882.01 Foreign Control/504: Telegram

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

39. From Reber. Your telegram number 14, February 1, 4 p.m. Have consulted the Minister.

While members of the Committee fully appreciate the position of the American Government concerning the breach of Liberia’s contract with the Finance Corporation, they are of the opinion that there may be a certain misapprehension as to the functions of the Committee. In their opinion and in the opinion of the Secretariat this body was formed under terms of reference from the Council to establish reforms in Liberia. Under the terms of reference members of the Committee consider that they have no power to express opinions concerning the breach of the contract except insofar as the latter affects the realization of the scheme of assistance. Thus it may state that Liberia’s attitude is not consistent with the application of the scheme of assistance and if Liberia persists therein the Committee cannot aid it, but it cannot pass judgment upon the merits of the case. To do more than to express this measure of disapproval the Committee would be required to adjudicate the dispute which would of course involve a hearing for both parties and would in effect constitute the Committee as an arbiter between a private company and a member state. Under League procedure the Council and Assembly are the tribunals competent to pass judgment on a member state.

It was not the idea of the Committee to express in its resolution the thought of a bargain between the Finance Corporation and Liberia. It suggested “suspension” of the objectionable legislation rather than “repeal” in order that it might not be necessary to recall the Liberian Legislature into session which would incur further delay. If the direct negotiations in Geneva should succeed the legislation would by its own terms ipso facto be repealed.

Save for a possible extension of the moratorium during the negotiations no concession is being requested from the Firestones. The Committee understands their position but their failure up to the present to send a representative to Geneva is considered one of the important factors in the case.

Lord Cecil who has read your message delivered by the Minister has given me the following memorandum which he has asked me to transmit in explanation of the Committee’s views. He has also wished me to state that within this conception he is prepared without reconvening the Committee to redraft the telegram insofar as it may be possible to accord these differences. He hopes to leave Geneva Monday at the latest if it [Page 897] is not necessary to call another meeting and would appreciate having your views.

“I cannot help feeling there is a little misapprehension as to the functions of the League Committee. It was brought into existence solely in order to assist Liberia in establishing such reforms as are necessary for preventing the renewal of the slavery scandals… It has no power to go beyond this or to express any opinion on the controversy which has arisen between the Finance Corporation and the Government of Liberia except so far as that controversy affects the establishment of those reforms. Accordingly it welcomed the suggestion of the Finance Corporation that if the moratorium was removed in Liberia they would not object to its continuance in practice so as to enable the negotiations of the Corporation with the Liberian Government as to the financing of those reforms to be begun. That was the idea endeavored to be expressed in the resolution with the added suggestion that if the negotiations were begun the moratorium might be continued until they were concluded. That seems to me a reasonable practical suggestion for getting rid of the obscurity to the reforms which has arisen. It does not deal with the dispute in any way. If the American Government desires the League to take that up an application would have to be made to the Council. I shall add that the President on behalf of the Committee made an express statement that no member of the Committee had any knowledge of Liberian action which had been taken on the sole responsibility of the Liberian Government.”

  • [Reber]
  • Gilbert