882.5048/406: Telegram

The Consul at Geneva ( Gilbert ) to the Secretary of State

15. Liberian question considered by Council this morning. It was represented chiefly by three statements on the part of (1) Sottile, (2) Christy,20 and (3) Henderson.21

Sottile declared:
That he made a formal reservation to the report and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry to the effect that the policy of the Liberian Government could not be made a matter of discussion;
That the Commission has not made a distinction between witnesses who talked for political purposes and those who testified in good faith;
That the Liberian Government has at no time pursued a policy of intimidation or repression;
That the Commission has confused bad administration and abuse of power by officials with slavery and forced labor;
That the Commission has not distinguished between corrupt officials and the Government;
That the Commission has not followed the ordinary procedure of investigations in that commissioners sometimes held hearings singly in separate places;
That the factor of export of labor is a commercial matter as [and?] that “similar practices” existed “elsewhere”;
That the Liberian Government itself has initiated this inquiry and that its courage and frankness in so doing should be recognized;
That the Liberian Government is not compelled to accept the recommendations of the Commission as juridically they are not binding upon Liberia;
That in spite of this liberty of action the Liberian Government has accepted in principle the suggestions set forth in the report and has undertaken reforms;
That Liberia must however be kept free to choose the “recommendations” which Liberia considers appropriate;
That the financial conditions of Liberia are serious and have prevented the carrying out of all the recommendations;
That a foreign government of great financial strength has insisted upon the appointment of more foreign supervisors for internal affairs than Liberia can afford;
That in order to show good faith, Liberia asked a foreign government to name two such supervisors but that the foreign power had insisted upon Liberia fulfilling the recommendations to the letter;
That he would appeal to British and French Governments to state frankly if they have any criticisms or reproaches to make as to the attitude of Liberia;
That the Liberian Government will examine with sympathy any proposals the Council may make with regard to the application of the recommendations of the Commission (he here implied that financial assistance might be accepted) provided the independence and sovereignty of Liberia is respected.
Christy declared:
That if the legality of the recommendations was contested by Sottile, it should be noted that the terms of reference empowered the Commission to make recommendations and that conditions were such as made necessary recommendations which went beyond questions of slavery and forced labor;
That with respect to Sottile’s remarks on political motives of the witnesses, he wished to state that a candidate for the Presidency had attempted to influence the work of the Commission and that he had to take decided steps to end such interference;
That the lamentable conditions still prevail and that the Liberian Government has insufficient power to change them;
That in spite of the declared intentions of the Liberian Government, it is probably true that Liberia is unable to find the material means to carry out the necessary reforms without external assistance.
Henderson (speaking in an imperative manner) declared:
That the criticisms of Sottile have not undermined the main conclusions of the report and that the Liberian Government has recognized this by accepting its recommendations;
That the report indicated the absolute necessity of a change of policy and of a change of administration on the part of Liberia;
That action of Liberian Government in carrying out recommendations must not be delayed;
That it was not the kind of a question which [where?] financial considerations should dominate;
That the report has convinced the Council that some immediate and definite steps must be taken;
That he trusted that the rapporteur may be able to submit proposals for the proper handling of this problem in all its aspects.

The rapporteur, Zaleski,22 thereupon asked the Council to adjourn its decision to a later date, which would give him time to prepare his report. It is understood that Zaleski will probably make a report during this session of the Council.

  1. Dr. Cuthbert Christy (British), Chairman of International Commission of Inquiry in Liberia.
  2. Arthur Henderson, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  3. Of Poland.