Bringing Colonialism to an End

Politically Speaking
4 min readFeb 22, 2024

On the occasion of the annual session of the UN Special Committee on Decolonization, which opened on 15 February 2024, Politically Speaking takes a look at how the implementation of its mandate is progressing.

Welcoming ceremony for the C-24 visiting mission of 2002 in Tokelau, one of the Non-Self-Governing Territories. UN Photo/Denise Cook

Decolonization is a historical mandate of the United Nations. Based on the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly in 1960, the United Nations monitors progress towards decolonization in Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) and continues its efforts to bring colonialism to an end.

While over 80 former colonies have gained their independence since 1945, the process of decolonization is not finished. There are still 17 NSGTs, with a total population of 1.6 million people. The last NSGT 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 transitional administration.

Map of the Non-Self-Governing Territories

The 17 existing NSGTs 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. 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 Territories, including through ensuring their social, economic, political and educational progress; and assist the Territories in the progressive development of their political institutions, taking into account the particular circumstances and varying stages of advancement of each Territory.

* 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).

An ongoing process

The UN decolonization process is ongoing and proceeds through the work of the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples (C-24). Established in 1961 by the General Assembly, the C-24 consists of 29 countries, mandated to review how the Declaration is being implemented.

The Committee holds an annual session, where representatives of the NSGTs can make statements. The 2024 session was opened on 15 February 2024. On that occasion, Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas Miroslav Jenča stressed the importance of “redoubling efforts to assist the Territories”. He also called on the Committee to continue to strengthen its collaboration with NSGTs, their administering powers and other stakeholders.

Besides the annual session, every year the Committee holds a regional seminar, which is organized alternatively between the Caribbean and the Pacific regions. Moreover, the Committee reports to the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee) and takes action on approximately twenty resolutions under five General Assembly agenda items. The C-24 also participates in the annual session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Within the UN Secretariat, DPPA’s Decolonization Unit supports the work of the Committee.

Among other, the Unit follows developments in the Non-Self-Governing Territories and prepares annual working papers on the Territories and other reports. It also supports the C-24’s annual sessions, prepares and supports the Committee’s annual regional seminars and the visiting missions to the NSGTs. Visiting missions aim to ascertain the situation in the Territories, in accordance with the relevant United Nations resolutions on specific Territories. Since 1965, the Committee has dispatched 40 visiting and special missions to the NSGTs. Most recently in 2023, the General Assembly reaffirmed visiting missions as an effective means of ascertaining the situation in the Territories and requested the C-24 to undertake at least one visiting mission a year.

A four-member mission of the Special Committee on decolonization to Cape Verde in 1975. UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata

The Fourth Decade

2024 falls within the Fourth Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2021–2030). Marking the 30th anniversary of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, the General Assembly declared the first “International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism” in 1988 for the period from 1990 to 2000. In 1991, the General Assembly adopted its plan of action aimed at ushering in the 21st century a world free from colonialism. The Assembly then declared the Second Decade (2001–2010) in 2000, calling upon Member States to redouble their efforts to implement the plan of action for the second international decade. The Third Decade (2011–2020) was declared in 2010, calling upon Member States to intensify their efforts to continue to implement the plan of action and to cooperate with the C-24.

Finally, in 2020, the General Assembly adopted the resolution declaring the Fourth Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2021–2030). During the 2021 opening session of the Special Committee on Decolonization, Ambassador Keisha McGuire, the Chair of the Committee at the time, called on all Member States to strive to make 2021–2030 the last decade to be observed.



Politically Speaking

The online magazine of the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs