Minister Wilson to the Secretary of State.

No. 79.]

Sir: In inclosing to the department the last number of La Vérité sur le Congo, I beg to call attention—in connection with my No. 70—to an English translation of the reply of Baron de Favereau, Belgian minister for foreign affairs, to the interpellation of Mr. Vandervelde, the leader of the Socialist party. It will be noted by the department that the line of argument adopted by the Belgian minister is in some measure identical with that contained in the letter of the Secretary of State to Mr. Denby.

There is likewise in the magazine an English translation of an article upon colonial courts which the department may find of interest.

I have, etc.,

Henry Lane Wilson.

the kongo state in the belgian parliament—speech by mr. de favereau, minister for foreign affairs.

The interpellation of the socialist deputy, Mr. Vandervelde, on the relations which unite Belgium to the Kongo was discussed in the Belgian Chamber on the 20th, 27th, and 28th of February. Mr. de Favereau, minister for foreign affairs in Belgium, had no trouble in proving that the Belgian Government [Page 95] has no more the right of intervention than any other foreign government in the internal administration of the Kongo State, an independent and sovereign power. We reproduce his speech:

Gentlemen: The Hon. Mr. Vandervelde has just now asserted that the circumstances under which he has just put consecutive questions to the Government concerning the administration of the Kongo has never been more favorable to the cause which he upholds.

“This assertion surprises me, gentlemen, for if ever an interpellation has appeared to me as being opportune it is undoubtedly this one. As a matter of fact, gentlemen, we see that the Free State is manifesting its most earnest desire to investigate the shortcomings and defects of its administration together with the remedies and improvements which are necessitated by the circumstances.

“It is just at the time when the Kongo Free State has instituted a commission to inquire into the charges which have been directed against it, at the time when it is publishing the results of this investigation, at the time when it has appointed a commission to study the practical reforms, yes, it is just at this time that the honorable member associates with a scandalous press campaign which has not shrunk from resorting to libel.

“Gentlemen, these are the points on which the Hon. Mr. Vandervelde desired to question the Government:

“(1) The duties of Belgium as signatory power to the act of Berlin of 1885; (2) drawbacks for Belgium for a system of personal union with the Kongo Free State; (3) officers and officials paid by Belgium and placed at the disposal of the Free State.

“The questions were thus most cleverly put. The honorable member, if acquainted with the juridicial relations mutually existing between Belgium and the Kongo, knows that there are two distinct governments, and that we can not be held responsible for acts in which we have not taken part. This is also why he has chosen the three points which I have indicated, which are not the real object of the interpellation but are only to serve as a pretext, since he could not bring the Free State to account without seeking to engage the responsibility of the Belgian Government. And he thus delivered a speech before this tribune in which the grievances were set forth with a spirit of parti pris and sadly exaggerated.

“What is our claim to the right of intervention in the internal affairs of the Free State? The Hon. Mr. Vandervelde has quoted article 6 of the general act of Berlin. This provision is couched in the most general terms.

“Where does the honorable member find that the Berlin conference has given the signatory powers the mutual right of controlling the execution of the engagements contained in this article? If the Hon. Mr. Vandervelde knew anything about the protocol of these diplomatic sittings he would also know that the constant preoccupation of the plenipotentiaries assembled at Berlin was a desire to respect the sovereignty of the occupying powers in the basin of the Kongo. It would be contrary to all principles of international law to allow a government to intervene in the interior administration of a sovereign State.

“The duty of a possessionary State in the conventional basin is to realize in its legislation the engagements which it has contracted by adhering to the act of the conference of Berlin. But when the legislation of this State has complied with the provisions of such act it has fulfilled the obligations which, it has contracted.

“Has the Kongo fulfilled this duty?

“The following is the opinion of a man whose competence in the matter is beyond suspicion. Lord Cranborne, under-secretary of state for foreign affairs in England, has not hesitated to acknowledge ‘That the laws of the Kongo State leave little room for improvement. They are full of provisions with a view to protecting the natives against bad treatment and improving their material condition. There is no doubt that the administration of the Kongo Government has to a high degree been marked with a certain progress.’

“Gentlemen, you must please not lose sight of the fact that the territories of the State do not alone constitute the Kongo conventional basin; there are other possessionary powers which by reason of the general terms of the act of Berlin would be submitted to the same obligations of control.

“If a similar contention, based on no precise text, were raised, it would evidently be contrary to the principles of international law, which were expressed with so much authority by the Duke of Wellington at the Congress of Verone:

[Page 96]

“‘His Majesty’s Government is of opinion that to censure the interior conditions of the Free State, unless these conditions interfere with the essential interests of His Majesty’s subjects, is incompatible with the principles according to which the British Government has always acted in all questions relating to the interior affairs of other countries.’

