301. Minutes of the Tenth Meeting of the Delegation to the United Nations General Assembly, New York, October 25, 1955, 9:30 a.m.2


[Here follows discussion of Administrative Tribunal judgments.]

Race Conflict in South Africa

Congressman Merrow then asked Mr. Sisco3 to outline our position on the “Race Conflict in South Africa” item which was scheduled to come up in the Ad Hoc Committee that week.

Mr. Sisco pointed out that the South African Government had long followed a policy of segregation against 9,000,000 Negroes in the Union of South Africa as well as 1,500,000 people of mixed blood and about 350,000 Asians, mainly Indians. The National Party now in power had embarked upon a policy of discrimination manifested in the Groups Areas Act.4 The question of Apartheid had been on the General Assembly’s agenda since 1952, Mr. Sisco explained. In that year the General Assembly set up a commission of three members to keep the question under review and to make recommendations about how the situation could be improved. Each year, Mr. Sisco said, the Committee had submitted a report but no fruitful achievements had resulted. The Committee report had for this year concluded: 1) that Apartheid created hardships and tensions [Page 776] and was in conflict with Articles 55 and 56 of the Charter, and 2) that while the Apartheid policy was still in force it was being implemented at a slower pace.5 Mr. Sisco said, parenthetically, that the State Department analysis did not agree with this latter conclusion. The Commission had suggested as steps which might bring about an improvement in the situation: 1) more frequent contacts among the different races in South Africa and 2) UN technical experts who might be able to give useful advice upon the racial question.

The South African Government took the position that the UN lacked competence to discuss this question on the ground that it fell solely within the domestic jurisdiction of South Africa. Asian and African delegations felt on the contrary, that the UN was fully competent to deal with the matter. We had taken the position since 1953, Mr. Sisco explained, that the question should be approached with great caution. We had felt that the issue should be dealt with as a broad social problem and not merely as a question involving South Africa alone. Furthermore, we questioned the wisdom of continuing the life of the Commission on the grounds that it had not been effective in finding a constructive solution. We also had certain doubts as to competence. Congressman Merrow planned in the Ad Hoc Committee to make a statement affirming our opposition to racial discrimination and outlining our own failures and achievements in this field. Congressman Merrow would then make clear our willingness to support some kind of general resolution on this item.6 The Indians had suggested that the present Commission be replaced by a rapporteur, who would be charged with reviewing developments on this question. Without taking the lead ourselves, Mr. Sisco said, we would like to see a resolution that would end the Commission on the ground that it had not been effective and which would not require that the item be placed automatically on the agenda of the eleventh General Assembly. A few Latin American Delegations, Mr. Sisco said, tended to favor the appointment of an official, possibly from the Secretariat, who would receive information but would not be required automatically to report to the next General Assembly.

Mr. Sisco noted that the South African Delegation had withdrawn from the Ad Hoc Committee yesterday but had announced that it reserved the right to be present to vote on any resolution on [Page 777] this matter. Our position would depend primarily on the type of resolutions tabled by the Indians and the Latin Americans.

Mr. Bell7 asked how we could reconcile our position on this question with our position on Algeria since on the face of it both involved intervention in domestic affairs. Mr. Sisco said that he had asked Mr. Meeker8 before the meeting to prepare a legal memorandum on the question of competence, and that Mr. Meeker was prepared to address himself to this point.

Mr. Meeker explained that our position on South Africa rested on Articles 55 and 56 of the Charter, which stated as a purpose of the UN the promotion of respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion, and obligated UN Members to take joint and separate action in cooperation with the Organization for the achievement of this purpose. This obligation of UN Members was a matter of international and not domestic concern. Apartheid, Mr. Meeker continued, was not an isolated episode but a whole course of policy regarding racial discrimination. Thus the issue arose as to whether South Africa was not living up to its Charter obligations; under Article 10 of the Charter “the General Assembly may discuss any questions or any matters within the scope of the present Charter … and … may make recommendations to the Members of the United Nations … ”9 The Algerian question differed from the South African question because the sponsors of the Algerian complaint showed that their object was a General Assembly resolution calling for a new constitutional law of the French Republic which would change the status of Algeria in relation to France. In the South African item there was no question of altering the South African constitution, but rather a complaint that South Africa was not living up to its human rights obligations under the Charter. There was thus a distinction, albeit a difficult one.

