Notes on Sutch and UNICEF

The following is an attempt to write down what seems to be known about Sutch and the saving of UNICEF. This was a note which backgrounds pages 133-135 of The Nationbuilders. It was finalised 22 December 2001.

Keywords: Political Economy & History;

Sutch at the United Nations

In the mid 1950s, Sutch wrote
“I was New Zealand delegate for three years on the Economic and Social Commission of the United Nationsand was Chairman of the United Nations Social Commission in 1948/49, Chairman of the Board of Inquiry into the United Nations Staff conditions in 1949, Chairman of the Executive Board of the United Nation’s Children’s Fund in 1950 and Chairman of the UNICEF Administration and Budgeting Committee and Committee on Fund raising from 1948 to 1950.”

From ‘Sutch, W.B. 1907-1975, Papers relating to Public Service and UN Appointments’, Reference No 96-145-1/05, Alexander Turnbull Library. It is a single sheet (no 33), which appears to be from a longer paper, which was probably an account of Sutch’s career written for the purpose of some public service grading or appeal.

Comment: Given that the events were recent, and could be readily verified at the time, we can take this account as reasonably accurate.

In a letters to Alistair McIntosh in the (A.D. McIntosh letters, Alexander Turnbull 6579-353, IRN 571054) Sutch writes
“I have been heavily engaged lately in consultancy and committee meetings with UNICEF.” (14 Feb 1950)

That he presides over UNICEF board meetings because the Polish chairman is absent (14 March 1950)

Comment: There is no earlier mention in the letters to ‘consultancy’ which presumably means lobbying.

Benedict Alper

Alper writes in the Sutch Festschrift (‘David from Down Under’ in J.L. Robson & J. Shallcrass (ed.) Spirit of an Age: Essays in Honour of W.B. Sutch, Wellington. op. cit. p. 215-234.):
“By mid-1949 when you were Chairman of the Social Commission which had the future of UNICEF under consideration … Parallel with the efforts of private citizens to promote a political climate to force Truman to reverse his policy with the discontinuance of aid, was the work done by you with delegations … who were committed to making UNICEF a permanent, rather than an ‘emergency’ operation. …
“Well, I won’t bore you with repeating back to you what you told me of the manoeuvres you went through to keep the US guessing as to how their ‘loyal’ supporters in Latin America and the Middle East would vote, or the special campaign you waged to get all the woman delegates on your side. The day the decisive vote was taken, you stood at the door of the … meeting room and looked into the face of each incoming delegate: to remind him to keep you on his conscience, as well as to see if you could judge how he was going to vote. …
“The issue was now … before the Third Committee of the General Assembly where they were debated for three days …
“One of the saddest aspects of the conflict – to some of us – was the role of Mrs Franklin D. Roosevelt, who introduced the resolution for her delegation … ‘The general needs of many countries and especially the needs of the under-developed areas of the world were vastly beyond the scope of UNICEF.’ …
“And then came, as the Henty books use to say, ‘Your finest hour’ or, more accurately two of them. … The hall was packed, the tensions were high, you spoke without notes, and while it would be stretching the point to say, again in the Henty tradition, that strong men wept and women fainted, it is true many were profoundly moved by your presentation. .
“In any case that speech of yours turned the scales. When Uruguay came in with an alternative which went well beyond the main (non-US) resolution, you knew your side had one. Two questions I meant to ask you: Did you help ‘plant’ that Uruguayan Resolution? And did you ever in your wildest hopes expect to win by 40 to 0?…
“The award to UNICEF of the Nobel [Peace] Prize in 1965 must record somewhere (however small the print) the names of W.B. Sutch and New Zealand as joint recipients.”

Comment: Alper appears to rely on two sources, his memory of what he was told, and the Yearbook of the United Nations 1948-49 (next entry).

Note: Jack Shallcrass also mentions the event in his biographical essay in Robson and Shallcrass op cit but I assume that this is based on Alpers, and offers no additional or independent evidence.

Yearbook of the United Nations 1948-49: The Third Committee.

The Yearbook reports a discussion of the Third Committee on the 18 to 21 November, 1949 (p.630-631). The Third Committee is described as a ‘Main Committee’ of the General Assembly of the UN. There were six. It covered ‘Social, Humanitarian and Cultural’ which seems to be shortened to ‘The Social Committee’. (p.13) In 1949 (or 1948-49) its chairman was Carlos Stolk of Venezuela (p. 48).

The Yearbook summary of the meeting reports a joint draft resolution submitted by Australia, France, Israel, New Zealand and Mexico. Following amendment it was passed 40 votes to none with 3 abstentions. ( I am taking it the head ‘Resolution Adopted by the General Assembly’ is place one paragraph too high, by a typesetter.) The General Assembly on 2 December 1949 then adopted the resolution by 44 votes to none with 3 abstentions. Almost certainly one of the abstainers was the US, and its representative in the Third Committee was probably Eleanor Roosevelt, described as ‘she’, although there was also a Mrs Sampson representing the US too, although she does not appear in the 1948-49 Yearbook.

