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Tuesday, 21 June 1949


Dr EVATT (Barton) (Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs) - by leave- I am glad to have an opportunity of dealing with international affairs, especially in relation to the work of the United Nations, with particular reference to the completion of the work of the recent General Assembly. The two things cannot be separated - the international situation generally, and the work of the United Nations in all its branches, consisting, as the House knows, not only of the General Assembly of 59 nations, but also of the Security Council with a membership of eleven, including the five permanent members; a Trusteeship Council, consisting equally of those nations holding trust territories and those nations which do not hold trust territory; and last, but by no means least, of the Economic and Social Council, of eighteen members. Of those four bodies, Australia is at present a member of three, and was earlier a member of the Security Council. What I have done to assist in the consideration of this matter by the House is to prepare a very full and elaborate report of the work of the Assembly, annexing to it all the relevant resolutions adopted in the Assembly, together with other relevant matters. I shall finish my speech to-night by moving that the paper be printed so that all these matters can come up for discussion in the ordinary way, and I shall make available to each honorable member a copy of the report fully documented.

The outstanding fact in the world situation as it exists to-day is that the tension which was very acute at the beginning of the General Assembly in September of last year, and which, indeed, became aggravated during the course of the Assembly, has eased considerably. That is evident to all who study the international situation, even in the most cursory way. But for a considerable portion of the session held at Paris, that tension was not only maintained, but also accentuated, by the Berlin situation, many persons being most pessimistic about the outcome of the situation, and believing that it would lead to hostilities. Curiously enough, as I endeavoured to explain to honorable members when I reported to this House at the end of the Paris session, the United Nations was blamed by some critics, who held themselves out as critics, at any rate, for the situation in Berlin, solely because that situation was brought to the attention of the Security Council by the Western Powers, there being acute disagreement between the Western Powers and Russia. After consideration of the matter, the Security Council being unable to reach agreement on the Berlin situation, and the dispute - because it was a dispute, with three great powers on one side and one power on the other - remaining unsettled, the critics, looking at the superficial situation, were inclined to blame the United Nations for what was a Great Power disagreement begun outside the United Nations, continued outside the United Nations, and only reaching the United Nations as a last desperate resort in order to avoid a still more serious situation. The Berlin dispute is a good example in many respects of the kind of superficial analysis made of the United Nations. The United Nations is certainly the one world organization with authority to deal with questions of international peace and justice on a world basis, but the superficial observer tends to say : " The situation in this part of the world is troublesome. The United Nations should be able to prevent that ". What is almost always forgotten, and always forgotten by the type of critic I have mentioned, is that the United Nations organization was never established in order to make peace at the end of World War II. It was always contemplated, and the charter makes this evident, that the Great Powers would make peace independently of the United Nations, and that the United Nations organization, especially the Security Council, would maintain peace.