Mr. Bell asked if under the same reasoning it would not be possible for the UN to seek to interfere in US domestic policies with respect to the racial question. Mr. Meeker pointed out that the situation in the U.S. was totally different from that prevailing in South Africa. In the U.S. while progress might not be as consistent or as rapid as could be desired, it was still occurring, and the direction in the U.S. was toward meeting the obligations accepted in the Charter. The direction here was forward—not backward—Mr. Meeker said. In South Africa the opposite was true as the government there was trying to turn back the clock.

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Mr. Brokenburr10 asked whether we might not be accused of retreating on this issue if we should take the position this year that the question should no longer automatically be placed on the agenda. Mr. Brokenburr suggested that such a position might place us in an unfavorable light and leave us vulnerable to charges that we were taking the position because of racial conditions in the U.S. Mr. Brokenburr agreed with Mr. Meeker about the distinction between the situation in South Africa and the situation here but suggested that we might harm our own standing by appearing faint-hearted on this question.

Mr. Sisco agreed with Mr. Brokenburr’s observation and pointed out that for those reasons in particular we did not plan to push, ourselves, for the kind of resolution outlined above but to support such a resolution if presented by others and to attempt to focus attention on the question of the usefulness of UN action in this field.

Senator Pastore11 commented that we should beware lest our chickens come home to roost. The position proposed above, Senator Pastore suggested, seemed to be based on the idea that it was futile to consider discussing this question when little accomplishment of a concrete nature seemed to be possible. We had taken the general position, however, Senator Pastore pointed out, that the development of world opinion was one of the basic strengths of the UN and, as a corollary to this, that we should not stop talking merely because the fruits of such talk were not immediately apparent. Senator Pastore suggested that talk in itself could be extremely significant, as, for example, in keeping alive the hope of liberation among the Satellite people. This, Senator Pastore said, was an extremely delicate problem. It might also be suggested by our critics, Senator Pastore said, that we were willing to dilute a South African resolution because of our concern over South Africa’s uranium deposits. If we agreed with the human rights provisions of the Charter, we should be explicit in saying so, Senator Pastore said. We should, in fact, go out of our way to emphasize these provisions since the chief violator of them was the Soviet Union who, by our silence, was “getting away with murder.”

Mr. Blaustein12 agreed that we should not retreat on this principle but that on the contrary we should reiterate our support for basic human rights. Congressman Merrow observed that more [Page 779] attention would have to be paid to this question at another meeting since the time was growing late.13

  1. Source: Department of State, IO Files. Secret. Drafted on November 29. No other drafting information is given on the source text. In the absence of Ambassador Lodge and Congressman Brooks Hays, Congressman Chester E. Merrow presided.
  2. Joseph J. Sisco, an adviser to the delegation.
  3. The Group Areas Act or Act 49 of 1950 was intended to restrict “Natives”, “Coloureds”, and whites to their own areas in respect to ownership, occupancy, and trading. The second group incorporated Indians, Malays, and Chinese.
  4. U.N. doc. A/2953 contains the Commission’s third report, which covered the period from August 1954 through July 1955.
  5. Merrow’s statement in the Ad Hoc Committee, October 27, is contained in USUN Press Release 2251, issued that same day. (Department of State, IO/ODA Files: Lot 62 D 228, Africa Apartheid—pre-1959)
  6. Laird Bell, Alternate Representative.
  7. Leonard C. Meeker, senior adviser to the delegation on legal affairs.
  8. Ellipses are in the source text.
  9. Robert L. Brokenburr, Alternate Representative.
  10. Senator John O. Pastore (Rhode Island).
  11. Jacob Blaustein, Alternate Representative.
  12. On November 9, the Ad Hoc Political Committee adopted a draft resolution sponsored by 17 nations (A/AC.80/L.1 and Corr. 1 and 2) by a vote of 37 to 7, with 13 abstentions. The United States abstained on the resolution as a whole while voting against the extension of the Commission. The United Kingdom, with U.S. support, took the lead in seeking to prevent the necessary two-thirds approval by the General Assembly for the continuation of the Commission. On December 6, only 33 members supported it while 17, including the United States, were opposed, and 9 abstained. Resolution 917(X) commended the Commission for its work, regretted South Africa’s lack of cooperation, expressed concern that apartheid was being perpetuated, and called on the South African Government to adhere to Article 56 of the Charter. See Yearbook of the United Nations 1955, pp. 69–72. Documents on this subject are in Department of State, Central File 845A.411.