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On the contrary, the King's Government have presented protests and complaints, both general and specific, against these measures. The fact that these protests and complaints have not had the expected result cannot prevent them from intervening against fresh encroachments when they feel called upon by circumstances to do so.
The particular cases now in question constitute encroachments of a very serious nature. Action which is contrary to international law, when it is a question of goods in general, is, a fortiori, still less excusable with regard to postal parcels.
In this respect, I venture to recall the tendency shown in the Hague Convention to accord special treatment to mail-boats.
Apart from this, it seems evident
That if a person makes use of the post, i.e., of the means of transport placed under the direct guarantee of the state authorities, he has the right to count on a more rapid and sure means of transmission by reason of the higher rate paid for transport;
That the contents of postal parcels, as a rule, are of a more personal character than consignments of goods in general;
And that, for these reasons, the seizure or delay of this class of consignment makes itself especially felt when it is a question of interests which are not of an exclusively material nature.
If the Royal Government were for a moment willing to admit – which is not the case — that the necessities of war justify measures in themselves unjustifiable, they would be obliged to point out that in this respect the seizure of postal parcels is of infinitely less importance than the detention of other consignments of goods for or from the enemy.
As regards the postal parcels on board the steamship Hellig Olaf, the Royal Government are not aware that before the seizure there had been any reason to suspect the presence of merchandise constituting contraband, and having an enemy destination, from the British point of view. As to the destination of the parcels seized, it appears, on the contrary, that all the parcels were addressed to Sweden and to Swedish consignees.
A general suspicion of the existence of an organization for the regular transmission of contraband by means of postal parcels between America and Germany through Sweden cannot be said to afford adequate justification, nor is it justified by the circumstances of the case.
The number of postal parcels despatched from Sweden to Germany has been considerably less during the war than before. While the number of postal parcels from the 1st July, 1913, to the 30th June, 1914, was 40,442, the number despatched from the 1st July, 1914, to the 13th June, 1915 — the first year of the war — was only 27,524.
It has been said that part of the postal parcels seized on the Hellig Olaf contained rubber. It should here be recalled that this merchandise belongs, according to the Declaration of London, to the so-called "free" list, i.e., to the category of goods which may not even be declared conditional contraband.
But, independently of the Declaration of London, it is evident that rubber, which is for everyday and regular use for civil purposes, could not at the most be considered more than conditional contraband.
The British decision itself by which, in spite of the circumstances that I have just mentioned, rubber was declared contraband of war, does not afford the necessary justification for the seizure of these postal parcels, since the presumption of enemy destination is wanting; all the more so as the export from Sweden of rubber, whether in postal parcels or other form of consignment, is prohibited, and consequently there was no ground for stopping and examining these parcels.
As regards the postal parcels addressed to America on board the steamship Stockholm, there could have been no question of treating them as either true or suspected contraband.
The King's Government are unaware upon what other motives His Britannic Majesty's Government consider themselves justified in relying for the seizure and examination of these postal parcels, and they are also ignorant, consequently, of what His Britannic Majesty's Government mean when referring to these parcels as "suspected” and “unobjectionable.”
If, as would seem plausible, the intention of His Britannic Majesty's Government was to apply to these postal parcels the Order in Council of the 11th March, 1915, the King's Government would refer to their protest against that Order in Council, and find themselves obliged to reaffirm that they cannot recognize that order as either justified or valid.
From certain expressions in your Excellency's note there is reason to conclude that His Britannic Majesty's Government consider the
rules of blockade to be in some measure applicable in the circumstances. This cannot be admitted by the Swedish Government either.
It is superfluous to point out that conditions of an effective blockade such as they are defined in the solemn and international agreement regulating these questions, do not exist.
As they have already observed in a note of protest addressed to Sir Esme Howard on the 12th November, 1914, the King's Government are pleased to believe that a day will come when Great Britain, as well as the other belligerent Powers of the present day, will be grateful to Sweden that she has not thought it right to become a party — even passively — to the brushing aside of concluded treaties and of rules of international law which may at a later date regain their value for them.
If the Royal Government have felt themselves obliged to have recourse to certain measures of reprisal, without previous warning, that has been due to the fact that the encroachments against which those measures were directed constituted an aggravated repetition of infringements [of the law of nations] against which they had had to complain on repeated occasions.
