London (Jul. 12)
(By our London correspondent)
The Minorities Question was raised in the House of Lords yesterday by Lord Parmoor, who rose to ask the Government whether it can give any further information on the position of minorities or on the ratification of Conventions at Geneva. The question, he said, is one of much complexity. It concerns a problem that has come to the front in a special manner since the Peace Treaties, because those Treaties, by altering some frentiers and rearranging and extending others, have made the question of minorities one of extreme and immediate importance. In one sense the question of minorities is an old one and has been with us for centuries in Europe, but in its present phase it is a new question, dependent almost entirely, though not in all cases, upon the terms of Treaties which give to minorities rights, as I think, guaranteed by us and by those of the Allied and Associated Powers who signed the Treaties.
The minority question is one which affects minorities in race or in religion. There are between fifteen and twenty of them. The importance of this question may be further gauged by the ## that on statistics which have been ## prepared and collected–the minorities which are protected by the Minorities Treaties are in the aggreement between 32,000.00 and 35,000,000.
I am not suggesting the alteration of those Treaties. I think it is far too early to make any suggestion of that kind. But taking that view, it is more important that those who have ## right solemnly granted to them by Treaty to which this country is a party, should have the advantage of those rights which have been given to safeguard their lives and interests.
The principle, I think, was very admirably stated to the Second Assembly by the then Representative of Great ##. Lord Balfour. What he said is so important that I copied it out in reading again through the speech which he made to the Second Assembly of the League in 1920. He said–“We have set up a machinery for the protection of minorities and we mean that the machinery shall work.” I do not suppose any one would dissent for a moment from that statement, but the part I want to call attention to is the words “we mean that machinery shall work.” The question which has been raised and ought to be carefully considered in view of our obligations, is ##, after experience and expernnent, the machinery does work so as to give the protection to which the ## are entitled.
I am afraid that in many respects the machinery wants alteration and the alteration is a thing which I should hope this country would take part in planning out. It does not, however, affect the principles of the Minority freaties themselves. I think that something should be done in order to make the protection of these minority rights more assured and less open to friction and dispute. For that purpose you want to arrive at two results. First of all you must have a method by which those rights, if called in question, can be decided one way or the other–that is between the minority and the national government. Secondly, and hardly less important, is it that the minorities should be satisfied whatever the decision come to may be, whether in their favor or against them that their interests have had proper, impartial and fair consideration. Although I do not want to criticise those who give the consideration. I shall be bound to point out that in my view at the present time the minorities have some reason to say: “Whatever our rights may be we should be satisfied that, if they are to be enforced, the method of enforcement is satisfactory.”
Professor Gilbert Murray took a foremost part in helping to formulate the machinery by which the minorities could be protected under the Minority Treaties. The main proposals were partially accepted in 1922 and 1923, but since that time, very little change has been made, although I think experience and experiment have shown that changes must be made if the minority rights are to be effectively enforced.
I think that after experience and experiment reform and change are necessary. It is in this direction that I hope the Government may exercise its influence. In the first place, the aggrieved minority, who obviously are the persons or parties especially interested, cannot approach the League at all. There is no machinery whatever by which the aggrieved persons can approach the League directly. I am sure. Lord Cushendun, will agree with me in that. There is machinery by which you may ask some other country to take up your case or something of that kind, which is entirely different. But the ordinary principle ought to prevail and there ought to be machinery by which the aggrieved minority should be able to bring forward their case and state it–I do not say whether before the Assembly or the Council of the League–before the competent body which is to give the decision. But the minorities are not really recognized as competent parties to the process at all.
They have to stand on one side to a very great extent, and entirely so far as their right is concerned, while matters are discussed in which they have critical and immediate interests. They take no part and are not allowed to take any part in the examination of their grievances.
A Congress of National Minorities was held at Geneva in 1925, which asked for three things in order that their rights might be properly protected. One of the things that Congress asked for was the publicity of documents.
At the present time I do not think there is any part of the procedure at Geneva which is less public than that dealing with minorities. Secondly, the Congress of National Minorities asked that ruinorities should be treated as parties to the case. It seems to me obvious. I must say, that this should be done in the cause of justice. Thirdly they asked that any Member of the League, whether a Member of Council or not, should have the right to bring a case before the Council and so start it on its way to the Permanent Court of International Justice. At the present time that can only be done by a Member of he League who is also a Member of the Council Surely the question arises, why should not any Member of the League, any Member of the Assembly, be allowed to take a step of that kind?
Lord Cushendun. replying for the Government, said that Lord Parmoor was quite mistaken in one very important respect, in saying that the minorities themselves have no means of making their case known to the Council. That is a emplete misconception. A report was adopted in 1920 by the Council to the effect that minorities themselves, or States not represented on the Council, were not debarred from bringing to the notice of the League any infraction or danger of infraction of the Minority Treaties and the procedure that is now in force, under the Committee of Three is that any minority that thinks itself aggrieved has the right to present a petition to the Council. That petition is examined by the Committee of Three, consisting of the President and two other Members of the Council, and according to the judgment that they form of the justice or otherwise of the petition that has been presented they may move the Council to take it into consideration. Unless they do this, the petition is not, of cause considered by the Council itself.
The point on which I chiefly differ from Lord Parmcor is this. He seems to think that, in order to carry out these Mincrity Treaties, it is desirable that there should be the greatest possible freedom of appreach to the Council. other by ## otherwise, that every ## mimority should have easy ## some tribunal either the Council ## the ## Court, and that there should be the greatest possible publicity ##. That was one of the points on which the noble Lord laid stress. I am bound to say that I take a very difierent view. The noble Lord must be perfectly well aware that it would not be difficult for these Minority Treaties to be used for purposes very different from that for which they were intended by the framers of the Peace Treaties. It might perfectly well be that they could be used for irredentist propaganda for raising all sorts of minor questions with which they were not intended to deal, and if on any occasion some perhaps quite inconsiderable minority were to raise some case in which they alleged that their rights under these Treaties had been violated, very likely without any evidence whatever to support them, and if that sort of thing were to grow general, it would probably make these Treaties impossible to carry out and would also be a source of friction and of bad blood.
Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, speaking on the same question, stated that it would be a great mistake to try to uproot these Treaties which have been so recently signed. Moreover, there is not the least probability that the other parties to them would agree to any considerable. I agree also with Lord Cushendun that there is not any case at present for any change in the Treaties, but the question of the procedure by which these Treaties are worked at the League is ## a different matter.