That has not been done, and all the tensions, all the difficulties, of the last few years have been due, in the main, to this outstanding fact of great power disagreement, which has become so difficult in the last twelve months that every dispute, every situation, has been affected by it. To-day, it is right to say, I think, that the position, is greatly changed, because at Paris the representatives of the four Powers have reached such a stage, in their discussions at any rate, that a very important area of great power agreement is at least highly probable .in relation to the Austrian peace treaty and the German situation, with particular reference to Berlin. Undoubtedly, the United Nations has, both through the General Assembly, and through the Security Council, played an important part in the re-opening of .these questions as between the great powers. The difficulty in September, October and November of last year was due to the fact that the great powers were not meeting to consider the question further. The gulf between them was considered to be unbridgable. The Berlin position was intolerable. A blockade of Berlin was imposed by Russia, contrary to the purpose of the Potsdam Agreement, and there the situation rested, hanging like a cloud over all the deliberations of the Assembly. Although the Security Council could not, in the absence of four-power agreement, because each of the four powers has the right of veto on every question of substance, solve the difficulty, the United Nations brought the dispute into the open, and points of view were put forward openly. There was strong criticism of the points put forward. The matter was brought to public attention, and the area of agreement was ascertained. Not only that, but the General Assembly itself intervened, and through a resolution sponsored by Mexico, and adopted unanimously by 58 nations, the great powers were requested to proceed with the major task of preparing the peace treaties, because it was thought that on that basis, the work and progress of the United Nations would depend, and they agreed to do so. Therefore, even if, as I gather from the latest messages I have received, the present procedings among the four great powers at Paris, require confirmation or clarification in one or two respects, there is no concealing the fact that the vital business of peace settlement delayed for so long is now being resumed. That is good news for the peace of the world. It is good for the United Nations. The United Nations has helped to bring about that result, but the greater part has been Drought about by the four Powers themselves. I ask honorable members to consider the report to which I have referred as supplementary to the earlier report that is already before the House. At Paris, very important decisions were made on certain matters, especially in relation to the social and economic side of the organization. For instance, there is the very important convention against the crime of genocide, which is the systematic extermination of people on the ground of race or religion. A bill (providing for the adoption by Australia of that convention will be considered during the present sessional period, and, in fact, is already on the table of the House. Then there was the important Declaration of Human Rights. During the recent meeting of the Assembly at New York, a further step of importance in the same area of the work of the United Nations was taken in connexion with the Draft Convention for the International Transmission of News. The full text of the convention is in the written report, but I can sum it up by saying that it aims at safeguarding the right of foreign correspondents engaged in the gathering and the international transmission of news from a country. A signatory to that convention must undertake to permit all news despatches by correspondents of other contracting States to enter its territory and reach news agencies on a non-discriminatory basis. A qualified international right of correction is given to a contracting State under which a State adversely affected by a report may submit its version of the facts to the government of the country in which publication has taken place, whereupon that government releases the correction to the agencies and correspondents through the customary channel.


Mr Beale - "Will the sending out of the original news be permitted?


Dr EVATT - Yes. Compulsory publication of corrections is not required by the convention, because it is assumed that information agencies will follow the ordinary professional practice and accept the duty of correcting misstatements of fact. In regard to that matter, the Australian delegation was assisted by a very distinguished editor, Mr. Campbell, of the Melbourne Aye, who played a prominent part in the preparation of this convention. The delegate, and the Australian Government would like to acknowledge publicly the service that Mr. Campbell performed. I shall not refer again to this matter in detail because it is fully covered in the written document. Other important matters raised at the New York Assembly are also referred to in detail in the report. They include the question of voting in the Security Council. That is the old question of the veto - the right of each of the five permanent members, namely the United Kingdom, Russia, the United States of America, France and China to veto any decision, except on matters relating purely to procedure, which, of course, rarely cause dispute in any case. For all practical purposes, each of the five permanent members possesses an individual right of veto. That matter was dealt with by the General Assembly, and recommendations were adopted very much on the lines of the proposals originally put forward at the San Francisco conference by a number of nations, including Australia. The proposals were not acceptable at San Francisco, and, looking back on the reports of the debates in this House that followed the San Francisco conference, I find that quite a number of speakers expressed the view that it would be useless to attempt any modification of the veto. However, world opinion has hardened on that point, and the General Assembly at New York suggested for the first time that a number of matters that were regarded as being subject to the veto should no longer bc so subject. That, I believe, is an important step forward. Another matter that was discussed was the alleged breach of fundamental human rights in Hungary and Bulgaria in the treatment of certain church leaders by the governments of those countries. Honorable members will recall that, in Hungary, Cardinal Mindszenty of the Roman Catholic Church and a bishop of the Lutheran Church were imprisoned, and in Bulgaria, fifteen Protestant pastors were brought to trial. That matter was put on the agenda of the Assembly, not because those individual cases would normally be of international concern, but because it was felt strongly that, in the guise of administering criminal law, actually what was being attempted in those States was interference with fundamental freedoms - in this instance freedom of religious worship. That matter was dealt with in the manner indicated in the printed report, a manner which, I consider, calls attention most strongly to the need for the closest investigation in the interests of the protection of the fundamental rights of all.

