Statements on the Tunisian Question in the UN Security Council-14-April-1952

Professor Bokhari was President of the UN Security Council during April 1952.
Statement on April 14, 1952

The Delegation of Pakistan would like to make the following statement' in explanation of the vote that it has cast in favour of inscription on the
agenda of the "Tunisian Question".
Since about the beginning of this year there has been serious unrest in Tunisia. Many cases of killing, violence, shooting and large-scale arrests have been widely reported in the world press.
My Government together with the Governments of ten other Member nations has taken a very serious view of the situation.
We firmly believe that the distressful incidents of the past three months and more are not merely a local, civil disturbance or ordinary breaches of the peace calling for the usual preventive measures by the forces of law and order. They were not brought about by a few foolish or evil individuals on either side.
The situation has its roots in the past, it is extremely precariously balanced at present and bodes ill for the future. That is why, in our view, it constitutes a serious threat to international peace and security.
I beg leave to explain this a little further as justification and explanation of our view and our vote.
The conflict between the French authorities on the one hand and the Government and people of Tunisia on the other that has recently aroused world interest is merely the latest phase in a struggle that has been going
on for many years.
Tunisia was occupied by the French in 1881 when a French force crossed over from Algeria "under pretext of chastising" a certain tribe (says the historian) "and quickly dropping the mask, advanced on the capital and compelled the Bey to accept the French protectorate".

Although the Treaty of Bardo signed in that year conforms to the general pattern of treaties negotiated in the heyday of imperialism between the strong and the weak, nevertheless its preamble speaks of the parties as
"desirous of cementing the ties of friendship and good neighbourliness
which have always existed between the two States". Article 2 of the treaty stipulates that French military occupation will cease when the French and Tunisian authorities will have agreed that the local administration is in fit position to maintain order.

This temporary occupation claimed to have been undertaken for the maintenance of law and order has, however, persisted to this day without any signs of relaxation. In fact, the French hold on Tunisia has consider-ably tightened during these years.

A convention known as the Convention of La Marsa was signed in 1883 by which time France had had two years in which to dig in its toes. The
word "protectorate" was used for the first time in this convention which did not however, annul or replace or change the fundamental character of the earlier treaty "between the two States". It still assumed a system of collaboration between two Governments and not a system of direct administration by the French.

In practice, however, it was the beginning of vassalization. For there- after the President of France, by a unilateral decree, first took over the promulgation and execution of all decrees issued by the Bey in Tunisia and soon afterwards, again by unilateral action, reinforced the powers of the French representative in Tunisia, who became the so-called "depository of the power of the Republic in that country".

A protectorate claims for its justification the purpose of leading a backward people along the road to self-government. In the case of Tunisia, it has been the reverse process of gradually depriving a free country of its freedom, corroding its sovereignty and replacing its autonomy, which it had enjoyed for a century or more, by foreign domination.

A policy of peopling Tunisia with French settlers has been pursued. French colonists have been given grants of land accompanied by subsidies. A growing number of French agents have been introduced in Tunisian administration. The best land has passed into the hands of colonists coming directly from France or but recently nationalized in Tunisia. Thousands of acres have been arbitrarily classed as "juridical forests" and passed into the hands of the State. A second law has reclassified the forests and put them back into circulation for the sole benefit of the colonists. The Tunisian population is about 3,300,000. The French number about 150,000. The country is controlled by 30,000 officials, which, roughly, comes to one official per 100 inhabitants. More than 3/ 4 of the officials are French. Only about 12 1/2 % of Tunisian children go to school as against 87% of the French children there.

Above all, the French Resident-General in Tunisia has usurped all the power of the sovereign and merely employs the Bey's seal to keep up the illusion of the Bey's sovereignty. The Tunisian people have no elected legislature or parliament empowered to enact even domestic laws and, despite the appointment of Tunisian Ministers, the executive authority is concentrated in the hands of the French officials.

The Tunisians never willingly accepted this domination.

