IO Files

Minutes of Twenty-fifth Meeting of the United States Delegation to the General Assembly, Paris, December 4, 1951


[Here follows list of persons (37) present. Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the chair.]

1. South West Africa. Mr. Gerig recalled that this question had been before the UN for several years. The territory of South West Africa was the last of the League mandates not turned into a trust territory or given its independence or otherwise provided for under the UN. Pointing out that the territory of South West Africa was about the size of Pennsylvania, populated principally by Hereros, Mr. Gerig noted that some 600 miles of border contiguous with the Union of South Africa served to complicate the situation. The territory had been mandated under the League of Nations since 1920 to the Union Government, which had rendered annual reports on it to the League and allowed written petitions to be accepted and examined. When the League came to an end, the Union took the position that it was no longer bound by the mandate. In fact, the Union Government had been taking steps to incorporate this territory into its own. An opposite view had been taken by the vast majority of states, who believed that the elements of international status still clung to the territory, and regarded the incorporation of the territory into the Union as an improper procedure. This latter position had been considerably strengthened when the Malan government came into power in South Africa and promulgated the Group Areas Act—legislation which enforced a policy of apartheid, or racial segregation, of an extreme nature. Parenthetically, Mr. Gerig noted that it was at this point that the question of South West Africa touched upon the question of the treatment of Indians in South Africa.

The question of whether the mandate of the League carried over had been submitted to the International Court of Justice, for an Advisory Opinion. The Court stated that the mandate did continue in force and that the Union Government could not unilaterally act to [Page 701]end the mandatory status of the territory, without the consent of the UN. The advisory opinion stated further that the Union Government was obliged to render reports to the UN on conditions in South West Africa and to transmit petitions. In response to this advisory opinion the Union Government said that it would continue to govern the territory in the spirit of the mandate in the policies it pursued but refused at the same time to recognize that the mandate continued in force.

Mr. Gerig remarked that the US had submitted its views on this question to the Court when it was considering the case. As the advisory opinion followed so closely the views expressed in the US submission, there was an added reason for the US to take all possible steps to seek the acceptance of and compliance with the opinion. In this connection he said that the Advisory Opinion had expressed the idea that the UN should not impose upon the Union Government undertakings which were more onerous than those required by the League Mandate. As examples of League conditions which do not exist under the UN, Mr. Gerig mentioned the requirement of unanimity and secrecy which attached to the mandate procedure.

When the question was discussed at the 5th GA, the US felt that in order to implement the Advisory Opinion, and to gain the assent of the Union Government, it would not be wise to have the General Assembly dictate the terms of settlement. We had previously indicated our preference for taking representatives of the Union Government into the negotiations on this question, and so had urged the creation at the 5th General Assembly of a Committee of Five to meet in New York and seek an agreed settlement. During the course of these committee meetings, the Union Government indicated its willingness to make an agreement with the US, the UK and France as the remaining Principal Allied Powers of World War I with whom they could deal on this matter, Japan and Italy having since been deprived of their role in this connection. To these three powers the Union Government would be willing to submit reports on the conditions prevailing in the territory and their conduct of the administration of South West Africa. They refused to submit this information to the UN as a whole. If there were any charges of non-compliance with the terms of the agreement they could be presented to the Court.

Mr. Gerig commented that the representatives of the Union Government had indicated privately that annual UN debates on the policies of the Union Government in the territory would make the domestic political situation unbearable. The Committee of Five felt that the Union Government’s position was too far removed from the Advisory Opinion of the Court and therefore had made proposals to the Union to bring them nearer to that position. These proposals were rejected by the Union Government.

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This had been the situation when the Sixth Session of the Assembly convened in Paris. Since then Committee 4 had taken action which Mr. Gerig felt to be a bit impetuous, by inviting the Herero chieftains to come and present their case to the Committee. This he felt exceeded the policies of the League under the mandate. The Union Government in response to this action by the Committee had sent a letter to the President of the Assembly, of which we had only unofficial cognizance which stated that the Union Government was compelled by this action to instruct its delegates to withdraw from further participation in Committee 4 on this matter. When this became generally known in Committee 4, Mr. Gerig predicted further violent reaction.1

The position paper prepared by the Department, document SD/A/C.4/89,2 indicated that the US Delegation should continue to support the Advisory Opinion of the ICJ. In accordance with this paper, Mr. Gerig and Ambassador Sayre had been informally in touch with Prince Wan of Thailand, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, and with a number of others, regarding a draft resolution which they termed the “grand appeal”. This draft resolution was before the Delegation in document US/A/C.4/212.3 In the words of the draft resolution itself, this was to be a “solemn appeal” to the Union Government to reconsider its position, and to resume negotiations through the Ad Hoc Committee of Five with a view to reaching agreement on the basis of the Court Opinion. In the course of formulating this draft, there had been evidence of support for this approach on a very broad basis. In addition to requesting the Delegation’s approval of this draft resolution, Mr. Gerig and the staff wished to raise the question of sponsorship. Pointing out that there was nothing contained in Gadel 175 on this question, he believed that unfortunate results would flow from absence of US sponsorship.

Ambassador Sayre added to this presentation what he considered to be the important points requiring Delegation decision. First, there was a problem of the tone of the resolution. This was connected with the substance of the resolution itself. There were many “firebrands” in Committee 4 who were pressing for strong condemnatory action by the Committee. This draft, negotiated with Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Denmark, Iraq, Thailand and others, was intended to keep the door open to the possibility of furthering negotiations, as a way of implementing the Advisory Opinion of the Court. It would constitute one further appeal. The second problem involved sponsorhip. Recognizing the fact that US sponsorship of this resolution might incur the ill-will of the Union Government, he nevertheless felt it absolutely necessary in order to avoid loss of a restraining influence over potential [Page 703]“firebrands” in Committee 4 who would push for a strong condemnatory resolution. Mrs. Roosevelt asked what the precise purpose of the resolution was. Ambassador Sayre said that this resolution contemplated keeping the door open with the hope that there might be a change in attitude on the part of the Union Government.