The Indonesian problem, too, was discussed at the General Assembly. That matter is not unfamiliar to the House. The Assembly supported the motion of the Security Council which had initiated a conciliation group in connexion with Indonesia, to try to settle finally the differences between the Republic of Indonesia and the Netherlands Government. The action of Australia and India in advocating conciliation in that dispute won the approval of an enormous majority of members of the General Assembly. Australia and India were publicly thanked by the representatives of other British Commonwealth Governments, including the Government of tha

United Kingdom itself. The treatment of Indians in South Africa, also came up for discussion in a form which is detailed in the written report. One aspect of the relationship between Greece and its three northern neighbours, Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, was dealt with, again, from the point of view of conciliation. Another question considered was the admission of a fifty-ninth member, the new State of Israel. The proposal for the admission of Israel was adopted. Spain was dealt with in the manner indicated in the printed report; and finally, the whole question of the Italian colonies was discussed. The manner in which this problem came before the Assembly is rather remarkable. At the peace conference in relation to Italy held in 1946, it was agreed that if the Great Powers could not agree upon a final settlement in relation to the Italian colonies, that function would be performed by the General Assembly of the United Nations. In the period of dissension to which I have already referred, no agreement was reached between the four Great Powers concerned, and the matter was listed for consideration by the General Assembly. Although no final settlement was reached, the manner in which the problem was considered, gave promise that a solution would be found at the next meeting of the Assembly. The great question upon which the Assembly was divided was the precise nature of the settlement over Tripolitania. The broad method of dealing with the problem of the Italian colonies as proposed to the Plenary Assembly, was that, in relation to Cyrenaica, Great Britain should be the trustee of that territory for the people for a period of ten years, after which self-government should be granted. France was to play a like role in relation to Fezzan. In regard to Tripolitania, the proposal was that Italy alone should be the trustee for a period of ten years. Eritrea was to be incorporated in Ethiopia and Italy was to be the trustee for Italian Somaliland. The settlement as proposed was rejected by only one vote in the General Assembly, largely because of the feeling of the minority - a sufficient minority - that the delay in granting self- government in connexion with Tripolitania was too long. I have very little doubt that there will be a modification of the proposal that was rejected by so narrow a margin and that when the General Assembly reconsiders the matter, as it is bound to do at its next meeting, it will reach a satisfactory settlement in connexion with the Italian colonies, based upon the principles of the Charter, those principles being the encouragement of self-government in all cases where peoples are fit for self-government and not merely in accordance with power or strategic considerations. All these matters are dealt with in detail in the written report.

What has happened in connexion with the General Assembly is worthy of some study. It is a very interesting result of Great Power disagreement. One result of Great Power disagreement is to give to the General Assembly a role far more important than that which was visualized when the Charter was drafted at San Francisco. Certainly at San Francisco a number of countries succeeded in broadening the powers and the functions of the General Assembly. All matters of real international concern within the wide scope of the Charter, including all its purposes and principles, the substitution of conciliation for force, the substitution of the principles of justice and law for those of power and expediency, the provision of machinery designed to secure better standards of living throughout the world, and the protection of the peoples of dependent territories, were brought within possible review by the General Assembly. That was a very considerable extension of the draft that was put before the San Francisco Conference at which the Charter was drafted. It is just as well that the powers of the General Assembly were drafted in so broad and comprehensive a form, because Great Power disagreement has imposed special responsibilities upon it. A fact that is often pointed to by way of criticism of the United Nations is that there has been no agreement between the Great Powers in the Security Council in connexion with the placing of military forces at the disposal of the council. Honorable members will recall that the giving of physical force to the Security Council in order to enforce its decisions was supposed to be one of the chief features of the Charter, as indeed it was, but there has been no agreement between the Great Powers in that resp-ct. I am not sure whether that has been a disadvantage. I cannot imagine that an attempt by the Security Council to use force in the difficult situations that have arisen during the last few years would have assisted the United Nations in the carrying out of its general objectives. It is very doubtful whether it would have been possible to get agreement as to the use of force, even if there had been agreement between the Great Powers on other matters.


Mr Francis - What was Australia's attitude to that question?


