The future of the colonies: an insufficient Statute

The Saharan issue has often been treated with a frightening ignorance especially with respect to the principles which chaired the decolonization process carried out since 1945 by the UN. One cannot thus understand the Saharan crisis without making a historical background. This is even more necessary as the Saharan case, compared to all the other situations of traditional decolonization, benefited from an unquestionable specificity

As indicated in the first letter (whose articles can be consulted on the Web site:, the divergences, after the second world war, between allied powers with respect to the fate of the colonized countries were going to be translated in the provision of the U.N. charter. For this reason, the principle of the right of people to self-determination is not set up in such a manner as to make it an imperative rule thus making the statute of the colonized people quite limited with respect to people's aspirations.

The objective of this second letter is to apprehend the provision of the U.N. charter relating to this issue (I).  In addition, the UN has been the initiator of actions at the origin of the evolution of the process of decolonization (II). The account of the two statutes envisaged by the charter can, from this point of view, contribute to understand the evolution of the action of the world organization with respect to decolonization.

I. The U.N. and the decolonization

Two statutes were reserved to the dependent people and countries, the tutelage (a) and the declaration relating to the Non-Self-Governing territories (b).

a. International Trusteeship System
This system was created by the UN to replace the old system of mandate1 in place at the time of the League of Nations2. It consists of placing certain territories not-independent within the framework of an agreement concluded between the UN and the administering powers. The objective of this mode is, inter alia, to also encourage the progressive evolution of the populations of the dependent territories under this framework towards self-management. 
This provision is the most important of chapter XII (Article 76) of the charter relating to the Trust Territories insofar as the prospect of independence is explicitly envisaged, which is not the case of the statute developed later concerning the non-self-governing territories.

Which are the territories which were likely to be registered in such a statute? The charter quotes them in a restrictive way. It lays out, indeed, that "the Trusteeship System will apply to the territories being included in the categories below and which have been suddenly placed under this system under the terms of Trusteeship Agreements:

  • Territories currently under mandate;
  • Territories which can be detached from enemy States in consequence of the second world war;
  • Territories voluntarily placed under this system by the administering States.

A later agreement will determine which territories, being included in the above-mentioned categories, will be placed under the Trusteeship System, and under which conditions ".

On the whole, 11 territories were registered within the framework of this statute, considered as very advanced insofar as it envisaged the accession to independence of the territories in question. However, it concerned a few cases since the colonized countries were about 120.

b. Declaration relating to the Non-Self-Governing territories.
For a great part of the dependent territories, the charter applied the chapter XI heading "Declaration relating to the Non-Self-Governing territories". More than one hundred colonial situations were concerned. But the whole of these provisions was considered by all the observers as sacrificing the colonization insofar as the possibility of independence was not envisaged. The charter (Article 73) merely requires administering powers (name used to indicate by euphemism the colonial powers) to accept "like a sacred mission the obligation to favour wherever possible their prosperity...". No allusion to a possibility of independence is mentioned. Worse, these autonomous territories were neither indicated nor defined.

It was necessary to wait for about fifteen years until  this concept of non-self-governing territories be defined and that the aforementioned territories be explicitly predestined to emancipation.

As the Sahara known as Western was not part of the Trust Territories, it fell in the category of Non-Self-Governing territories whose definition and determination came about in 1960 only.

II.  A long and difficult process of mobilization and explanation.

To improve the situation of more than one hundred of these colonial countries, the UN did a colossal work of information and clarification. This work was articulated around two types of actions.

a. The creation of specialized bodies to bring independence to these countries.
Indeed, in addition to the 4th commission of the General Assembly in charge of the decolonization, the UN has created in 1961 the special committee (also called committee of the 24 or decolonization committee) to evaluate the state of development of these territories. Specialized bodies were then created to treat specific cases. The most known within this framework are those created for the support of the Namibian and Palestinian peoples.

b. A second type of action of the UN with respect to decolonization
It consisted of calling on international public awareness to put an end to colonization. To this end, all the forums were used by the UN and the States favorable to the decolonization (Third World, socialist and Scandinavian countries).

Commemorative days, years and decades were celebrated to make the action of decolonization a universal mission and this, to oblige the colonial powers to fulfill their international obligations. 
In spite of that, it was necessary to wait until 1960 to see two important resolutions relating to the decolonization. The resolution 1514 (XV) of December 14, 1960 and 1541 (XV) of December 15, 1960. Without question, the year 1960 was considered by the whole of the international community a key step in the process of decolonization.

1 The mandate is defined in these terms by the 7th edition of the "Lexique de Politique" (Editions Dalloz-2001-pp:256-257): "Right conferred to certain States (agents) by the League of Nations, to manage with an aim of civilization the colonies and detached territories from the central empires defeated at the end of the First World War.
One distinguished mandates A (Dependences of the Othoman Empire), B (central Africa), C (South-western Africa and Pacific Islands)..."
2 The League of Nations is an international Organization with universal vocation.  It was created on June 28, 1919 to ensure collective security, it was dissolved officially on April 18, 1946