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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

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

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

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