law of nations

League of Nations mandate

A League of Nations mandate refers to a legal status for certain territories transferred from the control of one country to another following World War I. The mandate system was established under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, entered into on 28 June 1919. With the dissolution of the League of Nations after World War II, it was stipulated at the Yalta Conference that the remaining Mandates should be placed under the Trusteeship of the United Nations, subject to future discussions and formal agreements. Most of the remaining mandates of the League of Nations (with the exception of Palestine and South-West Africa) eventually became United Nations Trust Territories.


All the territories subject to League of Nations mandates were previously controlled by states defeated in World War I, principally Imperial Germany and the Ottoman Empire. The mandates were fundamentally different from the protectorates in that the Mandatory power undertook obligations to the inhabitants of the territory and to the League of Nations.

The process of establishing the mandates consisted of two phases:

  1. the formal removal of sovereignty of the previously controlling states
  2. the transfer of mandatory powers to individual states among the Allied Powers.


The divestiture of Germany's overseas territories was accomplished in the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, and the territories were allotted among the Allied Powers on May 7, 1919. Ottoman territorial claims were first addressed in the Treaty of Sèvres of 1920 and finalized in the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923. The Turkish territories were allotted among the Allied Powers in the Conference of Sanremo of 1920.

Hidden Agendas and Objections

United States Secretary of State Robert Lansing was a member of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace at Paris in 1919. He explained that the system of mandates was a device created by the Great Powers to conceal their division of the spoils of war under the color of international law. If the former German and Ottoman territories had been ceded to the victorious powers directly, their economic value would almost certainly have been applied to offset the Allies' claims for war reparations. Lansing also explained that Jan Smuts had been the author of the original concept.

The US Senate refused to ratify the Covenant of the League of Nations. Senator Lodge, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, had attached a reservation which read: 'No mandate shall be accepted by the United States under Article 22, Part 1, or any other provision of the treaty of peace with Germany, except by action of the Congress of the United States.' Senator Borah, speaking on behalf on the 'Irreconcilables' stated 'My reservations have not been answered.' He completely rejected the proposed system of Mandates as an illegitimate rule by brute force. Under the plan of the US Constitution, Article 1, the Congress was delegated the power to declare or define the Law of Nations in cases where its terms might be vague or indefinite. The US government subsequently entered into individual treaties to secure legal rights for its citizens, and to protect property rights and businesses interests in the mandates. It did not agree to mutual defense, or pledge itself to maintain the territorial integrity of any mandates.

The Official Journal of the League of Nations, dated June 1922, contained an interview with Lord Balfour in which he explained that the League's authority was strictly limited. The article related that the 'Mandates were not the creation of the League, and they could not in substance be altered by the League. The League's duties were confined to seeing that the specific and detailed terms of the mandates were in accordance with the decisions taken by the Allied and Associated Powers, and that in carrying out these mandates the Mandatory Powers should be under the supervision--not under the control--of the League.'

Types of mandates

The exact level of control by the Mandatory power over each mandate was decided on an individual basis by the League of Nations. However, in every case the Mandatory power was forbidden to construct fortifications or raise an army within the territory of the mandate and was required to present an annual report on the territory to the League of Nations.

Despite this, mandates were generally seen as de facto colonies of the empires of the victor nations.

The mandates were divided into three distinct groups based upon the level of development each population had achieved at that time.

Class A mandates

The first group or Class A mandates were areas formerly controlled by the Ottoman Empire that were deemed to "... have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory." The Class A mandates were:

By 1948 these mandates had been replaced or their territory annexed by new monarchies (Iraq, Jordan) and republican governments (Israel, Lebanon, Syria).

Class B mandates

The second group or Class B mandates were all former Schutzgebiete (German territories) in the Sub-Saharan regions of West and Central Africa, which were deemed to require a greater level of control by the mandatory power: "...the Mandatory must be responsible for the administration of the territory under conditions which will guarantee freedom of conscience and religion." The mandatory power was forbidden to construct military or naval bases within the mandates. The Class B mandates were :

and two former German territories, each split in a British and a French League of Nations mandated territory, according to earlier military occupation zones:

Class C mandates

A final group, the Class C mandates, including South-West Africa and certain of the South Pacific Islands, were considered to be "best administered under the laws of the mandatory as integral portions of its territory"

The Class C mandates were former German possessions:

Rules of Establishment

According to the Council of the League of Nations, meeting of August 1920: "draft mandates adopted by the Allied and Associated Powers would not be definitive until they had been considered and approved by the League ... the legal title held by the mandatory Power must be a double one: one conferred by the Principal Powers and the other conferred by the League of Nations,"

Three steps were required to establish a Mandate under international law: (1) The Principal Allied and Associated Powers confer a mandate on one of their number or on a third power; (2) the principal powers officially notify the council of the League of Nations that a certain power has been appointed mandatory for such a certain defined territory; and (3) the council of the League of Nations takes official cognisance of the appointment of the mandatory power and informs the latter that it [the council] considers it as invested with the mandate, and at the same time notifies it of the terms of the mandate, after assertaining whether they are in conformance with the provisions of the covenant."

Later history

After the United Nations was founded in 1945 and the League of Nations was disbanded, all but one of the mandated territories that remained under the control of the mandatory power became United Nations trust territories, a roughly equivalent status. In each case, the colonial power that held the mandate on each territory became the administering power of the trusteeship, except that Japan, which had been defeated in World War II, lost its mandate over the South Pacific islands, which became a "strategic trust territory" known as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands under United States administration. The sole exception to the transformation of League of Nations mandates into UN trusteeships was that South Africa refused to place South-West Africa under trusteeship. Instead, South Africa proposed that it be allowed to annex South-West Africa, a proposal rejected by the UN General Assembly. The International Court of Justice held that South Africa continued to have international obligations under the mandate for South-West Africa. The territory finally attained independence in 1990 as Namibia, after a long guerrilla war of independence against the apartheid regime.

Nearly all the former League of Nations mandates had become sovereign states by 1990, including those which had become UN Trust territories except some successor entities of the gradually dismembered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (formerly Japan's South Pacific Trust Mandate) - notably the Northern Mariana Islands becoming a USA Commonwealth (still administered by a Governor, without their own Head of State, which remains the US President) - while remnant Micronesia and the Marshall islands, the heirs of the last territories of the Trust, attained on 22 December 1990 final independence (the UN Security Council ratified termination of trusteeship, effectively dissolved on 10 July 1987), and the Republic of Palau (split-off from the Federated States of Micronesia) became the last to get its independence effectively on 1 October 1994).

Sources and References

  • Anghie, Antony "Colonialism and the Birth of International Institutions: Sovereignty, Economy, and the Mandate System of the League of Nations" 34(3) New York University Journal of International Law and Politics 513 (2002)
  • WorldStatesmen - links to each present nation


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