Chapter XI of the UN Charter - the Declaration regarding Non-Self-Governing Territories - provides that Member States administering Territories, which have not attained self-government recognize "that the interests of the inhabitants of these Territories are paramount" and accept as a "sacred trust" the obligation to promote their well-being.

To this end, administering Powers, in addition to ensuring the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the peoples, undertake to assist them in developing self-government and democratic political institutions. Administering Powers have an obligation to transmit regularly to the Secretary-General information on the economic, social and educational conditions in the Territories under their administration.

In 1946, eight Member States - Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States - enumerated 72 Territories under their administration which they considered to be non-self governing. Eight became independent before 1959.

Transmission of information by the administering Power was discontinued for 21 Non-Self-Governing Territories for various reasons. In some cases, such as Greenland, Alaska and Hawaii, the General Assembly accepted the cessation of information; in others, the decision was taken unilaterally by the administering Power.

In 1963, the Assembly approved a revised list of 64 Territories to which the 1960 Declaration on Decolonization applied. The list included the two remaining Trust Territories at that time (Nauru and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands); the Non-Self-Governing Territories for which information was transmitted under Chapter XI of the Charter (article 73e), including the Territories administered by Spain; Namibia (then referred to as South West Africa); and those Non-Self-Governing Territories about which no information had been transmitted, but which the Assembly had deemed to be Non-Self-Governing - namely the Territories under Portuguese administration and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The list was further expanded in 1965 to include French Somaliland (now Djibouti) and Oman. The Comoro Islands were included in 1972 and New Caledonia in 1986.

From 1960 to 2002, 54 Territories attained self-government. At present, there are 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remaining.