IO Files1

Draft of Position Paper From Background Book for Colonial Policy Discussions 2


Item III, A, 1, a 3International Accountability to the United Nations in Respect of Colonial Policies and Activities: the Question of Principle


[Here follows section devoted to a brief analysis of the origin and historical development of the idea of international accountability, from 1885 to 1945.]

Although the British have accepted the trusteeship system, it should not be forgotten that in the preliminary consultations of the sponsoring powers4 and France at San Francisco,5 they argued against it. [Page 442] The British presented two principal objections against the United States proposal for an international trusteeship system: (1) They argued that this proposal was contrary to the principle that responsibility should not be divorced from authority, which was necessary for good administration. It did this by giving the administering power the responsibility for the proper administration of its trust territories while at the same time holding it accountable to the authority of the international organization. (2) This accountability to the international organization was in effect an accountability to world opinion. The British did not believe it either necessary or desirable for an administering power to be concerned with any opinion but that of states directly concerned, or at the most, of “informed” opinion;

As an alternative to an international trusteeship system, the British proposed at San Francisco (1) a general declaration by all administering powers that they would automatically apply the “principle” of trusteeship in the administration of their dependent areas, and (2) the establishment of consultative regional commissions composed of states directly interested in the administration of dependent territories in a particular region either by virtue of a strategic or economic interest or of the fact that they themselves were administering states in the area. Such Commissions would thus be of a strongly consultative nature and would have a limited membership. It was only with obvious reluctance that the British agreed to the United States position by the time the Conference opened. The French were non-committal at this early stage. The Belgian view was evidently close to that of the British.

Having conceded the principle of obligating themselves under the international trusteeship system, the three colonial powers have been all the more insistent on limiting their commitment under Chapter XI. The British evidently regard the international accountability accepted under the trusteeship system as a necessary evil, and they believe that in principle it would be wrong to accept accountability to the United Nations for any territories other than their three trust territories. The United States understands that the reasons for their position are somewhat as follows:

The three territories which it now administers under trusteeship (Tanganyika, the British Cameroons and Togoland) were originally entrusted to the United Kingdom to administer on condition that it would be accountable for them to the League of Nations. After the termination of the League, the United Kingdom deemed it necessary to continue to recognize the principle of international accountability for these territories by placing them under trusteeship. The other territories of the Colonial Empire have never at any time in their history been administered under international supervision. While the British [Page 443] consider that years ago there might have been something to be said for placing these territories under the supervision of some international body of experts, in these days it would be quite inappropriate and impracticable, having regard to the steady advance of the territories of the Colonial Empire towards self-government, to place them under the authority of a political assembly of governments. The justification for international supervision over the administration of dependent territories is obviously strongest when the control is most exclusively in the hands of the Metropolitan Power. With continuing local political and constitutional development in the Colonial Empire, as time goes on effective control is passing over an ever-increasing sphere of public affairs to the local legislatures and executives. If, therefore, the United Kingdom decided to accept United Nations supervision at this stage in the history of the Colonial Empire, the effect would be more and more to bring under international supervision the policies and actions of the local Colonial Governments. In short, it would be slackening the control from Whitehall only to substitute, not local control, but control from Lake Success. Such a policy would be markedly contrary to local sentiment. There is in pretty nearly every territory of the Colonial Empire a developing sense of local nationalism, and responsible local political leaders in the Colonies would not be prepared to submit their domestic affairs to any greater degree of international supervision or interference than sovereign states are prepared to accept for themselves. The British have repeatedly emphasized, and did so at the last session of the General Assembly, that this would engender that very sense of inferiority among colonial peoples which any enlightened colonial policy should aim to remove.

The British believe that in any sphere of public administration in which some form of internationalism is functionally appropriate, this should be secured by international arrangements of general, and not exclusively colonial, application. There is every advantage in bringing such problems as illiteracy, malnutrition, soil conservation and labour conditions before an international body; in these and similar spheres of human endeavour or technical activity no individual administration is so good that it cannot be improved. But the international study of such problems is properly the duty of expert technical bodies such as the specialized agencies, or of the various functional bodies or committees of the United Nations, where, without regard to considerations based on political or constitutional status, standards of achievement can be compared on a world wide or regional basis. The British contend, however, that the Fourth Committee of the United Nations, where the affairs of non-self-governing territories are singled out for special discussion in a body of political representatives, is neither equipped nor competent to deal with such matters in a practical or constructive manner. In it the problems of non-self-governing territories are dealt with in isolation from similar problems in sovereign states in comparable geographical, climatic and other circumstances and are judged not, as they should be, in relation to general standards of achievement, but against hypothetical standards of perfection in an atmosphere of political prejudice and suspicion. The right approach [Page 444] is, of course, a strictly functional one. Whatever international measures are necessary in respect of a particular field of administration should be adopted wherever the problem arises, and every legitimate constitutional and diplomatic step should be taken to persuade all Governments concerned (colonial and sovereign) to come into line.

