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III. The Diplomatic Conference

A. The Question of Participation and of Representation

The 1974 session of the Conference opened with a bang in the form of a speech by President Ould Dada of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, who came out strongly against “the Zionists,” Rhodesia, South Africa, and Portugal and in favor of national liberation movements in Cambodia and Vietnam, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and “freedom fighters” generally.[1] The speech set the tone for the Conference.

The first matter that had to be fought out was the question of what political entities should be invited to participate in the Conference. Guinea-Bissau had acceded, subject to reservations, to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 a short while before the Conference began. It had already been recognized by more than sixty governments and had been invited to participate in the Third Law of the Sea Conference at Caracas. Although Guinea-Bissau was not recognized by a number ofthe states participating in the Conference, the decision was taken without vote to invite the new country.[2]

Guinea-Bissau had gone a stage beyond the national liberation movements which presented themselves at the Conference. These were the African National Congress, Angola National Liberation Front, Mozambique Liberation Front, Palestine Liberation Organization, Panafricanist Congress, People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola, Seychelles People’s United Party, South West African People’s Organization, Zimbabwe African National Union, and Zimbabwe African People’s Union.[3] The XXIInd International Conference of the Red Cross, held at Tehran in 1973, had called upon the Conference to invite national liberation movements recognized by regional intergovernmental organizations to participate as observers in the Conference, in accordance with United Nations practice.[4] And the General Assembly just prior to the Conference had made the same appeal.[5] The very fact that United Nations practice had been invoked in this regard was one of many indications that the large number of developing countries attending the Conference brought to the diplomatic conference understandings and demands acquired from their participation in the United Nations.

Demands were heard from Third World countries that the national liberation movements be allowed to participate fully (not simply as observers) without vote or even with vote. The United States and countries of the Western European group engaged in energetic efforts to block an invitation to the national liberation movements, but the votes were against them. The first days of the Conference were devoted to this diplomatic maneuvering. What finally emerged was a resolution of invitation, adopted without vote, by which the Conference

  • 1. Decides to invite the National Liberation Movements which are recognized by the regional intergovernmental organizations concerned, to participate fully in the deliberations of the Conference and its Main Committees;
  • 2. Decides further that, notwithstanding anything contained in the rules of procedure, the statements made or the proposals and amendments submitted by delegations of such National Liberation Movements shall be circulated by the Conference Secretariat as Conference documents to all the participants in the Conference, it being understood that only delegations representing States or governments will be entitled to vote.[6]

The struggle between developed and developing countries over the status of national liberation movements was carried on further in the Drafting Committee, to which the draft Rules of Procedure had been referred for consideration of various amendments, including provisions concerning the national liberation move- ments.[7]

The third Vietnam—the “Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam” (PRG)—had purported to deposit an instrument of accession to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 a few days before the Conference began, but Switzerland had not extended an invitation to the Conference to the PRG, which is more widely known as the Viet Cong. Invoking the desirability of universal participation in a great humanitarian endeavor, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the PRG, and their friends put on a spirited campaign for an invitation. But the Delegation from Hanoi walked out of the Conference in pique,[8] and two days later, in the most dramatic vote of the Conference, the invitation to the PRG was defeated by 37 to 38 with 33 abstentions38—and Hanoi not present to vote for its protege. Intense diplomatic activity was carried on by both sides, further contributing to the political tone of the Conference.

Credentials questions were finally swept under the rug, after delegations had had an opportunity to vent their spite on one enemy or another—the Republic of Vietnam, South Africa, Portugal, the Khmer Republic (which, some asserted, should have been represented by the Sihanouk regime), and Israel (which was asserted to be an aggressor). The report of the Credentials Committee,39 duly reporting all of the reservations, was adopted without vote at the end of the Conference, and no delegation was denied its right to participate.

The question of the participation of national liberation movements was a procedural harbinger of what was to follow on the substantive side of the adoption of new humanitarian law.

  • [1] Doc. CDDH/SR.1, at 10-11.
  • [2] Doc. CDDH/12, adopted March 1, 1974. Doc. CDDH/SR.4, at 3.
  • [3] Doc. CDDH/Inf/5/Rev. 1, at 141-142.
  • [4] Resolution XIII, XXIIIе Conference Internationale de la Croix-Rouge, 56 Revue Internationalede la Croix-Rouge 5, 34-35 (1974).
  • [5] G.A. Res. 3102 (XXVIn), Dec. 12, 1973, U.N. Doc. A/RES/3102 (XXYIII) (1973).
  • [6] Doc. CDDH/22 (and Corr. 1), adopted 1 March, 1974. Doc. CDDH/SR.7, at 2.
  • [7] See Rules of Procedure, Doc. CDDH/2 and CDDH/2/Rev.1.
  • [8] Doc. CDDH/SR.5, at 1-3. 38 Doc. CDDH/SR.5, at 17. 39 Doc. CDDH/51.
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