IO Files

Draft of Position Paper From Bachground Booh for Colonial Policy Discussions


Item III, A, 2—Submission of Political Information to the United Nations


The problem of the submission of political information to the United Nations by Members administering non-self-governing territories was first discussed at the San Francisco Conference.

Article 73 of the Charter had its genesis at that time in a draft general declaration on colonial policy presented by the United Kingdom to which the Australian Delegation submitted an amendment. This amendment provided for reports upon a specified list of economic, social and educational topics, and, in some cases, at the direction of the General Assembly, reports on political development were to be required. In the redrafts of this amendment the United States combined the two types of reporting and included political information, the United Kingdom omitted reporting, and Australia retained reporting but dropped political information. The U.S.S.R. favored political reporting. The United States in its second redraft of this amendment, however, omitted political information and in the final formulation, political information was not included although there is no full record of the circumstances surrounding the eventual decision on this matter.

From the time of the First Session of the General Assembly, the question of submitting information on political conditions in non-self-governing territories has arisen regularly. In Subcommittee 2 of the Fourth Committee, First Session, it was agreed that such information was of great importance and much to be desired. No action was taken on this question, however, until the Ad Hoc Committee submitted [Page 453] a draft proposal which, after the defeat in the plenary session of a U.S.S.R. amendment which would recommend the submission of information on local participation in administration, was adopted by the General Assembly as Resolution 144 (II). This resolution notes the voluntary submission of political information by some Members and considers it to be in conformity with the Charter and, therefore, to be noted and encouraged. At the same session the Assembly adopted Resolution 142 (II) to which was annexed the Standard Form, the optional Part I of which covers items of a political nature. In the Special Committee, 1948, it was noted that Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, Netherlands, France (for Morocco and Tunisia) and the United States had voluntarily submitted political information.

At the Third Session of the General Assembly two resolutions were adopted relevant to this question: Resolution 218 (III) which provides, inter alia, for Secretariat summaries of voluntarily submitted political information and invites information on items in Part I of the Standard Form other than government from those Members who had not previously submitted such information; and Resolution 222 (III) which requests Members concerned to communicate information of a constitutional nature in cases where they have ceased to report on territories under Article 73(e).

The Special Committee, 1949, submitted a draft proposal which recalled the provisions of Resolution 144 (II) and expressed the hope that such Members as had not done so would voluntarily include political information in their reports. This was adopted by the Assembly as Resolution 327 (IV) after an amendment which provided that in revision of the Standard Form information on geography, history, peoples, and human rights should cease to be classified as optional and expressed the hope that information on government would be voluntarily submitted. Attempts by the U.S.S.R., both in the Special Committees and in various sessions of the Assembly, to make the submission of political information mandatory have been consistently defeated by sizeable majorities.


The question of submission of political information has not only been debated on its own merits but as an ancillary factor in other disputes. In addition to the principal issue based upon the interpretation of Article 73(e), the submission of political information has arisen in connection with the general consideration of the purposes for which information is transmitted under Article 73(e), and specifically with regard to its use in defining and applying the term “non-self-governing”. It has also become a major aspect of the proposed revision of the Standard Form.

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As a problem, per se, the question of submitting political information has involved two interpretative positions: on one hand, the non-administering powers have maintained that Article 73 must be read as a whole. They pointed out that sub-paragraph (a) deals with political, as well as economic, social, and educational advancement and that sub-paragraph (b) deals specifically with the development of self-government and political institutions. The more extreme view, held by the U.S.S.R, its satellites and Egypt, maintains, therefore, that submission of political information is mandatory under their interpretation of Article 73. The less extreme view, in which India takes the lead with the support of the majority of the non-administering group, has agreed, however, that political information is not mandatory under Article 73(e), but has strongly supported its inclusion on a voluntary basis, pointing out that political considerations cannot be divorced from economic, social and educational factors, and stressing that sub-paragraph (e) should be given a broad interpretation within the larger context of the Article. On the other hand, by a strictly literal interpretation of the Article, it has been maintained that the obligations enumerated in the sub-paragraphs other than (e) are of a general type, conditioned by the nature of Chapter XI as a declaration; whereas, sub-paragraph (e) states a specific obligation clearly limited and circumscribed.

