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325 Australian Delegation, United Nations, to Department of External Affairs

Cablegram UN1028 NEW YORK, 15 December 1946, 5.49 p.m.


Assembly 426. Fourth Committee Trusteeship. Further to our telegram Assembly 424. [1]

Trusteeship Agreement.

Three chapters of the Charter dealing with non-self-governing peoples (11, 12 and 13) have given rise to some of the most intensive work of the session, and fulfilled expectation at San Francisco that these chapters were among the most significant and original features of the Charter.

The most striking practical achievement of the Session has been the approval of agreements submitted by Australia, Belgium, France, New Zealand and United Kingdom bringing under International Trusteeship System eight of the territories formerly held under mandate. This has made possible the establishment of the Trusteeship Council and completion of the permanent institutional framework of United Nations.

All eight draft agreements were exhaustively discussed for a month. Some two hundred and thirty individual proposals were put forward for modifying the text submitted. The Australian agreement was approved exactly as submitted, with the addition of one article spelling out in somewhat greater detail Charter provisions for the benefit of native inhabitants, e.g. protection of native lands, promotion of education, progressive participation of indigenous inhabitants in administrative services etc. New Guinea now enters into a new international system under the agreement which is better than mandate both for inhabitants of the territory and the administering authority.

The Australian agreement, like others, was subject to vigorous attack, particularly by the Soviet Union and India. The object of the attack was- (a) To eliminate the Government's power to administer the territory as an integral part of Australia and establish appropriate form of organic association with adjacent territories, e.g. through administrative union or common services.

(b) To prevent the Government from establishing military bases in the territory except with the consent of the Security Council.

(c) To write into the agreement clauses providing for strict equality of treatment between Australian nationals and all other nationals of members of the United Nations in respect of entry into the territory and of economic and social activities within it.

The Australian Delegation argued that the agreement as it stood was fully consistent with the Charter, and that changes proposed would either be inconsistent with Charter or injurious to the interests of the native inhabitants or both. Power to administer as an integral part was the essential characteristic of the 'C' mandate, and has been exercised to promote the welfare of inhabitants.

To make the Australian defence programme in New Guinea subject to consent of the Security Council would be to run a grave risk of leaving territory defenceless for an indefinite period.

Australia had assumed vis a vis other members of the United Nations the new obligations contained in Article 76, but could not undertake to observe complete equality of treatment because that would be injurious to the welfare of the native inhabitants which the Charter made the paramount objective.

None of these attacks resulted in modification along the abovementioned lines of the agreement submitted. From the United States, which took a leading part throughout the work of the Fourth Committee, Australia received strong and effective support, also from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and other members of the British Commonwealth. India, though strongly criticising some individual articles, abstained in the final vote in the Assembly for approval of the agreement.

Chapter II. The majority of the Fourth Committee showed a strong tendency to widen scope of Chapter XI altogether beyond what was decided at San Francisco, and to set out (under cover of the proposition that what the Charter does not forbid it permits) upon a policy for creating machinery of United Nations supervision of obligations undertaken by unilateral declaration under Article 73.

Critics of colonial powers tended to ignore the fact that implementing of Chapter XI is a task not for the United Nations but for the national administrations themselves. The main role in New York of Australia (along with the United States, Britain and other colonial powers) was to clarify the difference between the system envisaged by Chapter XI [and that] of the International Trusteeship System.

The opinion at all stages was closely divided on this matter. At one of its closing meetings the General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending that members should convene conferences of representatives of non-self-governing peoples, preferably elected by the peoples themselves, in order to implement Chapter XI and to give the inhabitants of non-self-governing territories an opportunity to express their wishes and aspirations. This asserts interventionism of rather an extreme kind. Opposition by Colonial powers was successful to the extent of modifying proposals in such a way that initiative in calling conferences will remain with individual members. The Australian Delegation was at pains to make clear that initiative in South Seas Regional Conference was and must remain with convoking Governments and not with United Nations.

The General Assembly also adopted, against opposition from Australia and from other colonial powers, a procedure for handling the technical information about economic and social conditions in non-self-governing territories received by the Secretary General under Article 73(e). The proposal is to establish an ad hoc Committee, to meet for a month or so before the next session of the General Assembly and prepare a report for the General Assembly on information received from the administering powers and summarised and analysed by the Secretary General. Such a body could easily be made a means of launching at the next session of the General Assembly a detailed attack on colonial administrations. In the Australian Government's opinion no special procedure was necessary. The Secretary General could make information available to all members before the Assembly met and any member could raise questions if it so desired. The task will now be to make sure that this Committee works along constructive lines.

South West Africa-The Government of the Union of South Africa reported to the Assembly that European inhabitants of mandated territory of South West Africa unanimously, and African inhabitants by a very large majority, desired incorporation in the Union of formal termination of mandate. They asked the Assembly what implementation should be given to wishes of inhabitants. The proposal to incorporate the territory produced widespread and violent reaction in the General Assembly. India and Soviet Group played a leading part in denouncing the Union's racial policy. The majority of the Assembly was definitely anxious to adopt a resolution which declined to consider incorporation or annexation in any form, and by way of support were inclined to accept the Soviet contention that for mandatories, trusteeship system was not optional but obligatory. Eventually a formula, more courteous in character and more considerate of the difficulties of the South African Government, was devised by way of compromise. The essence of this formula was to revive the invitation given in February 1946 to all mandatories to bring mandated territories under the trusteeship system, and to remind the Union Government of its undertaking to administer in the terms of mandate until some other agreement had been reached with the United Nations as to the future of South West Africa. This resolution, however, was based partly on the extreme view that African inhabitants and territory are in too backward a condition to exercise any recognisable political choice in so difficult a matter. This motion was eventually carried by a large majority of the Assembly, but South Africa could not accept this verdict and abstained from voting, along with the United Kingdom, Australia and other members of the British Commonwealth.

1 Replying to a request from Dunk for a report on Australia's 'successes and failures', Watt had cabled in Assembly 424, dispatched 15 December, that pressure of work would limit him to a summary of major issues.

[AA:A1838/1, 306/1/4]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History