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November 21, 1949: Remembering the UN Resolution placing Somalia under international Trusteeship

by Mohamed I. Trunji
Thursday, November 21, 2019

70 years ago today, after all-night discussions  on November 21, 1949, the General Assembly of the United Nations, overwhelming accepted the draft resolution prepared by the First Committee by a vote of 48 to 1 and 9 abstentions, placing Somalia under Italian Trusteeship. The lone dissenting vote being that of Ethiopia;

The Italian former colonies in Africa before the GA of the United Nations

One year after the coming into force of the Peace Treaty between Italy and the victorious powers of World War II (February 10, 1947) , and after three years of discussions among the Big Four, the future of the former Italian colonies in Africa, (Eritrea, Libya and Somalia), remained still undetermined.

On September 24, 1948, the government of France, Britain United States and USSR jointly addressed a communication to the Secretary-General of the UN informing him that, in conformity with Article 23, of the Peace treaty with Italy, the question of the disposal of the former Italian colonies was being referred to the General Assembly of the United Nation. 

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The General Assembly, on September 24, 1948, decided to pass the issue of the former Italian colonies to the First Committee (known also as the Political and Security Committee) for consideration and report. However, when the first part of the third regular session of the General Assembly opened in Paris, the issues on the agenda were many and not all the delegations had had enough time to “digest” the abundant documentation submitted by the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM). The Assembly placed the discussion of the issue on the last point of the agenda, behind the number of important questions such as the Reports of the Atomic Energy Commission, the Palestinian question, the political independence and territorial integrity of Greece, therefore, examination of the issue was deferred until the second part of the third regular session of April 1949 in Lake Success, New York.

The Bevin-Sforza plan

While the General Assembly was in recess, it was suddenly announced that, the British Foreign Minister and his Italian counterpart Count Carlo Sforza, had come to a compromise plan on the future of former Italian colonies. This became widely known as “Bevin-Sforza Plan” (GA/PS/217, May 10, 1949) by virtue of which Somalia would be placed under trusteeship administered by Italy with no time limit.

With strong backing of the USA, UK, France and the Latin American Republics, a draft resolution based on Bevin-Sforza Plan was adopted by the First Committee, and referred it to the General Assembly, despite bitter opposition within the Committee, particularly from Asian and Arab countries (India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen)

A heated plenary session on the issue took place as the General Assembly was driving hard towards adjournment. However,” when late in the evening of May 17, the voting process started, the results confirmed the Italian fears: while the paragraph relating to Britain’s trusteeship over Cyrenaica was adopted by 36 vote in favour, 15 against and 6 abstentions, and the French trusteeship over Fezzan by 36  in favour, 15  against and 7 abstentions, obtaining thus the required majority, the paragraph of the resolution concerning to Italian trusteeship over Tripolitania was short by one vote to obtain the required two-third majority, having obtained 33 vote in favour,  to 17 against and 8 abstentions” (G. Rossi). Haiti which was not expected to vote against the Bevin-Sforza package on former Italian colonies, did instead vote against the plan.

As the defeat of the compromise draft resolution came 5 days after the date originally set for the Assembly’s adjournment, the delegates were left with no alternative but to postpone for a final decision till the second part of the fourth regular session of the General Assembly.

The future of Somalia decided by the GA

When the General Assembly convened its regular fourth session, the question of the Italian former colonies were again referred to the First Committee for consideration and report. The First Committee examined the question between 4 and 8 November and, on 9 November 11, 1949, it recommended the adoption by the General Assembly of the following draft resolution with regard to Somalia:

1.    That Somalia shall become an independent and sovereign State.

2.    This independence shall become effective at the end of ten years from the date of the approval of the Trusteeship Agreement by the General Assembly. It is noteworthy that the Americans supported the idea of the independence for Somalia at the end of ten years, with the proviso that, the General Assembly and the Trusteeship Council be granted powers to review the progress and development of this territory with a view to determine whether the territory was ready for independence. This proviso was however rejected by the First Committee following an amendment tabled by the Philippines.

3.     During this period, mentioned in paragraph 2, Somalia shall be placed under the international trusteeship system with Italy as the administering authority.

4.    The administrating authority shall be supported by an Advisory Council, composed of Colombia, Egypt and the Philippines (proposed by Lebanon). The Seat of the Council shall be in Mogadiscio.

5.    That the Trusteeship Council negotiate with Italy the drafting of the Trusteeship Agreement for submission to the General Assembly, if possible during the present session, and in any case, no later than the fifth session.

6.    That the Trusteeship Council shall include an Annex containing a “Declaration of Constitutional Principles” (proposed by India) guaranteeing the rights of the inhabitants of Somalia and providing for institutions to ensure the inauguration, development and subsequent establishment of full self-government

7.    That Italy is invited to undertake the provisional administration of the territory.

Finally, after all-night discussions on November 21, 1949, the General Assembly of the United Nations, overwhelming accepted the draft resolution by a vote of 48 to 1 and 9 abstentions, placing Somalia under Italian Trusteeship. The lone dissenting vote being that of Ethiopia; the abstaining powers were: Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, France, New Zealand, Poland, Ukraine, USSR and Yugoslavia.

M. Trunji
E-mail: [email protected]

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