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269 Evatt to Officer

Cablegram 128 [1] CANBERRA, 4 September 1943


Your telegrams No. 165 and 173. [2] The Secretary of State for Dominions Affairs advised on 24th August that a reply incorporating suggestions from the Canadian Government would be sent to the Soviet Government as soon as possible. [3] This reply includes, inter alia, points concerning the constitutional status of the British Commonwealth of Nations which are set out in paragraph 2 of the following memorandum which should be used in your approach to the Soviet Government with the Canadian Minister.


1. The preliminary exchange of communications between the Soviet Government and the United Kingdom Government concerning the proposed establishment of a Commission of the United Nations for the investigation of war criminals has revealed a complete misconception in the minds of the Soviet Government as to the constitution of the British Commonwealth of Nations which His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia feels it important should be removed.

2. The Australian Government regards the constitution of the British Commonwealth of Nations as being entirely different from that of the Federated Republics of the U.S.S.R. Under the Soviet constitution of 1936 the Soviet Union alone is empowered to represent its Federated Republics in international relations and the Federated Republics thus have no individual national status.

On the other hand, the Dominions have long enjoyed full international status and the Dominion Governments all have the power to conclude treaties with other States. The self-governing Dominions are all separate members of the League of Nations, having long participated on a basis of equality with other sovereign Powers in international conferences and in the work of international organisations such as the International Labour Organisation.

3. The signature of the Treaty of Versailles by representatives of the British Dominions was evidence of their new status. Their position was further defined by the declaration adopted by the committee under the chairmanship of Lord Balfour appointed by the Imperial Conference of 1926 to report on questions affecting inter-Imperial relations. On this occasion the representatives of all the British nations agreed to define the mutual relations of 'the group of self-governing communities composed of Great Britain and the Dominions' in the following terms:-

'They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.'

4. From the above definition it is clear that while the British Dominions and the United Kingdom are linked to each other by a common allegiance to the King, they are, as self-governing units of the British Commonwealth of Nations, equal in status, and this equality extends not only to domestic but to foreign affairs. The Soviet Government have in fact, by agreeing to the exchange of diplomatic representatives with certain of the British Dominions, recognised their full international status and the Australian Government is concerned, therefore, that there is misconception evidenced by the comparison by the Soviet Government of the status of the Federated Republics of the U.S.S.R. with that of the British Dominions. In all matters of foreign affairs the Australian Commonwealth Government speaks as one, exclusively of the six federated Australian States. All [sic] Australia also speaks in foreign affairs independently of the Government of the United Kingdom or those of the other self-governing Dominions.


In conclusion you are to assure the Soviet Government that in 'participating in the work of the Commission, the Commonwealth Government hopes to co-operate fully with the other members of the Commission to ensure that the many grievous wrongs suffered by the victims of the Axis in all lands will be redressed and that the hideous crimes committed against humanity will be suitably punished and justice upheld.

1 Repeated to the High Commissioner in Canada as No. 157.

2 Dispatched 28 and 31 August respectively. On file AA:A989, 43/735/580. They concerned Officer's preparations for an approach to the Soviet Foreign Minister (V. M. Molotov) on the question of Dominion representation on the proposed United Nations War Crimes Commission.

3 See cablegram D586 on the file cited in note 2.

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

Category: International relations

Topic: History