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The Trusteeship Council

The Trusteeship Council was established to administer former colonies held by Axis powers during World War II or that had formerly been under the oversight of the League of Nations. Now defunct, the Trusteeship Council was meant to smooth the way for these territories during their transition to independence.

Who would qualify to fall under the Trusteeship Council's oversight? Trust territories were either former mandates of the League of Nations or territories of countries that lost World War II. Australia, Belgium, France, Italy, the U.K and the U.S. were all administering authorities over trust territories. Many administering authorities profited from the territories -- including the UK, New Zealand and Australia, who all plundered the South Pacific island of Nauru for its phosphate resources. The U.S., for its part, conducted nuclear tests in the Bikini Atoll -- part of the Marshall Islands.

In the end, many of the administering authorities were forced to give up their the territories. The Council suspended its actitivities in 1994 when the last of the trust territories, Palau, had gained its independence. Some had hoped that the decolonization of other colonies would be placed under the trusteeship system, but this never happened.

What's to become of the Trusteeship Council? Nine years after the Council's last bit of business, the question lingers on. Kofi Annan's 1997 reform plan included earlier recommendations that the organ focus its efforts on the atmosphere, outer space and the oceans. But so far, no action has been taken.


Fast Facts

- Ralphe Bunche, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Middle East was the first Director of the Trusteeship Council.

- British Togoland became the first trust territory to gain independence when it combined with the Gold Coast, a British colony, to form Ghana.

- The U.S. was the administering authority over the trust territory of the Pacific Islands -- which would later become Marshall Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Micronesia and Palau -- previously held by Japan.

- The Pacific island nation of Palau was the last trust territory to gain its independence in 1994.


Closer Look

Rwanda
Call it a trusteeship gone awry. In 1946, Belgium was named administrating authority over the territory that now makes up the African states of Rwanda and Burundi. A set of Belgian reforms gave the minority Tutsis, Rwanda's traditional rulers, political authority over the majority Hutus. When the Hutus published a manifesto calling for political representation equal to their numbers, civil war broke out. Elections in 1959 gave the Hutus the upper hand, and the Tutsis fled -- mostly to neighboring Burundi where Tutsis remained in power. When Tutsi exiles invaded Rwanda in 1990 to regain their rule, the stage was set for the genocide that would kill an estimated 800,000 Rwandans just four years later.


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