In connection with discussions as to the purposes in general for which information is transmitted, it should be noted that, while the language of Article 73(e) states that information transmitted there-under is for information purposes, the terms of reference of the first and subsequent Special Committees have provided for the examination of the summaries and analyses of information transmitted on economic, social and educational conditions and for reports including procedural and substantive recommendations relating to functional fields generally but not with respect to specific territories. Such political information as may be voluntarily submitted, however, is not mentioned in these terms of reference, and the problem has arisen as to the use of this information, particularly as a procedural question of the competence of the Special Committee to discuss and analyze the information, discuss the action of those Members who voluntarily submit such information, and criticize the action of those Members who do not. The non-administering powers have taken the position that political information, voluntarily submitted, is admissible for discussion and recommendation in the Special Committee, as well as the General Assembly, but they have not challenged the general proviso that such recommendations shall not deal with specific territories.

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This general problem of the purpose of political information and the competence of the General Assembly in respect to it has found particular expression as an aspect of the issue of defining the term “non-self-governing” for the purposes of Chapter XI. If the right of the General Assembly not only to determine, but also to apply such a definition is granted, then it can be argued that such a right militates in favor of the obligatory submission of political information, at least for the purpose of determining the status of territories under Chapter XI. If, however, it is agreed that political reporting is voluntary only, questions arise as to (a) the competence of the General Assembly to utilize voluntarily submitted political information in its discussion of a general definition of the term non-self-governing, and (b) its competence to discuss the status of particular territories on which political information is voluntarily submitted.

In discussions on the Standard Form and its revision, the problem of submission of political information has been a primary consideration. No new factors are involved in this aspect of the problem, however, and essentially the anticipated revision of the Standard Form represents a means for securing a wider interpretation of Article 73. The General Assembly has recommended (Resolution 327 (IV)), that in revision of the Standard Form the optional classification be removed from items in Part I other than government. This was strongly supported by the moderate non-administering Members. In this connection it should be noted that the Standard Form, as a whole, was annexed to Resolution 142 (II) for the guidance of reporting Members and is, therefore, optional in its entirety.

positions of the united kingdom, france, and belgium

On the question of interpretation of Article 73, the United Kingdom has taken a consistently firm position insisting upon a most literal and strict adherence to the language of the Article. This position regards Chapter XI as a unilateral declaration of intent and the obligations mentioned in Article 73 as consisting of two types: general obligations as stated in sub-paragraphs (a), (b), (c), and (d), and a very specific and limited obligation as stated in sub-paragraph (e). This position obviously excludes any consideration of the proposition that submission of political information is mandatory in view of the general intent and language of Chapter XI and Article 73. In addition, the United Kingdom has opposed the provision of such information on a mandatory or voluntary basis, claiming that (a) the matter was considered and rejected at San Francisco, (b) such a move constitutes an extra-legal attempt to rewrite the Charter, and (c) there is a difference between the public discussion through normal constitutional processes and the interference of international agencies in [Page 456] matters which concern only the United Kingdom and its colonial peoples. In addition to opposing voluntary submission, the United Kingdom has stated that it would not conform to such a proposal were it adopted. Belgium has supported this position throughout and has stated that it would only consider changing this interpretation after a decision by the International Court of Justice. Belgium has also held that under Article 55 signatories of the Charter were bound to improve conditions generally but were not expected to furnish information as to whether they were doing so.

France has opposed attempts to interpret Article 73 in the broad sense which would make political reporting on non-self-governing territories mandatory. It has, however, supported voluntary submission at the discretion of the reporting Member, although it has reserved its position on further submission of such information on French territories in view of the decision of the Special Committee, 1949, that discussion of such information was admissible.

Other administering Members, including Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Denmark and the United States have supported the position that submission of political information is voluntary under the terms of Article 73(e).

