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There are 14 UK Overseas Territories (OTs) across the globe, but only 10 are permanently inhabited by British nationals. The majority of their 270,000 inhabitants are British citizens.

The Territories all have historic links to the UK and with the UK and Crown Dependencies like Jersey form one undivided realm, where the Monarch is sovereign. This means they have no separate representation internationally.

This paper sets out how international treaties and conventions, such as those relating to human rights and the environment, apply to the inhabited OTs.

How are Territories governed?

Each inhabited Territory has its own constitution, UK-appointed Governor, and locally elected parliament or council, though these have varying powers and responsibilities. Generally, the smaller a Territory’s population, the more law-making power or policy responsibility the Governor wields.

In most, the Governor retains responsibility for external affairs, defence, and internal security (such as the police and judiciary), while local governments have responsibility for finance, social policy, and the environment.

Extending treaties and conventions

Treaty-making is a royal prerogative, meaning that it is exercised by the Crown following ministerial advice. It is ultimately for the UK Government to determine whether to ratify treaties and extend them to the OTs.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) have issued guidance which states that generally extension takes place only with the consent of the Territory Governments and only once the UK is satisfied the OT can meet any treaty obligations. This is because the UK is responsible for the Territory’s adherence and would be challenged in international courts or by other states if the Territory was not observing its duties under a treaty.

The UK Government encourages the extension of treaties to the Territories on tax and transparency issues and human rights.

Sections 3 and 4 set out the treaties and conventions that apply to the inhabited Territories in respect of human rights and the environment.

The European Convention on Human Rights applies to all the inhabited Territories aside from Pitcairn and some governments have expressed an interest in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change being extended (though it doesn’t currently apply to any Territory).

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