The Tunisian question was considered at the seventh session of the United Nations Assembly against a background of the serious disturbances which had occurred in Tunisia in January, 1952, and of several attempts during the course of the year to have the matter brought before a United Nations body. A fuller account of these developments is given in Canada and the United Nations 1951-52 (pp. 28-30).
The present report is divided into two parts. Section A contains unclassified information relating to the examination of the Tunisian question at the seventh session of the General Assembly and the attitude adopted by Canada. Some of this material would probably be suitable for inclusion in Canada and the United Nations 1952-53, Section B is a confidential analysis of the Tunisian question and the Canadian position in the light of problems faced and experiences gained in New York. This material may prove useful in the preparation of future instructions for our Delegation to the United Nations, should the Tunisian question again appear likely to crop up on the agenda.
SECTION A [UNCLASSIFIED]
By a joint letter of July 30, 1952, the permanent representatives at the United Nations of thirteen African and Asian states requested the inclusion of the Tunisian problem on the provisional agenda of the seventh session of the General Assembly. An explanatory memorandum annexed to this request blamed the French authorities for the alleged breakdown of negotiations for constitutional reform in Tunisia and charged them with having adopted -repressive measures- against the Tunisian people. The memorandum asserted that the question was being referred to the United Nations in order that a just and peaceful settlement of a serious situation might be achieved.
On October 15, the General Committee decided without division to recommend to the General Assembly the inclusion of the Tunisian and Moroccan items on the agenda of the seventh session, although the Representative of France stated that he would not take part in the discussion or vote on inclusion, since his country could not accept any interference in these questions. The General Assembly, on October 16, accepted the recommendation of the General Committee and, on the following day, referred the Tunisian question to the First Committee for consideration and report.
When M. Robert Schuman, Chairman of the French Delegation, addressed the Assembly in the general debate on November 10, he dealt at length on the relations of his country with Tunisia and Morocco. M. Schuman maintained that France had reconstituted the sovereignty of these territories. With French guidance they had made remarkable progress in the fields of agricultural and industrial development, public health, education and labour relations. France intended fully to honour her obligations under the Charter, which were similar to provisions in the preamble of the French constitution for the guiding of dependent people toward freedom to govern themselves and democratically to marriage their own affairs. France was willing to renounce gradually the powers she held under the Tunisian protectorate treaties. The inequality existing in the Franco-Tunisian relationship, which was due to an inequality of means and resources, was meant to disappear, making room for a true partnership. France alone, however, was in a position to decide the stages and timing of the political evolution of Tunisia in consultation with duly qualified Tunisian representatives. The United Nations was not capable of assuming this responsibility and, in any case, was legally debarred from interfering both by Article 2(7) of the Charter and by the provisions of the treaties binding France to Tunisia. An attempt by the United Nations to interfere would encourage instigators of disorder and terrorism in Tunisia. More important, it would seriously harm the United Nations itself. At any rate France would under no condition tolerate United Nations intervention.
Following upon M. Schuman's pronouncement, the French Delegation informed the Chairman of the First Committee that it would be unable to participate in the Committee's discussions of the Tunisian and Moroccan problems. Subsequent debate both in Committee and in plenary session, was carried on in the absence of French representatives.
The Tunisian question was, none the less, fully examined with a large number of African, Asian, Commonwealth, Latin-American, Soviet, and Western European representatives taking part in the discussions.
The first problem to be decided by the Committee related to the proposed participation in the discussions of representatives of France and of Tunisia. On December 10, the Pakistani Representative put forward a 2-point proposal appealing to the Government of France to instruct its Delegation to take their rightful seats in the Committee and inviting the Bey of Tunis to depute a representative to take part in the discussions. Arab and Asian speakers argued that equity demanded that both parties to the Tunisian dispute be heard; that United Nations precedents existed for the proposal to hear a representative of the Bey; and that the proposed procedure was quite in line with the protectorate treaties. In any case, according to these speakers, there was no other way for the Committee to gel a clear understanding of the Bey's position regarding the interpretation of the protectorate treaties, which was one of the contested issues. Other speakers, notably the Representative of the United States, took the view that Article 6 of the Treaty of Bardo would appear to preclude the hearing of a representative of the Bey unless prior agreement with the French Government had been arranged. Furthermore, both precedent and a Sound conception of the political committees of the General Assembly made it clear that these bodies were essentially deliberative and should not try to assume the functions of a court by hearing a series of witnesses. Finally the opponents of the Pakistani proposal contended that to invite a representative of the Bey was not likely to facilitate a solution in Tunisia but, on the contrary, would be a further source of tension.
