United Press • November 15, 1920
GENEVA -- The League of Nations assembled today amid the ringing of bells, the more than 100 delegates attending the sessions representing 42 states and over half the world's population. M. Paul Hymans of Belgium opened the session, reading President Wilson's convocations. Premier Motta of Switzerland welcomed the delegates. Interest centered on the credentials of Lord Robert Cecil, appointed delegate for South Africa, a question having arisen as to whether member nations can send other than citizens as delegates.
M. Hymans was elected president of the League of Nations Assembly today.
Applause greeted mention of the United States. "Washington, home of liberty, and the United States cannot long remain out of the league," Premier Motta said.
The names of Woodrow Wilson and King Albert drew hearty applause.
Geneva, capital of the world, was crowded to capacity today when representatives of nearly half a hundred nations from every corner of the globe gathered to attend the first meeting of the assembly of the League of Nations.
Of the 45 powers mentioned in the covenant of the league, nearly all have already declared their allegiance to the league and are expected to avail themselves of the right to attend the first assembly meeting. Thirteen others, not named in the organic document, are applicants for admission and likely will have delegates on the ground during the meeting.
The program to be followed at the meeting will probably be (1) hearing reports of various commissions authorized by the council of the league to investigate international problems; (2) discussion and adoption of rules of procedure and examination of credentials of the delegates; (3) admission of states not mentioned in the covenant; (4) appointment and ratification of certain commissions named by the league council to carry out provisions of the peace treaty; (5) discussion of the relations between the assembly and the council; (6) report of Sir Eric Drummond on the work of the secretariat; discussion and debate on the Root-Phillmore world court, and a score of other important questions relating to questions of health, finance, alcohol, traffic in women and children and the like.
Of the nations attending the Geneva assembly 18, including the five dominions of the British group, derived membership in the league automatically through the coming into effect of the Treaty of Versailles January 10, 1920. Eight other countries ratified the pact later and are classified as charter members. Thirteen nations, neutrals in the World War, were invited to become members of the league and have already accepted and been taken into the membership.
China, alone, derives her membership by being a signatory to the Treaty of St. Germain.
Eleven other states have applied for membership, some of them having only de facto governments. In addition, it is believed Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and Hungary will make attempts to gain admission to full fellowship among the nations as exemplified in the league now or at a later time.
The only nations that will not be represented at the first meeting of the assembly, either officially or in a semi-official way, are the United States of America, Mexico, Turkey and Russia.
The assembly was called to order at 11 o'clock by Paul Hymans of Belgium, later elected permanent chairman.
A number of days will be required merely to hear the reports of the various commissions which have been authorized by the council to investigate international questions. Delegates are quartered at Geneva's main hotels, and their office work will be done in the league's new capitol, recently the National Hotel, which was acquired by Sir Eric Drummond to take care of the offices of the secretariat and commissions.
Among the reports to be heard of commissions named under provisions of the treaty are: Appointment of three members of the Saar Valley boundary commission; the Saar Valley government commission; appointment of the high commissioner of Danzig and approval of the constitution of the free city; responsibilities of the league arising out of the distribution of mandates and the enforcement of Article 22 (mandates); appointment of Dr. Fridjof Nansen, arctic explorer, to investigate repatriation of ex-enemy prisoners from Russia and Germany to their respective homes; the Polish minority treaty; the resolution regarding the admission of Switzerland; the first and second budgets of the league; relief in Central Europe and methods of combatting typhus; report on the plebiscites in Eupen and Malmedy.
Probably one of the most ticklish problems the assembly will be called on to settle is likely to be proposed by Peru, Chile and Bolivia. It is the Tacno-Arica boundary controversy. Both the Peruvians and Bolivians have made known their intention of submitting the question to the league for settlement. It is expected Chile will acquiesce.
Since the seventies the question of who owns the territory has worried statesmen of South America. More than once has war been threatened, and in fact Chile actually declared war on Peru and in the treaty of Ancon gained possession of the disputed province. A plebiscite was set for 1883 but for several reasons the will of the inhabitants was never allowed to be expressed. Since then a crisis has appeared on many occasions, but, although no diplomatic relations are maintained between Peru and Chile, there has been no war.
Of most interest to the United States, perhaps, in view of the failure of that nation to enter the league, is the assembly's attitude toward the Root-Philmore International Court of Arbitration, proposed by a committee of world jurists under guidance of Elihu Root, former Secretary of State under President Roosevelt.
Inasmuch as several European nations are opposed to the unlimited powers of the court, as the United States is to the unqualified Article Ten of the covenant, considerable debate is expected before the court's constitution is finally approved.
That the court will certainly be established is assured by action of the League council in approving of the plan for formulation of a permanent court of international justice. Mainly the mooted questions are what form it will take and to what extent nations will adhere to its decisions.
Following are facts about the meeting:
Place -- Geneva, Switzerland, seat of the League.
Time -- November 15.
Number of nations to be represented -- 55.
Number of delegates -- Not more than 3 for each member-state, or not more than 165 for all.
Number of delegates with power to vote -- 55.
In general, decisions of the assembly must be by unanimous vote, but certain important matters may be decided by a mere majority or by two-thirds majority.
Presiding officer -- M. Paul Hymans of Belgium, or Señor Quinones de Leon of Spain.
Secretary-General -- Sir Eric Drummond of England.