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United States Department of State / Index to the executive documents of the House of Representatives for the second session of the fiftieth Congress, 1888-'90
(1888-1889)

Belgium,   pp. 24-50 PDF (11.1 MB)


Page 37


BELGIUM.
37
                        [Tnclosure 1 in No. 305.-Translation.]
                           Mr. van Eetvelde to Mr. Tree.
                                   INDEPENDENT STATE OF THE CONGO,
                                        DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS,
                                                       Brussets, January
26, 1888.
  Mr. MINISTER: The communication that you have done me the honor to address
me
the 9th of this month concerns a decree made the 30th of April last, by the
terms of
which every vessel navigating in tie Superior Congo is required to hoist
the flag of
the State, with the privilege, if she possesses ships' papers establishing
her foreign
nationality, to hoist in addition the flag of her country.
  The Government of the United States sees in this measure a double infringement
of the law of nations, no vessel, according to it, being- obliged to carry
any other
flao than its own, and not being obliged to justify its nationality by ships'
papers.
  You kindly recall on this occasion that the general act of the Berlin conference
opens
to vessels of every nationality free acess to the Congo and its affluents..
It is true,
Mr. Minister, that by admitting all nations to subscribe to the general act
the con-
ference has intended to exclude .no one from the advantages that it consecrates,
and
it enters into the desires of'my Government to see the citizens of the United
States
profit by them in the greatest measure.
I do not think, however, that the decree of the 30th of April last can in
any way
trammel the free exercise of navigation in the waters of the Congo. It has
been in-
spired, on the contrary, by quite different purposes; in stipulating that
all vessels,
without distinction, should in these latitudes little frequented display
a flag recog-
nized and respected by the natives,,it is designed, in effect, as much to
guard these
vessels against any act of hostility as to strengthen toward the people still
savage
the prestige of a power which is one of the principal guardians of the work
of the
conference and which will be all the more able to protect the operations
of commerce,
that its authority is strong and uncontested. In this double manner the decree
serves
the interest of the liberty of navigation.
   In taking this measure the Go (vernment of the Congo does not believe
that it has
 overpassed the rights of police which belong to it in its territorial waters.
It is a
 principle of international law, universally recognized to-day and consecrated
by nu-
 merous precedents, that a foreign vessel, in all that touches public interest
and public
 order, is submitted to the laws of the state,-where it is found, only interior
matters
 and discipline on board escaping the jurisdiction of local justice. But
I have shown
 that the decree is inspired by the most evident necessities, and protects
the security
 even of navigation. Under these conditions, does it not, justify itself
so much the
 more that it neither makes any attempt against private interests nor the
dignity of
 foreign navigators, since it happens every day that vessels of commerce
and others
 hoist by simple courtesy another flag than theirs ? My Government esteems
that there
 can be no inconvenience in floating the colors of the two countries, the
one at the
 side of the other; if, however, contrary to our thought, this exterior disposition
of
 flags could be of a nature to awaken susceptibilities, the adoption of any
modifica-
 tions would not be refused which, in giving on this point satisfaction to
your Govern-
 ment, would be to our mind compatible with the object of the measure.
   The second objection that you have kindly addressed to me concerns the
obligation
 which is imposeld implicitly by the decree on foreigh vessels to prove their
nationality
 by ships' papers. I do not think, Mr. Minister, that this obligation is
contrary in
 any respect to international usages. Without doubt it belongs to each country
to fix
 the limits which suit it for conferring its nationality on vessels, but
everywhere where
 the sovereignty of another power is exercised, and where in consequence
the obligatory
 force of foreign laws ceases, this privilege is limited by that of the law
of nations ,which
 accords to this power to determine on its side the conditions on which it
recognizes the
 nationality of these vessels in its territorial waters. It is not only the
theoretical rule
 which permits the State of the Congo to act as it has done; the general
practice sanc-
 tions the principle that requires every vessel to justify its nationality
by regular doc-
 uments. This is so true that no vessel would be advised to go to sea without
being
 furnished with them, as if she were unprovided with them she woufld be exposed
in
 time of war to be declared fair prize, and as on her arrival in a foreign
port she is
 required to present them for vis6 to the authority. The American law itself
exacts
 that the papers should be deposited with the consul. The interest of nations
and the
 care of their own neutrality command, besides, that a vessel without official
attesta-
 tion can avail itself of the protection of no flag.
    I hope, Mr. Minister, that on this question a simple misunderstanding
separates us,
  and that at bottom the manner in which your Government sees it does not-differ
froin
  that Which I have just exposed. I read, in fact, in an official publication
issuing from


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