Petition of Railroad Workers of Hungarian Origin, Draft Reply, Legal Arguments


After World War I, the states of central and southeastern Europe were compelled by the victorious Allied and Associated Powers to sign agreements guaranteeing religious, social, and political equality to their minority populations. The states covered were Austria, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Groups or individuals who believed they had been discriminated against for ethnic or linguistic reasons could petition the League of Nations for redress by the Council. The Minority Section within the League Secretariat was responsible for screening incoming petitions, requesting responses from the accused states, and forwarding cases to an ad hoc Committee of Three, which was asked to determine whether involvement by the Council was warranted. Between 1920 and 1939, some 883 petitions were submitted to the Minority Section. However, only 16 of the 395 petitions deemed “receivable” ever reached the attention of the Council, and of these 16, the Council very reluctantly condemned the accused state of improper treatment in only four cases. In 1932, a group of 18 railroad workers of Hungarian origin submitted a petition alleging discrimination by the government of Czechoslovakia. The workers, all formerly employed by the railroads of Austria-Hungary, claimed that they had been discharged from their jobs and denied pensions on the grounds of their nationality. Shown here is the reply to the petition by the Committee of Three, composed of representatives from Guatemala, Norway, and Spain. The committee concluded that the men had not been discriminated against, but it nonetheless suggested that the government of Czechoslovakia consider whether a way could be found for the men to receive pensions for their pre-1918 employment. The response was in many ways typical of the approach taken by the Minority Section, which was to avoid condemning states outright for discrimination while seeking to defuse problems through informal solutions. The document is held in the archives of the League, which were transferred to the United Nations in 1946 and are housed at the UN office in Geneva. The archives were inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World register in 2010.

Last updated: February 20, 2014