from their parent countries when they were defeated in the war. In order to administer these eleven territories, the U.N. set up the International Trusteeship Council, until it was decided what exactly the status of these territories was. Another goal was to help peoples who had not yet attained a full measure of self-government and were still under the control of colonial powers. These territories in 1945 numbered as many as 72, and were labeled the Non Self-Governing territories. It was the duty of the member states of the U.N. to recognize that the interest of these territories was paramount; and by signing the U.N. Charter (specifically articles XI, XII, XIII), member states were obligated to promote the interest of the territories. The Administering Powers of these colonies also were obligated to submit information to the Secretary General relating to the economic, social, and educational conditions of these territories.

By 1960 the general feeling was that the decolonization process was going too slowly. To combat this, the U.N. forged two landmark resolutions known as the Declaration on Decolonization: Res. 1514 (XV) and Res. 1541 (XV). The first of these resolutions changed the language of the U.N. Charter from treating self-determination as a principle to a right. The U.N. policy now actively sought self-determination for these territories rather that simply monitoring them. The second resolution defined and affirmed the three ways in which a territory could attain a full measure of self-government: free association with an independent state (permanent territory) as a result of free and voluntary choice by the people of the territory expressed through an informed and democratic process; integration with and independent state on the basis of complete equality between the peoples of the non self-governing territory and those of the independent state; or independence.

Since 1945 and the landmark year of 1960, much has changed regarding decolonization. In 1994 the last of the trusteeship territories was removed from the list and given self-governance. The Trusteeship Council now meets only on occasion as and where it may require. The non self-governing territories have shrunk from 72 to 15. These 15 are: American Somoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Gibralter, Guam, Monsterrat, Pitcairn, St. Helena, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Western Sahara. Though the numbers of territories on the list has shrunk dramatically, there are many issues to be dealt with in regard to decolonization.

Decolonization essentially boils down to who the rightful owner of territory may be. Countries use this process as a political means to seize territory for their own, force countries to give up territory (or at least weaken and delegitimize their control over it), and maintain their position within the world community. The motivation and stance of a country in the decolonization process is as diverse as the territories, themselves.

The fight over possession and administration can be illustrated by examples of Britain’s non self-governing territories. Argentina argues that the Falklands, and any other islands off the Argentinean coast, are possessions of Argentina alone. The United Kingdom disagrees, believing that if any change occurs then it should be for Falkland independence. Argentina poses the question: Do the non-native inhabitants (British colonists) of the Falklands have the right to self-governance? Another case involving the U.K. and debated ownership involves Gibraltar. Spain and the United Kingdom are discussing a possible solution and eventual turnover of the region to Spain. Many in Gibraltar, however, argue that the territory is not for either to give, but belongs to the people of the region and deserves independence.

One can see how decolonization is used to pressure states to give up territory or weaken their control over them. Pressuring the U.N. to put certain territories on the list, which presupposes eventual independence, often does this. The most noted example is that of Puerto Rico. Many critics do not see why Guam is on the list, but not Puerto Rico, considering their similar colonial past with the U.S. Islamic and Arab countries also use this issue to push for Palestinian and Kashmir states. They argue that these regions fit all the criteria for Non Self-Governing Territories and are subjugated by a foreign power.

States wanting to keep their status in the world are often faced with the question of how self-governance will be measured. African nations and those who share a similarly harsh colonial past often take the position that independence and full self-determination is the only option. Western powers see this as unnecessary and rigid; and they contend that not all territories want independence, and that other solutions must be sought out.

Issues relating to decolonization and the non self-governing territories are extremely diverse and have many global implications. Though progress in resolving the status of these territories has been made, the international community has largely ignored decolonization in the last few years. In some instances the ambiguity on the status of certain regions will have little debate or repercussions. In others it can mean extreme violence and genocide, as in the case of Western Sahara and East Timor. Despite many differences of opinions and solutions all have a stake in the decolonization process.

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References - The official site of the United Nations - The U.N.’s website dealing with decolonization. - This site is the about the U.N.’s mission to monitor the cease fire and organize a referenda which would allow the people of Western Sahara to decide the territory’s future. - The Department of Political Affairs’ Decolonization Unit. - A list of U.N. documents pertaining to Non Self-Governing Territories. - The University of Minnesota’s Library site has excellent documents about the U.S.’s Non Self-Governing Territories and other documents relation to decolonization and human rights. - This site has an article about military activities in Non Self-Governing Territories. - This site has an article dealing with small states and territories. - This is an article about decolonization in the Pacific.

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