On the related question of the purposes for which information is transmitted and the use to which it can be put, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands have taken the position that they are not prepared to discuss political or constitutional matters in the Special Committee or in any other organ of the United Nations; and, in addition, they have opposed the competence of the Special Committee to consider and make recommendations upon the general subject of voluntary submission. In taking this view, they have reasserted the argument that information, including that voluntarily submitted, is for information purposes only and not to be discussed nor could resolutions be recommended concerning it.

However, in opposing Resolution 222 (III), the United Kingdom stated that, while it always made public any constitutional changes, [as a result of which it ceased to report on a territory],1 and had always furnished and would continue to furnish to the library of the United Nations full details on such changes, in its view it was not required at any stage to bring officially to the notice of the Secretary General the constitutional instruments providing for such changes in such a way that the information would become a matter for discussion in the United Nations. This latter position would seem to imply that information officially transmitted, presumably including voluntary [Page 457] political information, is admissible for discussion in the United Nations. France has stated that it was quite probable that it would not supply political information since the competence of the Special Committee in this matter was decided affirmatively.

It would appear that the administering powers, while originally opposing discussion, reports, and recommendations on information on economic, social, and educational conditions, have acquiesced in these cases but attempted to maintain their original position in regard to voluntarily submitted political information. The United Kingdom and France abstained on the proposal providing for Secretariat summaries of such information and inviting information on Part I other than item (d): government (Resolution 218 (III)).

On the question of definition of the term non-self-governing, with which the problem of submission of political information has become involved, the colonial powers have not objected in principle to the right of the Assembly under Article 10 to attempt such a definition. Their opposition, however, has been most strong on the question of determination of the status of any specific territory under Chapter XI. The relevance of political information to this problem arises principally in connection with the sources of information which the Assembly or the Special Committee might use in their discussions. Consistent with their position against the application of any definition by the Assembly, the United Kingdom, France and Belgium have opposed the official submission or discussion of political information for the purpose of determining the status of any non-self-governing territory under Chapter XI. The United Kingdom, France, and Belgium abstained on Resolution 222 (III) under the provisions of which the United Nations considers it essential that it be informed of constitutional changes by virtue of which information is no longer transmitted and requests communication of appropriate information on the constitutional status and the relationship with the metropole of such territories. France has complied with the provisions of this resolution; the United Kingdom has not. On another occasion, the United Kingdom stated that the question of the constitutional relationship between the metropolitan powers and their territories was a matter within the exclusive jurisdiction of the powers concerned. The latter contention is consistent with the United Kingdom interpretation of Article 2(7) that discussion and recommendation by the United Nations may constitute interference in matters within domestic jurisdiction.2

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On the question of the Standard Form which is related to the problem of submission of political information by virtue of the optional Part I of the Form, the colonial powers voted in favor of Resolution 142 (II) to which the Form was annexed for the guidance of Members. Belgium, however, made general reference at that time to the tendency to illegally revise the Charter, pointing particularly to the provisions of Part I. The United Kingdom’s only reservation was on the practical grounds that compilation of reports should not interfere with the substantive work in non-self-governing territories. In the Fourth Committee, Fourth Session, the United Kingdom opposed, as did Belgium and France, Resolution 327 (IV) which provides, inter alia, that in revision of the Form general information on geography, history, people and human rights should cease to be classified as optional. In so doing, the United Kingdom stated that it had agreed to include in its returns under Part I such supplementary information on these subjects as was necessary to a proper understanding of the information transmitted under Article 73(e) and that the description “optional” should continue to apply to Part I. This appears to represent a retrogression from the position taken by the United Kingdom in the Special Committee, 1948, where it opposed an invitation to Members to supply information on the items specified above, stating that it was not prepared to submit any information under the optional section, though it would include such information as it deemed necessary on the subjects therein other than government under Part II of the Form. It would appear that had the United Kingdom consistently maintained this earlier view, it should have supported the recommended revision of Part I. The United Kingdom also stated in 1948 that it was not prepared to have anything to do with Part I of the Form as such.

