IO Files: US/A/3083

United States Delegation Position Paper


Prisoners of War: Report of the Third Committee 1

1. United States Position

The United States should vote for the Third Committee resolution which (a) calls upon governments to publish and transmit to the Secretary-General before April 30, 1950, the names of prisoners still held by them and of those who have died while under their control; (b) establishes an Ad Hoc Commission of three individuals to evaluate the information and, if it considers the information inadequate, to seek further information and assist in repatriation; and (c) urges governments and authorities concerned to supply all necessary information and grant the Commission right of access to their countries and to areas where prisoners are retained.

It will not be necessary for the United States to make a statement on this subject.

The United States should vote against plenary discussion of this report.

2. History in Committee

The resolution is based on a draft text submitted jointly by Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which had placed the item on the agenda.2 The sponsors accepted many amendments proposed by other delegations, while insisting upon the establishment [Page 558] of a commission with broad terms of reference.3 In particular, they incorporated in their text a Syria-Lebanon proposal that governments should be called on to report the facts, but did not agree that this procedure should be substituted for the creation of a commission; and they accepted a French amendment, modifying an earlier Iraq-India proposal, that the International Red Cross should select the members of the Commission or, failing that, the Secretary-General should do so.

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 43–5–8. The Soviet bloc cast the five negative votes, and the Arab states, plus Mexico, accounted for most of the abstentions.

3. Possible Developments in the Plenary

It is not expected that this item will provoke controversy in the plenary, except that the Soviet bloc, in explaining their votes, will probably repeat their arguments against the resolution.4

  1. For the Report of the Third Committee on this item, see GA (V), Annexes, vol. ii, agenda item 67, pp. 15 ff. The Committee considered the question on December 7, 8, and 9; for the proceedings, see United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, Fifth Session, Third Committee, pp. 419–449, passim. Mrs. Edith S. Sampson of the United States Delegation represented the Delegation in the Third Committee on this matter.
  2. For the text, see GA (V), Annexes, vol. ii, pp. 10 and 11.
  3. Relevant documentation concerning changes made in the Third Committee is found, GA (V), Annexes, vol. ii, pp. 11 ff.

    Anterior to the committee stage, when the sponsoring powers were seeking broad agreement from interested governments on an agreed text, the basic question concerned the projected commission itself, certain Western European governments evidencing opposition to such a body. Once the commission idea was accepted, there arose disagreement as to whom the commission should report. An early draft of the resolution in the pre-Committee phase called for reporting to the next session of the General Assembly. By the time the draft resolution was formally submitted to the Committee the text was revised to require the commission to report to the Secretary-General for transmission to Members, without time limit. (Department’s telegrams to New York, Gadel 115, November 15; Gadel 140, November 24; and Gadel 141, November 24, file nos. 320/11–1550, 320/11–2450, and 320/11–2450, respectively)

  4. The draft resolution as recommended by the Third Committee was adopted by the General Assembly on December 14 with no discussion. The Soviet delegate made a statement after the vote expressing the belief of his government that the General Assembly action on this matter violated Article 107 of the United Nations Charter. Brief statements were made by representatives of France and Poland. For the proceedings, see GA (V), Plenary, pp. 668 and 669. For the text of the resolution, Resolution 427 (V), see GA (V), Resolutions, p. 45.

    The resolution expressed the concern of the General Assembly at information presented to it concerning prisoners of war and called upon governments “still having control of such persons” to conform to accepted international practice and specific international agreements for their repatriation. Governments so concerned were asked to transmit to the Secretary-General by April 30, 1951, the names of prisoners still held, the reasons for their continued detention, and where they were detained and the names of prisoners who had died in captivity together with date and cause of death and manner and place of burial. The Secretary-General was requested to establish an Ad Hoc Commission composed of three qualified and impartial persons chosen by the International Red Cross or himself “with a view to settling the question of the prisoners of war in a purely humanitarian spirit and on terms acceptable to all the governments concerned.” The Commission was to meet after April 30, 1951, “to examine and evaluate, in the light of the information made available to the fifth session of the General Assembly, the information furnished by governments in accordance with the terms of [the resolution].” The Commission was specifically authorized by the resolution to pursue further steps if necessary which “it considers might contribute to the repatriation or accounting for such prisoners.…”