Editorial Note

The problem of the disposition of the former Italian colonies in Africa was first considered by the General Assembly of the United Nations in the spring of 1949, at the second part of its Third Session in New York. Initial proposals were made at this time individually by the United Kingdom, India, Iraq, the U.S.S.R. and jointly by 19 Latin American states.

The United Kingdom draft, which was supported by the United States, proposed the following: independence for Libya after 10 years, with Cyrenaica to be placed under British trusteeship during the interim period, and the remainder to be placed under a trusteeship to be determined later; incorporation of most of Eritrea into Ethiopia with Special protection for minorities; the western province of Eritrea to be incorporated into the adjacent Anglo-Egyptian Sudan; a United Nations trusteeship for Italian Somaliland, with Italy as the administering power.

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This and several other proposals were thoroughly considered by a small subcommittee of the First Committee to which the problem was given on May 9, 1949, for study and recommendation. On May 10 and 11 the small body developed a compromise based on modification of the earlier British plan, which in brief embodied the following elements:

Independence for Libya in 10 years with immediate British trusteeship in Cyrenaica, and French trusteeship in the Fezzan, and Italian trusteeship in Tripolitania to be instituted by the end of 1951. In each case the administering authorities were to administer the respective territories so as not to prejudice their eventual incorporation in a united Libya;
Union of Eritrea, except for the western province, with Ethiopia, with provision for the protection of minorities and, without prejudice to the sovereignty of Ethiopia, for appropriate charters for the cities of Asmara and Massawa; union of the western province with the adjacent Anglo-Egyptian Sudan; and
Italian trusteeship for Italian Somaliland.

This plan was adopted by the First Committee on May 13, 1949, except for a proposed solution for the western province of Eritrea (union with the adjacent Anglo-Egyptian Sudan). When the draft resolution was considered in Plenary Session of the General Assembly on May 17 and 18, 1949, those portions of it providing for Italian trusteeship in Somaliland and in Tripolitania after 1951 failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds majority support. The defeat of the provisions for Italian trusteeship made the rest of the plan inacceptable to a majority of the members. Consequently, on May 18, 1949, the whole problem was put over for further consideration by the General Assembly in September.

A summary of these considerations is in United States Participation in the United Nations; Report by the President to the Congress for the Year 1949 (Department of State publication 3765, May 1950, pages 51 ff). A more detailed account is in the Department of State Bulletin, September 12, 1949, pages 363 ff. For documentation on the United Nations consideration of the Italian colonies question, see United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, Third Session, Second Part, Plenary Meetings, 1949, April–May, pages 528 ff. Hereafter cited as GA(III/2), Plenary.