1. Home
  2. Library Collections
  3. Oral History Interviews
  4. John Maktos Oral History Interview

John Maktos Oral History Interview


Oral History Interview with
John Maktos

Career in U.S. Dept. of State, 1929-62. Chief of the legal office of the Div. of International Org. Affairs, 1945-47; asst. legal adviser in charge of international org. affairs, 1947-51; and asst. legal adviser in charge of Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs, 1951-62. In addition to participation in many U.N. meetings served at the U.N. Conf. on International Org., San Francisco, 1945, and as the U.S. representative and chairman of the U.N. Committee on Genocide, 1948.

Washington, D.C
May 28, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie

Memoir of John Maktos - Pages 1-16
Oral History Interview - Pages 17-48

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened January, 1976
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Memoir of
John Maktos

Mr. Maktos prepared two short memorandums concerning his work with the Department of State during the Truman years. These memorandums (pp. 1-16) are followed by remarks which supplement the memorandums.


John Maktos

For my biography see Who's Who. Some of my functions in the Department of State were:

1945. Participated in the San Francisco Conference on International Organization and in its preparation in the Department of State.

1945-47. Chief of the Legal Office of the Division of International Affairs of the Department.

1947-51. Assistant Legal Adviser of the Department in charge of International Organization Affairs.

1951-62. Assistant Legal Adviser of the Department in charge of Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs.

Some of the issues that come to my mind from my functions during the administration of President Truman follow.

1. BYELORUSSIA and UKRAINE as members of the United Nations.
In connection with the preparation for the 1945 San Francisco Conference, I had to deal with the problem of whether Byelorussia and Ukraine could be admitted to membership in the United Nations. My function was to consider this issue from the legal point of view. In my memorandum on this subject I pointed out that, under international law,


neither of them could be considered as a state. They had no ambassadors to any foreign country; their foreign relations were in the hands of the USSR; in brief, they were no more entitled to become members of the U.N. than any state of the United States. However, they became members, the only non-states to be admitted to the U.N. How was this accomplished?

This issue was considered all the way to President Roosevelt's desk where it was solved on policy grounds. Was it desirable to have the U.N. without the USSR which wanted these two additional members? His answer was in the negative.

The mass extermination of millions of Jews by the Hitler regime shocked the conscience of mankind. At its first session the United Nations General Assembly adopted unanimously Resolution 96 (I), of December 11, 1946. It provided that genocide is a crime under international law. Pursuant to this resolution there was established a United Nations Committee on Genocide. Its mandate was to prepare a draft convention on the crime of genocide. In the Department I prepared the draft that the United States was


to submit to the Committee at its session in the spring of 1948, and was appointed U.S. Delegate to the Committee.

At the 1945 San Francisco Conference the so-called Big-Five powers -- China, France, USSR, United Kingdom and U.S. -- had a gentleman's agreement to refrain, as much as possible, from seeking to head U.N. organs. This was to avoid possible claims of dominance by them of the U.N. Aware of this understanding, I did not accept nomination for the Committee's chairmanship. When, however, the USSR delegate was nominated for this office, he accepted.

During the recess prior to the voting I remember my calling the Department of State from New York where we were meeting. After referring to the above developments, I pointed out the increased difficulty of implementing our position regarding certain provisions we wanted incorporated in the convention, with the USSR delegate as a presiding officer. I asked and received authorization to be renominated and to accept the nomination. I did so and was elected chairman of the Committee.

With a few changes, my draft was approved. In 1948,


the draft convention prepared by the Committee was considered in the Legal Committee (Sixth Committee) of the U.N. General Assembly later in 1948. It was unanimously approved by Assembly Resolution 260A (III), of December 9, 1948, under the title "Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide."

President Truman transmitted the Convention to the Senate on July 16, 1949, for its advice and consent to ratification, and said, in part:

"By the leading part the United States has taken in the United Nations in producing an effective international legal instrument outlining the world-shocking crime of genocide, we have established before the world our firm and clear policy toward that crime." Senate Ex. O, 81st Congress, 1st session, pp. 2-6.

The Senate has not acted on the convention and it could not, therefore, be ratified by the United States. Pursuant to Article VIII of the Convention, it came into force for certain states on January 12, 1951.

This pact is a milestone in international relations. For the first time in that field, a State is made, by


treaty, criminally responsible for its treatment of its own nationals.

On the history of the drafting of this convention, see the files of the Department of State for my draft and the background reasons therefor. For the draft prepared by the aforesaid Committee on Genocide and the Committee's discussions, see U.N. document "Report of the Committee and Draft Convention Drawn by the Committee," E/79A, May 24, 1948. For the Legal Committee (Sixth Committee) discussion of the draft, see U.N. Official Records of the Third Session of the General Assembly in 1948. For the text of the Convention, see Assembly Resolution 260A(III), December 9, 1948; 78 U.N. Treaty Series 277.

By its Resolution 260B (III), of December 9, 1948, the U.N. General Assembly requested the International Law Commission to study the desirability and possibility of creating an international criminal organ "for the trial of persons charged with genocide or other crimes over


which jurisdiction will be conferred upon that organ by international conventions." The Commission's study led it to report to the U.N. General Assembly that the creation of such a court was both desirable and possible (U.N. Document A/1316).

On December 12, 1950, the Assembly adopted Resolution 489 (V) which set up a committee of seventeen member states to meet in Geneva on August 1, 1951 "for the purpose of preparing one or more preliminary draft conventions and proposals relating to the establishment and the statute of an international criminal court."

As part of my functions as Assistant Legal Adviser for International Organization Affairs, I drafted such a statute in Preparation for the Geneva meeting. Having been approved by the Department, it served as the basis of the U.S. position at the meetings of the U.N. Committee on International Criminal Jurisdiction which concluded its work on August 31, 1951. The late George Maurice Morris, U.S. Delegate to the Committee, having been elected Chairman thereof, I became the U.S. spokesman at the daily meetings of the Committee.


For the text of my draft statute, see the files of the Department of State. For the draft statute for an International Criminal Court, submitted to the General Assembly by the Committee, see Annex I of the Committee's report, U.N. Document A/AC48/4. For discussions by the Committee of the various provisions of the draft statute, see the U.N. official records of the Committee, U.N. Documents A/AC48/SR.

At its seventh session in 1952, the Assembly considered again this issue. See U.S. participation in the U.N., Report by the President to Congress for the year 1951, page 255. For an account of the 1952 proceedings and of subsequent ones by the United Nations see 1 Whiteman, Digest of International Law, page 205.

For nearly a quarter of a century the International Law Commission established by the United Nations -- hereinafter the Commission -- has been confronted with important responsibilities in resolving both political and legal questions. It has considered and prepared drafts of conventions and reports on tens of topics of international law and relations.


The genesis of the Commission began with a 1946 memorandum which I prepared in connection with my functions as Chief of the Legal Office in charge of International Organization Affairs of the Department of State. I called attention in it to the following provisions in Article 13, paragraph 1 of the U.N. Charter

1. The General Assembly shall initiate studies and make recommendations for the purpose of:
a. ...encouraging the progressive development of international law and its codification.

I pointed out that these provisions would remain a dead letter absent any implementation thereof. I proposed that the U.S. initiate steps at the U.N. with a view to discharging the Assembly's responsibility under Article 13, paragraph 1 (a). The Department approved my memorandum and, on the initiative of the U.S., the question of im