The part of the Pakistani proposal relating to an invitation to a representative of the Bey was rejected in Committee by 26 votes (including those of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom) to 24 (Arab, Asian and Communist as well as some Latin-American states), and 7 abstentions. When this clause was defeated, Arab and Asian states abstained on the resolution as a whole with the result that no part of the resolution was adopted, although in the clause by clause voting, the appear to the French Government had previously carried by a vote of 19 in favour, 16 against, and 22 abstentions (including Canada and the United States).
In the discussion on the substance of the Tunisian question, two resolutions were put forward. The first was sponsored by the 13 African and Asian states which had brought the Tunisian question before the United Nations; the second by Brazil along with ten supporting Latin-American states. The African-Asian resolution urged the Government of France to establish normal conditions and normal civil liberties in Tunisia; recommended the resumption of negotiations between the French and the true representatives of the Tunisian people; provided for the establishment of a United Nations Committee of Good Offices to assist in the negotiations; and decided to include the Tunisian item on the provisional agenda of the next session of the General Assembly. The Latin-American resolution expressed the confidence of the General Assembly that the French Government would endeavour to further the effective development of the free institutions of the Tunisian people in conformity with the Charter; expressed the hope that the parties continue negotiations on an urgent basis with a view to bringing about self-government for Tunisia; and appealed to the parties to refrain from any acts likely to aggravate the present tension.
In the debate in the First Committee, member states appeared to be divided into three fairly distinct groupings. The African and Asian sponsors argued in support of their resolution on grounds of security, of law, of human rights, and of the principle of the self-determination of peoples. They took a very serious view of the disturbances in Tunisia and maintained that international peace and security were being endangered by allowing the situation to go on unchecked in the face of French policies involving force and repression. Nor, they contended, could the United Nations escape its responsibility on the grounds that the problem was within French domestic jurisdiction, since France itself recognized the sovereignty of the Bey and indeed took its stand on the provisions of the protectorate treaties. If these treaties were valid international instruments, they could not be interpreted unilaterally by one of the parties to them; and if the other party charged that they were being violated, the only way to determine the validity of the charges was to examine the question in an international forum like the United Nations which was expressly created as a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the interests of peace. Many of the African and Asian states agreed that Tunisia had made progress in a technological sense under French guidance; at bottom, however, France had abused her privileges as a protecting power, and, by permanent military occupation, mercantilist economic policies, land grants to French settlers and, above all, by the assumption of direct control of the administration of Tunisia, had in effect reduced Tunisia to the status of a colony. Furthermore, France seemed determined to keep the Tunisians in an inferior position, since a representative government had not been established in Tunisia in spite of the wishes of the Bey and of the Tunisian people. On the contrary, in return for minimal concessions, in the direction of self government but hedged with innumerable controls, France sought to establish the principle of co-sovereignty in Tunisia.
The argument of African and Asian speakers went on to invoke Article 1 of the Charter referring to the principle of the self-determination of peoples and Article 55 regarding the promotion of human rights. On the latter question, reference was made to the state of siege to which Tunisia had been subject since 1938, and to alleged acts of violence and repression by the French, the incarceration of Tunisian leaders and the general curtailment of civil liberties. The Indian Representative contended that, even if French government had been uniformly good and Tunisian nationalism had been inspired by French liberal ideas, "good government was no substitute for self-government". Tunisia, which had fought on the side of the Allies in two world wars, should not be denied its freedom when so many less developed countries in Africa and Asia had secured their independence, and when the whole movement of current history pointed to the re-emergence of dependent peoples towards freedom to govern themselves.
The African and Asian speakers were supported by representatives of the Soviet bloc, who sought to illustrate not only that Tunisia was being exploited economically for the benefit of France, but also that Tunisian territory was being used to further the military policies of the United States and the North Atlantic bloc.
