IO Files: SD/A/C.1/331

Position Paper Prepared in the Department of State for the U.S. Delegation to the Fourth Regular Session of the General Assembly


The Treatment of Indians in South Africa

the problem

The problem is to determine the United States position with respect to the question of the treatment of Indians in South Africa at the Fifth Session of the General Assembly.


The delegation should determine, in the light of the circumstances prevailing at the Assembly, the degree of initiative, if any, which the United States should take in this question, keeping in mind that this Government is interested in this item principally as a leading Member of the United Nations, which enjoys friendly relations with both parties and which has pursued a policy of active cooperation in United Nations efforts to promote universal observance of human rights.
In private consultation with other delegations the United States delegation should encourage any appropriate initiative by other states and particularly by members of the British Commonwealth designed to facilitate the reopening of the discussions among the Governments of the Union of South Africa, India and Pakistan recommended by General Assembly resolution 265 (III).
The United States should initiate or support a proposal which would take note of the efforts of the parties to organize a round table conference and which would reaffirm the invitation of the Second Part of the Third Assembly that the parties enter into discussion at a round table conference, “taking into consideration the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the declaration of Human Rights.” Moreover, the delegation in its discretion, may support or initiate a proposal for the appointment of an individual who would assist the parties in resuming and carrying through appropriate negotiations.
The delegation should support the South African request for an early consideration of this case on the agenda of the Ad Hoc Political Committee so that if possible it will be considered prior to discussion of the question of South West Africa, which will be taken up in Committee 4.
In the event that India enlists substantial support for a more far-reaching resolution than the Delegation can accept under Recommendation 3, above, the delegation should seek further instructions.


This question involving the complaint of India against the discriminatory treatment of some 250,000 nationals of the Union of South Africa of Indian extraction was considered by the General Assembly in 1946 and 1947 without settlement.1 On India’s initiative it was again considered in the spring of 1949 when the Assembly adopted a resolution (265 (III)) inviting the Governments of India, Pakistan, and the Union of South Africa to enter into discussions at a round table conference, taking into consideration the purposes and principles of the Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights.2

During the fall and winter of 1949 the Governments of India, Pakistan, and South Africa carried on an exchange of correspondence concerning the proposed round table conference. Since the Government of the Union of South Africa desired preliminary discussion of the agenda for the proposed conference, a preliminary conference was held in February of 1950 at Capetown. There it was agreed to call the Round Table Conference to explore all possible ways of settling the question. In addition the three Governments agreed on the inclusion of two concrete items of the agenda: (1) reduction of the Indian population of South Africa (proposed by South Africa); and (2) removal of political, social and economic disabilities of South African nationals of Indo-Pakistan origin and the provision of opportunities for their fullest development (proposed jointly by India and Pakistan).

Towards the end of April, however, the Union Government introduced in Parliament the Group Areas Bill, which would establish in the Union additional areas of exclusive occupation or ownership on a racial basis. This bill was regarded by the Indians and Pakistani as an extension of apartheid (policy of segregation) and as aimed primarily at Indians in the Union who, being mainly engaged in trade and business in various parts of the country, would in their view be faced with disaster if it were enacted into law.

The Governments of India and Pakistan requested the Government of the Union of South Africa to postpone executive action under the [Page 561] Asiatic Land Tenure Amendment Act of 1949 and the enactment of the Group Areas Bill until the Bound Table Conference had been held. The Government of the Union of South Africa refused to accede to these requests and the Group Areas Bill was approved by the Parliament.

In June of this year the Government of India published its correspondence with the Union of South Africa and announced that the Union’s actions indicated its determination to go ahead with the policy of apartheid and to limit the discussion at the Round Table Conference to measures designed to reduce the Indian population of the Union. Such a conference, the Indians believed, would be one-sided and could provide no solution for the problem. By letter dated July 10, 1950 (A/1289) the Government of India placed the question of the treatment of Indians in South Africa on the agenda of the fifth session, requesting the General Assembly to take note of these facts and take appropriate steps to ensure that the treatment of Indians in South Africa conforms to the principles and purposes of the Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights. Pakistan did not join India in withdrawing from the proposed conference. The possibility exists that India may as a minimum position propose a resolution recommending that South Africa refrain from implementing the Group Areas Bill pending resumption of direct negotiations between India, Pakistan, and South Africa.

In the past the United States took considerable initiative in this case. While this is a problem among three members of the British Commonwealth, the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth members have shown extreme caution if not reluctance to intervene. In this Assembly we should not “sparkplug” Assembly action. In this case of discord among two non-Communist governments which opens promising avenues to Soviet propagandists, we should use our influence in the direction of avoiding extreme positions which would exacerbate the conflict without improving the lot of the Indian population in South Africa.

However, we do not wish to be in the position of either voting against or abstaining on a resolution which may have the support of two-thirds of the General Assembly. Such a position would raise serious doubt in the eyes of the ‘Indians as to the friendliness of the United States toward India and the Asian and African countries in general. In view of the importance of United States-Indian relations and the presence of India in the Security Council, we should avoid action which would have an unfavorable effect on India. On the other hand we should seek to avoid the type of resolution (such as condemnation or appointment of an investigating commission) which [Page 562] would alienate South Africa and which might lead to its withdrawal from the United Nations.

We should reaffirm our support for the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights. Pointing to the discussions of the parties in 1949 and 1950 we should emphasize that negotiations at a Bound Table Conference appear to be the method selected by the parties themselves in the past. As long as this method holds out some promise of success, the Assembly should do everything in its power to facilitate it. At this stage of development of the United Nations in the delicate field of human rights the Assembly should concentrate upon assisting the parties in composing their differences as long as there is some hope for a settlement.

  1. The General Assembly did approve a resolution on the subject, however, on December 8, 1946, at the second part of the first session. For text of Resolution 44 (I), see United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, First Session, Second Part, Resolutions, p. 69.
  2. This resolution was approved by the General Assembly on May 14, 1949, at the second part of the third session. For text, see United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, Third Session, Second Part, Resolutions, p. 6.