IO Files

Minutes of Thirty-first Meeting of the United States Delegation to the General Assembly, Paris, December 12, 1951


[Here follows list of persons (40) present. Mrs. Roosevelt was in the chair. The agenda item was “Indians in South Africa (SD/A/C.1/360, Delgas 504 and 569, Gadels 352 and 402)”.]

[Page 848]

Mr. Meeker opened a discussion of this case with a brief history of the immigration of peoples of Indian origin to the territory of South Africa. He referred to the coming to power of the Malan government with its stringent racial policies. There were three difficulties which the people of Indian origin faced in the Union. Rigorous laws restricted their right to hold property in many areas. Civil liberties were severely curtailed. Finally, the policies of the Malan government included an extreme form of segregation, called apartheid, as promulgated in the Group Areas Act.

The United Nations history of this case dated back to 1946 when the Indians first brought their complaint to the Assembly. They originally based this complaint on: (a) certain agreements between the South African Government and the British Government of India which allegedly bound the former to grant proper treatment to people of Indian origin residing in South Africa; and (b) provisions in the Charter guaranteeing respect for human rights. This case had been brought up in succeeding years. Beginning in 1949 the Indians dropped the first ground and relied solely on the human rights provisions of the Charter. The Department had made a study of the legal grounds alleged by the Indians in regard to their first claim, and found no justification for holding that the South African Government was bound by previous agreement with the British vis-à-vis the present Indian government.

At the fifth General Assembly a resolution had been adopted calling for the South Africans to confer with the Indians and Pakistani in an attempt to resolve their differences. This resolution recommended that a conference be held on the basis of an agenda to which the parties had previously agreed. The previous year the Indians and Pakistani had asked that the South African Government suspend the implementation of the Group Areas Act pending the outcome of negotiations. This the South Africans had refused to do, although an agenda had been agreed upon. The fifth General Assembly wanted the parties to go ahead from there. A Commission was to be appointed consisting of one representative for both India and Pakistan and one for the South Africans, and a third to be chosen by the first two, or in default of agreement, by the United Nations Secretary General. South Africa refused to negotiate on the basis of the General Assembly action, maintaining that to do so would be accepting interference by the United Nations with its domestic affairs, in violation of Article 2(7) of the Charter. They agreed to negotiate, but outside the framework of the United Nations. They had indicated that appointment of a United Nations commission under the resolution was not acceptable to the Union.

Mr. Meeker turned to the position paper which was before the Delegation in document SD/A/C.1/360. There it was suggested that the United States not take the initiative in proposing a resolution, but [Page 849] support one which would note the previous efforts of the United Nations to obtain observance of human rights generally and in particular with regard to this problem, which would note the previous failure of the parties to enter into negotiations, and would call upon them to re-open discussions. The Department did not want the action this year to provide for automatic inclusion of the item on the agenda of the seventh General Assembly. At the same time the United States should seek to have the members of the British Commonwealth take the appropriate initiative in this case.

Mr. Meeker reported that the Indians wanted a commission created by this session of the Assembly, even if it were necessary for the General Assembly to appoint a representative for the Union Government. He added that they did not seem to have thought the whole problem through carefully, and did not appear to know exactly where they wanted to, or would, come out as a result.

Mr. Meeker referred to an exchange of telegrams between the Delegation and the Department, set forth in Delgas 504 and 569, and Gadels 352 and 402, in which the question was considered of including a suggestion that some prominent personality be called upon by mutual agreement of the parties to help them compose their differences. From the exchange it was obvious that the Department did not want the Delegation to take the lead in this matter. The Department did, however, concur with a new formulation of this suggestion which would keep it on an informal basis, not as a proposal, and therefore within the terms of the position paper. Miss Strauss added that it was hoped that other delegations might take up this idea and themselves come forward with a proposal along these lines.

Mrs. Roosevelt asked why it was that we felt it necessary to be soft with the South Africans. Mr. Sandifer said that the United States had long considered this as a problem primarily of the Commonwealth. The United States had so often taken the lead in various problems within the United Nations that it was highly appropriate for the Commonwealth to assume the responsibility in this case. At the last General Assembly, he recalled, Senator Lodge had taken a vigorous part in this item and had helped in formulating a strong resolution. Mrs. Roosevelt felt that Senator Lodge had not wanted the United Nations to be too soft with the South Africans. She pointed out that this problem was not solely domestic, but had international implications. It involved the feelings of many people around the world. She thought that we should be, and were not, giving our support to those elements within South Africa who were fighting the Group Areas Act and the policies it stood for. Mr. Laugier, formerly Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations for Social Affairs, was circulating a pamphlet which virtually implied that this sort of inattention to [Page 850] vital problems was what was bringing Communism to many areas of the world.