At the opposite pole from the African, Asian and Soviet countries was a smaller group of states including Australia, Belgium, South Africa and the United Kingdom. These states considered that the United Nations had no jurisdiction with respect to Tunisia. They therefore did not speak on the substance of the problem, but confined themselves to legal arguments. The provisions of the Treaty of Bardo, it was contended, and particularly the article entrusting the French Government with responsibility for Tunisia's external affairs, placed the Tunisian question within the domestic jurisdiction of France: otherwise the French Government would be in the absurd position of making diplomatic representations to itself. It could not properly be argued, as had been done, that Tunisia had an international juridical personality and, at the same time, that it was a dependent territory and, therefore, subject to Chapter XI of the Charter. The Representative of Australia referred to an Australian proposal at the San Francisco conference of 1945 which might have led to an extension of the authority of the United Nations with respect to non-self-governing territories. This proposal had been rejected, thus making it clear that the states signing the Charter did so on the understanding that the United Nations should not have supervisory responsibilities with respect to dependent territories, except for trust territories and the provision of non-political information under Article 73(e) of the Charter. The Belgian Representative also referred to the records of the San Francisco Conference, pointing out that the framers of the Charter consciously chose to shield member states from interference by the United Nations in their domestic affairs. This was done inter alia by the use of the phrase "essentially within the domestic jurisdiction" in Article 2 (7), which was much broader than the corresponding phrase in the Covenant of the League of Nations "solely within the domestic jurisdiction". The wording of Article 2 (7) of the Charter thus removed from the jurisdiction of the United Nations many matters which might have incidental international aspects, but which remained essentially domestic. Assuming Tunisia was essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of France, the United Nations could only properly interfere if international peace and security were threatened, No one could maintain that this was the case. The human rights provisions of the Charter, which bring the problem within the jurisdiction of the United Nations even though it were domestic, were solemn statements of purpose but not binding legal obligations.
A third group of states, including, apart from the eleven sponsors of the Latin American resolution, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, Norway and the United States, took an intermediate position. Broadly, these states did not consider that the Tunisian question represented a threat to international peace and security. Their views on the competence issue were not identical, but they were generally agreed that the United Nations was competent under the Charter at least to discuss the Tunisian problem in view of the wide concern which it had aroused among member states. The supporters of the Brazilian resolution paid tribute to French culture and liberal traditions, as well as to the role of France in the free world at the present time. They drew attention to the assurances of the French Foreign Minister that France intended fully to honour her obligations under the Charter and to be faithful to the promises embodied in the French constitution. At the same time, these states reflected a sympathetic attitude toward the aspirations of the Tunisian people for self-government. The Tunisian case should be viewed in the context of the evolutionary process by which many peoples had achieved, or were moving toward, freedom to govern themselves. The Canadian Representative referred to the evolutionary process by which Canada had acquired the status of a sovereign nation, emphasizing the mutually beneficial experience of continuing close cooperation between the protecting power and the newly emerging sovereign state. Both Canada and other states in the same group pointed out that the strongest agreements were those reached by mutual consent, and expressed the hope that the parties to the present dispute would sincerely strive to find an agreed solution to their difficulties. The Representative of Norway, noting that the General Assembly had powers of recommendation only, appeared for the highest degree of unanimity among member states in order that the moral force of any resolution passed should have a maximum effect. Both he and other representatives in this group thought that the Brazilian resolution should command this necessary unanimity.
When a vote was taken on the two draft resolutions, the African-Asian proposal was rejected by a vote of 24 in favour, 27 against and 7 abstentions. African, Asian and Communist states supported the resolution while Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, most Latin-American states, and Western European countries opposed it. Greece and six Latin-American countries abstained. The Latin-American resolution was adopted by a vote of 45 in favour (including Arab, Asian and Latin-American states, the Scandinavian group, Canada and New Zealand, and the United States), 3 against (Belgium, Luxembourg and the Union of South Africa), and 10 abstentions (including Australia, the United Kingdom and the Soviet bloc). Before the vote was taken on the Latin-American resolution, the Indian Representative offered two amendments which would have deleted the paragraph in the Brazilian resolution expressing the Assembly's confidence that France would endeavour to further the effective development of free institutions in Tunisia, and which would have added a new paragraph requesting the President of the General Assembly to keep under observation the progress of the negotiations, and to give, in his discretion, such assistance as might be useful. Both these amendments were rejected when the vote was taken on the Latin-American resolution. On December 17 the General Assembly approved without change the resolution adopted in Committee by a vote of 44 to 3, with 8 abstentions.