The adopted motion appears innocuous, but the issue becomes clear from an alternative US motion which would have had the effect of terminating the fund at the end of June 1950. The Assembly motion has the implicit assumption that UNICEF would continue after that date.

The account records that
“The representative of New Zealand [almost certainly Sutch] pointed out that the Fund had no fiscal year which ended 30 June 1950, as mentioned in the United States resolution, and, as mentioned by the Fund, that date was merely a target date for certain projects. He therefore did not see why the Fund should end on that date. Moreover in reply to remarks of the representative of the United Kingdom, he pointed out that the General Assembly, in 1946, had given UNICEF its terms of reference, and had laid down a system of priorities which had hampered the Fund in its effort to expand activities in a more balanced manner, although it had done so to a considerable degree.”

Comment: I can identify at least seven similarities between this report of the meeting and Alper’s account. Moreover he quotes the US position exactly as reported in the account, which suggests he used the Yearbook to refresh his memory. However Shirley Smith says that Alpers was not in the UN at this time. The possibility is that he cited the wrong meeting. There are some minor disagreements. For instance it is not evident that Sutch spoke for ‘two hours’, and there is no mention of the Uruguay motion in the Yearbook account.

Shirley Smith’s Letter

Shirley Smith after seeing the Yearbook account wrote to me:
“This is not the debate [i.e. the one Alper refers to] I was referring to – You’ll see the 3rd Committee refers to a number of submissions, heading which is the report of ECOSOC.
“It was the debate in the ECOSOC meeting that was regarded as saving UNICEF. I know that … Maurice Pate [executive director on UNICEF in 1949], thought so. He was a tall good looking Quaker, a US citizen, unmarried, whom I knew too. He had been desperate. The US was keen on ending UNICEF … & he regarded Bill’s getting ECOSOC to support UNICEF as what saved it.
“You’ll see the final decision of the General Assembly, 2nd column p.631 – the resolution reads ‘having considered the report of the Economic and Social Council … and the report of UNICEF … they resolved to do everything they’re asked – by 44 votes to none, with three abstentions.
“Presumably there is a report of the ECOSOC debate? That was where I was present & heard Eleanor R and Bill’s 2hr plus speech where not a pin dropped. I don’t think anyone else spoke – tho’ I had to leave after 2½ hours to get Helen . She was in the UN school – an old farmhouse in Lake Success Grounds. Bill was still speaking when I left.” (16 June 2001)

Comment: Smith, who was there, is arguing that the events occurred in a different committee. (I add that her memory of her daughter at this time is that Helen was nearly five. This could make the events taking place in 1950, since Helen was born in November 1945.)

Yearbook of the United Nations 1948-49: ECOSOC

The Economic and Social Council was established by the Charter as a principle organ of the United Nations to act under the authority of the General Assembly. To add to the confusion it has a Social Commission which is not the Third Committee (i.e. the Social Committee), while sometimes the Second Committee of the General Assembly (‘Economics and Financial’) sat jointly with the Third Committee (p.89-90, 16). New Zealand was on the Council and the Social Commission in 1949, and was re-elected to the Social Commission in 1950 but not the Council (p.106, 114, 37).

Comment: If the agency was ECOSOC, the events Smith refers to must have taken place in 1949. However, were they in the Social Commission they could have taken place in 1950. UNICEF is a special body under ECOSOC. New Zealand was on the executive board.

The Yearbook devotes over two pages to each of the reports from the chairman of the Executive Board of UNICEF to the General Assembly in its third regular session (in December 1948) fourth regular session (probably December 1949) (p.623-630).

Comment: I was puzzled by Alper’s and Smith’s recall of Sutch speaking for a long period to a United Nation’s committee. Leaving aside the willingness of the delegates to listen for this time, I wondered what on earth he could have spoken about. That he was chairman of the Social Commission and Co-chairman of UNICEF suggests that there was some authority in his speaking, and that much of the material may have been a review of the activities of UNICEF, which are described in so much detail in the Yearbook.

Among the occasions that ECOSOC discussed UNICEF in 1949 on March 18 and 28 July (the latter preceded by a two-day meeting of the Social Commission). The first meeting was at Lake Success, New York the second at Geneva (p.99).

Comment: The first meeting of ECOSOC in 1949 is too early, and the second meeting is in the wrong location.

National Archives

The file EA2 1949/18D 108/72/5 pt 3 Social Commission reports to ECOSOC is missing. Parts 1,2 and 4 are there.

EA2 1950/8B 108/22/2 pt 1 Social Commission Sessions 1946-1950 provides reports on the Social Commission over the period, but sheds no light.

Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol II: The United Nations; The Western Hemisphere

This collection of documents includes a report written by the US Deputy Director of United Nations Economic and Social Affairs dated December 22, 1950, and classified as ‘restricted’ (p. 575-582). Its subject is a ‘Post-Mortem on the Third Committee’ and it remarks
“UNICEF – This item proved the most decisive and embarrassing defeat for the [US] delegation, which found itself in a minority of eight on the [Social] Committee, and the only abstainer in the plenary meeting. .. We were criticized for taking a much more restrictive position than at ECOSOC last summer [presumably about July 1950, and possibly in Geneva].”

The paper’s ‘reason for defeat’ are given as follows:
“The blame for this unsatisfactory record most certainly does not fall on Mrs Roosevelt or Mrs Sampson who did everything possible to explain and argue the United State position, both in committee meetings and in informal conversations. Both representatives were personally popular; both entertained extensively, including many small luncheons, and both conversed frequently with other delegates. …
Special Characteristics of the Third Committee – Many members of the Third Committee seemed to me to be motivated by deep emotional convictions rather than political considerations which are evidenced elsewhere in the assembly. They take very seriously the fact the Third Committee deals with social, cultural and humanitarian problems, and they take pride in discussing these problems on their own merits … in the Third Committee [the small delegations] take pleasure in voicing their independence and in functioning almost as if the ‘cold war’ does not exist. … They tend to freewheel as individual experts and to be swayed by the oratory of their colleagues.
Leadership of the Underdeveloped Countries – … the Third Committee is a forum for the underdeveloped countries and those who oppose ‘colonialism’. … We had not anticipated the vigour and bitterness of their disagreement with United States policies on almost every item, because the Near and Middle Eastern views had not been fully expressed in the Social Commission and the Economic and Social Council. Many debates had obvious overtones; the colored people in opposition to the white, the newly independent countries against the administering powers, and the underdeveloped against the industrialized countries. Many of them had overtones of the Palestine conflict as well, …
Absence of Soviet Opposition – The Soviet Delegate and its four satellites took a relatively minor part in the work of the Committee …. As a result, the other delegations did not coalesce into an anti-Soviet group, but were left free to carry on their battles against the United States.
Unpopularity of the United State Positions
Lack of support from the United Kingdom , France etc. …
Absence of Adequate Liaison with other Delegations

Yearbook of the United Nations 1950

The sixth and final amendment at the Third Committee in October 1950 was from Uruguay which recommended that ‘States in making budgetary provision for social services for their own children, set aside a special amount for UNICEF.’

Comment: This corresponds to Alper’s account, except he locates it in the Third Committee a year earlier.

The UN Documentary Record

These are held in the General Assembly Library. (I am grateful for the assistance of Felicity Rashbrooke.)

It is possible to trace some of the movement of the UNICEF process as follows:

Third Commission (17, 18, 21 November 1949)
This was a wide ranging debate which included Roosevelt (30cms reported on the 18th) and Sutch (50cms on the 18th but 5 pages later – an intervening speaker was Mrs Castle of the United Kingdom, 62cms) together with each giving short procedural interventions on the 21st This is an extended account of the meeting reported in the 1948-49 UN Yearbook. (Official Records of the Fourth Assembly of the General Assembly.)

Economic and Social Council
I do not have a full account, of what happened here, but as best as I can construct, the Council adopted a report and motion of the Social Committee (sic) on 11 August. (Economic and Social Council: Official Records, Eleventh Session.) The record of the meeting is not in the bound copy (sigh).

Comment: Bother the omissions. Somewhere in here is probably Sutch’s ‘finest hour’. (Query – was this meeting at Geneva?)

Third Committee (9, 18 October 1950)
Tom Davin (brother of Dan) spoke on behalf of New Zealand, as did Roosevelt for the US. The Greek delegate said that his country had been delighted to learn that the Economic and Social Council had decided at its eleventh session that UNICEF should cease to be a temporary organization, for it had hoped that UNICEF’s activities would henceforth be permanent and would embrace all the countries of the world’ (p.70) The Australian motion was adopted 43 votes (including New Zealand) to 8 (inc US), with one abstention (China) (p.105). (Official Records of the General Assembly Fifth Session)

Comment: This is the vote reported in Foreign Relations of the United States at which the US was in a minority of 8.

General Assembly Plenary Session (1 December)
The crucial amendment was adopted 51 votes to one, with five abstentions, and then the draft resolution was adopted unanimously. The US representative, Mrs Sampson, apologised for the absence of Mrs Roosevelt (p. 526). (Official Records of the General Assembly, Fifth Session, Plenary Meetings).

Comment: This is the vote reported in Foreign Relations of the United States at which the US was in a minority of 1.