The King's Government hope that His Britannic Majesty's Government, in consequence of the explanation now furnished, will understand the Swedish point of view, and they are convinced that, as a result of what I have just had the honor of setting forth, His Britannic Majesty's Government will be disposed to do justice to the requests put forward in the note of the 18th December last.
As regards the observations which the King's Government have felt obliged to present respecting the seizure by the British authorities of letter-mails on board neutral vessels addressed to Sweden, to which they have not yet had a reply, the Swedish Government equally venture to hope that a satisfactory solution will be found.
I have, &c.
FOREIGN OFFICE, January 31, 1916. Your note of the 21st instant conveys to me the answer of your Government to my enquiry as to the grounds on which they impugn the action of the British authorities in searching the parcel mails on certain Danish and Swedish vessels, and seizing, for adjudication in the Prize Court, a number of parcels containing rubber.
2. The Swedish Government disclaim, as I felt confident they would, any intention of appealing in this matter to Article 1 of the 11th Hague Convention of 1907, which, they admit, is not applicable to parcel mails. They ground their protest on other considerations, which, so far as they can be gathered from your note, may be summarized as follows: — (1) That the convention referred to prescribes specially con
siderate treatment of mail boats; (2) That consignments by parcel post deserve more lenient treat
ment than other goods because this means of conveyance is
placed under the direct guarantee of the state authorities; (3) That, more particularly, the parcels of rubber were not liable
to seizure because —
aware, no reasonable ground for suspecting any
enemy destination; (6) There could have been, in fact, no enemy destina
tion, since the export of rubber from Sweden is
prohibited; (c) According to the Declaration of London, rubber,
being on the free list, could not be declared con
traband; (d) In any case, rubber could not be more than condi
tional, and never absolute, contraband; (4) That, as regards the mail on board the Stockholm, outward
bound for America, the Swedish Government could not recognize any right of interference derived from the Order in Council of the 11th March, since they did not admit
the validity of that instrument. 3. The Swedish Government, pursuant to these considerations, claim credit for refusing to be a party, even passively to the violation of binding treaties and of the law of nations. The charge implied in this suggestion is a grave one, unusual in diplomatic documents, and, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, I must repudiate it in the strongest and most categori acal manners altogether unwarranted. The invocation of concluded treaties is not, in fact, easy to understand in the present connection, unless it be that the reference is to the two treaties which are specifically mentioned in your note, namely, the 11th Hague Convention of 1907 and the Declaration of London.
4. The 11th Hague Convention is, in fact, invoked as stipulating for special consideration in favor of mail boats. I beg leave to make on this point a more general observation. By a note addressed as the 14th instant by the Swedish Minister at Paris to the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, which the latter has been good enough to communicate to me, the Swedish Government declared, in reference to the 13th Hague Convention of 1907, that it could not be regarded as operative during the present war because it had not been ratified by all the belligerent Powers, this being a condition on which the validity of the convention was made to depend in virtue of a clause to this effect forming an essential part of the instrument itself. As the same clause, in identical terms, occurs in all the Hague Conventions of 1907 relating to the conduct of war, it follows that none of them are in force during the present war. That is the recorded opinion of the Swedish Government. Exactly the same opinion has been expressed by the German Government on more than one occasion, and particularly with reference to the very 11th Convention now in question, when the Norwegian Government called upon them to justify their action in seizing the letter mail on board certain neutral ships. On that occasion, it will be remembered, the German Government, whilst giving an assurance that they would in future refrain from such seizures, explicitly vindicated their perfect right to act as they had done, on the ground that neither this nor any other Hague Convention of 1907 was at present binding.
5. I do not propose here to discuss the question how far this argument can or should be held to be conclusive on the point, having regard to all the circumstances. But I may be permitted to express surprise that the British Government should be arraigned for the non-observance of a convention which her enemies have formally repudiated, by the Swedish Government, who, on their part, declare it does not bind them. The proposition is neither logical nor just. Whatever may be said of the binding character of any Hague convention — and His Majesty's Government think a good deal could be said on this subject — it is clearly not for the Swedish Govern