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263 Evatt to Officer

Cablegram 124 CANBERRA, 25 August 1943


War Crimes Commission.

In March last United Kingdom Government communicated to the United States, Soviet and Chinese Governments a proposal to call a conference of all Allied Governments to make formal arrangements for carrying into effect the agreement of the four Governments to establish a United Nations Commission for the Investigation of War Crimes. [1]

The United Kingdom proposal was that the headquarters of the Commission should be in London and that Panels should be set up in Moscow, Chungking and Washington to carry out local investigations. The membership of the Commission should be restricted to the United Kingdom, the United States, Soviet Union, China, the Allied Governments in London and the Dominion Governments if they so desired.

In a reply forwarded last July the Soviet Government agreed to the general lines of the proposal although suggesting that the existing State Commission for the Investigation of War Crimes in the Soviet Union obviated the need for setting up any Panel at Moscow. They also suggested that the Chairmanship should alternate between the four great powers instead of being held by the United States. As regards membership of the Commission, the Soviet Government said that it was prepared to meet the wishes of the British Government for the participation of the British Dominions and India on condition that participation in the work of Commission was also secured for the Federated Republics of the U.S.S.R., namely the Ukrainian, Byelo-Russian, Moldavian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian and Karelo-Finnish Republics. [2]

The United Kingdom Government prepared a draft reply to the Soviet Union and circulated it for comment to the Dominions. [3] This reply made the following points regarding Dominion membership of the Commission:-Constitution of the member States of the British Commonwealth of Nations was entirely different from the Federated Republics of the U.S.S.R. which have no individual international status and which would not be recognised by other Governments as being qualified to have representation on an inter-governmental Commission. The Dominions and India had long enjoyed their own individual international status with power to conclude treaties and with separate representation on the League of Nations and they had long participated on a basis of equality with other sovereign powers in international conferences and in the work of international organisations such as the I.L.O. Moreover, they had all made important contributions in men and materials to the common struggle in theatres far removed from their own territories.

On receipt of this draft reply the Canadian Government sent a telegram to London reading in part as follows:-'We feel that the serious misconceptions which are evident in the Soviet Government's comments must be cleared up as soon as possible as otherwise they will return to plague us in other connections. We propose to instruct the Canadian Minister in Moscow to take up directly with the Soviet Authorities their misunderstandings of the constitutional and international position of Canada, and consider that this approach would be more likely to do some good if it were made very shortly after the United Kingdom reply has been transmitted to the Soviet Embassy in London.' [4]

I have informed Mackenzie King of my strong agreement with view that Soviet Government must be made to understand constitutional and international position of Dominions. [5]

You are therefore to associate yourself with the Canadian Minister in representations to the Soviet Government designed to establish clearly the international status of the Dominions, making clear the constitutional position of the Australian Commonwealth within the British Commonwealth and our recognised participation in our own right and with our individual status in international affairs.


1 The U.K. Govt notified the Dominion Govts of the proposals on 5 March. See circular cablegram D130 on file AA:A989, 43/735/580.

2 A copy of the text of the Soviet reply as repeated to the Commonwealth Govt is contained in circular cablegram D544 of 14 August on the file cited in note 1.

3 See circular cablegram D545 of 14 August on the file cited in note 1.

4 The Canadian Govt repeated their views to the Commonwealth Govt on 21 August. See cablegram 8 on the file cited in note 1.

5 See Document 262.

[AA:A989, 43/735/580]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History