Since the beginning of this century, however, the Tunisian nationalist movement has become growingly dynamic and has taken the same form and shape as in many other parts of the world where subject peoples in the political climate of modern times have awakened, struggled and, in some cases, are still struggling to free themselves of foreign domination and exploitation.

It has also met with the same obstacles, namely, the opposition of foreign vested interests and the shortsighted use of force by the colonial power. A succession of Tunisian nationalist leaders, men of vision and fortitude, have been driven into prison or exile. Some of them have died there.

But in spite of temporary setbacks, the movement has steadily grown. After the First World War and President Wilson's Fourteen Points, fresh hopes filled the hearts of the Tunisians. At the same time, to quote The Economist, "the French Government started systematically to increase the French population of officials and small settlers and the political parties in France began to take sides as between the aspirations of the 'go-ahead' left-wing element known as the Neo-Destour and the settlers".

The hopes and expectations of the Tunisians rose and fell with changes in the complexion of the French Government in Paris. By 1938, the bitterly frustrated Neo-Destour and the pro-colonist French authorities girt their loins for a large-scale conflict. About a thousand nationalists were thrown into jail. The French authorities proclaimed a state of siege in Tunisia which, so far as our information goes, has not yet been formally lifted although fourteen years have elapsed since then.

After the second world war, it became clear that direct administration of Tunisia by France, which was not justified either by the treaties between the two States or by any principle of freedom and justice, needed revision. To quote again from The Economist, "the Government which they (that is, the Tunisians and the French) set out to change was -at the time- composed as follows: The Bey ruled through a cabinet consisting of seven Frenchmen and six Tunisians but their decisions required a Frenchman's "visa" before they were passed upwards. The cabinet was served in economic and financial matters by two elected grand councils of equal size, (one composed of Tunisians, the other of local Frenchmen) but only in an advisory capacity. Local Government too was nominally conducted by Tunisians. But in practice, all internal control remained in French hands because a French official took the chair at all cabinet meetings, because French counter-signature was essential to all Beylical decrees and because French civil controllers supervised even municipal and rural authorities".

To continue the quotation: "In the summer of 1950, the new moods of 1949 yielded two results of importance. In the teeth of the die-hard element among the settlers a new French Resident-General was instructed to institute three major reforms and, if possible, to do so with Tunisian collaboration. He was immediately to re-constitute the cabinet; he was to alter the terms of access to the civil service, making jobs available to Tunisians on a basis of fixed proportions instead of competitive examinations as the French settlers prefer and he was to institute municipal self-government. In August 1950, unprecedently, after consultation with the Bey, he announced the formation of a new cabinet in which the number of Tunisians for the first time equaled the number of Frenchmen and which was to be chaired by the Tunisian Prime Minister, M.Chenik. Among its seven Tunisian members were representatives of all parties except the Communists and the eastward-looking Vieux Destour party. Even the Neo Destour agreed to serve.

"By February 1951 several changes had been secured by agreement including a ruling that ministerial decrees no longer required the hated French visa before passing to the Bey for signature. Everyone was pleased except the settlers. What went wrong in 1951?"

The answer to this question is briefly supplied by the same writer: "The root of the recent troubles is that whereas the Neo-Destour and, indeed, most Tunisians look on these reforms merely as the start of a quick turnover to complete self-government, the French settlers regard them as limits beyond which Paris must not go."

The Prime Minister of Tunisia wrote to the French Resident-General on March 30th, 1951 as follows: "The present cabinet is considerably handicapped by a ceaseless interference with its initiatives….The prestige of a cabinet of negotiation would not withstand for long such pressure, the more so because it has been submitted for several months to the disparaging and hostile action of the French community, both in Tunisia and in Paris. The attitude of the majority of the representatives of the French community both in Tunisia and in Paris, the attitude of the executive of the French section and its attempts to wreck the negotiation are an open secret. Resignation en bloc, political motions, the referring to a mixed delegation of credits which had been asked for by the Prime Minister, all means have been used to render impossible any kind of cooperation between this Assembly and the Tunisian Government."

