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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

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
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