890E.01/10–445: Telegram

The Minister to Syria and Lebanon (Wadsworth) to the Secretary of State

304. ReDeptel 291, Oct. 2 [1], From viewpoint Syrian Ministers, question of so-called mixed courts is, I believe, awkward rather than delicate. They have no hesitation in discussing it informally and readily admit present situation requires corrective action which they would like to make agreeable to friendly foreign govts as well as consonant with their own full sovereignty.

In such informal discussion I have frequently heard following points made:

Article 6 of mandate simply charged mandatory with establishing “judicial system which shall assure to natives as well as foreigners a complete guarantee of their rights.”
Courts set up under resulting system, known as “tribunaux de la république Syrienne”, comprise two “juridictions”, denominated respectively “juridiotion nationale” and “juridiction statuante en matiere etrangere”. They are commonly referred to as native courts and mixed courts, former having jurisdiction only in matters involving natives and non-privileged foreigners and latter only in those involving privileged foreigners and mixed interests.
Both jurisdictions apply same codes of law and procedure, only concrete differences being that in former, language is Arabic and judges Syrian, while in latter French language is commonly used and both French and Syrian judges sit, with French judges controlling proceedings.
Actually, however, decisions of the two hierarchies frequently differed in matters involving interpretation of law due to differing legal background of French and Syrian judges. Cynics add: Due also to differing political backers, French judges favoring French interests and Syrian judges those of influential natives.

At time of May troubles culminating in bombardment of Damascus, mixed courts were about to adjourn for summer recess. They closed hurriedly at that time, all French judges leaving country, and have not since reopened. Former Foreign Minister4 several times told [Page 1193] me that wishing at least postpone awkward complications, he considered courts technically recessed.

Adding that Syria could never agree reinstate French judges, he assured me that if any American interest should find itself harmed by resulting situation he would welcome my laying case before him for any possible administrative relief. No such case has arisen.

During intervening months I have heard some talk that govt was considering issuing decree amending existing legislation to permit nomination of “foreign” in lieu of French judges, but this was apparently discarded in favor of more radical suggestion that jurisdiction of native courts be enlarged to include that of mixed courts, thus in effect abolishing latter.

In strictly informal conversation with former Premier5 following his return from San Francisco, I gathered that he favored latter suggestion but with additional provision for setting up strong inspectorate general to which govt would appoint two or more competent Swiss or Belgian magistrates.

He argued that govt could make such appointments without the sacrifice of sovereignty or prestige in same way it could employ other expert technicians, e.g. for irrigation or finance. He seemingly admitted practical need for services of such judicial inspectors and hoped their appointment would reassure foreign govts not only that their nationals’ interests would not suffer under contemplated abolishment of mixed courts but also that desire to take such action was not motivated by xenophobia.

Minister Antaki,6 who will probably receive Foreign Affairs portfolio in new ministry, spoke with me along same lines Sept 30 and suggested that I discuss question with Dept when in Washington later this month.

It would be most helpful, he said, were we, despite British views to the contrary, to see our way to sharing his views; as an experienced lawyer with several important foreign clients, and without minimizing weaknesses of Syria’s present judicial system, he could add that he believed sincerely American interests could be assured henceforth in native courts as effective justice as that rendered heretofore in mixed courts.

I am returning to Damascus this weekend and would welcome authority discuss substance Deptel 291 with Antaki.7

  1. Presumably Jamil Mardam, who was Minister for Foreign Affairs continuously from the organization of the Nationalist Government on August 19, 1943, until the formation of the Khoury Government on August 26, 1945.
  2. Faris el-Khoury.
  3. Nairn Antaki, Minister of Finance and Minister of Public Works.
  4. This authority was granted in telegram 315, October 8, 1945, 6 p.m., to Beirut (890E.01/10–445).