Dr EVATT - Australia, not being a permanent member of the Security Council, could adopt no attitude to it. It was purely a Great Power agreement, or rather an attempt to secure Great Power agreement on that matter. I am pointing out something that is quite different. The absence of physical force at the disposal of the Security Council has imposed greater responsibilities upon the General Assembly in certain respects. The real difficulty has been the individual veto that is possessed by each permanent member of the Security Council, which has in many instances precluded the possibility of agreement in the council, even in relation to a matter of conciliation as distinct from the possible solution of a dispute which might be enforced by military forces placed at the disposal of the council. The fact is that the continuance of Great Power disagreement has blocked decisions in the Security Council both in relation to the agreement to place physical force at the disposal of the council and in relation to the general problems of disarmament and atomic energy. Therefore, since 1945 the role of the Security Council has never included the use of force, but has been limited to adjudication on disputes in cases where a veto has not been exercised and the function of conciliation in cases where a veto has not been imposed. I emphasize that point. The Security Council is debarred from deciding to conciliate in regard to international disputes or situations if any one of the five permanent members of the council has raised a positive objection to that action by the use of its veto. It cannot conciliate in a dispute or a situation, and still less investigate the facts o' a dispute for the purpose of adjudicating and giving judgment upon it, except subject to the veto. Yet the Security Council has, under the Charter, primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security. In the situation that has developed during- the past three years the only organ of the United Nations that could act in these difficult situations has been the General Assembly. In my judgment, it is very fortunate that the Charter gave to the General Assembly a concurrent jurisdiction in all cases where there is an international dispute or a dispute affecting international peace and where the use of force is not in question, subject only to one qualification that 1 need not mention now. The General Assembly has exercised jurisdiction in matters of peace and security in cases where the use of the veto by a permanent member of the Security Council or a failure to obtain a majority in the council has prevented the council from making a decision. Let us take the case of Greece. That matter originally came before the Security Council, but the proposal to appoint a commission to go to Greece, examine the position at the border and report back to the council was vetoed by Russia. At that point nothing could he done in the United Nations jurisdiction by the Security Council. Accordingly, the General Assembly itself, exercising its concurrent jurisdiction in regard to the matter, decided to do exactly what had been proposed in the Security Council. The United Nations special commission to the Balkans was appointed. I think that the general view of all those who have studied the question fairly ib that that commission has rendered invaluable service in limiting the area of the dispute between Greece and its northern neighbours arid preventing what was certainly occurring at the time when the commission was appointed, that is, the giving of aid to the rebels in Greece, especially by Yugoslavia. A similar position arose in regard to Korea. The General Assembly itself had to act in order to hold the position as far as South Korea was concerned in relation, to North Korea. The Security Council could not act because of the veto that was threatened to be exercised, and the General Assembly acted. That is one type of matter in which General Assembly action has been successful when the Security Council could not act at all. When any decision under the Charter is called for, the General Assembly is empowered to deal with the matter. It is perfectly true that it cannot enforce its decision, as a court of justice can do internally, but there is no veto in the General Assembly. Therefore the majority rules, and, in important cases, there must be a twothirds majority. Consequently these matters find their way to the General Assembly, although some of them start in the Security Council. The result is that to-day, as for some time past, the General Assembly has been doing work that, in its primary aspect, was intended to be performed by the Security Council. But the . Security Council has not been able to perform that work because of disagreement among the Great Powers.

I shall now deal with the matter of conciliation, because one of the most important aspects of the last twelve months has been the attempts by the General Assembly to use the process of conciliation in connexion with disputes. For the reason that I mentioned a few moments ago, that would not have been possible, in many cases, through the Security Council. If the Great Powers disagree outside the Security Council, they are not likely to agree inside it. But in the General Assembly, where there is no such question of an individual veto, where each of the Great Powers has one vote and one vote only, and where there is a substantial majority in favour of taking a certain course, oven important subjects requiring a two-thirds majority can be decided. Some of those activities are listed in the detailed report; but all matters arising from the social and economic activities of the United Nations through the trusteeship system which is operating and which, in my opinion, is successful, and from the relationships of the United Nations with associated international bodies, such as the International Labour Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization and the

International Monetary Fund reach the General Assembly and give to the General Assembly the authority and status to look at all those questions of international co-operation from the point of view of the great objectives of the Charter. The fact is that the General Assembly, in case after case, has exercised most extensively functions which, in the first instance, could have been performed by the Security Council, but which, for some reason or other - mainly disagreement among the Great Powers - have found their way into the jurisdiction of the General Assembly.