Dr. Tobias4 asked the indulgence of the Delegation while he expressed himself on the general nature of the problem. In detailing his connections with this matter he pointed out that he was the director of the Phelps-Stokes Fund, a philanthropic foundation, which had established the Institute of Race Relations in the Union of South Africa. This Institute was predominantly a church organization, and as such was only a part of the church movement in South Africa. The leaders of the Dutch Reform Church in South Africa, he recalled, were behind the Malan government. But this group at the Institute had been responsible for a pamphlet being written by Alan Paton, author of Cry, the Beloved Country, which contained a sober analysis of problems within the Union. He felt that the US ought to be extremely careful in its approach to this subject. In this connection he felt that the position paper of the Department had been “oversoft” in its wish to “moderate any unduly critical or condemnatory action by the assembly.” He pointed out that this was not a question of how the Union Government handled its internal affairs. Were it such a question, the US and the UN would be “estopped” from investigating therein. He recalled that in Committee 4 a speaker had raised the question of the competence of the Committee to inquire into matters within non-self-governing territories, especially as to their capacity for statehood, or independence. Although he abhorred the internal policies of the Union Government, Dr. Tobias firmly supported the doctrine that the UN could not penetrate the barrier of domestic affairs. This was not the question in the case of South West Africa. It was a matter of international concern, recognized as such by the ICJ. The US could not afford to lean so far backward in a conciliatory attitude toward South Africa that its position would raise questions at home as to the consistency of our statements and actions. The people who firmly believe in freedom, as evidenced by the bloody struggle during the Civil War, would not be content with such a soft position, even given the necessary limitations of conducting international affairs. The US need not go out of its way to conciliate. Whereas the UK had a vested interest in South Africa, the US was not burdened with such interests. The US must live up to its traditions, and not succumb to the deplorable traditions of others.

Ambassador Sayre said that he felt very deeply the righteousness of Dr. Tobias’ position. If anything could be done to stop South Africa from its present course, that should be done. He did not feel, however, [Page 704]that the draft resolution was being soft upon them. He indicated that the language in paragraphs 14, 15, et alia, was exceedingly strong in its approach. Dr. Tobias answered that he was not questioning the draft resolution, which he supported, but only the language in the position paper itself. Mrs. Roosevelt felt that the draft resolution was the only possible course. She personally felt the Union Government was courting disaster just as fast as could be done. She added the hope that when any US Delegate or staff member spoke to the South Africans they would make clear that the US was not being soft toward them. Dr. Tobias remarked that the only way people within the Union could ever achieve a change in policies was to have every possible support from without. Mr. Gerig remarked that high level conversations with the South Africans had been held in Washington, during which the disapproval of the US with the policies of the Union Government had been made very clear.

Mr. Vorys5 questioned the listing in the position paper of various courses of action vis-à-vis the Union Government in the alternatives. He felt they should all be pursued. Mr. Gerig indicated that the draft resolution was doing exactly what had been suggested by Mr. Vorys. Ambassador Gross6 was concerned with the use of two qualifying adjectives—“general” and “greatly”—in the second paragraph of the preamble of the draft resolution. It seemed to him that they unnecessarily weakened the effect and could well be redrafted to indicate our actual intentions. Mr. Gerig said that these words had not been intended to limit the effect in the way Ambassador Gross indicated, and could easily be changed. On the question of sponsoring, Mr. Gerig indicated the possibility that Cuba, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, and Thailand would join the US if the Delegation authorized the US to seek such action.

Mr. Cohen7 thought that the emphasis on non-condemnatory language in the position paper blurred and weakened the US position. He did not object to the draft resolution, the language of which he felt to be quite satisfactory, but only the attitude of the Department which showed a tendency to weaken the position of the US in matters of this kind. Mr. Sandifer8 commented that this resolution was as mild as an “electric sledge hammer”, considering the history of the GA approach to this case. It was, he said, a very firm, even severe, resolution.

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Mrs. Roosevelt took it that the position of the Delegation was that there was no objection to the draft resolution or to the US seeking to co-sponsor it. The only objection was the the language contained in the position paper of the Department, which was too mild.9

[Here follows brief discussion of another matter.]

Charles D. Cook
  1. Regarding the Donges–Padilla Nervo exchange of November 24 and November 29, see footnote 11, p. 696.
  2. Dated October 11, p. 690.
  3. Dated December 1, p. 696.
  4. Channing H. Tobias, member of the U.S. Delegation.
  5. John M. Vorys (R–Ohio), member of the U.S. Delegation to the General Assembly.
  6. Ernest A. Gross, Deputy United States Representative at the United Nations; member of the U.S. Delegation.
  7. Benjamin V. Cohen, member of the U.S. Delegation.
  8. Durwood V. Sandifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs; one of two Senior Advisers to the U.S. Delegation.
  9. In Paris telegram Delga 494, December 4, 1 p.m., the Delegation transmitted the text of the operative paragraphs of the draft resolution (paragraphs 12–19) to the Department. The Department of State was informed that it was the “unanimous” feeling of the Delegation that the United States should agree to cosponsor such a resolution “now being drawn up by dels of Thailand, Denmark, Iraq, Egypt, Cuba, Ecuador and others … since such wide co-sponsorship will apparently secure near unanimous support of resolution in committee. Unless Dept instructs otherwise, del [will] follow this course.” (320/12–451)