recommended united states position

On the question of submission of political information as a problem, per se, the United States should adhere to its present position which, while recognizing that the submission of political information is not required under the provisions of Article 73(e), supports the voluntary transmission of such information by Members administering non-self-governing territories. In stating this position, the United States might point out that it wishes to secure the cooperation of all Members of the United Nations in a constructive and reasonable interpretation of Chapter XI, and that, to this end, it will continue to oppose attempts to interpret Article 73 in its widest sense as obligating the submission of political information, but similarly, it seeks to avoid the provocative results of a rigid insistence upon a narrow and literal interpretation of the obligation set forth in sub-paragraph (e). The [Page 459] United States representative might also call attention to the fact that only the U.S.S.R., its satellites and Egypt have insisted upon an interpretation which would make political reporting mandatory; whereas, a majority of the colonial and non-colonial powers have supported voluntary submission. Acceptance and implementation of the latter point of view by all colonial powers would, in the view of the United States, be tactically desirable as a possible means of preventing the strengthening of the extreme, U.S.S.R. position.
Should the question be raised as to the position of the United States on the use of or purpose for which political information is voluntarily submitted, the United States should state that, in relation to the Special Committee, it maintains the same position on its competence with regard to information voluntarily transmitted as on other information transmitted under Article 73(e), viz., that the Committee is competent to discuss, report, and make substantive and procedural recommendations upon functional fields generally, but not with respect to specific territories. The United States feds that such a position is consistent with (1) the voluntary character of such political information as is transmitted, (2) the request made by the General Assembly to the Secretary General to summarize and analyze such information, (3) the considerations which prompted the present procedure on social, economic and educational information, and (4) the provisions of Resolution 334 (IV.) providing for the preliminary consideration by the Committee of the factors to be taken into account in deciding whether any territory is or is not non-self-governing.
In respect to the General Assembly and the issue of defining “non-self-governing”, the United States should reply that, while it does not consider that recognition of the right of the General Assembly to attempt such a definition alters the interpretation of Article 73 in such a way as to make submission of political information mandatory, it takes the view that the General Assembly is competent to utilize such political information as is voluntarily submitted in its discussion of a general definition. But the United States believes that the General Assembly should not make recommendations on specific territories to individual administering Members, irrespective of whether they had voluntarily submitted political information on those territories or not. The United States has consistently maintained that the submission of voluntary information in no way prejudices the right of administering Members to determine the status of their territories under Chapter XI.
Should the question of the proposed revision of the Standard Form arise, the United States should state that insofar as such revision would involve changes in the optional classification of items [Page 460] a, b, c and e under Part I, it considers that the provisions of paragraph 3, Resolution 327 (IV) should be complied with in view of (a) the essentially optional character of the Standard Form as a whole, (b) the fact that the General Assembly did not recommend that item (d): government, cease to be classified as optional, and (c) the principle, to which the United States subscribes, that resolutions of the General Assembly should be faithfully complied with by Members of the United Nations.
In commenting generally upon the voluntary submission of political information by Members administering non-self-governing territories, the United States representative might emphasize the importance of a broad and constructive approach to this problem, pointing out that it would appear desirable, in view of the essential nature of the United Nations and the spirit of the Charter, as well as for pressing, contemporary tactical considerations, that those countries who are most intimately associated with the development of democratic, constitutional government and whose experience has been widest in the problems of its evolution should take every opportunity to expound its virtues, discuss its problems, and answer its critics, especially in respect to those areas of the world where they have undertaken the responsibility to develop democratic self-government. To adopt other than a liberal, constructive attitude toward the discussion of fundamental political problems, even upon the soundest legal grounds, is to provide the opportunity for unjustified presuppositions and insinuations.
  1. Brackets appear in the source text.
  2. The Department drafted a separate position paper on this subject, “Recourse to the domestic jurisdiction clause of the Charter” (Item III, D, 3, b), not printed.