L/UNA Files: Folder “UN—Privileges & Immunities—Laissez-Passer

Memorandum by the Deputy Legal Adviser (Tate) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Administration ( Humelsine )

Subject: Use of Laissez-passer by United Nations Officials who are American Citizens

When you took over from Charlie Hulten,1 there was still pending a letter to the Department of Justice on the use of United Nations laissez-passer by American citizens who are officials of the United Nations.2 This letter incorporated a simple and straightforward proposal made by Hulten to clear up a difficulty that had been with us for some time. Hulten’s proposal was acceptable to UNA and L, and the letter I mention was drafted on the basis of it after agreement among Hulten, Sandifer, and myself.

The formula suggested by Hulten was that the United States recognize the United Nations laissez-passer in certain cases and upon certain conditions, pending Congressional approval of and this Government’s adherence to the General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.3 It is pursuant to this convention, now approved by the great majority of UN members other than the Iron-Curtain countries, that the United Nations issues laissez-passer to its officials as travel documentation for use while travelling on [Page 52] official business. So far as concerns UN officials who are aliens, it had been agreed in the Department a year ago that we would recognize laissez-passer of aliens, for purposes of affixing visas.

There remained the problem of UN officials who are American citizens. We had concluded that there was no legal bar to recognizing laissez-passer issued to these officials, and that recognition could be effected through a small modification of the passport regulations. Under existing statutes, because of the continuing existence of a state of war or national emergency, the Department of State is empowered to control the foreign travel of American citizens by requiring that they first obtain passports. The Departmental regulations provide for exceptions to this rule—such as the provision that no passports are required for travel anywhere in the western hemisphere. Recognition of UN laissez-passer would be provided for by an additional exception of well-defined and narrow limits.

Hulten proposed that we make this change so as to exclude from the passport requirement those American citizens who are UN officials and are travelling, with laissez-passer, on official business of the United Nations. We would first secure from the Secretary-General an undertaking to inform the Department in each case where a laissez-passer is issued to a UN official who claims American nationality. We would also secure an undertaking that when any such official is to leave the United States on United Nations business the United Nations would inform the Department as far in advance as possible, giving information as to the official’s identity, place and time of departure, destination, and probable length of absence from the United States. The Department would communicate such information, immediately upon receipt, to the Department of Justice; any such official concerning whom the United Nations had furnished the required notifications would then be able to leave the United States on UN business and subsequently return. However, in any situation where the Department considered that departure of such an official clearly and presently threatened the national safety, the right to prevent departure would be reserved. Of course, a United Nations official who is an American citizen could still apply, as before, for a United States passport; one would be issued to him if he qualified.

I am wondering what happened to the proposed letter to Justice. As I remember, it was drafted last summer, and was to be sent over to Justice as soon as the session of Congress adjourned. It was cleared by UNA and L, and then was sent to A for initialing. So far as I have been able to ascertain, the letter still has not gone out after a number of months. Could you look into this and find out what has happened? The Hulten proposal seemed to me not merely unobjectionable [Page 53] but a thoroughly sensible solution which would both satisfy the UN’s needs and at the same safeguard US security interests.

Jack B. Tate
  1. Charles M. Hulten, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Administration, February 1947–January 1949.
  2. For documentation on this matter, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. ii, pp. 38 ff.
  3. For text of the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations of February 13, 1946 (Resolution 22 (I)) and text of the accompanying draft general convention on privileges and immunities of the United Nations, see United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, First Session, First Part, Resolutions Adopted by the General Assembly during the First Part of the First Session, pp. 25 ff. For documentation concerning United States policy relating to the adherence of this Government to this convention, see volume i of Foreign Relations for the years 1946, 1947, 1948, and volume ii for 1949.