The veto itself, by the initiative of the General Assembly in discussing the matter, by criticism of its use in a particular case, by criticism of the veto as a general principle, and by an appropriate recommendation, has come to be used far less frequently in the last eighteen months than it was in the first years of the United Nations. I do not think that the veto has been exercised in more than two instances in the last eighteen months. One case was in connexion with the Berlin situation. That is a remarkable fact. In my opinion, it is due to the General Assembly taking the initiative in criticizing the use of the veto in individual cases and acting, when the veto has been used, as in the instances that I have given. But the undoubted fact is that to-day the veto is used less than it was up to some two years ago. That is a triumph for world opinion, as expressed in the General Assembly particularly. The undoubted fact is that these discussions, criticism, suggestions and recommendations by the General Assembly do affect all the Powers represented in that body. Another matter, I consider, which is of equal importance is that the conception of the Australian veto itself in the Security Council is being altered in practice. Under the Charter, as honorable members will see if they read it literally, the mere abstention from voting by a permanent member would be regarded as sufficient to negative a proposal. The actual provision in the charter requires the assent of the five permanent members before the vote of seven in the Security Council of eleven can be deemed effective. In effect, the Security Council has agreed to an unwritten practice by which the abstention from voting by one of the five permanent members is not to be treated as a veto. That is a most important development. The Great Powers themselves have agreed upon this modification of the veto in practice by a liberal and a very unexpected construction of the Charter itself.

I believe that the responsibility of the General Assembly is well illustrated by its dealing with some of the individual eases that are set out in detail. One of the best illustrations is provided by the problem of Palestine. The British Government decided to give up the mandate in 1947, and referred to the General Assembly the whole question of the future of the government of Palestine. The General Assembly first of all appointed a special commission to go to Palestine, hear the evidence and make a report on the best way of solving that most difficult question. The commission was appointed and was directed to report back to the second annua] session of the Assembly in 1947. At its meeting in that year, the General Assembly resolved upon a decision in favour of the partition of Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish State as one State in Palestine. It was done, not by any pressure of power groups, but simply by an adjudicating committee that went to Palestine, heard the views of both sides, and reported, I think fairly, justly and impartially, on the whole problem. The General Assembly had to fill the vacuum that was left by the termination of the mandate, and, step by step, with all the difficulties that had encompassed the problem of Palestine, the United Nations has held to a steady course, through both the General Assembly and the Security Council. When_ the decision was given in favour of partition in 1947, two Arab States openly defied the decision of the General Assembly. War commenced, attacks were made, and the matter reached the Security Council. That body appointed its conciliator, and, although there were many difficulties, through the patience and fairness of the United Nations conciliators - Count Bernadotte, who lost his life in the cause of the United Nations, and, subsequently, Dr. Bunche - finally peace was negotiated between the warring countries in relation to Palestine. No doubt, that was an avoidance of something that could have turned out to be a complete catastrophe not only for the Middle East but also for the peace of the world.

I shall not enter into a discussion of the pros and cons of this most difficult problem, because honorable members are familiar with the position. The point that I desire to make is that the General Assembly of the United Nations looked at the problem purely from the point of view of what was the just solution in the interests of the people of Palestine. It had no other aim or object. That wa? certainly the aim of the delegation representing this country, and of the great majority of the delegates to the Genera"; Assembly. The position with the Security Council was similar. By patience and fairness, they were able to bring peace to Palestine. Now, Israel has become the 59th member of the United Nations.

