IO Files: SD/A/C.3/140

Position Paper Prepared in the Department of State


Draft Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

Draft Protocol Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons

Draft Resolution Concerning the Elimination of Statelessness

the problem

The General Assembly will have on its agenda by reference from the Economic and Social Council:

The report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Statelessness and Related Problems containing:
A Draft Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; and
A Draft Protocol Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.
A draft resolution on the elimination of statelessness recommended for adoption by the Economic and Social Council.1

What position should the United States take with respect to the adoption by the General Assembly of these items?


The United States Delegation should work for and support the adoption of:

The Draft Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees maintaining particularly intact therein the text of Article 1 “definition of [Page 544] the term ‘refugee’” as recommended by ECOSOC2 and the provision for the establishment of an Advisory Committee on Refugees and deleting paragraphs 5 and 7 of the Preamble;
The Draft Protocol Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; and
The resolution on the elimination of statelessness as recommended by ECOSOC.

In advance of active consideration of this matter by the Committee, the Delegation should seek through prior discussions with the United Kingdom, Canadian and Benelux Delegations to explore frankly the reasons for their differences of view regarding the procedure for handling this matter in the General Assembly and the definition of the term “refugee”. The rationale of the United States position should be explored and an effort made to take into account the legitimate concerns of the other delegations (for example, British concern with respect to Chinese refugees in Hong Kong) so as to minimize the differences between our respective positions in the Committee.


The Economic and Social Council has recommended that the General Assembly approve the Draft Convention on the Status of Refugees and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons which were reviewed by the Council at its eleventh session and referred again to the Ad Hoc Committee on Statelessness and Related Problems for redrafting in the light of discussions at the Council meetings and preparation of a final text for submission to the fifth session of the General Assembly. The Council has also recommended the adoption of a Draft Resolution on Elimination of Statelessness drafted originally by the Ad Hoc Committee and approved by the Economic and Social Council. The three drafts generally reflect United States position3 and should be supported with a single exception as indicated below.

Procedure. Some governments, Canada, Belgium and the United Kingdom, may press for reference of the Draft Convention and the Protocol to a diplomatic conference to avoid a discussion of these items at this time because of the heavy agenda of the General Assembly. In [Page 545] the United States view it is particularly important that the convention be approved at the fifth session of the General Assembly in order that it may be opened for signature immediately thereafter. The convention will be the chief tool available to the High Commissioner for Refugees in performing his function of protection of refugees. It will be his duty to secure signatures to the convention and to supervise its application. The convention in effect establishes the civil status of refugees in countries of residence whose national legislation fails to provide such status. Because of the anticipated termination of the International Refugee Organization in 1951 it is essential that the convention be opened for signature at the earliest possible time and applied as broadly as possible. Every succeeding session of the General Assembly will have a crowded agenda and if action is not taken on the convention at the fifth session the opportunity will be lost to exploit the high interest in the refugee problem to secure constructive action which exists at the present time. The convention will have greater status if approved by the General Assembly than if adopted by a diplomatic conference of a few interested governments. It is important in United States interests to have the convention signed not only by all the Western European countries but particularly by Germany, Austria and Italy which may not be disposed to do so in the absence of Assembly approval of the convention.

Action at the fifth session on the Protocol Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the Draft Resolution on the Elimination of Statelessness, while desirable, is not so urgent.

Draft Convention

The convention has been drafted primarily for application in European countries. While the United States may vote for the convention, it is not expected to sign or adhere to it, although this possibility should not be entirely disregarded considering the possibilities of reservations. For this reason changes in the convention are not being proposed which would be necessary if United States adherence were a substantial prospect. The United States desires, however, to secure an instrument which will prove effective in securing protection for refugees particularly in Germany, Austria and Italy where United States interests in the problem are substantial.


The preamble adopted by ECOSOC, a French draft, is acceptable with the exception of paragraphs 5 and 7 which should be eliminated, the subject matter being covered in the resolution approving the convention, if this proves necessary. Paragraph 5 contains implications [Page 546] that certain overseas countries in signing the convention would accept commitments to take refugees off the hands of the transit countries of Western Europe and if adopted in the convention would arouse serious suspicions in the Congress that commitments to receive refugees in the United States had been undertaken without the consent of Congress. Paragraph 7 is even more objectionable from the United States point of view since it reflects on the adequacy of the definition of the term “refugee” adopted in Article 1 and in effect seeks to broaden the definition through the backdoor of the preamble.

Action taken by the General Assembly with respect to the inclusion in the Covenant on Human Rights of federal-state and territorial clauses will affect consideration of the inclusion of these clauses in the convention on refugees. The United States Delegation should support the inclusion of the same clauses in the convention on refugees as are being supported for inclusion in the Covenant on Human Rights.

Definition of the term “refugee”. It is anticipated that Canada, Belgium and the United Kingdom will give strong leadership to the effort to amend Article 1 of the convention by substituting a simple global definition in exchange for the present text which defines refugees by categories. The United States has given strong leadership in securing the present text which covers all present clearly identified groups of refugees who lack civil status and require international protection. The definition is not narrow but precise. Its adoption by the Assembly would protect the freedom of action of the United Nations to deal in the future with all new refugee situations any one of which may present political issues requiring special consideration after they have arisen. There is danger also that a simple global definition may involve the United Nations and the signatories to the convention in responsibilities with respect to refugee situations in China, Germany, Greece, India and Pakistan which are of a totally different character in that the persons involved already enjoy the rights of citizenship in their countries of residence and do not therefore require international protection. These latter situations do raise serious relief problems which to date have been treated on a unilateral basis. Subject to the foregoing, the United States is prepared to include in the definition, provided there is support for this action from other governments, a paragraph on Chinese refugees in the following language:

“4. Who, being a Chinese national or being stateless, and having his habitual residence in China, has had or has well-founded fear of being the victim of persecution in that country for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion, and has had to leave, shall leave, or remains outside that country owing to such fear.”

The substantive clauses of the convention, the reservation clause, and the implementation clause as drafted by the Ad Hoc Committee [Page 547] are acceptable in the United States and should be supported by the Delegation.

Protocol Relating to the Status of Displaced Persons

In general stateless persons not covered by the convention are not likely to be granted all the rights and privileges which governments are willing to afford to refugees. It is therefore necessary to deal with this category of stateless persons separately through the medium of the proposed Protocol, which is acceptable to the United States.

Resolution on Elimination of Statelessness

The Draft Resolution on the Elimination of Statelessness should be supported solely because it is a first step in the direction of international treatment of this difficult problem. The resolution may not prove very effective in eliminating statelessness, but its adoption may advance the effort to deal with the problem in the future.

  1. For background information on the legislative evolution of the two instruments named in 1(a) and 1(b) and relevant source citations, see U.N. Doc. A/1396, “draft convention relating to the status of refugees: note by the Secretary-General,” in GA (V), Annexes, agenda item 32, p. 11, and U.N. Doc. A/1682, “Report of the Third Committee,” ibid., pp. 26 and 27.
  2. For text of article 1 of the draft convention, with its definition of the term “refugee”, see GA (V), Annexes, agenda item 32, pp. 10 and 11, and Doc. US/A/C.3/319, infra.
  3. The United States was a member of the Ad Hoc Committee on Refugees and Stateless Persons, which sat in two sessions, from January 16–February 16, 1950, and August 14–August 25, 1950. In two basic matters the Ad Hoc Committee adopted the position held by the United States member, namely, that (1) the proposed convention should not include stateless persons, these to be dealt with in a separate protocol, and that (2) the definite categories of refugees to be covered by the proposed convention should be enumerated.