SECTION B [SECRET]
(a) General approach to the problem of Tunisia at the United Nations
In contrast to the classical position of the silent abstainer in the face of directly conflicting attitudes by the United States and the United Kingdom, Canada found itself more and more in the company of middle-of-the-road states on the racial and colonial issues which were prominent on the agenda of the seventh session of the General Assembly. Many of the same nations (including Canada and the United States), for instance supported moderate resolutions on the South African apartheid item and the Tunisian and Moroccan items, while the United Kingdom regarded the discussion of al] these questions as outside the competence of the United Nations.
When the Delegation's instructions on the North African items were being prepared in the Department, we were aware of the general thinking of the United States State Department and the United Kingdom and French Foreign Offices as the result of consultations through our missions on the spot. Although we had had no pre-Assembly discussions with Scandinavian and Latin-American representatives, the Delegation collaborated closely with members of these groups in New York. We have strong grounds for believing, that the United States representatives did discuss the Tunisian situation thoroughly with Ambassador Muniz of Brazil and very probably helped to inspire the resolution formally proposed by the Brazilian Delegation.
Our general position on Tunisia would appear to be fairly similar to that of the United States. As a NATO power and an ally of France, we might be suspect to the Arabs and Asians if we had decided, or in future do decide, to take an initiative on this question. Furthermore, in order to command the respect and to secure the degree of support which any mediatorial effort would require to be effective, we should probably have to be willing to put a greater strain on our relations with the French than we might normally be willing to risk.
It would therefore seem to follow that, if we have ideas which we believe would be helpful and constructive in any future airing of the Tunisian question at the United Nations, and if we are unwilling to take the initiative ourselves, we should think in terms of consultation with the group of states with which we have been most closely associated during the seventh session of the Assembly. These would include the United States, Brazil, Norway and New Zealand.
(b) Liaison with the United States
Our liaison with the United States State Department is already very close. We might, however, consider enquiring of the State Department, if it appears likely that Tunisia is to be discussed again, about the role they expect Latin-American states to play. We might, thereby, come to learn of preliminary conversations which may have been taking place between the United States and the Latin-American nations.
We might also perhaps try to learn more of the tactics which the State Department may be planning for the United States Delegation. At the seventh session, the United States Delegation took a very rigid position with respect to rather mild amendments to the Latin-American resolutions on both Tunisia and Morocco. The United States Delegation threatened to vote against any resolution which did not follow the exact formula proposed by the Latin-American sponsors and actually carried out this threat with respect to Morocco by voting against the Latin resolution as a whole in the First Committee when a minor Pakistani amendment had been adopted. This tactic produced an expression of resentment from the Pakistanis and may have done the United States some harm among the African and Asian group as a whole. It is probable that the decision to apply this pressure was taken in the light of events in New York, more particularly when the possibility developed of pushing the Latin-American resolutions through without amendment. In preparing any instructions for a future delegation, we should probably do well to bear in mind the possibility of sudden tactical moves by the United States Delegation.
The Scandinavians and ourselves did not follow the United States gyrations on the Moroccan item at the seventh session, and the sponsoring Latin-American states were somewhat reluctant to go along with them. Any information which our Embassy in Washington might be able to secure on possible "pressure tactics', would be useful for us to know and might save the Delegation from facing an embarrassing choice at the last moment. The Delegation itself should bear in mind the importance of close consultation with the United States Delegation in the hope of getting warning at as early a stage as possible of any dramatic switches.
