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  • India, Apartheid and the New World Order at the UN, 1946–1962*
  • Alanna O'malley

The General Assembly of the UN has been discussing this question of the treatment of Indians in South Africa for the past 5 years – without result. Every year condemnation of South African policies is voiced, a discussion takes place at length at the General Assembly sessions and resolutions are passed, but no action is taken by the South African Government with the result that the position remains as before. … The questions arises, can we refer the matter to the Security Council?1

In 1951, concerned at the lack of progress of the campaign against apartheid at the United Nations (UN), Indian delegates discussed strategies to put the question before the Security Council in order to produce a more effective international policy to end the racist regime in South Africa. Efforts to debate the issue before the highest level of the UN would not succeed until 1960 when the Council for the first time officially denounced the racist policies of the South African government.2 However, the initiative began with the first General [End Page 195] Assembly resolution on apartheid, passed in December 1946 at a time when it would have been virtually impossible to put the question before the Security Council. Resolution 44 stated that: 'the treatment of Indians in the Union should be in conformity with the international obligations under the agreements concluded between the two Governments and the relevant provisions of the Charter'.3 This public, international condemnation of the South African government's illiberal, discriminatory policy of apartheid represented the comparatively swift progress of the campaign, first spear-headed by Indian representatives at the inaugural UN General Assembly meeting in 1946. Although momentum slowed afterwards, the 1946 debate about the discriminatory treatment of Indians in South Africa was highly significant as a moment of anti-colonial internationalism which established India as one of the leaders of the Afro-Asian bloc (which later evolved into the wider Global South group); but it also foreshadowed the formative impact anti-colonial states would have on the UN and its role in managing the process of decolonization.

The emergence of anti-colonial actors from countries in what is now referred to as the Global South was a process that changed the composition and the nature of the UN environment. Anti-colonial state actors including Cuba, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Liberia among others, collaborated with NGOs such as the International League of the Rights of Man, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to progress anti-colonial issues at the UN. International and transnational actors who brought their agendas to the UN stage raised a plethora of questions on everything from human rights, disputes over territorial sovereignty, contestations of self-determination and the accountability mechanisms for territories remaining under Trusteeship. These actors had collaborated in global anti-imperial networks which had been in existence since the late nineteenth century, and as, eloquently described by Michel Goebel, had gradually become more integrated with each other, as their formal and non-formal contact increased in metropolitan centres and beyond.4 Through the interwar years, they progressively sought to assert a common agenda, pursuing a variety of issues under the guise of anti-imperialism and [End Page 196] anti-colonialism.5 By 1945, India became the leading anti-colonial voice in world politics, acting, as Carol Anderson has described, as 'the conscience of the globe'.6

Progressing from informal representation at the League of Nations through Britain, Indian representatives, with the support of other anti-colonial allies, immediately seized upon the UN as a vehicle with which to pursue their agenda on their own terms. In the new constitutional arrangement of the Charter, which granted consultative status to NGOs and opened up a horizon of possibilities for different constellations of anti-colonial actors to cooperate on various committees and sub-committees, forms of Global South representation multiplied, became formalized and immediately diversified. However, as a myriad of different groups and blocs comprising of the member states emerged, the coherence and effectiveness of the anti-colonial agenda became diluted, resulting in stagnation on questions which confronted the...


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pp. 195-223
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