The problem of Palestine is not settled. A commission of the United Nations is still endeavouring to make satisfactory arrangements for two things which are equally necessary and most important in connexion with the future government of Palestine. Israel is not the only country affected. There is also the Kingdom of Trans-Jordania, now called the Hashemite Kingdom, which lies to the wes* across the Jordan. The two matters which must be dealt with by the United Nations and in respect of which we look for maximum assistance from both Israel and the Kingdom of Trans-Jordania are, first, the repatriation of the Arab refugees, and, secondly, and more important, the question of the internationalization of Jerusalem in order to have permanent protection for all the holy places, because, in Jerusalem and Palestine, there are centred the deepest feelings, not only of Jews, Arabs and Moslems, but also of the whole Christian community of the world. The United Nations is about to undertake that task - -


Mr Beazley - Does the Minister expect Israel to accept the internationalization of Jerusalem?


Dr EVATT - I expect Israel to carry out the undertakings that it gave when it applied for admission to membership of the United Nations, and I think that it should carry out the internationalization of Jerusalem. Some objection was raised that that should be done before, and as a condition of, the entry of Israel into membership. I think that that was the wrong view to take. 1 do not think d at membership of the United Nations should be made conditional upon the performance of obligations in that way. I think that it is quite proper to accept the undertakings of these countries to carry out United. Nations decisions, and one of the United Nations decisions is to carry out the internationalization of Jerusalem. I think that we should expect, not only from Israel but also from its neighbour across the Jordan, readiness and willingness to carry out the United Nations decision in relation to inter n a tion aliization


Mr Beazley - Could they not validly plead that Jerusalem is a domestic matter ?


Dr EVATT - There are other aspects of the subject that I cannot deal with at the moment. The situation has altered to some degree. In my opinion, the principle of internationalization can be carried out now and should be carried out now. I have already referred to Greece and Korea in relation to General Assembly jurisdiction. There the work of the Assembly has been successful, I think, for the reasons that I have already given. One action taken by the General Assembly was the creation of a body called the Interim Committee of the Assembly. That is a further illustration of work done which would not have been necessary had Great Power agreement been maintained in the Security Council. Many matters of peace and security that would normally have gone to the Security Council have been dealt with in a preliminary way by that committee.

Most important of all, of course, was die General Assembly's intervention in relation to the Berlin dispute. The remarkable feature of that from the point of view of conciliation and the action of the Security Council was that, instead of the Great Powers asking the lesser powers to come together and settle a dispute between themselves, we had the extraordinary spectacle of; the lesser powers bringing the Great Powers to gether in the Security Council and, to a certain degree, in the General Assembly in order that the differences between the Great Powers might be conciliated. That was a remarkable thing and a very good development. It has shown that, instead of the United Nations being simply a Great Power organization, every one of the 59 members can play its part, not as a passive spectator, but actively in the work of the Assembly. I have seen this thing working. I have said before and I repeat, because it is true, that there is no power in the Assembly so great that it does not attend to the opinion of the majority of the Assembly and the criticisms publicly uttered in the Assembly. Equally, there is no power so small that it cannot influence the decisions of the Assembly. I have seen 'representatives of some of the very smallest of countries stand in their places in the Assembly and make contributions that had a telling effect upon the deliberations in committee and in plenary assembly. The fact is that the organization is working. Make no mistake about that! It is there to stay. Nothing can stay its progress now that Great Power disagreement has been lessened and the area of Great Power understanding is gradually being extended.

I bel:eve that the United Nations Assembly has rendered a very great contribution to the maintenance of peace, especially during the last two or three most difficult years. Further, and what 1 consider to be very important, as was illustrated very clearly by the cases that I have mentioned from Bulgaria and Hungary, the General Assembly has come to be a tribunal to which important matters in connexion with human rights may be 'brought when manifest injustice having international significance has occurred in any part of the world. I regard this as very important. Several illustrations are contained in the report. They deal not only with Bulgaria and Hungary but also with other cases to which honorable members will refer. I claim this for the General Assembly of the United Nat' ons, in respect of which I am mainly speaking to-night-


Mr Spender - Hear, hear!


Dr EVATT - In respect of which I am mainly speaking to-night! I think it proper that I should report-


Mr Beale - Why not speak as an Australian ?







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