Comment: Except for the Economic Commission and ECOSOC meetings, I think I have traced all the key public events.


On reflection, it seems to me that it is most unlikely that the preservation of UNICEF depended upon one key meeting. Rather the momentum would have built up over a period, developing through a series of increasingly supportive motions, operating through a number of committees.

On the basis of the information we have, Sutch played an important role in the development of the momentum. He chaired the Social Commission of ECOSOC in 1949 and was on it in 1950. He was chair of the executive committee of UNICEF in 1950 (perhaps because of the absence of the Polish chairman), and he seems to have been important in its administration and development. When Maurice Pate spoke well of Sutch’s role in UNICEF he was presumably recognising the previous work as well as the ultimate politicking.

In my view the Alper account confuses the Social Committee (of the General Assembly) with the Social Commission of ECOSOC. Moreover he has collapsed a number of meetings together, perhaps inevitably given that he is dependent on someone else’s (Sutch’s?) account since he was not there. (Not hearing or recalling some of the fine distinctions – such as the Social Committee and the Social Commission – would not be unusual in such circumstances.)

Smith probably gets the arena right. It began in ECOSOC in 1949, almost certainly in its Social Commission, rather than the plenary, but it moved on later back through the Social Commission and ECOSOC in 1950, and then to the Third Committee and the General Assembly later. As Pate reminded Smith, that ECOSOC was committed to the preservation of UNICEF, was influential on the decision of the Third Committee of the General Assembly (the Social Committee) in 1950 to recommend the preservation to the General Assembly.

It seems likely that Sutch was more directly influential in the early stages, when he was directly involved in ECOSOC and its Social Commission. However Alper’s story of Sutch standing outside the meeting as the delegates entered may apply to Third Committee, but in 1950 not 1949. It seems unlikely that Sutch completely withdrew from the lobbying in late 1950. The reference to the Uruguay resolution suggests that the story told to Alper included that meeting.

Rewriting the Story of Sutch and UNICEF.

On the basis of the evidence available to me, I do not think I can simply quote Alper’s account of Sutch’s efforts in regard to the preservation of UNICEF. My current thinking is of writing along the following lines, as reported in The Nationbuilders.

“The now in his early forties, Sutch played the crucial role a UN decision to continue with UNICEF, the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund . The incident, like Fraser chairing the Trusteeship Council of the UN, is not well known in New Zealand, and indeed much has been lost in the drifts of memory. What seems to have happened is this.

“Following his work at UNRRA Sutch moved onto New York where he was New Zealand delegate for three years on the Economic and Social Commission of the United Nations. Both by his personal reputation and reflecting the reputation of New Zealand Sutch was Chairman of the United Nations Social Commission in 1948/49, Chairman of the Board of Inquiry into the United Nations Staff conditions in 1949, Chairman of the Executive Board of the United Nation’s Children’s Fund in 1950 and Chairman of the UNICEF Administration and Budgeting Committee and Committee on Fund raising from 1948 to 1950.

“About this time the United States took the view that UNICEF, which as the ‘E’ indicates was originally envisaged as a temporary institution, should be disbanded, and so in the Social Commission there were a variety of (often apparently innocuous motions) which would have the effect of maintaining or terminating UNICEF. By lobbying and leadership Sutch ensured the preservers would win. Two sources suggest he spoke in silence for more than two hours on at least one occasion to promote and defend UNICEF, describing in detail its activities. Having gained a strong majority in the Social Commission (the few dissenters tended to abstain) the recommendation was accepted by ECOSOC and passed onto the Third Committee of the General Assembly (the Social Committee), which again supported it. Maurice Pate, the executive director of UNICEF thought this was the key step in the saving of UNICEF.

“It seems likely at the crucial meeting of the Third Committee in October 1950 (or possibly the General Assembly in December 1950, when the final decision was made) Sutch literally stood at the doorway looking at the face of each entering delegate: to remind her or him of ‘their deep emotional convictions rather than political considerations’ (as a US report recalled) and to vote according to their conscience rather than along Cold War lines

“The outcome of the preservation of UNICEF was described by a US official as ‘the most decisive and embarrassing defeat for the [US] delegation, which found itself in a minority of eight on the [Social] Committee, and the only abstainer in the plenary meeting.’ The children of the world may take a different view, and Benedict Alper says ‘The award to UNICEF of the Nobel [Peace] Prize in 1965 must record somewhere (however small the print) the names of W.B. Sutch and New Zealand as joint recipients’.”

The endnote to this paragraph will state something like:

“This account is compiled from Alper (1975), a letter and discussions with Shirley Smith in 2001, some minor New Zealand sources, various United Nations documents, Foreign Relations of the United States 1950. A detailed report [i.e. this one] of almost 4000 words attempting to reconcile the various accounts, has been deposited in the Alexander Turnbull Library.”