The Guild and the UN

“A New World Born: The Guild at the Founding of the United Nations”

By Martin Popper, NLG Executive Secretary 1940-1947. Published in Summer 1985 Guild Notes. See also: Letter from FDR thanking the Guild for its involvement in the UN

I remember hearing or reading somewhere that the State Department had decided to designate a number of organizations as Consultants to the United States delegation. In my opinion, the public interest required that the Guild should be selected as a consultant organization. I went to the State Department and presented our case. Ultimately, 42 organizations were invited, and the Guild was one of them.

Representing the Guild was NLG President Robert W. Kenny, with myself and National Vice President Bartley Crum as alternatives. Kenny was California’s attorney general at that time, and he made his San Francisco offices available to us for the duration.

Guild member Royal France with Eleanor Roosevelt. Undated.

The Consultants were admitted to all the deliberations of the conference and had ready access to the United States delegation, as well as to the representatives of the media, who were present in the thousands.

The Guild Consultants made singular contributions to the work of the conference in two areas. One related to the composition of the International Court of Justice (the World Court); the other involved the manner in which the powers of the Security Council were to be exercised.

Some delegates and influential members tried to persuade the conference to continue the existing World Court, established by the League of Nations. That body included judges from the Axis Powers and Franco Spain. The Guild urged the creation of a new Court. We published and distributed our brief on the subject to each of the fifty participating government delegations. The scholarly quality of our presentation rendered a genuine service to the delegates and it was the majority view.

On the matter of the Security Council, possibly the most fundamental issue before the conference, the Guild advocated the adoption of the unanimity principle: the right of veto by the permanent council members on issues of the conference. We recognized that without the unanimity principle there would be no United Nations—or at least no United Nations that the United States and Soviet Union would join.

The manner in which we NLG representatives conducted our work is worth recounting. There was a core of U.S. establishment organizations cooperating with each other. They had developed close relations with the State Department. We were not part of this group. We were compelled to develop our own methods for publicizing our views.

We were particularly effective in press relations. The New York Times (which published a special daily UN edition) and San Francisco Chronicle printed several major articles based on our releases and press conferences. The delegates read these papers avidly. We also utilized the presence of the international press corps to indicate our support for the Nuremberg War Crimes Charter, and our demand that the leaders of Japan, including the Emperor, be indicted and tried by an international tribunal.

What distinguished our work from that of the other Consultants was our emphasis on the legal aspects of the issues at hand. We decided that our primary contacts would be with the lawyer members of the various delegations, and were able to establish strong ties with many of them.

The Consultant organizations were responsible for several lasting contributions. It is largely due to their sponsorship that the preamble of the Charter emphasizes the promotion of and respect for human rights and equal rights of men and women. Their efforts also led to the enactment of Article 68, which required the Economic and Social Council to establish a Human Rights Commission, and Article 71, which established the right of consultation between non-governmental organizations and the Economic and Social Council. Unfortunately, the Guild has not yet taken advantage of Article 71.

Martin Popper, then Executive Secretary of the Guild, at founding conference of the U.N. in San Francisco. The Guild was invited by President Roosevelt to act as a consultant to the U.S. delegation.

Secretary of State Stettinius’s “Report to the President on the Results of the San Francisco Conference” contains this reference to the work of Consultants: “Their presence in San Francisco meant that a very large body of American opinion which had been applying itself to the problems of international organization played a direct and material part in drafting the constitution of the United Nations.”

Our effectiveness was demonstrated when the San Francisco chapter (a force in the community) invited the San Francisco Bar Association and Lawyers Club to jointly sponsor a dinner in honor of all the lawyer delegates to the conference. Most of those delegates and about 500 area lawyers attended the affair at the Palace Hotel. There were speeches, of course, and some were undoubtedly eloquent. But what I remember most is the genuine 100-proof bash that followed—500 lawyers and judges of all persuasions and nationalities spontaneously and uninhibitedly celebrating their one-world togetherness. It was international amity at its zenith.

Forty years later, the United Nations Charter remains a document of preeminent historical importance. The principles set forth therein express the hopes of humanity that aggression, dependence, poverty, and repression shall be eliminated from the face of the earth. These aspirations are now codified as integral parts of our international and domestic law. We must expose and resist every effort by our government to violate its provisions and to undermine its institutions. As lawyers, we should utilize the Charter in every available forum, to defend the victims of repression, to affirm the right of self-determination and independence, and to oppose every form of inequality.