740.00116 EW/1469

Document No. C.23(1), 1 June, 1944: Scope of the Retributive Action of the United Nations54

Letter From the Chairman of the Commission to the Rt. Hon. Anthony Eden, His Britannic Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the United Kingdom, 31 May, 1944

Sir: At the time when agreement was reached between the Governments of the United Nations for the institution of this Commission, the paramount consideration was the need to establish machinery for [Page 1322] bringing to justice members of the enemy forces and officials in the enemy administrations, who had been guilty of violations of the laws and customs of war against members of the Allied forces or against inhabitants of Allied territory temporarily occupied by the enemy.

I have been asked by members of the Commission to inform you that in their view it would now be convenient to know whether it is the desire of the Governments of the United Nations that the activities of the Commission should be restricted to the investigation of war crimes stricto sensu, of which the victims have been Allied individuals.

Technically, a distinction can well be drawn between atrocities committed by the enemy which are violations of the laws and customs of war and those which are not, but it will probably be the general view that the need to exact retribution is as great in the one case as in the other.

A category of enemy atrocities which has deeply affected the public mind, but which does not fall strictly within the definition of war crimes, is undoubtedly the atrocities which have been committed on racial, political or religious grounds in enemy territory.

The publicity which was given to the appointment of the Commission for the Investigation of War Crimes led many people to assume that it would be part of the duties of the Commission to investigate atrocities of this character committed by the enemy in enemy territory as well as in occupied territory. I have been approached on occasions by bodies and individuals desirous of knowing whether they could help the Commission in this part of its work. If some other machinery for dealing with the above category of cases is to be set up, the Commission feels that a public announcement to this effect would be helpful, in order that the public at large may understand that effective steps will be taken to ensure that the authors of these atrocities are brought to justice.

The Governments of the United Nations may already have in view some plan for bringing the authors of these crimes to justice, but if that is not the case, it is right that you should know that the Commission is prepared to take up this work if by so doing it can assist the Governments of the United Nations.

In conclusion, I would say that it is the hope of the Commission that you will take the initiative in promoting any further discussion between the Governments of the United Nations which the suggestions made in this letter may be thought to require.

I am [etc.]

Cecil J. B. Hurst
  1. Transmitted to the Department by the American Representative on the United Nations War Crimes Commission in despatch 16042, June 2, 1944; received June 12. A covering memorandum attached to the file copy reads: “The Secretary General ventures to call the attention of members of the Commission to the Commission’s request that each member will bring the Chairman’s letter, (C.23 (1)), to the notice of his Government.” (740.00116 EW/1469)