Memorandum by the Officer in Charge of North African Affairs ( Kopper ) to the Acting Officer in Charge of United Nations Cultural and Human Rights Affairs ( Cates )


Subject: Request from Mrs. Roosevelt1

Reports received from Tunis confirm that the Tunisian Nationalist leader, Habib Bourghiba, was prevented by the French Protectorate officials from entering the southern military district of Tunisia for the purpose of holding political meetings under authority of two laws: (1) a beylical decree prohibiting the holding of political meetings in the southern territory, and (2) a regulation issued in 1882, the year after the establishment of the Protectorate, which authorized the barring of individuals from the southern territory when such action was considered desirable.

In addition to the protest over the French action in this matter which was received by Mrs. Roosevelt from Mongi Slim, the Director of the Political Bureau of Destour, the Secretary General of the Néo-Destour Party, Salah ben Youssef, also sent telegrams of protest to the Bey of Tunis, the Secretariat of the UN, Mr. Schuman, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the French Resident General of Tunisia.

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Habib Bourghiba was recently permitted to return to Tunisia by the French following a period of some five years of exile in Egypt. With the exception of the incident involving his trip into the southern territory, the French have not interfered in any way with his political activities since he returned to Tunisia. In addition, it would appear that he would have been allowed to conduct his meetings in the southern territory had he not given considerable publicity to the fact that he intended to hold meetings in that area.

At the present time, the French in North Africa are extremely sensitive towards any action on the part of the United States Government which would indicate that we are giving support to the Nationalist movement in that area. While it has been the policy of this Government for some time to encourage the French to adopt a program of political reforms which would assure the gradual but sure evolution of that area toward self-government, and while our Consular representatives in that area maintain open contact with Nationalist leaders, it has not been the policy of this Government to lend active support or encouragement to the Nationalist cause. For these reasons, it is believed that any answer, which might be drafted for Mrs. Roosevelt’s use in replying to the communication from Mongi Slim, no matter how carefully worded, might well be misconstrued or misinterpreted by either the French or the Arabs, or both. It is ANE’s suggestion, therefore, that Mrs. Roosevelt simply acknowledge the receipt of this communication and state that she has forwarded a copy of Mr. Slim’s letter to the Department for its information.2

  1. On April 3, Mongi Slim, a leader of the Néo-Destour Party, addressed a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt (Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt) in her capacity as Chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, protesting the action of French authorities in preventing Bourghiba from visiting towns in southern Tunisia. Mrs. Roosevelt referred Slim’s letter to the Department of State with the request that a draft of an appropriate reply be prepared. A translation of Slim’s letter together with memoranda concerning Mrs. Roosevelt’s request are filed under 772.00/4–1750.
  2. In a letter of May 18 to Mrs. Roosevelt, not printed, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs Durward V. Sandifer suggested that she acknowledge Slim’s letter along the lines recommended here. (772.00/4–1750)