Mr. Sandifer pointed out that there was a close relation between this case and that of the South West African problem. It also affected our general relations with the Government of South Africa. The Indians had not “come into court with clean hands” in this case. Furthermore, in other matters, South Africa had given us wholehearted support, whereas India, as had happened in Committee Five the last two days, virtually “slaps us in the face.” Mr. Maffitt recalled that when the trial of Cardinal Mindszenty was brought up in the United Nations debates, the United States had taken the position with the Latin Americans that our opposition to it was based on the violation of the human rights clauses in the peace treaties and not in the Charter.

Miss Strauss liked Mrs. Roosevelt’s ideas favoring encouragement of those moderate elements within South Africa which might succeed in getting the upper hand.

Mr. Cohen said that we should be careful to distinguish between the views we express as to our feelings in this or other cases, and the question of taking initiative when we do not know exactly where it would lead us. He cautioned against taking an attitude of restraining our expression of feelings in important matters like the present one. In long-range terms of our struggle with the Soviets, our position should be clear and unequivocal, so no one could question our motives. When the moment arrives that we have to decide whether one resolution or another most appropriately will achieve the ends we seek, and we have to choose one over another, no one could then question our general feelings on the subject matter, or our position of fighting for the observance of human rights. We should avoid the kind of position the United Kingdom often takes, in being firmly against Iron Curtain violations of human rights, but abstaining on questions which involve the Commonwealth. He also commented that in the Mindszenty case the United States by no means excluded the United Nations Charter as a basis for Assembly action.

Senator Cooper thought that last year the question had been one of what type of resolution we would support. Many had wanted a strong condemnatory one, without any plea for conciliation. The United States had sought conciliation. Since it was obvious that South Africa would not now conciliate, the United States should try to avoid the inevitable move for a condemnatory resolution by taking the initiative. In regard to Senator Lodge’s participation in the item, the question had been as to how strong a speech he should make. It had been agreed, in Senator Cooper’s recollection, to make a strong speech which also admitted our own faults.

Mr. Gerig noted that South Africa was feeling very much pressed by the United Nations in view of the fact that the South West African [Page 851] resolution had been adopted in Committee Four. The feeling had been expressed to him several times that the limit could easily be reached and the Malan cabinet decide to withdraw from the United Nations. We ought to decide whether this attitude of theirs should have any effect on our position.

Ambassador Gross thought that this problem was perhaps more a bilateral one than was recognized. It was not fair to saddle the United Nations alone with this problem. Our government ought bilaterally to assist solution of this question before the General Assembly convenes, and the Delegation ought to know the extent of such efforts so that it could better estimate what type of United Nations action on the problem would be feasible. As it was, we came into the Assembly without sufficient knowledge as to what could be accomplished through the United Nations, and what ought better be left to be done outside.

Dr. Tobias commented that the Department seemed to feel that the United States Delegation could go too far, and matters might boomerang on us. He could not agree that that would be the case. We should take the same attitude with the South Africans as with the Soviets in cases of such extreme violations of human rights. He felt that the United States had some pretty firm ground to stand upon, if it were ever challenged in the United Nations as to its domestic treatment of minorities. There existed an enlightened public opinion, and absolute rights of citizens who daily obtained from the courts protection for those rights. The United States should stand on principle and present its own case, if the need arose, with no cause for hesitation.

Mr. Ross spoke about the frustration that had existed in the United Nations on the item in its long history. This had led to many emotional speeches and actions by the Assembly which tended to irritate further the feelings of the South Africans without bringing the problem any nearer to a solution. He was inclined to agree with the reasons listed by Mr. Sandifer for avoiding the position of taking the lead on this item. At the same time he felt that the United States could take a very strong position behind the scenes to develop a firm background for a solution. He suggested perhaps giving the Secretary General a role to play in bringing the parties together for negotiations. Mrs. Roosevelt said this seemed to be about the general position of the Delegation.

Mr. Williams said that the fundamental question involved here was how to respond to other resolutions on this subject. He drew a contrast between our approach on this subject in which we initially, at least, were against a commission working on this problem since the parties did not seem to want a commission, whereas in the case of the German elections, we said that a commission should be appointed to investigate the conditions behind the Iron Curtain in Germany as to [Page 852] the possibility of holding elections although it was obvious that the Soviets would not allow a commission to come to Eastern Germany. Mrs. Roosevelt said that we would avoid condemning the South Africans and urge that the parties get together. She realized the difficulty pointed out by Mr. Williams, but thought that a sufficient difference could be demonstrated in the two cases.

Mr. Vorys said that any resolution on which the United States votes support a solution of this problem in South Africa should be worded so that we would be prepared to have it apply to the United States as well, bearing in mind what Dr. Tobias had said.

Mr. Taylor recalled that there would be a plenary meeting the next day to hold Security Council elections and to vote for a replacement for Argentina on the Trusteeship Council. We would support El Salvador to replace Argentina. Morocco and the General Committee report on the new Soviet item on the Mutual Security Act, plus the Yugoslav item, would also be considered in plenary. The report of the Sixth Committee on procedures for handling the drafting of resolutions would be postponed to the following week.

Charles D. Cook