740.00115A PW/l–2945: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Chargé in Switzerland ( Huddle )

497. Please request Swiss Government to communicate the following message to Gorgé5 to be delivered textually to the Japanese Government:

“The United States Government protests vigorously the action of the Japanese Government in holding incommunicado Messrs. Trevor Bowen, Henry Houghton and Leighton Stuart,6 American nationals interned in Peking.

The United States Government protests that mail addressed to Messrs. Houghton, Stuart and Bowen by their relatives in the United States is not reaching them. Mrs. Houghton has dispatched to her husband every other day since August 1943 the 24–word message authorized by the Japanese Government for transmission to civilian internees. According to advice received by this Government, as recently [Page 318] as the latter part of November, only one message has been delivered to Dr. Houghton. The relatives of the other men have also dispatched authorized messages regularly. It is reported that in the entire year of 1944 only three International Red Cross letters from abroad, namely two for Dr. Stuart and one for Mr. Bowen, have been delivered. No mail communications from abroad through the regular established mail channels have been received by these internees.

It is also of serious concern that no communications, either through the International Red Cross Committee or through the regular mail channels, are being received by the families of these men in the United States. It is unthinkable that men so long separated from their families would have deprived their relatives of the comfort of hearing from them had they been permitted to write. It can only be inferred that they are being denied the right of dispatching messages abroad to their families.

By its commitment to apply the humane standards of the Geneva Convention to the treatment of civilian internees,7 the Japanese Government has undertaken under Article 36 to deliver to internees mail dispatched to them from abroad and to enable internees to correspond with their families, transmitting this correspondence by post by the shortest route. As the Japanese Government is aware, this correspondence may not be delayed or retained for disciplinary reasons. Censorship of correspondence must be effected within the shortest possible time and prohibitions of correspondence promulgated for military or political reasons must be transient in character and as short as possible.

The United States Government expects that the Japanese Government will cause an investigation to be made into this matter, will restore to these internees in Peking the humane right to correspond with their families and will cease to inflict upon them and upon their relatives in the United States the suffering caused by lack of communication with each other.

The United States further protests that repeated requests by the local Swiss representative for permission to visit these men have been refused. Authorization to visit the men was also refused to the Swiss Consul General of Shanghai8 on the occasion of his visit to Peking in October 1942, despite his urgent representations.

Representatives of the protecting Power should be permitted to go to any place, without exception, where American nationals are interned, to have access to all places occupied by the internees and to interview them personally without witnesses. Internees should be given the right to address themselves to representatives of the protecting Power and to indicate to them the points on which they have complaints to formulate with regard to the conditions of internment. Their requests and complaints may not be withheld but must be transmitted immediately. The humane provisions of the Geneva Convention which the Japanese Government has agreed to apply to the treatment of civilian internees grants these rights but these prerogatives have been [Page 319] denied by the Japanese Government both to the representatives of the protecting Power and to the internees.

The United States Government has not failed to authorize the representatives of the protecting Power and the International Red Cross Committee to visit the places where Japanese nationals are interned. Nor has this Government refused to permit internees to address themselves freely to the representatives of the protecting Power and the International Red Cross Committee. Not only have visits by official representatives been authorized, but visits by private individuals, friends and relatives have also been permitted.

By its commitment to apply the humane provisions of the Geneva Convention to the treatment of civilian internees, the Japanese Government is obligated to permit the internees to address themselves to the Swiss representative and to authorize him to visit the internees. The United States Government expects that the Japanese Government will without reservation fulfill its commitment to treat civilian internees humanely and will rectify the situation which has deprived these American internees of the rights of protection and representation, rights which have been granted without qualification to Japanese nationals in American custody. Furthermore, the United States Government expects from the Japanese Government assurance that it has given to this protest the serious consideration which it merits and that adequate measures have been taken to ensure that the necessary improvements have been made.”

  1. Camille Gorgé, Swiss Minister in Japan.
  2. Trevor Bowen and Dr. Henry S. Houghton were Controller and Acting Director, respectively, of the Peiping Union Medical College and John Leighton Stuart was President of Yenching University at the time of their internment by Japanese authorities in December 1941.
  3. See telegram 733, February 24, 1942, from Bern, Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. i, p. 799.
  4. Emile Fontanel.