“If, by right, we have no power to intervene in the internal affairs of the Kongo, as a matter of fact, as I mentioned before, our intervention would even, if possible, be still less justified.

“I have just reminded you that the Free State had ordered a thorough and conscientious inquiry to be made into its own administration. In this way it has only been following the example of other countries, who under similar circumstances have not hesitated to adopt a similar method of investigation.

“Does not the Hon. Mr. Vandervelde, who has read Mr. Cattier’s book, remember the passage in which the author acknowledges, ‘That it is only fair to add that the Kongo Government has, from this moment, seconded the commission of inquiry in every way.’

“The commission acknowledges this in its report by saying:

“‘During the whole of our stay in the Kongo the officials and agents of the Kongo, and also the commercial agents and missionaries of every denomination, have afforded us the utmost support.

“‘Every document which the commission considered might be useful in the elucidation of the truth, such as political reports, administrative or judicial documents, copies of letters, private correspondence, were handed to us immediately at our request, and in some cases spontaneously, without the commission having in a single instance to exercise the right of seizure conferred upon it.’

“Foreign governments have also paid a tribute to the sincere desire of the Kongo Free State to bring the whole matter to light.

“Lord Lansdowne wrote: ‘The memorandum which we have received from the Kongo Government proves that it is decided to bring the whole truth to light by all means that do not imply the intervention of a foreign power in the interior affairs of the Free State.’

“Thus you see that the fair way in which the commission has been instituted has been acknowledged not only by Belgium but also abroad, and more especially by England.

“The commission has, moreover, been composed, as the Hon. Mr. Vandervelde acknowledged himself, in the best way for the mission it had to fulfill.

“This was again acknowledged by the British Government in a letter which Lord Lansdowne wrote to Sir Constantine Phipps:

“‘The high position occupied by the members of this commission, together with their juridical competence, are conducive to the investigation being crowned with success and characterized by a perfect impartiality.

“‘After having appointed the commission the decree invests its members with the power to hear the necessary evidence and, if it is necessary, to commit to trial the offenses which have been established by the inquiry. His Majesty’s Government trusts that the broadest interpretation will be given to this provision of the decree, and that all the authorities in the Kongo will endeavor to facilitate the inquiry.’

“Such is the spirit of the inquiry which has been made in the Kongo with the help of all the officials to whom the commissioners applied. We have further evidence of this in the report which Mr. Harris, one of the most ardent and passionate opponents of the Kongo, after having been heard by the commission, sent to the British consul at Boma. This is what he wrote:

“‘We hardly think better or fairer men could have been chosen than Mr. Janssens, Baron Msco, and Doctor Schumacher. The two secretaries, Mr. Denyn and Doctor Gregoire, are very good men, and we owe the latter a debt of gratitude for the patience and ability shown in translating.

“‘Mr. Janssens is a very brave man to undertake such a task at his age. This patience, whenever we desired to put a question to witnesses, was very marked. This applied, in fact, to every member of the commission.’

“Gentlemen, such is the tribute which one of the most determined opponents of Kongo administration paid to the work of the commission.

“The desire of the Free State to throw a true light on all the accusations which have been brought against its administration has thus been established by the fact of the commission being constituted, by its institution, by the way in which it has fulfilled its mission, and by its report. This desire has once [Page 97] again been confirmed by the institution of a commission of studies, appointed to examine the recommendations of the commission of inquiry and the way of carrying them out. The Hon. Mr. Vandervelde has severely criticised the composition of the commission.

“It only numbers four members who are not interested in Kongo matters, and also numbers too many officials. But in a study of administrative reforms is it not necessary to apply to men who by their functions possess a knowledge of the question in view and are able to express their opinion on the expediency and applicability of the proposed reforms?

“Would it not have been wiser and fairer to wait until the commission of inquiry had accomplished its work before condemning it?

“In his speech the honorable member disregards what appears to me to be the chief point of the matter, namely, that it is impossible for a population, to rise out of a state of barbarity in which it has been living for so many centuries, and which is morally lowered and degraded, without a considerable effort which is repugnant both to its nature and to its inveterate habits.

“The Hon. Mr. Vandervelde suggests to the Belgian Government different modes of action with regard to the Free State. I have given the motives which prevent our intervention, motives of right and de facto.

“You can, says the honorable speaker, withdraw the authorization given to the King in 1885 appointing him Sovereign of the Free State.

“You will understand that, when the proposal was made by the Hon. Mr. Beernaert in 1885, doubts were expressed on the consequences which this measure might have on the international situation of Belgium.