From a broader point of view, it would also be helpful to consider how far we should try to prevail upon the United States to refrain from adopting tactics of the type used at the seventh session. It would seem that one of our general objectives at the United Nations is to instil in the Arab-Asian group a sense of responsibility and a willingness to accept moderate proposals if the majority feeling in the United Nations is against adopting the stronger measures which they may favour. It is difficult to instil this sense of compromise if we, and particularly the United States, reveal ourselves as unwilling to compromise in the face of reasonable amendments and use our voting power in a way which we deplore when it is done by the Arab bloc. Insofar as we are serious about the exercise of "Bridging the Gap", the adoption of a very rigid position and the use of bloc voting should, it would seem, be avoided.
(c) Consultation with Other States
The Delegation collaborated intimately with the Brazilians at all stages of the Tunisian and Moroccan debates. We gave them discreet encouragement to go ahead with the proposal when they were in some doubt following the French Cabinet's rejection of it. (The Brazilian proposal was discussed in confidence with M. Schuman, who was personally not inclined to oppose it and agreed to put it to the French Cabinet.) It was helpful to us, both in the preparation of our statements and in our voting, to be informed by the Brazilian Delegation of the tactical moves of the Latin-American sponsors. It would seem advisable to consider pre-Assembly discussions either with the Brazilians or with other Latin-American states who may be planning to take the initiative on the Tunisian or Moroccan questions should it appear likely that these problems will again be coming before the United Nations. In any event, it would be advisable for our Delegation to establish contact with the Latin-American representatives at an early stage in a future session since, even if no moves are planned before the Assembly, it is quite possible that compromise moves on Tunisia will continue to come from this quarter.
It would also seem useful to keep in close touch with the Scandinavians. We understand that Mr. Finn Moe of Norway was seriously considering putting forward a mild resolution on Tunisia if the Brazilian initiative had not gone forward. Although personalities are bound to vary from year to year, Mr. Moe seemed to be the leader of the Scandinavian group on the North African items at the seventh session, and the representatives of Sweden and Denmark were reluctant to state their position on these questions before they had consulted with him. If we continue to attach importance to the consideration that NATO powers should not participate too directly in the North African questions, we should bear in mind the possibility of the Norwegians using their influence with the Swedes to sponsor a compromise proposal. The fact that the Trades and Labour Congress and the Canadian Congress of Labour have jointly expressed an interest in the North African problems is a further consideration arguing in favour of pre-Assembly discussions with the Norwegians, assuming that labour and social democratic forces continue to have preponderant influence in the Scandinavian governments.
On the North African items, the New Zealand Delegation consulted with us frequently and both their statements and their voting were very close to ours and in marked contrast to the position adopted by Australia and the United Kingdom. It would seem worth while to encourage this tendency among the New Zealanders. As their ideas on competence are not quite as far advanced as ours, they may wish to remain in the background in future discussions of French North African affairs. On the other hand, New Zealand has a traditional and important interest in the Middle East and, not being a member of NATO nor having very direct ties with France, might perhaps be willing to adopt as its own some of the ideas which we might have but find it difficult to express by reason of our alliance and close ties with the French.
(d) Commentary Article on Tunisia
The attempt to follow the disposition of the Tunisian item through the various stages of United Nations discussion was a useful approach, and it is suggested that this form be followed again, should it be necessary to prepare instructions for a future delegation. The Delegation to the seventh session was in danger of finding itself in an embarrassing position, however, by reason of the stipulation in the commentary that Cabinet approval be obtained for even the mildest resolution before the Delegation vote in favour of it. The Delegation was thus in the awkward position of being instructed to give encouragement to the moderate proposal put forward by Brazil while, at the same time, it was unable to commit itself formally to the Brazilian initiative pending word from Ottawa. It would seem desirable to give the Chairman of the Canadian Delegation a somewhat wider discretion within the framework of clearly established principles, if it is intended that the Delegation should play a positive role on the North African issues in possible future discussions.
A second difficulty presented by the requirement of Cabinet clearance lies in the fact that the timing of voting at the United Nations does not in any way correspond to the regular meetings of the Canadian Cabinet. If the Tunisian issue should be raised again at the United Nations and should appear so important and delicate that it is not considered possible to leave discretionary authority with the Chairman of the Delegation or the Secretary of State for External Affairs, it would be more feasible, because of the uncertainty of the timing of the voting at the United Nations, to require clearance of a difficult point with the Prime Minister rather than with Cabinet as a whole.