Annexation Plebiscite, January 15, 1917


Organisation Centrale pour une Paix Durable



No. I.



A. Questions of principle.

One must first find general rules concerning the problem of territory transfer and on which conditions such a cession can be allowed also for the future, when there will be question of peaceful cession of territory.

It is desirable to give a suchlike form to these rules which will enable them to be adopted in a future international convention.

I. Can the general principle advised by Dr. W. H. de Beaufort, be considered acceptable?:

,,It is admitted as a general rule, that annexation of territory cannot take place without preambulary obtaining the consent of the inhabitants.

This principle is founded on a [double] base:

1o. The change of nationality entails a modification of the political and juridical position of the inhabitants, which is of such great importance that it would be very unjust to impose this change on them by force, without having consulted them.

2o. With regard to international relations the great concern is not to disturb the good understanding between the various nations for a long time.

History shows us, how the desire to return to the government of the state which has been obliged to give up part of its territory to another state is not even quenched amidst the generations which are born under the foreign domination, but also that in the country which has lost part of its territory, the regret of having lost it and the wish to regain it remains alive [page 2] in the hearts of the inhabitants. It is to be understood that the restlessness which [ensues] is a menace of war, which however is only felt in case the annexation has been affected without the consent of the inhabitants.

The application of this principle is limited by two exceptions:

1o. By the extent of the claimed territory. If the extent be small, so that in reality there is only question of rectifying the boundaries, the principle must not be applied. The purpose of these rectifications is generally to suppress contraband and in these circumstances it is probable that the majority of the population which lives in that territory, being interested in this [illicit] commerce, will violently oppose itself against the proposed modification of boundaries, as harming their interests. It will therefore be necessary to fix a rule stating that in case of annexation the consultation of the inhabitants will only take place when the extent of the territory or the number of the inhabitants exceeds a maximum, fixed by an international convention.

2o. By the moral and intellectual condition of the inhabitants. On our planet there still live such backward nations that it is impossible for them, while fully comprehending it, to pronounce their opinion regarding the modification of their political condition. Those who consider theft and pillage as lawful methods to gain their [livelihood] are the antagonists of a regular government founded on law and supported by a good police. They would without doubt oppose themselves against the progress of a [civilization] whereof they cannot appreciate the advantages. An exceptional disposition for territories inhabited by savages or half-savages would be advisable. It is rather difficult to formulate; anyhow one could establish the following rule, that the population will not be consulted if the majority consists of analphabetes."

1. How can we state preambulary approval of the population of a certain territory?

2. Are the two exceptions given by Dr. de Beaufort, while limiting the application of this rule, approved of?

3. Can other exceptions present themselves, especially if there is question for a nation of having an outlet into the sea or the liberty of a passage?

4. Must a nationality, however small, or scarcely developed it may be, always constitute a body of international law, being entitled to ask a change of international statutes. If not, when will a nationality have attained that degree of development or the necessary extent to be considered as such a lawful body? [page 3]

II. Is it possible to find a general criterium, which might settle the question, whether a conflict of nationality, which, in order to be settled, demands a separation of territory, stops being a question of interior politics and becomes one of international importance, thereby [authorizing] the intervention of other states?

1. Would it be expedient and desirable to [organize] an international authority, specially for this category of conflicts?

2. The Conference of Nationalities of Lausanne, June 1916, 2nd. art. has adopted the following proposition: ,,In order to recognize the rights of the nationalities a procedure will be instored, whereby their international status will be settled by the International Court of Arbitration of The Hague (or any other international institution, which might have been established: Congress, international Parliament, permanent Council of reconciliation). The natural delegates of the nationality ([organized] bodies or intellectual elites who are real delegates of the nation) will introduce this instance before the court which will make out, whether really these delegates must be considered, as truly representing the nation. The court will also determine the ethnographic boundaries of the nation according to scientifically established base. If necessary, if the representatives of the nation demand it, the court can command, under its own [control] and while surrounding it by all necessary guarantees of impartiality all investigations of a popular [character], such as plebiscite, the purpose of the above being to know the will of the nation. For all these degrees procedure will be contradictory and public."

If this proposal is not accepted, propose [another organization].

B. Questions concerning the putting into practice of the general principle.

I. If the popular consultation is to take place, must it happen verbally or written, secretly or publicly?

II. Who will have the vote?

III. Can a vote be permitted concerning more than two alternatives at the same time, thus stipulating a second plebiscite if neither of the alternatives has obtained an absolute majority?

IV. The time of the plebiscite, before or after the ratification of a treaty?

V. Will a [separate] voting take place for each [subdivision] of the population, or will the voting be valable for the whole territory? [page 4]

VI. Are these rules to be applied either in case of a transfer from one state to another or in case of there being question of founding an autonome state?

VII. A cession or a changing of territory, effected after a peace-treaty or for other reasons, must it be subjected to revision after a certain appointed time to state whether the will of the population has remained unaltered?

C. Questions of application.

To be able to solve these questions of principle, as given above, it is [indispensable] to picture oneself their application and their efficacity in special cases of a certain actuality. On the one hand we admit rules, which we consider just and practical in such and such a case, on the other hand it is also necessary to test the found rule, by applying it to other cases, which might present themselves.

That is why it would perhaps be useful to consider some cases in the light of the principles which demand a solution in the peace-treaty, which will end this present war, so as to see whether modifications seem advisable, for instance concerning the questions of Poland, Belgium, Alsace-Lorraine, the [Balkans] etc.

Are the rules of justice conceived by the proposed principles as an answer to the above mentioned questions sufficient and how must they be applied in various special cases?

The President of the International
Committee of Research I,


Åtvidaberg (Sweden).

The Central [Organization] has received the following report concerning the problem of the questionary. The Bureau, 51 Theresiastraat, The Hague, will gladly send a copy of this report to any person desiring it:

Annexation and conquest by Dr. David Starr Jordan.