A League of Nations mandate was a legal status for certain territories transferred from the control of one country to another following World War I, or the legal instruments that contained the internationally agreed-upon terms for administering the territory on behalf of the League of Nations. These were of the nature of both a treaty and a constitution, which contained minority rights clauses that provided for the rights of petition and adjudication by the International Court.
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 South-West Africa) thus eventually became United Nations Trust Territories.
Two governing principles formed the core of the Mandate System, being non-annexation of the territory and its administration as a “sacred trust of civilisation” to develop the territory for the benefit of its native people.
The mandate system was established by Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, drafted by the victors of World War I. The article referred to territories which after the war were no longer ruled by their previous sovereign, but their peoples were not considered "able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world". The article called for such people's tutelage to be "entrusted to advanced nations who by reason of their resources, their experience or their geographical position can best undertake this responsibility".
All of 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:
The divestiture of Germany's overseas colonies, along with three territories disentangled from its European homeland area (the Free City of Danzig, Memel Territory, and Saar), was accomplished in the Treaty of Versailles (1919), with the territories being allotted among the Allies on 7 May of that year. Ottoman territorial claims were first addressed in the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) and finalized in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). The Turkish territories were allotted among the Allied Powers at the San Remo conference in 1920.
Peace treaties have played an important role in the formation of the modern law of nations. Many rules that govern the relations between states have been introduced and codified in the terms of peace treaties. The first twenty-six articles of the Treaty of Versailles contained the Covenant of the League of Nations. It contained the international machinery for the enforcement of the terms of the treaty. Article 22 established a system of Mandates to administer former colonies and territories.
Article 22 was written two months before the signing of the peace treaty, before it was known what communities, peoples, or territories were related to sub-paragraphs 4, 5, and 6. The treaty was signed, and the peace conference had been adjourned, before a formal decision was made. The mandates were arrangements guaranteed by, or arising out of the general treaty which stipulated that mandates were to be exercised on behalf of the League.
The treaty contained no provision for the mandates to be allocated on the basis of decisions taken by four members of the League acting in the name of the so-called "Principal Allied and Associated Powers". The decisions taken at the conferences of the Council of Four were not made on the basis of consultation or League unanimity as stipulated by the Covenant. As a result, the actions of the conferees were viewed by some as having no legitimacy.
In testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, a former US State Department official who had been a member of the American Commission at Paris testified that the United Kingdom and France had simply gone ahead and arranged the world to suit themselves. He pointed out that the League of Nations could do nothing to alter their arrangements, since the League could only act by unanimous consent of its members – including the UK and France.
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 colour of international law. If the former German and Ottoman territories had been ceded to the victorious powers directly, their economic value would have been credited to offset the Allies' claims for war reparations. Article 243 of the treaty instructed the Reparations Commission that non-mandate areas of the Saar and Alsace-Lorraine were to be reckoned as credits to Germany in respect of its reparation obligations.
The US failed to ratify the Treaty of Versailles which included the Covenant of the League of Nations so the US never joined the League. The US government subsequently entered into individual treaties to secure legal rights for its citizens, to protect property rights and businesses interests in the mandates, and to preclude the mandatory administration from altering the terms of the mandates without prior US approval.
The Official Journal of the League of Nations, dated June 1922, contained a statement by Lord Balfour (UK) 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."
The League of Nations decided the exact level of control by the Mandatory power over each mandate on an individual basis. 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.
The mandates were divided into three distinct groups based upon the level of development each population had achieved at that time.
The first group, or Class A mandates, were territories 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:
The second group of mandates, or Class B mandates, were all former Schutzgebiete (German territories) in 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:
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:
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 ascertaining whether they are in conformance with the provisions of the covenant."
The U.S. State Department Digest of International Law says that the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne provided for the application of the principles of state succession to the "A" Mandates. The Treaty of Versailles (1920) provisionally recognized the former Ottoman communities as independent nations. It also required Germany to recognize the disposition of the former Ottoman territories and to recognize the new states laid down within their boundaries. The terms of the Treaty of Lausanne required the newly created states that acquired the territory detached from the Ottoman Empire to pay annuities on the Ottoman public debt and to assume responsibility for the administration of concessions that had been granted by the Ottomans. The treaty also let the States acquire, without payment, all the property and possessions of the Ottoman Empire situated within their territory. The treaty provided that the League of Nations was responsible for establishing an arbitral court to resolve disputes that might arise and stipulated that its decisions were final.
A disagreement regarding the legal status and the portion of the annuities to be paid by the "A" mandates was settled when an Arbitrator ruled that some of the mandates contained more than one State:
The difficulty arises here how one is to regard the Asiatic countries under the British and French mandates. Iraq is a Kingdom in regard to which Great Britain has undertaken responsibilities equivalent to those of a Mandatory Power. Under the British mandate, Palestine and Transjordan have each an entirely separate organisation. We are, therefore, in the presence of three States sufficiently separate to be considered as distinct Parties. France has received a single mandate from the Council of the League of Nations, but in the countries subject to that mandate, one can distinguish two distinct States: Syria and the Lebanon, each State possessing its own constitution and a nationality clearly different from the other.
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 United Nations 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 all of the former United Nations Trust Territories with the exception of a few successor entities of the gradually dismembered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (formerly Japan's South Pacific Trust Mandate). These exceptions include the Northern Mariana Islands which is a commonwealth in political union with the United States with the status of unincorporated organized territory. The Northern Mariana Islands does elect its own governor to serve as territorial head of government, but it remains a U.S. territory with its head of state being the President of the United States and federal funds to the Commonwealth administered by the Office of Insular Affairs of the United States Department of the Interior.
Remnant Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, the heirs of the last territories of the Trust, attained final independence on 22 December 1990. (The UN Security Council ratified termination of trusteeship, effectively dissolving trusteeship status, on 10 July 1987). The Republic of Palau, split off from the Federated States of Micronesia, became the last to get its independence effectively on 1 October 1994.
70. Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire. At the end of the First World War, a class "A" Mandate for Palestine was entrusted to Great Britain by the League of Nations, pursuant to paragraph 4 of Article 22 of the Covenant
LONDON, July 19. – The A mandates, which govern the British occupation of Palestine and the French occupation of Syria, came today before the Council of the League of Nations.