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Reviving the Forgotten: Why the UN Trusteeship Council Deserves a New Purpose  

By: Alli Risewick 

Imagine a world where the principle of self-determination is not just an empty promise but is a respected reality for all, where every voice is heard, and where countries can finally be free from the cycles of poverty, conflict, and underdevelopment. 80% of the world faced colonization by European powers, and while colonialism may be considered a thing of the past, its brutal legacy still haunts us to this day. On September 28, 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report detailing how the impacts of colonization play a significant role in the inequality that States face, as well as contributing to their failure to achieve sustainable development. We are living in a time where the world is facing complex, pressing challenges that are rapidly growing, and as such, require innovative and inclusive solutions. The United Nations former Trusteeship Council may be the key to unlocking this new potential. By reviving this long-forgotten body, and giving it a new purpose, a new era of global cooperation, justice, and sustainable development can be unleashed. 

Despite being a principal organ to the United Nations, the Trusteeship Council has not been active since 1994. Originally created to help Pacific Island territories establish self-governance and gain independence from colonial rule, the Trusteeship Council, composed of the five permanent members of the Security Council, only worked to address self-sufficiency for eleven Trust Territories. After fulfilling its intended mission of helping the last territory, Palau, gain independence, the Trusteeship Council officially suspended its operations. However, since then, there has been debate within the United Nations on what to do with the Council moving forward. Some members proposed to dismantle the Council entirely, but since this would require a change to the UN Charter itself, this option was decided against. Other members proposed that the Trusteeship Council should serve a new purpose by having full authority over shared environmental goods, referred to as the “Global Commons.” Ultimately, while no concrete decision was made to determine the fate of the Council, the consensus was that they would meet when required by members. The last time the Trusteeship Council met was in 2019, and they are expected to meet in December of this year 

However, while the Trusteeship Council successfully achieved its intended purpose, today there is still much work left to be done in healing the deep wounds left behind by colonialism and imperialism. Specifically, at the most basic level, there must be greater representation, participation, and recognition open to all the countries who suffered from European colonization both to address the lasting impacts that colonization has had on their development struggles and to have support in receiving achievable solutions from the assistance of developed countries. Countries that were colonized face internal issues such as weak centralized governments, economic disparities, wealth inequality, corruption in government, ethnic conflict, and oppression of indigenous communities. Moreover, these issues also impact the United Nation’s ability to succeed in achieving their Sustainable Development Goals, which largely target these concurrent issues surrounding poverty, hunger, corruption, transition to clean energy, human rights issues, and economic development. 

Therefore, these looming issues present the opportunity for the Trusteeship Council to be given a second chance. While the United Nations has a vast number of committees that work towards resolving socio-economic issues, as well as its own Special Committee on Decolonization, decisions and solutions could have more impact if they come from an authority that is a principal organ to the United Nations, especially since the Trusteeship Council already includes all five Security Council members. Moreover, re-opening the Trusteeship Council would be feasible and less demanding in terms of time, energy, and financial costs compared to establishing a completely new committee.  

Naturally, if the Trusteeship Council re-opens, it will ultimately need to go through some reforms to re-define its new scope. One recommendation, for starters, is to expand permanent membership in order to expand the voice and authority to developing countries. This would simultaneously align with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal sub-target #16.8. Additionally, since the revived Trusteeship Council would be taking on a new role, another suggestion would be to change its name to emphasize its new focus. While this will take time to restructure, implement, and agree upon, this solution achieves both short-term goals for developing countries to resolve post-colonial issues while simultaneously achieving long-term the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.  

While the Trusteeship Council has been suspended for many years, the aftermath of the issues that it was created to address persist today. From climate change to inequality, the problems the global community is facing require a coordinated international response. By redefining the role of the Trusteeship Council in the 21st century, we can create a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous world for us all.  


About the Author 

Alli Risewick is a Turkish-American and obtained her master’s degree from Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations where she specialized in International Law and Human Rights. She has experience working as a paralegal in immigration law and has worked in refugee resettlement services. She plans to attend law school in Washington, D.C. this fall. 





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