On April 22, 1951 the Prime Minister again wrote to the French Resident-General: "It would," he said, "be ungracious of me, Mr. Resident-General, to describe here the multiple manoeuvres which preceded and then followed the birth of the cabinet from the spectacular resignation of the executive of the French section of the Grand Council to the deputations sent to the French Government and Parliament, let alone various cases of pressure such as the sending of telegrams to Paris, the circulation of hostile watchwords among the French personnel in various administrative departments, etc. I will not dwell on certain inelegant gestures which I personally had to put up with, on certain oversights which I am willing to believe were quite unintentional…. I would like to direct your attention to a few typical cases which will show the lengths to which may go the wrong-headed hostility of some people towards the Tunisian people and the strange idea they have of French interests in Tunisia".

"But nothing," he added, "is irremediably lost yet. There still exist possibilities of agreement and the door remains open for honest, loyal negotiations. The men of goodwill who compose the ministerial team are prepared, in spite of rebuffs and disappointments, to persist in their effort of negotiation continually interrupted by those -very few, but very busy indeed- who find their interest in the continuance of political and administrative immobilism."

Tunisian autonomy of which the King and the people of Tunisia had been so wrongfully deprived, was rendered ineffectual by the intrigues of French settlers, by wanton interference in the day-to-day work of the Tunisian Ministers and by the indignities to which the Tunisian Ministers were constantly subjected.

It was in this mood of disappointment and futility that the Tunisian Ministers went to Paris later in 1951 to remind the French Government once more of its pledges and promises. The reply of the Foreign Minister of France dated December 15, 1951 to their representation dashed all their hopes. It accepted little else than the need for municipal reforms. For the rest, it was a long homily on France's civilizing work in Tunisia and the "essential role" that the French of Tunisia had played in it.

This reply bitterly disappointed the Tunisians and roused serious apprehensions in the minds of people in many parts of the world.

In 1950 M. Robert Schuman had won the hearts of the Tunisians by talking of "independence which is the final objective for all territories of the French Union". In his letter of December 15, 1951, however, he sought to reverse the course of history by emphatically stating, "The French Government is not averse to studying a modification of the present institution (Grand Council), but it maintains that the preservation of the continuity of French representation in the Government of H.H. the Bey is indispensable."

The dismay and the desperation of the Tunisians cannot be better described than in the words of the Tunisian Prime Minister who, in utter amazement at the turn of events, wrote to the French President as follows: "Certainly France has interests in Tunisia and the Tunisian Government reflects faithfully the opinion of His Highness and of his people when it not only readily recognizes these rights but even proposes to guarantee them…. (But) these interests, important as they may be, cannot be permitted to crystallize into political rights with regard to participation in the executive and representative organs of the Tunisian State…. In regard particularly to the question of French financial aid, it is perhaps necessary at this point to make it quite clear that this aid only exists in the form of an advance upon which both capital and interest are re-payable and which is inserted in the budget in the form of an annual loan under the heading of the "Tunisian Debt". Though it is undoubted that this aid benefits the country and the people as a whole, it is nonetheless true that the interests which profit most from this aid are the enterprises holding concessions for the exploitation of natural resources, means of transport, power and energy production, etc., enterprises in which Tunisian participation is practically nil. Frankly, Mr. President, it is very painful to have to state that while the claims of France to the gratitude of the Tunisian people are constantly being evoked, Tunisia's contribution in the hard times endured by the French nation is passed over in silence….Are all these things already forgotten? Is Tunisia to be considered as eternally indebted to France?"

The subsequent events, the arrest of the widely esteemed Tunisian patriot, Habib Bourguiba on January 13 and of other nationalist leaders held in high regard by the Tunisian people, the disorders, the firings, the destruction of life and property, the jailing of thousands of Tunisians and finally of the Tunisian Ministers themselves -these more recent events are well known.

My brief survey of the history of the Tunisian struggle and of the elements at work on either side was intended to put the events of the last three months in their proper perspective.