“These fears were at the time indorsed by both chambers, but as you know, gentlemen, these fears were scarcely entertained by our legislative assemblies and the bill was unanimously voted, minus one voice.

“But is there still reason for doubt, considering that after twenty years the union of these two crowns has caused no confusion, no error in the province of international relations?

“Gentlemen, the personal union has caused no inconvenience, no confusion from an international point of view.

“The Hon. Mr. Vandervelde has spoken about a conflict which is said to have arisen between the Free State and England in the Bahr-el-Ghazl region. We fancy that the interpretation of the convention of 1894 has on several occasions given rise to an exchange of views between the two States. We do not know how negotiations stand at the present moment, but we have no reason to doubt that the two parties, in a common desire for conciliation, will solve the matter in a fair and satisfactory way.

“‘Recall,’ says the Hon. Mr. Vandervelde, ‘the officers and officials who are at the disposal of the State.’

“Under the ministries, at all epochs of our history, the Belgian Government has consented to put its officers and officials at the disposal of foreign States, and we should refuse to lend assistance to a State founded by our Sovereign and for Belgium, whilst on the other hand we lend assistance to China and Persia and to the different countries who apply to us.

“No, gentlemen, no one will look at it in this light. The Kongo, for which the blood of our fellow countrymen has been shed, must remain a Belgian undertaking. * * *

“I shall not refer again to the way in which the Hon. Mr. Vandervelde has reviewed the report of the commission of inquiry. The honorable member has had time to prepare his speech, and has presented the report of the commission of inquiry under the most unfavorable aspect for the Kongo administration. All readers of the report will see that there is an intentional exaggeration on the part of the honorable member. * * *

“The honorable member forgets to say that the commission only demands the fair interpretation and application of the laws conferring on the blacks the possession of land which they occupy by authority of their chiefs. The importance of this conclusion will more especially appeal to you, as it implies that if the legislation had been applied in the proper spirit it would have prevented the occurrence of abuses pointed out in the report and which the honorable member has put before us.

“The obligation for the natives of having to gather different quantities of rubber, here 5 kilos, there 15 kilos * * * is considered by Mr. Vandervelde to be unjust.

“The honorable member forgets to add that if the commission has stated the fact, it has not, as far as I can remember, condemned it; this it could not do, [Page 98] considering that all regions are not equally rich in rubber lianas, and that to compel the blacks to supply an equal quantity of rubber in all regions would be a most iniquitous and unjust proceeding.

“Mr. Cattier, who does not know the revenue of the crown ‘domaine,’ in order to arrive at an estimate has indulged in calculations based on different suppositions.

“Seventy to eighty millions is his estimate for the last ten years. This amount is evidently exaggerated. The very basis of the calculation is wrong. As a matter of fact, the different regions of the Kongo are not equally rich in rubber lianas. Mr. Cattier has, however, based his assertion on the total proceeds of the total collected throughout the whole extent of the state and crown ‘domaine’ territory.

“He moreover claims that the ‘domaine’ of the Crown has been exploited since 1896.

“This is a huge mistake and a new source of exaggeration; the exploitation of this ‘domaine’ is much more recent.

“It can thus be rightly stated that all these calculations and display of figures do not hold together.

“Here is another inaccurate figure.

“Mr. Cattier first, and then the Hon. Mr. Vandervelde, have contended that the loan, with prizes, has brought in fifty millions to the Kongo. But, gentlemen, I put it to you, is this assertion possible after the formal statement made only eight months ago by my honorable colleague of the finance department? The loan brought in at the utmost seven to eight millions.

“The Hon. Mr. Vandervelde has mentioned the project of shortly summoning an international conference. I do not know what project he is alluding to. To my knowledge there is at the present moment only a question of revising the convention of 1899 concerning the liquor traffic in Africa, according to the provisions and stipulated delays.

“Gentlemen, I conclude * * * by regretting that in the very heart of the Belgian Parliament a work such as the Kongolese enterprise, to which those who have devoted both soul and body all honor is due, should be attacked by a leader of one of the parliamentary parties, who thus furnishes weapons to those who are conducting a shameful press campaign against this grand work.

“I am very pleased to see that the chambers have decided to distribute a copy of the report to each one of the members of this assembly. What I ask the members is to peruse the report in a calm and unprejudiced manner and judge impartially, * * * to note the contents without parti pris.

“This great work is above mean attacks, both owing to the spirit which has guided it and the thought which dictates the improvements and reforms to be carried out.

“Thanks to the work of the commission of inquiry, thanks to the work of the the commission of studies, our future colony will be successfully endowed with an administration which will compare favorably with that of the best administered colonies.”