The trusteeship system was a direct continuation of the previously mandated system, developed under the authority of the League of Nations. Under this system, the formerly mandated countries continued to assist the mandated territories in building their capacity to support statehood and sovereignty. The Charter of United Nations stated that trusteeship “will promote the political, economic, social, and educational advancement of the inhabitants of the trust territories, and their progressive development towards self-government or independence.” Along with the mandated territories, the new system incorporated territories detached from the defeated states of World War II (1939–1945) and territories offered voluntarily by their administrators. Along with the existing mandated countries, the United States became a trust country for the territories administered by Japan, and Italy became a trust country for Somaliland, administered previously by the United Kingdom.
The original mandate system affected a substantive change in the dominant colonial practices; however, its resurrection under the new system was problematic. In the aftermath of World War II, the norms of self-government and independence were becoming dominant in international politics. The newly independent countries constantly pressured the United Nations (UN) to implement trusteeship arrangements and for a fast transition toward the trusted territories’ independence. The trusteeship system differed from the mandate system in several respects. The UN abandoned the distinction between territories based on their level of institutional development and added a democratic element—the “freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned”—to the criteria for capable self-government. The UN also placed a greater emphasis on human rights protection and in some cases assumed direct responsibility for the trust territories.
The trusteeship arrangements were coordinated through the United Nations Trusteeship Council, made up of equal numbers of representatives from trust countries and nontrust countries. Compared with the previous mandate system, the UN more closely scrutinized the trusteeship arrangements, and the council was more influential and active than the Permanent Mandates Commission that had predated it, accepting petitions from the trust territories and organizing regular monitoring missions.
All the trust territories eventually became independent, either in their own right or as part of a newly created state: British Togoland gained independence as part of Ghana (1957), Somaliland as part of the newly formed Somalia (1957), French Togoland as Togo (1960), and French Cameroon as Cameroon (1960). British Cameroon was split into two parts, which joined Nigeria and Cameroon, respectively (1961).Tanganyika gained independence in 1961 and later united with Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanzania (1964). Ruanda-Urundi split and formed the separate states Rwanda and Burundi (1962). Western Samoa gained independence as Samoa (1962), Nauru became an independent state (1975), and New Guinea gained independence as Papua New Guinea (1975).The Pacific islands (Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Northern Marianas Islands) became fully self-governing countries in free association with the United States (1990). Palau was the last territory to gain independence in 1994, thus ending the United Nations trusteeship system.
The impact that the trusteeship system had on the stability and development of the trusted territories is unclear. Following the end of the system, many states experienced significant tensions, conflict, and economic degradation. While the UN Trusteeship Council was left without an agenda, the basic principles set out in the UN Charter remain relevant. They are still used in various intervention and reconstruction settings and considered a feasible option in dealing with failed states.
- Bain,William. Between Anarchy and Society: Trusteeship and the Obligations of Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
- Chowdhuri, Ramendra N. International Mandates and Trusteeship Systems: Comparative Study. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1955.
- Murray, James N. The United Nations Trusteeship System. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1957.
- Thullen, George. Problems of the Trusteeship System: A Study of Political Behavior in the United Nations. Geneva: Droz, 1964.
- United Nations. Charter of the United Nations. United Nations Conference on International Organization, 1946.
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