The French insistence on what is called the restoration of law and order in the circumstances which I have described is comparable to the attitude of the strangler in the fable who tightened his hold on the victim's throat to punish him for the impudent stare of his popping eyes.

These are the reasons why my Government regarded and still regards the situation in Tunisia to be far more than a minor local or domestic matter. The fact that the French Government has announced a new plan of reforms, when nationalist leaders of Tunisia with whom alone such plans can be negotiated if they are to solve anything are all imprisoned, does not fill us with any confidence.

Viewed in this light, the latest news from Tunisia is disquieting. Reporting that a new "Tunisian Cabinet" had been formed on April 12, an Associated Press message, published in New York Herald Tribune, says: "The Cabinet has no powers to speak of. Observers present at the announcement ceremony in near-by Carthage said the Bey of Tunis, the nominal ruler of the North African Protectorate, was unsmiling and 'seemed to be acting out a forced role.' The French Resident-General, Jean de Hautecloque, takes over the Foreign Ministry. The Tunisians also will have nothing to do with the defense of their country, French forces of more than 20,000 men rule the country. The Arab land is under a state of siege….The Bey Sidi Mohammed el Amin Pasha, seventy, bowed to French pressure in approving Mr. Baccouche (as Prime Minister). Usually reliable Arab sources say most of the 3 million Tunisians and the Bey's own 12 children turned against him for yielding….Many newspapers in Paris have not hesitated to call the new Tunisian government 'a Cabinet of stooges' and to criticize the French handling of Tunisia's bid for independence…."

This indicates that once more the French Government is substituting the shadow for the substance and repeating the too-frequent colonial situation in which the aspirations for self-determination are silenced to produce an illusory calm to fit the short-sighted policy of the colonial power. The only wise course for the colonial power would be to enlarge its own vision and respect subject peoples for the sentiments which in other contexts they would regard as constituting noble and heroic patriotism.

An author writing in a well-known American magazine considers it "ironically appropriate that the problems of withdrawal from Africa are posed first and above all at France, the weakest of the Atlantic powers. Now that the British have dismantled half their empire," he goes on to say, "the French stand forth as the greatest colonial power in the world. They govern 80 million subject people girdling the globe inhabiting an area roughly 1 1/2 times the size of the United States….In Africa with wisdom the French still have time to prepare the structure of cooperation to replace the structure of dominion for the inevitable withdrawal. In this they act as trustees of the whole Atlantic world."

In such withdrawal there is no shame or defeat for if the Charter of the United Nations means anything, nothing will ultimately become the metropolitan powers in their colonies more than the leaving of them. It is the earnest hope of all peace-loving nations that such withdrawals will be orderly, involving the least possible moral or physical destruction and that they will leave happy memories on both sides in order that peace should be strengthened in the world.

In voting for the inscription of this item on the agenda, the aims of my Delegation were: first and foremost, the good offices of the Security Council to save the Tunisians from the indignities, hardships, destruction of life and property and the loss of civil liberties, which are being visited upon them for no other fault than that they love their country and their national freedom; secondly, to seek the good offices of the Security Council to resolve the deadlock that is fast destroying the friendly relations that should exist between the French and the Tunisians; and thirdly, to check as quickly as possible the wave of emotion that is mounting in Africa and Asia at the spectacle of a bloody struggle between a weak, helpless and gentle people, and an immeasurably stronger European power several times as strong, whose complete domination .over other people's native soil has no moral justification today.

In the end, I wish to say that my Government and my country have the greatest affection for the people of France, and sincere respect for their great, liberal traditions. As one of Pakistan's leading dailies, The Dawn, has observed: "Whatever our differences on certain political questions with France may be, we in this country hold the people of France in the highest esteem because of that noble cry of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. We want the French to be our friends in a free world and no effort is being spared by this country to strengthen Franco-Pakistani ties."

If, in trying to uphold here the very principles for which history will ever honour the name of France, I have made heavy demands on the patience of my colleague, the distinguished representative of France, I sincerely crave his pardon.