The British believe that the acceptance of a right of the United Nations to interfere in the affairs of the Colonial Empire would also have serious and dangerous consequences from the point of view of the attainment of the objective of its colonial policy, namely the development of self-government within the Commonwealth in conditions of assured political and economic stability. This task can only be accomplished if the colonial peoples are encouraged to regard themselves as destined for full partnership in a Commonwealth in which the members, themselves severally independent, are united by principles held in common with each other, and symbolized by the personal position of the King as head of this comity of peoples. The introduction of accountability to the United Nations would inevitably, in the eyes of the colonial peoples, devalue the Crown as the symbol of ultimate authority to which allegiance is owing and from which protection flows, and thereby undermine the present and potential contribution of the Commonwealth to world stability. It would, the British believe, encourage disgruntled elements in the Colonies to appeal to the United Nations over the heads of His Majesty’s Government, and if the colonial peoples were encouraged to look all the time to an external Court of Appeal in the shape of the United Nations it would be incomparably more difficult to encourage in them loyalty to their own local governments, a sense of responsibility and, in multiracial communities, that sense of local cohesion which is a necessary pre-requisite to ultimate nationhood. The British contend that experience shows that misinformed criticism of them in the United Nations on colonial matters plays straight into the hands of extremists and communists. For example, in the minds of his followers in Uganda anti-colonialism in the Fourth Committee is identified with the activities of Semakula Mulumba, and is regarded as international support for those activities.

anticipated position of the united kingdom, france and belgium

In the light of their past attitudes, it is to be expected that the United Kingdom, and also France and Belgium, will maintain that they are prepared to accept the limited degree of accountability to the United Nations indicated in the Charter, namely, (a) in the case of trust territories, to acknowledge the right of the Assembly and the Trusteeship Council to discuss conditions and make recommendations, and (b) in the case of colonies generally, to submit for information purposes economic, social and educational data as called for under Article 73(e). They will probably contend that they will not recognize [Page 445] the right of the Assembly to expand or increase the degree of accountability by passing resolutions empowering the Assembly to do what had been specifically rejected when the Charter was drafted in San Francisco, such as setting up a Special Committee to examine the information submitted under Article 73(e) and empowering it to make recommendations on substantive questions.

recommended united states position

It is recommended that the United States should take the position that:

There is greater international interest in and concern over the colonial question today than in any earlier, period despite the fact that the progressive policies of the major colonial powers have today resulted in many forward steps to promote the welfare of colonial peoples,
The system of international accountability set up under the mandates system and extended under the trusteeship system has been accepted by the powers concerned and should be given their constructive support.
A system of international accountability to a world organization is advantageous (a) in promoting the welfare of dependent peoples, (b) in keeping world opinion better informed on the progress and needs of colonial peoples, (c) in facilitating to mutual advantage the exchange of ideas and information on colonial policy, and (d) in promoting international understanding of colonial problems and contributing to the strengthening of international cooperation.
The best security for administering Members against the extreme proposals of some General Assembly Members lies not in a strict legal interpretation of their accountability under Chapter XI but in a liberal and constructive position which will at once maintain the essential distinctions between trust and non-self-governing territories, and will command the support of world opinion and of a middle group of non-administering states in the Assembly. (This point is further developed in the paper on the attitude to be adopted toward the Special Committee, Item III, A, 1, b.)6
Because the United States believes that international accountability has certain advantages, and because of the strength of international concern over the colonial system, the United States should not at this time associate itself with or encourage any effort to restrict or diminish the principle of international accountability. At the same time the United States should inform the British, French, and Belgians that it opposes, barring unforeseen circumstances, the extension of the application of the principle of international accountability under Chapter XI at this time, as is indicated by the United States position on the attitude to be adopted toward the Special Committee.
  1. Short title for the master files of the Reference and Documents Section of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, Department of State.
  2. This book together with a book of the minutes of the meetings is located in the IO Files.
  3. This refers to the agenda number listing of the subject.
  4. The sponsoring powers were the United States, China, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom.
  5. For documentation regarding the United Nations Conference on International Organization, held at San Francisco, Calif, April 25–June 26, 1945, see Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. i, pp. 1 ff.
  6. Infra.