IO Files

Department of State Instruction to the United States Delegation to the Sixth Regular Session of the General Assembly


Treatment of Indians in the Union of 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 Sixth Session of the General Assembly.


1. Although the United States delegation should not take the initiative in proposing a resolution, its preferred position should be to support [Page 843] a resolution, noting efforts of the United Nations in the past to promote respect for and observance of human rights generally and its efforts to solve this particular problem; noting the failure of the parties to enter into negotiations; and calling upon them to reopen discussions. The delegation should actively oppose any move to have this question placed automatically on the agenda of the Seventh Session of the General Assembly.

2. The delegation should determine in the light of the circumstances prevailing at the Assembly the degree of participation, if any, which the United States should have in this question, keeping in mind that the United States 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.

3. In private consultations with other delegations the United States should encourage any appropriate initiative by other states and particularly by members of the British Commonwealth designed to achieve increased cooperation between the parties and to reduce the hazard of a clash over color policies which will redound to the disadvantage of the Western democracies.

4. In the event that substantial support develops for a more far-reaching resolution the United States delegation should attempt in private conversations to moderate any proposed condemnatory action. If, however, a resolution similar to 395 (V) of December 2, 1950 is proposed and secures substantial support the delegation should vote in favor of all sections of such a resolution which state our belief in the responsibility of United Nations Members to promote respect for an observance of human rights, and which recommend the resumption of talks and the utilization, if necessary, of an agency of the United Nations to aid the parties in this regard.

The United States should explain our position by reiterating the views expressed by the United States delegate in the General Assembly in the past along the following lines:

“… it is the part of statesmanship to proceed cautiously in this delicate field of human rights and fundamental freedoms, which may create serious repercussions on sensitive domestic policies. Without closing the doors to the progressive development of international law in this field, certainly at this stage of our constitutional development, the Assembly should devote itself primarily to finding ways and means of composing differences and securing universal acceptance and observance of common standards of human rights and fundamental freedoms. At this stage in view of the serious constitutional issues involved we should exercise the greatest self-restraint …”.

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5. If the resolution consists of provisions along the foregoing lines the delegation should vote in favor of the resolution as a whole. If the resolution goes beyond these provisions the delegation should consult the Department for 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, 1947, 1949 and 1950 without settlement. In the course of the Spring Session in 1949 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. As a result of correspondence between the parties, during the fall and winter of 1949, a preliminary conference was held in February 1950 at Capetown to discuss the agenda for a proposed Round Table Conference. 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 of that year, 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 therefore prejudicial to negotiations on the basis of the agreed to agenda.

The Governments of India and Pakistan requested the Government of the Union of South Africa to postpone executive action under the Asiatic Land Tenure Amendment Act of 1949 and the enactment of the Group Areas Bill until the Round 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.

The Indians believed a Round Table Conference under these conditions would be one-sided and could provide no solution for the problem. In July 1950, the Government of India, therefore, refused to proceed with the conference and 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 [Page 845] steps to ensure that the treatment of Indians in South Africa would conform to the principles and purposes of the Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights.

During the Fifth Session, the General Assembly passed a resolution (A/1604 of December 4, 1950) which recalled the previous history of this case and the Declaration of Human Rights. It recommended that the parties proceed with the holding of a Round Table Conference, on the basis of their agreed agenda. In the event that the parties failed to do so before April 1, 1951, or to reach agreement at the Round Table Conference within a reasonable time, it provided that there be established for the purpose of assisting the parties, a Commission of three members, one member nominated by each party and the third nominated by the other two members. In default of agreement between the two members to select a third the Secretary General was to appoint the third member. In addition, the resolution called upon the governments to refrain from taking any steps which would prejudice the negotiations and in particular for South Africa to refrain from the implementation of the Group Areas Act. The resolution automatically placed the question on the agenda of the Sixth Session.

In the Spring of 1951, there was an exchange of correspondence between the parties. The Government of India inquired of the Union of South Africa if it were willing to participate in a Round Table Conference in accordance with the terms of the General Assembly’s resolution. The Union of South Africa stated that although it was willing to enter negotiations on the basis of the previously agreed agenda, it was not able to accept the General Assembly resolution as a basis for the Round Table Conference. The terms of that resolution constituted, in its opinion, an intervention in a matter which is essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of the Union. In addition, the Union of South Africa found the establishment of the three-member commission unacceptable.

On April 12, the Representative of India transmitted copies of its correspondence with the Union of South Africa on this subject to SYG Lie. There have been no further negotiations between the parties on the question. The Government of the Union of South Africa has begun the implementation of the Group Areas Bill and the designation of restricted areas, though not complete, is progressing.