The League of Nations and the Protection of Minorities – Rediscovering a Great Experiment

17 Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law 2013, pp. 87-12

29 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2013 Last revised: 12 Jun 2014

Date Written: August 5, 2013


The First World War led to far-reaching border changes in Europe. As a consequence, a series of new minorities was created. In order to make sure that these minorities were treated properly and to avoid the creation of new national conflicts several states had to assume obligations for the protection of these minorities. The whole system was put under the guarantee of the League of Nations. The resulting system was an extraordinary experiment. The basis for human rights protection that should start after the Second World War was formed. The resulting system caught enormous academic interest in that time. With the failure of this system interest in the League's minority protection rules stopped nearly at once. When interest for minority protection started again, this time at the UN level, it seemed that a wholly new basis had been found and that the inter-war experiment had been totally futile.

In this contribution it will be shown that the inter-war ideas and concepts of minority protection live on and that the insights gained in that time in the particularities of minority protection justify a return to respective literature. Furthermore, also the reasons for the demise of this system should be reconsidered. In fact, in the past all too easily the minorities themselves were held responsible for the failure of this order. In this context it is often said that minorities often behaved in a disloyal manner and therefore it was at least understandable that minority states over the years treated their minorities badly and finally denounced these obligations. In reality, however, such an attitude rests on a radical misinterpretation of the loyalty principle and on a denial of historic facts. Thereby a last and final act of injustice is set against these minorities that had to suffer enormous discrimination if not outright annihilation during the Second World War and in its immediate aftermath. It is suggested here that by a renewed academic interest for the rules on minority protection created in this period not only justice will be done to the lot of peoples that were exposed to enormous suffering but also much can be gained for present-day endeavours for minority and human rights protection.

Keywords: minority protection, League of Nations, loyalty, human rights, kin states, Gustav Stresemann, Nazi Germany and International Law, Paris Peace Treaties

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Hilpold, Peter, The League of Nations and the Protection of Minorities – Rediscovering a Great Experiment (August 5, 2013). 17 Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law 2013, pp. 87-12, Available at SSRN:

Peter Hilpold (Contact Author)

University of Innsbruck ( email )

Innrain 52
Innsbruck, Innsbruck 6020


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